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Kamalaya Yoga Resort – spiritual vacationing

  • Posted On: 11th June 2013
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A new spa in Koh Samui schools Summer Nicks in the ancient and varied art of yoga.
‘Enjoy your Buddha belly’ was the message writ large in the welcome letter I was given on checking in to Kamalaya, a new wellness sanctuary and holistic spa in beautiful hill-top grounds in a quiet corner of the island of Koh Samui.
It’s a sentiment that is as reassuring as it is cheering. I’m all for turning my body into a temple, but I was slightly fearful that I’d be marooned on the island in yogic boot camp with po-faced, bean-eating puritans.
Centred around a cave that once served as a place of meditation and spiritual retreat for Buddhist monks, Kamalaya embraces its natural surrounding landscape with its hillside rooms and villas, yoga pavilions, pools and outdoor hot tubs set among ancient, granite boulders, streams and tropical vegetation with sweeping views of the south of the island.
I’d signed up for yoga fusion, a six-day yoga fest to sample six styles of yoga practice, with life-coaching classes and a host of alternative therapies thrown in for good measure. As a beginner, the prospect of four hours of yoga a day, not to mention soul searching with a group of strangers was slightly daunting.
All fears were squashed within minutes of meeting our yoga teachers, Carole Warren and Lorraine Taylor, who created and now run the yoga fusion programme. Although master practitioners of the bendy art, who have swapped the trappings of the West for spirituality and sarongs, they confess an enduring love of chocolate and coffee that’s positively endearing.
Day one and our little group of six apprentice “yoginis” assembled cross-legged in the yoga sala at dawn. This large bamboo hut, perched on the hillside with sweeping views of the ocean, was to be our second home for the week. Thick with the scent of incense and birdsong, the atmosphere was peaceful and inspiring.
Our group, ranged in age from 25 to 50, was restricted to six so that we were all able to benefit from one-to-one coaching as Carole and Lorraine took us through Pranayama (yoga breathing exercises), followed by athletic Ashtanga yoga and the more fluid style of Vinyasa flow.
Each morning brought a new challenge and yoga style as we quickly got to grips with sun salutations, progressing to trickier standing postures, before running – still sweaty and starving – to the breakfast buffet, high on endorphins and achievement.
Day three, and I staggered into the yoga sala like John Wayne, fed-up and dreaming of lying on the beach with a margarita and a trashy novel. It was a downward dog too far and I wanted to give up. But with Carole’s unswerving encouragement I not only kept going, but, as the days rolled by, also found myself bending into shapes previously unimaginable.
Day four brought an introduction to Kundalini, a style that involves much gyrating of hips, with Dorien Israel, a force of nature who, at 60, is a glowing example of the youth-giving benefits of this ancient practice.
Yes, it is intense, but this retreat gives you the fast-track equal to bout 10 weeks of attending a weekly class. Immersing yourself in it helps you to master and remember the postures and feel yourself progressing, which means that you are less likely to give up.
There’s nothing like whinging about pulled muscles over vats of ginger tea to forge group bonding either. Flopped out on sunloungers on the beach in the afternoon, or sharing a delicious Thai lunch in the open-air restaurant overlooking the sea, we didn’t stay strangers for long.
I wasn’t sure what I’d make of the life-coaching sessions held every afternoon before the evening yoga session, but after some initial resistance, I got the point as exercises progressed to focusing on personal goals and the ever-elusive life-work balance.
“Most people try to avoid even thinking about difficult issues and often feel that they have to repress them in order to keep going,” Carole said. “When you start doing yoga practice and meditation you start listening to your thoughts and hearing your needs and desires.”
Letting it all hang out and being kind to yourself, including the bits that wobble, is, in lay terms, the fundamental ethos of Kamalaya. All packages – whether you opt for yoga, a detox or fitness programme – come with a free health check at the onsite wellness centre, where you’re given a personal treatment programme for the week, comprising alternative therapies for relaxation to Chinese medicine for medical problems.

While it comes as no surprise that this type of holiday is tailor-made for people experiencing difficult times or seeking a new direction, I was struck by how positive and energising this kind of group experience can be. Whether your intention is to shed a spare tyre or two, or embark on a spiritual journey, you won’t leave Kamalaya empty-handed.

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