I’ve finally taken the plunge! A friend who comes here annually has recommended this retreat for years, and I’ve booked, paid and am on my way. I’m feeling oddly nervous – I’m not sure what to expect, yet I’m spending a chunk of my precious holiday and salary on this…. I’ve spoken to Carol, who’s allayed some of my nerves – I hope it works!
I drive through a pretty village (spot the ruins of a castle – definitely on my list of things to do), and come to a more modern part where the retreat is located. It’s on a small close and it turns out that I have a house all to myself, with Carol and Danny both living nearby. The house looks small but inviting with a tiny front garden with little Buddha statues. I’m greeted by Carol, who instantly puts me at ease.
"I was told the emphasis here’s on the treatments rather than a five star space, and it’s just what I expected – comfortable, homely and focused on what I’m here to achieve".
I go in and it’s shoes off, slippers on, and straight down to relaxation. I’m given a delicious organic carrot juice to refresh me (everything’s organic here including the toiletries), and a chance to look around the house: downstairs are the kitchen, small sitting room with bookshelves stacked with all sorts of books from medicine to meditation, and conservatory with a stunning wooden statue (where I’ll have my meals), looking out onto a pretty garden. Upstairs are the bathroom, treatment room, and bedroom. The bedroom’s small, cosy and the bed super comfortable. It’s pared down, which I like – I was told the emphasis here’s on the treatments rather than a five star space, and it’s just what I expected – comfortable, homely and focused on what I’m here to achieve. The treatment room has the biggest massage table I’ve ever seen, and an air of total calm.
I filled in a Body Type questionnaire (and given details of my food likes/dislikes) before I came, so Carol tells me my Ayurvedic body type, and then we have a chat about my goals. She’s brilliant at getting to the point and understanding what I really want, despite having only just met me. This chat, along with how I respond, will form the basis of my sessions for the next five days – each day she sees how I’m feeling and reacting before deciding on what my treatments will be: both the body and emotional treatments. I already know I’m in safe hands.
"I’ve never had a four-handed massage before, and it’s unbelievable – utterly hypnotic and relaxing. I’m amazed by the synchronicity...".
After a vegetable soup I get ready for my treatment. I’m having an Abhyanga massage today and Shirodhara . It begins with a warm up that includes a head massage and washing my feet. The treatment takes place in silence and I’m humbled to receive all this attention. Unusually, all my body treatments are done by two people, Carol and Ben, throughout my entire stay, so I end up totally unselfconscious. I’ve never had a four-handed massage before, and it’s unbelievable – utterly hypnotic and relaxing. I’m amazed by the synchronicity, not just timing-wise, but also the equal pressure on both sides – it must take some serious skill to get this right! I’m so blissed out that when I come back from showering, I’m stunned to notice that the treatment lasted nearly three hours.
In the late afternoon there’s a yoga session with Ben, where it’s lovely to have one-on-one guidance. Then Carol comes in and we start talking. I don’t know how she does it, but within minutes, we’re having an intimate conversation about some of my troubles. I don’t feel scared or judged, just able to tell her what’s been bothering me. Her insights are spot on, and I sense I could trust her with anything. As part of the session we do a tapping technique, which helps release emotions. It’s a bit weird at first, but I soon get into it, and despite any initial reticence, I find I feel better afterwards. Later on, I reflect how unusual it is to receive so much personal attention, but I’m lapping it up.
There’s another delicious soup for supper (Carol checks what flavours I want) and then it’s an early night for me. I sleep like a log.
I’m woken up by Carol coming in with a juice for my breakfast. I then have a leisurely shower before it's time for treatment. Today I’m having Udvartana – a massage with a scrub. It starts with the same gentle warm up and then it's onto the serious business. The scrub is vigorous, but not overly so, and again deliciously long. By then end of it, I’m a combination of zingy and utterly relaxed – probably the most relaxed I’ve felt for months. Afterwards there’s a steam under a mini tent with my head sticking out, where I sense like the kilos are melting off before I have a shower, and would you believe it, a sleep! It’s exhausting being pampered…
"I'm liking having the whole place to myself and not having to hide in my room if I want to be alone. And I don't have to suffer awkward conversations with strangers over meals".
After lunch I choose a meditation session with Danny. I’ve never meditated before, but he explains it easily, and I find myself able to follow his instructions. In the early evening, I read for the first time in ages. It’s quite a relief to be on a media detox – there’s no TV (just DVDs), magazines or newspapers and internet reception’s patchy. It’s taking some time, but I’m starting too learn to be with myself and really liking having the whole place to myself and not having to hide in my room if I want to be alone. And I don't have to suffer awkward conversations with strangers over meals.
I have a long but productive session with Carol that goes on well past Ayurvedic bedtime. I’m amazed that there’s no time limit on things here – you’re allowed to just take as long as you need and that’s really special. As I snuggle up in bed, it occurs to me that I didn't even leave the house, but felt no need to – interesting.
Today I’m having treatment in the afternoon as I wanted to get to the castle and if I’m massaged in the morning, I think I might never want to go out! I start the day with my juice and a meditation session. It feels a bit easier this time and I’m more relaxed about it. Then I go to the castle and the church (stunning), and walk through the village to the river. There’s an antiques market where I browse happily before going home (and it does seem like home), without even being vaguely tempted to sneak in a coffee or a bar of chocolate - whatever they’re doing, it’s clearly working. It’s also the first time I’ve put my jeans on and I notice they're looser. Hooray!
I’ve a different treatment this afternoon, called Pizzichilli. Wow! It involves being massaged with a small tube attached to each therapist’s hand that pumps out warm oil all the time. I’ve never felt anything like it. After about five minutes I’ve no idea whose hand was whose, where they are, where I am, nothing other than being completely and utterly relaxed… it’s unbelievable. It's the closest feeling I’ve ever had to total bliss. I could've cried when it was over, but was too relaxed! And I literally couldn't move, so I was wrapped up on the treatment bed until I was ready. I felt so clear-headed and light afterwards, like I could do anything.
I had another amazing session with Carol in the afternoon. This time I got a bit emotional but it felt like a huge shift and release. We did some more tapping and I felt much more confident about it and actually enjoyed it. I’m amazed by way she combines nurturing and professionalism. She also treated a long-standing knee injury.
I had my soup before a super early night. Surprised to find I’ve not been hungry on this liquid diet, which is something I’ve never tried before – just pleasantly sated – and obviously pleased that I must be losing weight.
Going home tomorrow and I really don’t want to - I could stay in this cocoon of loveliness forever. But I’ve to go back to reality and I’m already better equipped to deal with it. Today I’ve lined up some more yoga, and another Udvartana (I may refuse to leave if I have another Pizzichiili!). The treatment’s as excellent as the previous ones. I feel like more weight’s dropping off, but also much calmer.
"...as I’m the only person here, they're flexible around my needs rather than me having to follow their routine".
I’m learning a bit about Ayurveda as we go along, but not being bombarded with it. It’s occurred to me that I’ve always believed in holistic therapies, but never experienced the link between mind and body in this way, and I think it's down to the exceptional situation of Carol who does the emotional stuff and does your body treatments too (and cooking). It makes complete sense.
Carol and I have an unexpectedly intense talking session in the afternoon and I let go of a lot of stuff – like I’m reprogramming myself. As a result, I don't do yoga with Ben until early evening, but it’s not an issue and I really like that – as I’m the only person here, they're flexible around my needs rather than me having to follow their routine. I suspect that wouldn't be the case on a spa retreat…
I’m a bit bereft – home time means no more being looked after, and emerging from this haven – but I’m also fully prepared to go back to my life and deal with it much better. I’m calmer, more positive and I know I’ve lost weight, so I’ve achieved what I wanted to. I’ve also had five nights of uninterrupted sleep - a big bonus.
" I feel as though I’ve shed a layer of worry and come out a more sparkling version of myself, physically and emotionally".
There’s time to get down and dirty with one more Udvartana before I leave. Carol and Ben give it their all.
There’s a final soup (I’ll admit I am looking forward to chewing something!) and I’m given advice as to how to get back to ‘normal’ eating so that the good effects aren’t lost and my stomach doesn’t rebel.
Then Carol does a wonderful thing. She’s asked me to write a letter with all my troubles and my hopes going forward. We go into the garden where she’s made a mini pyre with flowers and sticks (very pretty!) and we burn the letter. I feel as if my troubles are going up in smoke as we watch it burn – somehow very symbolic. After that we have a chat, and then it's time to say goodbye - sad but exciting. What an experience! I feel as though I’ve shed a layer of worry and come out a more sparkling version of myself, physically and emotionally.
It’s strange going back to reality but I’m glad I have the time in the car to readjust. I get home and go to bed early again. I weigh myself the next day – I’ve lost just over 3 kilos in five days! My boyfriend’s amazed at the transformation – not just the weight loss, but that I look and am genuinely happier and more relaxed. We’re getting on better than we have done for ages. I’m spending less time faffing about online and more time actually doing things. Carol’s thrilled when she calls to check in. A week later, I make a big decision and decide to start looking for a new job. I’ve no doubts that it’s entirely down to Carol’s magic – I didn’t have the confidence to do it previously.
Before I went, I’d been worried about the outlay and had held back thinking, why go to Tutbury when I can go to Thailand for the same price? It’s definitely not a destination spa experience: it’s so much more. Ultimately, it’s like I’ve had 5 years worth of therapy and massages packed into 5 days, and it was worth the time and every penny for the results. I was a bit concerned about being on my own too, but I actually enjoyed the solitude without ever being lonely or like there was nothing to do – that little house became a home from home.
What did I get out of it? Peace of mind, skills for dealing with issues, complete relaxation, stress relief and a renewed sense of self worth and vigour, as well as a better relationship and hopefully a new job. I only wish I'd gone sooner!