For some, a solo holiday is a journey out of the comfort zone: “Will I be safe?”, “Will I be lonely?” – but my biggest concern was “Who’s going to put sunscreen on my back?”

I recently found myself with the urge for some last-minute winter sun but with all my friends having used up their holiday entitlement, it was looking likely that I was going to be going it alone. I was secretly excited about the opportunity to really spend time with myself and reflect on how I wanted the year ahead to unfold.

I was looking for something ‘retreaty’, a holistic break with some kind of fitness activity thrown in and of course that all important guaranteed balmy climate. Cue Sri Lanka, the Isle of Serendipity that attracts hippies and yogis in equal numbers. Famed for its lush tropical landscape, dramatic coastlines and delicious food, all lines of enquiry kept bringing me back to this magical isle.

Sri Lanka

With resorts aplenty offering Ayurvedic, yoga and wellness retreats, it was difficult to decide where to go but I opted for something entirely more personal – a private ‘Pranarama’ yoga retreat run by humanitarian Donna Williams. Donna is one of those special people; her motto, “to bring about world peace one love at a time” shines through the minute you meet her. Donna also happens to have worked in some of the world’s most challenging destinations. She created Pranarama Retreats to bring together like-minded people, prana filled food, top class yoga and some of the world’s most stunning destinations.

Our ‘home’ for the week was one of the six stunning Nisala Villas, perched atop a pretty headland close to Mirissa at the southernmost tip of the island. Located amongst the coconut groves, the villa overlooks the Indian Ocean and secluded beach below. The private gardens are teeming with wildlife. We were visited by birds aplenty (as large as the wild peacock), the largest of squirrels, large monitor lizards… in fact all species there seem to be available in large!

I have to tell you about the villa, and it’s hard not to use clichés such as jaw dropping. Nisala Villas has been a 10-year project of Architect Gill Cheshire, her husband Chris, and good friend Malaysian Chinese landscape designer Mr Inch Lim who has extensive experience in Asian tropical house design and landscaping. The design inspiration came from the work of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. As you will see from the photograph below, Bawa’s ethos is to create “spaces to look from, not at”. From the outset, the team set out to fully respect the landscape. Trees were preserved at great effort and any that were lost or removed were recycled on site to become timber flooring and coconut products such as lamp covers and screens.

Sri Lanka

The key focal point is the infinity pool which literally falls away into the Indian Ocean beyond. We spent many an hour lazing on the huge day bed or perched on the edge of the pool getting to know our fellow yogis.

The villa is available fully staffed and comes with an incredible kitchen team headed up by chef Ms Ramia. Donna consulted with the team prior to the retreat and together they agreed a menu devoid of sugar, gluten, meat and dairy.

The servings were plentiful, teeming with variety and packed with wholesome healthy ingredients. Every day was different but there were some delicious Sri Lankan staples and we started most days with egg-hoppers, a sort of basket made from rice flour and coconut water, hosting a perfectly fried egg. Lunch was always a fresh homemade soup and a colourful salad, and dinners were a feast to behold, usually hot buffet style curries, vegetables and platters of tropical fruit.

Sri Lanka

The typical order of the day was as follows:

6:30 Fresh fruit and herbal teas

7:00 Morning yoga practice (90 minutes)

9:00 Breakfast

Adhoc activities such as 1:1 private yoga sessions, energy healing sessions, massage, stroll to the beach, swim or lounge by the pool, or do absolutely nothing!

13:00 Lunch

Adhoc activities such as 1:1 private yoga sessions, energy healing sessions, massage, stroll to the beach, swim or lounge by the pool, or do absolutely nothing!

17:30 Evening yoga practice (90 minutes)

19:00 Dinner

The yoga sessions took place either by the pool or in one of the open-air lounges, accompanied by a backdrop of either sunrise or twinkling stars, the crashing sound of the ocean beyond and a chorus of the local birds. No music required.

As one might imagine, my first session was largely spent comparing my asanas with those of the other participants. I was relatively unfit and more of an ad-hoc yogi than a hard-core regular practitioner. The retreat had the potential to be soul-destroying but in fact it was quite the opposite. I have experienced many teachers over the years but none quite like Donna. She’s trained with some of the best the world over, and it shows. Donna brought tremendous humour and wisdom, as well as little treats, to our sessions. She instinctively knew by our mood if we needed to be uplifted, pushed a little or soothed. Each session was different, with the first practice spent getting us ready for the week ahead, setting intentions and assessing our individual levels and challenges. As the week progressed, we built up to some pretty hard-core power yoga sessions and we even managed my personal favourite, some double-decker planks, towards the end of the retreat.

Sri Lanka

The final practice was absolutely beautiful, with a special ritual whereby we wrote down and burned what no longer served us, and we each wrote anonymous little love-notes for our fellow yogis and left them under each other’s mats to be read in the privacy of our own reflection. At last we could look towards the new year in quiet confidence, optimism and clarity.

At the end of the week I was toned, my skin literally glowed, I had lost weight and my tummy was the flattest it has been in years. The Pranarama Retreat had an air of exclusivity about it whilst being permeated with love and nurture.   With only 8 attendees, this was a truly personal experience and some might say, literally life-changing. A perfect blend of being alone, with others.

Oh and my kind fellow-retreaters were also on hand to apply that much needed sun-screen!

Register for the Pranarama newsletter to find out about future retreats around the world.

Sri Lanka

About the author

About Carolyn Pearson – Carolyn is the Founder and CEO of women’s business travel network www.maiden-voyage.com

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