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The sweetness of doing nothing but yoga in France

November, 2010

Last year was particularly stressful. When I was given the opportunity to spend my summer in Europe, I decided to make the most of it and take part in a relaxing yoga retreat in the south of France.

It was late in June when I got on the train in Orléans. Four hours later, I arrived in Toulouse, where I met with four other women at the airport. Mike was waiting for us with a large van. We drove quietly through the dark countryside of the Ariège region, one of the least populated in France, to arrive at Domaine de la Grausse.

Domaine de la Grausse is a seven-hectare estate in the tiny village of Clermont in southwest France, within the magnificent Pyrénées mountains. During the summer months, Mike and Dagmar open their property to host yoga retreats for those looking for a week or two to relax and rejuvenate. The estate consists of a 17th-century château, three renovated stone barns and a small lake. It is built in a serene valley.

Michelle and Megan are from England. Eva and her daughter Lotta are from Sweden. The five of us ranged in age from 23 to 50 and our backgrounds were just as diverse.

We were greeted by a symphony of frogs, which, to our delight, feasted on the mosquitoes. Mike led us to the Grange, which was converted into charming guest bedrooms. An overwhelming sense of tranquility seeped into my bones. For the first time in more than a year, I laid my head on my pillow without a care in the world.

The next morning we woke up to the most beautiful setting. The grounds were full of butterflies, roses and dragonflies. Mike drove us to the closest town, Le Mas d’Azil, to buy groceries. It is about an eight-kilometre drive from Clermont, and the road cuts through the prehistoric site of la Madeleine, magnificent caves with paintings created between 12,000 and 9,000 BC. The sleepy town had just one square, one small grocery store, a boulangerie, patisserie, post office, three restaurants, a few other little stores and barely a soul in sight.

Molly and Michelle strike poses at La Cascade D’Ars.

To call Clermont sleepy would be an understatement. Domaine de la Grausse was about a 10-minute walk to the centre of town – one store with four shelves of food and a little fridge displaying meats and cheeses, a small restaurant that served us crêpes on our final evening, a couple of old brick buildings and two old men outside, looking as though they had been sitting there for 50 years, waiting for something to happen.

There was no phone, no Internet, no television, no radio and worst of all (or maybe best of all) no full-length mirrors! Aside from a few brown cows and a couple of horses, rarely did we see anyone but each other wandering around the grounds or in nearby towns. The sound of the cowbell in the distance was the soundtrack to our breakfast. There were no men to impress, no emails to check, and no phones to answer. We were completely cut off, and I had finally found what my mind and body were desperately seeking: peace.

Dagmar teaches the yoga classes twice daily. The morning class takes place in a beautiful studio on the third floor of the château overlooking the estate grounds and lake. The evening class takes place in the renovated stone barn, a cool escape from the hot summer days.

The classes weren’t as vigorous as I had anticipated. I had justified gluttonizing on chocolate croissants and smelly French cheeses while in Paris the week before, thinking I would get back in shape doing yoga twice a day for a week.

I was used to the power yoga I had practiced in Los Angeles. This wasn’t quite the same.

The yoga we practiced at Domaine de la Grausse was relaxing and consisted mostly of stretching, breathing and meditation exercises. And that was exactly what I needed. I may not have been in my best bikini shape for the beaches in Marbella, but I was a lot better off for it.

A curious kitten the owners had adopted would occasionally meander around the barn studio during class, as if to make sure we were all holding the poses up to her standards.

Aside from yoga, there are many additional activities the adventurist can take part in during their stay at the Domaine: hiking, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding, paragliding, and kayaking to name a few. One may also indulge in a variety of holistic treatments, Reiki, facials and massages. One day we went for a leisurely hike in the mountains to La Cascade d’Ars – one of the highest waterfalls in the Pyrénées.

In general, our group was more content with the sweetness of doing nothing rather than paragliding or kayaking through the mountains. The days blended into one another. We spent most afternoons reading or wandering around picking berries.

Despite our diversity, we bonded easily. Every night after our evening yoga class we cooked dinner, sat on the terrace, shared a bottle of wine and talked for hours — until the nightly frog symphony commenced. Those are my fondest memories.

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