Early morning yoga session

Early morning yoga session

A trip to a Swedish yoga retreat provided a few surprises and some radical results for Jonathan Schofield

A failing body brought me to a yoga and nature retreat in the wilderness of Sweden’s Vastmanland region. Years hunched over a computer, sat on commuter trains or believing that health and fitness could only be pummeled in through punishing runs, bike rides or gym session, had all taken their toll. With my aching back, sciatic nerve pain and twinges in my left knee suggesting another trip to the surgeon, it was time to do something that might ease the inner turmoil of my body – not to mention my mind – but let’s not go there.

Instructor and retreat owner Kari Knight

Instructor and retreat owner Kari Knight

I didn’t arrive at Eden’s Garden – the idyllic Swedish farmhouse that would be our home for the next four days – a complete yoga novice, but I wasn’t far off. I’d tried a couple of lessons in a dusty school hall years before. Felt ashamed when I couldn’t touch my toes as the octogenarian lady next to me eased effortlessly into every position and I lacked the discipline to persevere.

Moose are a regular sight around the retreat

Moose are a regular sight around the retreat

Set up by Hatha yoga teacher Kari Knight and her half-Swedish partner Stefan, the small-scale retreat is aimed at providing intimate yoga instruction in a place that seems undisturbed by man.

Classes started at a civilised time in the morning with breathing exercises and gentle movements on the lawn. During these sessions it wasn’t unusual to see White-tailed Eagles circling overhead or hear Bitterns and Cranes calling from the shimmering lake beyond the farmhouse. The morning light is dazzling and the air so pure you can taste it.

“Hold and breath” Jonathan attempts a more advanced position

“Hold and breath” Jonathan attempts a more advanced position

I could sense my body waking up in ways that the combined effort of coffee and Radio 4 fail to achieve at home. Then, inside the monastic simplicity of the farmhouse, we took part in a more vigorous session before tucking into a big breakfast of delicious food. It’s not all downward dog and there are no enemas – which is a relief as I’d read about retreats where rubber tubes and caffeine provided an uncomfortable early morning ritual. In fact, thanks to Stefan who toiled away in the kitchen throughout the day, every mealtime saw a table laden with delicious porridge, creamy risottos, butternut squash, coconut and snap pea curries and more fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds than I’d usually eat in a year.

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Al fresco dining. Lunchtime outside Eden’s Retreat farmhouse

Our group, made up of varying abilities, but with me firmly at the bottom of the class, were stretched in every sense of the word. There were times when I found the sessions both soul destroying and gloriously uplifting – shocked at my bodies inability to hold what looked like a simple pose and trying to breath at the same time. “Don’t forget to breath Jonathan,” was a line I heard regularly from Kari as she noticed the sweat beading on my brow.

But it’s as far from a boot camp as you can get with ample time between the morning and late afternoon yoga sessions to explore the region on foot, bike or in the canoes provided. Alternatively there was ample opportunity for a bit of sunny solitude.

Delicious, organic and locally produced food everyday

Delicious, organic and locally produced food everyday

This is Europe’s closest wilderness – even without the meditation and yoga there is a powerful restorative feeling from just being outdoors.

Canoeing on the Black River

Canoeing on the Black River

We spent one afternoon on a meditation walk through an ancient woodland of towering trees. A place of astounding silence that was only broken by birdsong and the humming of a bee. On the second evening, under a soft, dwindling light that never quite extinguished I paddled a canoe along the Black River that runs in front of the farmhouse and for a couple of hours drifted through a primeval landscape. As a low mist snaked along the river, Moose plodded along the reedy banks, Beavers swam up to the canoe before slamming their tails onto the surface and swimming furiously back to the riverbank. This is how nature is supposed to be experienced.

Plenty of time for exploring the region by bike

Plenty of time for exploring the region by bike

On the final night, when I genuinely began to wonder if I could feel any more relaxed, we slipped into the Swedish hot tub, indulged in a platter of fruit and supped sweet birch sap juice while poaching ourselves under a darkening sky. I flew home the next day, feeling like I’d been taken apart, oiled and put back together again.

No alcohol or meat touched my lips for three months after returning although Christmas put paid to that. As for the pain in my back, the weekly yoga classes I now take have kept it at bay and to the bemusement of neighbours I can often be seen saluting the sun in the garden or in the downward dog position in the local park.

Useful Information:
– Kari’s next retreats will take place in spring: May 22-26 and autumn: Sept 25-29
– For more information contact Kari on 07941 939645 or email yoga@kknight.plus.com
– For further information on Eden’s Garden go to www.edensgarden.se
– Flights with Ryan Air from Stansted to Vasteras
– Cost: £375 – includes transfers, two hour walking meditation in ancient forest, all vegetarian food and accommodation, yoga sessions and guided meditation
– Treatments and extra activities, include Tibetan singing bowl massage, traditional massage, Swedish hot tub, Reiki, cycle hire, canoe hire and beaver safari.

About Jonathan Schofield

After 20 years working for newspaper, magazine and publishing companies Jonathan Schofield quit the commute, converted his shed into an office and went freelance. He now writes about travel, train networks, plant phenomics and fraud. When not in his shed he's usually in a canoe or on a bike.