Yoga teacher Diane Valentine, who led the retreat, always ends her classes by citing the lotus flower, which rises in its beauty from the muddy waters. And last weekend I was able to escape the muddy waters - aka my life - for an entire heavenly weekend. Not that my life is particularly any muddier than anyone else's but, my, we all do wade through a lot of mud in our daily lives, don't we?
The retreat was held at a place in Sonoma called Westerbeke Ranch. It started late Friday afternoon with a yoga session and a welcome from an employee of the ranch. She told us the spread has served for years as a vacation retreat for its owners. As the family grew, its members developed the grounds and buildings, and added from their travels to the Mexican and Spanish decor. In the late 1960s, the patriarch ended up going to the Philippines for a non-traditional cure of a tumor, which was successful. With that, the family dedicated the ranch to hosting conferences of groups that are "alternative."
Is yoga still considered alternative? I had assumed that if I'm doing it, it must be mainstream. But maybe that is because I view it primarily as a form of exercise, as we move from one posture to another. Here's a simple definition: Yoga is the union of the body, mind, emotions and intellect. Talking to others over the weekend I found that most of them were interested in the mind, emotions and intellect part.
The 18 of us on the retreat varied in our yoga. I started a couple of years ago at the Diablo Yoga Center in Danville and sometimes go to Diane's Yoga and Movement Center in Walnut Creek. Some of those on the retreat do yoga several times a week and have been for years. Others are newer to the practice. There was a woman who had been given the retreat as a Christmas present from her daughter so she thought, well, she'd better learn how to do yoga and found a class near her home in the Oakland Hills. Another newcomer to yoga had a hard time locating a beginner class so she took a session at a community college then followed the instructor to continue classes at her studio.
Westerbeke is known for creative cooking with herbs and natural flavors, fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farms, all served in a tiled dining room or outside on a patio. I had heard people talk about the biannual Westerbeke retreat before, and they always said, "And the food!" and I always thought, "Oh, how good can food be?" Well, let me tell you: It can be mighty good. The homemade dinner rolls were so hot from the oven they burned our fingertips. Plus, as Diane said, "We're not one of those yoga groups that doesn't eat meat or drink wine." I'll toast to that.
Each of the Saturday and Sunday sessions began with a much-needed 20-minute rest on our left sides to help digest our food. In the evenings, there was a fire pit and a hot tub for relaxation plus lingering visits around the dinner table. I hadn't really known anyone else when I left for the retreat but I wasn't worried; I figured anyone who practices yoga would have to be friendly and interesting. And I was right. I think I finally understand Burning Man, the city of 48,000 that rises in the Nevada desert each year; one guy who is a regular raved about its creative endeavors - he was even married at Burning Man.
For a wonderful weekend, I participated in yoga classes, wandered around the lovely grounds of the ranch, visited with delightful people, and ate the gourmet food. I came back renewed - I don't remember when I last felt so good physically or so relaxed. Just call me California Yoga Mom.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.