Happy Buddha Retreat is nestled on the side of a mountain nearby the town of Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, about an hour and a half from Sydney. I came here looking for a relaxing place where I could practice yoga, meet like minded people, eat healthy food, be in a natural environment and be able to take time to tune into my heart.
I flew from Melbourne to Sydney, and at the airport I was able to buy a train ticket all the way to the Wentworth Falls train station, via a change at Central Station. After a very pleasant train trip (except for the non-opening windows – Sydney train people if you are reading this please fix!) I arrived in the mountains, and was picked up by my friend, the current manager of the retreat.
My first impressions were: tranquility, nature, a fun and uplifting atmosphere, and a strong community of people supporting the participants.
Set on 40 acres, the main building can house up to about 30 people over two floors. Each room looks out to a spectacular mountain view, and the ground floor rooms open out to the garden and pool area. At one end of the building is the dining room, which also has a stunning view over the eucalypts towards the South.
In front of the main building is a seating area where participants can eat lunch on sunny days, as well as a stunning pool of about 15 metres. Just below this garden area is a 30 minute walk which heads down to a hidden grotto with a waterfall and a mini beach – perfect for some nature meditation.
I have recently discovered the Japanese term ‘Shirin-Yoko’ which translates as nature bathing. Developed in the early 1980s, it refers to the health benefits of bathing in the atmosphere of a forest; of connecting deeply with nature. This retreat and the walk down to the secret grotto is the perfect opportunity to practice some Shirin-Yoko, Australian style.
The Happy Buddha philosophy, as developed by founder Athill Singh is all about connecting with self, others and nature and revealing the happiness that is our true nature.
When we are able to let go of the fears, worries and self-doubt that can easily obscure our happiness just like moss growing over a tree, then we are able to shine like the gem that we are, sharing our gifts and our joys and being fully seen and received in all our glory.
The Retreat Program
- 7am: Dynamic Yoga Flow
- 8am: Gentle Yoga
- 9am – 9:30: Breakfast
- 9;45 – 10:45: Meditation talk
- 1:00 – 2:00: Lunch
- 2:30-3:30: Drum Circle
- 3:30-5;30: Free time
- 5:30-6:30: Yin Yoga
- 7:30: Dinner
- 8:30-9:00: Yoga Nidra
The two and a half day retreat program (Friday to Sunday and Monday to Wednesday) is designed around the foundation of morning yoga, free time to explore, delicious food, and time in nature. Athill is a passionate musician and has incorporated a lot of musical elements into the experience, like the drumming circle and occasionally a concert or a kirtan (depending on whether there is a musician like me in residence 🙂 !) If you just want to relax and enjoy the bush you are welcome to do that too.
Then comes delicious healthy breakfast of fruit and porridge, followed by a talk and discussion about meditation at 9:45. After lunch there is free time, before a drumming circle at 2;30.
For those of you who thought a yoga retreat was all about quiet contemplation, think again!
A passionate drummer and percussionist, Athill distributes drums or percussion instruments to all, and leads the group in a fun, free flowing interactive drumming workshop which when I took part, was full of overflowing laughter. It’s so inspiring to see people visibly moving out of their comfort zone, testing the boundaries, stepping into the water (rhythm), enjoying in, and then jumping in more fully.
It’s also beautiful to see the smiles that break out on the faces of the more timid drummers when Athill tells them, ‘Right, now you are officially qualified to lead kids parties’.
[Aside: In a previous life Athill did actually host drum circles for kids parties so he knows what he’s talking about!]
So much of getting into life and enjoying yourself depends on losing your inhibitions and letting go of any thoughts that you can’t do something or other or that you are too old, or too young, or ‘not the kind of person who…..’.
Athill and his co-teachers Courtney and Lucien (and me!) are great at supporting the uplifting of group energy so that everyone can take part, let go and really feel like an important part of the process.
Healthy Vegetarian Food
Happy Buddha prides itself on providing participants with delicious vegetarian food for each meal of the day. Breakfast is a stunning spread of fruits, along with fresh porridge, and sometimes soaked chia seeds.
Lunch includes roasted eggplant, rice noodle salad, a healthy rocket and spinach and sesame salad and dinner is often hearty home cooked India curries lovingly made by founder Athill’s mother and father who are sometimes in residence in an apartment on the property.
There is tea and coffee available all day long, along with healthy Indian snacks, and often a home made cake in the afternoons. I spent a few mornings cooking the flourless orange and almond cake, a house speciality and funnily enough, also one of my favourites from way back. If you are a vegan though steer clear of this one, it has about 12 eggs!
An eco-friendly business that is mindful of its environmental impact, Happy Buddha has a composting system (along with a machine for breaking down the compost) and there are also about 15 chickens in residence who are very happy to eat up food scraps each day.
The retreat is in the process of planting out a veggie garden.
While I was there, some visitors and volunteers planted eggplants, rocket, lettuce, capsicums, chillies, beetroot and also a range of flowers. If you come for a retreat in the summer months, you will most likely be eating this produce.
Massage and Healing Arts
At most retreats at Happy Buddha there are also massage therapists available to help you relax even deeper. A variety of different massage styles are on offer from trained therapists in Thai massage, Shiatsu, Relaxation massage, Swedish massage and more.
Creativity is in the air at this mountain hideaway, and creative expression is encouraged at the retreat.
Resident artist, Tara Resch, whose paintings are up on the walls and who also runs Art Therapy sessions on request for retreat participants.
Not limited to painting, she also sometimes offers an impromptu poetry performance at mealtimes, entertaining the guests with her beautiful poems, about coming into presence and recognising the beauty all around us.
Tara’s beautiful cards, prints and paintings are available for sale to guests who want to take home some of her colourful and life affirming works.
Find out more about Tara’s work here.
There is also a piano in the corner of the living room, where which I played a French inspired concert on for some of the groups and a piano based kirtan for another (lots of surprised and curious faces of people who had never before heard of this ancient Bhakti yoga practice).
The town of Wentworth Falls is just a ten minute walk from the retreat, and has some great cafés for those who feel like exploring. Surrounded by nature walks. the lake is a busy on the weekends so you may want to get down there early for a meditative morning walk.
Ten minutes drive away are the spectacular Wentworth Falls, which when I visited were not much more than a trickle due to a dry winter, but no less beautiful. Overlooking a thickly treed valley that looks like it goes on forever, on the day we visited we were blessed with a perfect and complete rainbow, arching across the mountains, a multicoloured reminder of the mystery of the universe.
Happy Buddha retreat is supported by a thriving community of volunteers from Australia and around the world, who come to be work and live in this new family of people united by their love of nature, a healthy lifestyle and practicing presence through yoga and creativity.
During my stay there was a rotating team of beautiful volunteers from New Zealand, Brazil, France, the Czech Republic, China and Taiwan as well as Sydney and Melbourne locals. The beautiful thing about this community is its openness and support of each individual’s talents and abilities, and everyone is encouraged to share their talents in some way with the retreat-ants.
Volunteers do everything at the retreat, from working in the garden planting trees, to teaching yoga, to cooking, cleaning and housekeeping, as well as playing in the house band should the occasion demand it.
Happy Buddha finds its volunteers through the HelpX website, but you can also contact them directly through the website if you are interested in coming as a volunteer .
Special Offer for Global Yogi Readers!
Get $50 off your retreat at Happy Buddha using the promotional code ‘globalyogi’ when you book via their website. You won’t regret it 🙂 ! And you might just end up staying longer than planned.