By Helen Preston, counsellor.
I love being outside in nature, feeling a breeze on my skin as I start to let go of the day. As I surround myself with the miracles of the natural world, I know that I am part of a perfect cycle of new life, growth and completion. I can breathe deeply and connect to a source of healing much bigger than myself.
I particularly love the forests and the fields with trickling streams. I love British coastlines, the sea and the sand, beaches offering up tiny treasures such as a perfectly-shaped pebble that fits in the palm of your hand feeling cool and smooth.
I love the mountainous landscape of the Scottish Highlands and the rolling Welsh hills of home. It was growing up in Wales and spending my childhood outdoors that gave me such an appreciation of it all. It was my playground, real and ever-changing.
So I count myself very lucky to have found a rural idyll in peaceful Norfolk, a women-only retreat that is aptly named ‘Breathing Space’. The building used to be an old rectory and has a large farmhouse kitchen, which is perfect for gathering in to share food and meet the other guests.
It immediately feels like home as you are invited to treat it as such from the moment you arrive. There is something special about being trusted as if you were an old friend. Some of the other nine visitors I met had been before many times, while others, like me, were experiencing it for the first time.
Although none of us had met before, there was an acceptance that we were stepping out of our everyday lives and could just be ourselves. Some, like me, were staying for one night, while others lingered for a few days.
A rare gift
One lady was a nurse, another a spiritual co-ordinator at a hospice. One woman had lost her husband. Several worked in the corporate world. One was self-employed and worked long hours. But we all were there to nurture themselves. Women often specialise in giving too much or think they need to be superwoman. The lady who had lost her husband had returned to work the day after his funeral but had never really grieved….
We all bonded swiftly over coffee and again later over dinner as we shared our stories and laughed together. One lady cried but did not feel she had to apologise or leave. She could just feel her feelings within the group.
It a rare gift to be able to be who you are in your sadness and express it by your tears without judgment or comment. Hugs are good but they are sometimes the last thing someone needs. Hugs can say: ‘There, there, don’t be sad. Wipe away your tears’, but maybe it is the opposite that is required.
At Breathing Space, you can stay in a former shepherd’s hut in the large garden. Set away from the house, it offers a ‘camping’ experience but in comfort. It was a quirky space and one that you could take yourself off to be completely away from everyone else if you needed it.
But I chose one of the rooms within the house, each of which is individually decorated and equally beautiful and comfortable. I loved the many personal touches: the lovely toiletries, the many and varied pictures that hung on the walls, the salt lamps and crystals, the sayings and little notes. A note on my bathroom mirror said: ‘You are beautiful’.
The kitchen was homely and inviting, housing a large dresser adorned with objects all imbued with special meaning. The lounge had two squishy sofas with blankets to cuddle up in and a log burner for cosiness in the winter.
Several log cabins in the garden provided space for yoga and other group activities. You can book a range of holistic therapies, which are provided in a cabin overlooking a small lake. It is a perfect setting in which to relax and be pampered.
It was on the decking of this cabin that I chose to sit for my early morning meditation and yoga practice. Sitting there, watching the dragonflies skim the water, I felt completely at peace and at one with nature.
I did not booked a treatment this time but would most definitely do so next time. One lady appeared to float across the grass after experiencing an hour each of reflexology and Indian Head Massage. She still looked blissfully relaxed several hours later at dinner.
Time seemed to slow down the moment I arrived there. Just a few miles from the beach and a wetland reserve, there were no end of places to visit. Walking through the nature reserve, I was joined by a multitude of butterflies, damson flies and dragonflies. The sky was clear blue and the sun was warm. A gentle breeze cooled the air as I walked for hours in this watery wonderland, listening to the sounds of the birds. Every bit of tension slipped quietly away.
In the evening at sunset, I sat on the beach and listened to the lapping of the waves, feeling the warm sand beneath my feet. As the sun gradually slid below the horizon, the sky became infused with hues of red and orange. Still warm, still quiet and peaceful, it was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Because this retreat is special – it is a wonderful place to step out of the stresses and strains of everyday life and simply be. After all, we all need a bit of breathing space sometimes.
Helen Preston is a counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner. Her approach to therapy acknowledges the crucial inter-relationship of mind, body and spirit. Helen is a member of the National Counselling Society and has an Advanced Diploma in psychotherapy and counselling, a Diploma in Hypnotherapy and an EFT Master Practitioner certificate.