Stop. Breathe. Repeat. Why wellness is more than a buzzword at Billabong Retreat

In Spa & Wellbeing by Meg Law

Did you know that when a person cries and the first drop of tears comes from the right eye, it’s happiness? But when the first roll is from the left, it’s pain?

I know this because after four days at a rural retreat outside Sydney I have become so in tune with my body, mind and soul that I have managed to restore a missing balance. Mind you, it was no mean feat. It all began when I found myself standing on one leg and waving my phone frantically in the air on top of a hill… madly trying to find just one bar of reception.

I had just arrived at a mindfulness/yoga retreat with my husband. No kids. Just us.

Health retreats were once only for celebrities and hardcore health fanatics. They used to be an all-or-nothing proposition only for the health obsessed and wealthy: people prepared to detox for weeks on end.

But these days, they’re more accessible for anyone: about uncovering a passion for health and wellness, connecting to oneself and taking a holistic approach to healthy mind and body.

The rave reviews had me prepared for something ‘transformational’ with included daily yoga and meditation classes, nutritious organic vegetarian fare cooked by a resident chef, massages and treetop cabins — my idea of the perfect getaway.

I was a big fan of yoga and well versed in the benefits of meditation, mindfulness and clean eating, had studied the ancient philosophers and beliefs about living a life of purpose and had even completed a positive psychology diploma. So why was I nervous?

This was supposed to be life-changing and inspirational. But what if I didn’t want to change my life? What if I was actually happy and fulfilled with the life I was leading? My inner skeptic rose to the surface. Mastering the art of mindfulness was clearly going to take me more than a few hours to achieve.

Settling into our treetop cabin, I suddenly felt completely liberated. No cooking, bath times and bedtime stories for this little Dalai Lama.

I ventured outside to explore the beautiful tree-lined property and was greeted by a chorus of nature. Kookaburras, lorikeets and king parrots all making themselves known.

Huge sandstone rocks rose up from the billabong with the timber cabins discreetly perched on the escarpment, nesting in the trees overlooking the lotus garden, a stunning natural setting for a retreat.

Billabong Retreat is a 30-bed, certified eco nature resort located at Maraylya – only 45 minutes from Sydney CBD. It’s the creation of Paul and Tory von Bergen who purchased the land in 2008 with the vision to create a place to reconnect with nature and find peace of mind, contentment and wellness.

“Some people are here because they want to be here. Others are here because they NEED to be here,” explained our petite, softly spoken yoga instructor. This was also a retreat renowned for assisting guests with stress management, addictions, anxiety and disease-avoidance.

Following the yoga session came my first meditation class, where ‘internal chatter’ was deemed my worst enemy. After a bushwalk to burn off excess energy, I indulged in a one-hour massage, followed by reiki, and a nutritious and delicious meal. We then retreated to our treetop cabin for quite possibly the most peaceful and uninterrupted sleep I have ever had!

The next few days were similar. No clocks or schedules, just the opportunity to simply ‘be’.

On the third day, after enjoying a mindfulness class delving into the science of neuroplasticity and epigenetics and experiencing the power of breath awareness, I headed to the communal log fire with my herbal tea. Rugged up in a mohair blanket, staring out into the towering eucalypts, I realised I was in a state of complete and utter bliss. Cue the “happy tears” mentioned earlier.

My usual daily, frenetic juggling act had been replaced with daily meditation, yoga and mindfulness classes, massages, reiki, reading ancient philosophies on wellness, countless herbal teas and… silence.

Yes, let’s talk about the silence. At breakfast we embraced the opportunity to try one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques: Vipassana, which is effectively silence. That morning we removed the social pressure of exchanging conversation with strangers and instead focused on mindful eating.

Over four days we indulged in everything from chia porridge and raw cherry bites to bone-healing beetroot soup, vegan casseroles and lentil curries — and instead of the usual shiraz, a healthy glass of lemon and turmeric elixir.

Storytelling was a ritual at every meal, with our expert Ayurvedic chefs explaining what each meal included and its medicinal benefits. “Don’t eat rice once the sun goes down”, the chef explained. “When the sun is highest in the sky, our digestive agni (or ‘fire’) is working at its maximum potency. And as the sun goes down, so does our agni.”

Ayurvedic Indian medicine is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.

Reflecting over the course of four days, focusing on nourishing my mind, body and soul (and detoxing all the sugar and toxic energy I usually subjected my body to) had resulted in a better version of ‘me’. I felt calmer, happier, peaceful, more present and as though someone had lit my inner wick. I was conscious, alive and awake.

On my final evening, I sat at dusk listening to the cacophony of frogs and bellbirds through the open window overlooking the billabong with lily pads the colour of emerald in still water.

Stillness. Clarity. Peace.

Need to know before you go:

Billabong Retreat has fixed days for arrivals and departures; Friday, Sunday, Monday & Wednesday.

Prices per person vary depending on the style of accommodation, ranging from $250 for a shared room per night to $300 per night for a private room. Prices include accommodation, linen, towels, all meals, drinks, snacks, twice daily yoga, meditation plus retreat programs.

You can pay an additional cost to add private yoga or treatments including massages, facials, reiki, hypnotherapy or kinesiology.

Find out more here