Could Shamanic Teachings Actually Cure Your Burnout?

A usually cynical Anna Silverman spends a week doing yoga, deep breathing and having her aura 'cleansed' in an attempt to find her calm

Chaya Yoga Retreat

by Anna Silverman |

It’s 8pm on a Thursday evening and I’m lying on the floor of an upmarket villa in Ibiza. Next to me are 18 women, sprawled across the floor. We haven’t passed out after 24 hours of raving; quite the opposite: we’re actually having our auras cleansed by a ‘Shamanic’ teacher who is chanting songs by candlelight.

Other than the singing, the only sound is some gentle drumming and the deep inhalations of the people around me on the floor. Scott Murden – our Shamanic teacher – walks around each of us, softly waving a feather over our heads and reciting mantras like ‘a Shamanic journey is about realising there’s more outside your own world, it’s about feeling connected to something larger.’

As someone who is too cynical to even read my horoscope, you might wonder how I ended up here. It turns out, an email about a yoga retreat/digital-detox, where rituals would be taught by people who’ve spent time living with Shamanic tribes in the Amazon, landed in my (overflowing) inbox at just the right time.

Chaya Yoga Retreat
The villa in Ibiza where the Clear and Connected retreat took place ©Anna Silverman

I’ve spent the past few months feeling frazzled by the pace of my life: work is very busy, I've felt a little anxious, I’m attempting to write a sketch show, organise a wedding (my own) and move house. I’m more than aware of the fact these are first-world problems and I’m extremely grateful they’re nothing more serious. But being mindful of my privilege hasn’t stopped me teetering on the edge of burnout, or helped close some of the 500 tabs open in my head. I’ve never practised yoga before, but I was so intrigued to see whether a retreat like this could help me reset, I made the impulse decision to book to go the following month.

When I land in Ibiza, Lucy Hill, 39 – who founded Chaya Yoga Retreats in 2011 – meets me at the airport and whisks me away from the hustle and bustle to two stunning villas buried in the peaceful countryside where the retreat will take place.

Chaya Yoga Retreat Lucy Hill
Lucy Hill founded Chaya Yoga Retreats in 2011 ©Lucy Hill

The no-phone policy isn’t strictly enforced, but it is encouraged, so I’m mortified when my mobile rings at full volume just as I walk in. I mute it and try my best to get zen. First up is a welcome circle, where I meet the rest of the group and where we’re all introduced to the therapists who will be working with us over the course of the week. Eighteen or so women share what has brought them to the retreat and what they hope to get out of it.

Chaya Yoga Retreat
Juice cleansing ©Anna Silverman

I’m moved by the honesty and rawness that follows: most people break down as they tell their stories. Everyone, it seems, is looking to get back to a sense of who they really are; whether to heal after a broken relationship, recover from the pain of an unsuccessful IVF attempt or reset after burnout from a high-pressured job in the corporate world.

With Chaya, each retreat has a different theme or intention and Lucy curates each one so the menus, therapists, teachings and location all reflect it. This one is called Clear and Connected and the intention is to clear anything that could be limiting a person’s happiness. The idea is that we get a lot stuck in our bodies, like trauma and stress. Natural foods, along with both flow and restorative yoga, breath work and a number of different massages and therapies are on offer to help relieve our bodies of these tensions.

We’ve seen the wellbeing business boom in the past few years as more people seem switched on to the benefits of sound baths and meditation retreats, but I want to see first-hand what a week like this really does for a person.

‘The retreat space offers an environment for people to come back to themselves, to connect to their own needs and desires and feelings, to process them and then go back into the world replenished,’ Lucy tells me.

‘One of the biggest things that people don’t realise is that they’re going to receive so much benefit from the power of the community and meeting other people when they come on a retreat,’ she adds.

Chaya Yoga Retreat
Smudging ©Lucy Hill

Last year, Lucy spent three weeks living in the Amazon jungle with a Shamanic tribe learning and absorbing their way of life. Now she wants to help people feel more connected to themselves and the world around them. How can Shamanic practises help busy, burnt-out people living a frantic city life, though?

‘I was interested in the way that they connected to nature. The way they lived in a community in harmony. I feel fundamentally that one of the biggest things that’s missing [in the West] is how to live in harmony with each other and nature and feel gratitude,’ she says.

She seems to know the right ingredients for creating a safe space – or a ‘pop-up community’ as she puts it – to ensure everyone feels able to let go, share, cry, heal and bring out the best in each other. I have a room to myself, but there’s an option to share a twin room and I’m surprised to learn some of the women who’ve been coupled together didn’t know each other before; two days in they seem like old friends.

Chaya Yoga Retreat
The food is mainly raw, gluten-free, alkaline-forming, vegan, salt and sugar free, but still manages to be delicious ©Anna Silverman

‘I always encourage people to go for it,’ Lucy says of the shared rooms. ‘90% of the time, weirdly, wonderfully or magically people seem to end up with someone who becomes their best friend,’ she says.

We launch into a week of yoga, guided meditations, Shamanic rituals, therapies and treatments. Many of the women appear to experience powerful, emotional forms of release during some of the exercises, particular when we try breath work (taught by Nicola Price. Nicola explains her role as a breathing practitioner as creating a safe environment while guiding the release of layers of pain and confusion).

Maybe my scepticism holds me back, but all I feel is extremely relaxed, except after one breath exercise where we are told to deeply inhale and lie on the floor for a while. During this, I think I see someone standing over me, surrounded by strange lights and shapes. Later I decide there’s a reasonable chance I just fell asleep in the sun and had a vivid dream.

Most of the yoga sessions led by Micki Ramondt, take place in the beautiful gardens of one of the villas. When we’re not learning about Shamanic rituals, doing yoga (two two-hour sessions most days), being massaged or trying different therapies, many of us spend the days sprawled around the pool. At meal times, we come together and feast.

We spend the week eating mainly raw, gluten-free, alkaline-forming, vegan, salt and sugar free food – but don’t switch off! I love a cheeseburger normally, yet every meal we eat is incredible; organic, seasonal and home-made, by Lucy and Laura Paine, her health-supportive, conscious head chef. Lucy prides herself on the high standard of food on all her retreats – picking ingredients that apparently ‘support the body in detoxifying and relaxing’.

‘You can either choose a diet which will support you to just kind of get by, or you can choose foods which will help you with your fullest potential and help you thrive. So what we’re doing is the latter,’ she says.

Then, half way through, we move onto a three-day juice cleanse. The juicing is supposed to raise our health and wellbeing levels with all the nutrients. I’m not convinced I’ll survive on juice: at home I feel famished if I haven’t eaten breakfast by 9am. Weirdly, though, my body gets used to it and I’m not too hungry, I just miss the idea of eating and the routine of meals.

Each juice is packed with so much fruit and so many vegetables they almost make me feel high on the healthiness after each one (we have four a day for three days). Bloating and indigestion become a distant memory.

Later in the week, there’s more guided meditations and shamanic rituals. Lucy and Scott do ‘smudging’ (which involves the burning and wafting of something sacred in order to ‘clear energy’) with a feather and ‘sacred wood’ called Palo Santo. Feathers are regarded as special tools which can clear energy in Shamanism.

‘It’s common practice within Shamanic cultures to dust down your energy field to clear things you don’t need,’ Lucy says. ‘Sometimes stuff can get stuck that you don’t need and it can drain your energy.’ We do an hour or so energy field housekeeping - Marie Kondo would be proud. But do people really feel different afterwards? I don’t.

‘In cities, I think these spiritual cleansing rituals are really important,’ Lucy says. ‘You’re in so many types of radiation, pollution and other people’s energy fields the whole time. There’s so many things to clear out. It generally helps me feel lighter and cleaner,’ she explains.

Scott talks about the need for us to reconnect to different elements to help us reconnect with who we are. The takeaway message here is all about approval. Whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’ve done, acknowledge that and approve it. I like the theory, but find it can be easier said than done.

‘When people leave here, I literally see people full of light, shining, hearts open, smiling, going out into the world,’ says Lucy.

This I can believe: on our final night we hug, swap numbers, take photos and tuck into a deliciously healthy feast to celebrate getting through the juice cleanse days. I haven’t stuck to the digital detox, but instead of beating myself up about this, I heed Scott’s advice and approve my decision, trying to ignore the fact I probably ruined my chances of feeling the full benefits of the retreat by constantly going on WhatsApp.

Whether it’s my newly-cleansed aura, the fact I haven’t stuffed my face with sugar or the fact I haven’t checked my work emails for a week, I leave feeling lighter, healthier, focused and more relaxed.

I’m eager to put into practice some of the recommendations from the week. I’ve learnt to listen to my mind and body more: if I feel stressed, from now on I’ll take myself for a walk or give take a break away from technology. If I feel anxious, I’ll remind myself of the importance of accepting and approving certain things about myself and being able to move on.

For me, the jury is still out on whether shifting energy around can heal anything in a person – but the healing power of a group of supportive, encouraging women in a pop-up community is undeniable.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER: £100 discount for Grazia readers on these upcoming Chaya Yoga retreats..

Chaya Yoga Retreats curate powerful experiences for healing and transformation within a community. Each retreat offers a unique theme, organic, plant-based menus and are supported by a professional team of therapists and practitioners.

The Temple of Yoni: Transformation Through Pleasure

14 - 21 September, 2019

Set in Ibiza, the is an all-female, sacred, sexuality retreat with the intention of helping you reconnect to your sacred, sexual power. It involves yoga, sound healing, ecstatic dance and inspiring workshops, while exploring feminine pleasure, sensuality and self-empowerment.

It is led by healing and sexuality mentor Grace Hazel and Chaya founder Lucy Hill and supported by a selection of renowned therapists. More details here:

chayayogaretreats.com/retreats/2019-the-temple-of-yoni-retreat

Stillness & Alignment retreat

5 - 12 October, 2019

This is a seven-day retreat dedicated to creating space for deep listening and connecting to inner stillness. Through Scaravelli-inspired yoga, powerful breath work and peace and quiet, you will be connecting to the energy of the change of season, turning inward and tuning in to your deepest self for complete clarity and harmonisation. More details here:

chayayogaretreats.com/retreats/2019-stillness-and-alignment

In Your Element: A 10 Day Elemental Yogic Adventure

4 - 14 February, 2020

Visit Chaya in their long-time home in India. This very special journey begins in the award-winning eco-lux Kaju Varo in north Goa for five days of beach, pool-side yoga, Indian banqueting, market trips and beautiful treatments. Then travel to Swapnaghanda eco-lodge in Western Ghats. Situated in an area of outstanding beauty, you’ll swim in water falls, hike to mountain ridges at sunrise and embrace powerful sacred spaces.

chayayogaretreats.com/retreats/2020/in-your-element-india-retreat

To book, email info@chayayogaretreats.com and quote the code : ChayGr100

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