Happy Buddha is the kind of yoga retreat for people who say they hate meditating. It’s for the ones who fidget, who run through their to-do lists as they close their eyes, or battle with a running commentary of negative thoughts. Basically, it’s for all of us.
Located in the Blue Mountains, overlooking a valley of eucalyptus trees and squawking cockatoos, the modern retreat has twin rooms, all facing the peaceful outdoor swimming pool and a lightly manicured lawn where guests rise with the sun, holding a herbal tea and blanket, to start the day.
Time Out was a guest at the retreat for one weekend in spring and we experienced beautiful sunrises, gentle yoga, massage, bush walks and veggie buffets. One of the biggest drawcards for Happy Buddha (aside from the walking distance to Wentworth Falls train station) is the retreat’s attitude to its guests. No one is expected to follow the program to the letter; if you’ve escaped your routine for sleep, then you’re encouraged to do just that. You’re in charge.
There are a few rules, of course, such as honouring whisper time – before morning classes and after 10pm – and agreeing to the no-booze, no-drugs waiver. A handful of guests joked about missing their glass of pinot in the evenings, but it was more of a challenge to go without coffee and sugar. Of course, you’re not locked into the building. If you want to explore the local shops, venture to one of the nearby waterfalls (there’s a steep 15-minute trail that leads directly to the backyard), or pick up a flat white and chocolate muffin from Il Postino’s or Blue Mist on Station Street, you can.
We crammed a lot of activity into our two-night stay without feeling overwhelmed. Every day starts with optional 7am vinyasa yoga or 8am hatha yoga – or both. All classes take place in the light-filled studio, accessed via a hidden door that doubles up as a bookshelf. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds, and classes are suitable for all levels. Teacher Courtney Louise is particularly supportive and coaches each person without judgement.
What surprised us most about Happy Buddha is that we laughed so much – every day. As earnest as a yoga and meditation retreat sounds (and sometimes it was), it was also a truly joyful experience. And yet, we’ve never cried so much in one weekend. At first, the very idea of attending a yoga retreat – and having to talk to new people – made our shoulders tense, but by the end of the weekend we’d embraced eye contact challenges (daunting until you try it), heartily hugged people we barely knew, and wiped away tears we didn’t know were hiding underneath the surface.
It’s unsurprising that those drawn to a weekend of quiet contemplation bring with them a catalogue of life experiences, from divorce to career changes, but don’t let the idea of shared baggage put you off. By day three, we are finding it easier to open up to one another, to share our fears, and to loosen up. We felt lighter for it. And we’ve come away with a new Whatsapp group of friends.
Considering we’d come prepared to salute the sun, we’re happy to say the highlights from the weekend were not what you’d expect. For us, it was listening to a chorus of names being called as we threw egg-shaped shakers around the room – a practice of meditation with sound. For others the main takeaway was sitting in the intense drumming circle, which pushed them out of their comfort zone, or knowing that nothing was expected from them other than simply turning up. What Happy Buddha aims to achieve is serenity and prana (Sanskrit for life-force), which we learned is all about practice – and where better to remind yourself of that than in a safe, accepting, comforting retreat in the edge of the Australian bush?