For A Chilled-Out You Novice Emine Saner joins a yoga retreat
It doesn't, I admit, start well. I am lying on a mat, and Maya Fiennes, our yoga teacher, asks us to close our eyes, bring our palms to our lips, and kiss them. No, surely not! I peek at the person next to me who is faithfully following instructions. 'Give Love! Receive love!' cries Maya. I try, but it's too much. I am not, I realise, very enlightened.
I am on a week-long retreat held by Fiennes at the luxurious Carlisle Bay Hotel in Antigua, nestled in an idyllic crescent of sand and clear glassy Caribbean sea. Fiennes is rather wonderful - born in Macedonia, she has been a concert pianist, fashion designer and is now a yoga guru - but I think she's a bit bonkers. She says things such as, 'We're about to enter the Age of Aquarius, which will bring a huge change to the world.' Does the government know this? What provisions have been made? As she demonstrates exercises that, she says, will do everything from speeding up our metabolism to preventing - yes preventing - breast cancer, I feel annoyed at this new agey stuff. But she looks so incredible - glowing and fizzing with energy - that I'm prepared to give it a go.
I've always thought that yoga was good exercise for lazy people like me, since it seems to involve a lot of lying down. Kundalini yoga - which Maya practices - is a discipline that involves the mind as much as the body. I am amazed at how thought processes can reduce physical discomfort. At one session we sit on the floor and move our arms in a front crawl swimming motion with no resting allowed. After about three minutes it is agonising. 'Make friends with the pain!' Shouts Maya. I don't want to be friends with the pain. 'Use the power of your mind!' I tell myself it doesn't hurt that much. Miraculously, it's a lot easier. By the ninth minute, my arms are pumping as if I'm a channel swimmer, and I don't want to stop.
The other guests - stressed-out execs and frazzled couples - take on a serene look as the week goes on. I don't know if the heat is doing funny things to me, but my cynicism has evaporated and I am sucked in to Maya's energy field. I feel emotional, elated and there's plenty of time between classes - in the spa, floating in the sea, or dozing on your balcony loooking out over the mangroves as pelicans swoop past - to reflect on life.
Our final session is on the jetty at 7am. I may already be dreading my return to London, but, right now, as the waves gently lap the wooden struts and the sun continues its climb, I can't think of anywhere better to be.
The next Carlisle Bay Vitality Week with Maya Fiennes starts 17 May 2009 and costs £895pp based on two sharing including meals, activity programme and treatments. Visit baholidays.com.