Viveka Yoga Retreat

»Mediterranean yoga in France«

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The charming family that run the southern-French Viveka make this idyllic retreat an informal and welcoming place to experience Ashtanga and Viniyoga. Operating only through summer, the week-long retreats take full advantage of the local climate - a riot of fresh grass, wildflowers, and that particularly soft sun that is peculiar to the part of Europe that stretches between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. Yogis with children are welcome here in specially designed retreats that offer childcare during parents’ classes, Ashtanga classes only for kids, or both. Bathroom blocks and meals area are shared, making this a retreat that feels like a camping holiday with extended family.

  • What we love
  • Flexible and easy-going retreats
  • Excellent Ashtanga yoga
  • Intimate, family-owned getaway
  • Great value for money
  • What to know
  • Very child-friendly
  • Rustic accommodation
  • Guests must wash their own dishes after eating
  • Internet access available
  • Why go
  • Low-key relaxation
  • Lovely natural setting

Viveka is a Sanskrit word that means discernment - being able to consciously determine the difference between things that are false and things that are real. In other words, clarity to remember what is really important to the mind, body and spirit. On 18 acres of rambling French countryside, criss-crossed with streams and the whispering of summer breezes in the trees, inner clarity begins to emerge during a retreat at Viveka.

This retreat is a family affair owned and run by Jo and Sophie, along with their two children. They speak a handful of languages between them and often mix them together which makes for lively and interesting dinner conversations! They live and work here, sharing their love of Ashtanga and Viniyoga with guests. This retreat has the feel of a summer camp, with guests alternating between lounging, sharing tasks like food preparation (the kitchen is open to all hands, especially those who want to learn more about preparation of wholefood), nature walks, trips to the river, and the occasional gaggle of children happily exploring the natural environment in complete safety.

This is one of the best value-for-money retreats in Europe. A week of Ashtanga, three wholefood vegetarian meals each day, and accommodation in either a rustic wood cabin or one of the large, shared tents dotted prettily (and privately) around the grounds for a little under 500 Euro. There are three main types of retreat at Viveka: Ashtanga yoga retreats, Viniyoga retreats and Family retreats (ten days rather than the standard week). All have a similar structure to the day, with a morning and evening yoga session, free time, and ad-hoc activities in-between meals.

Breakfast is a help-yourself occasion, with cereals, fruit and homemade bread laid out in the communal dining area until 9.30 am when the first yoga class begins. Ashtanga is known for being a self-led style (no teacher) but Sophie guides her guests through the session, ensuring no-one is left feeling bewildered. Viniyoga is a kind of yoga designed to target specific ailments or achieve very specific goals. It is not a yoga style so much as an application of yoga, and requires a good understanding of the student to determine the best sequences and exercises required. Jo gets to know his guests and works with them to create sessions that address physical complaints like lower-back pain, or less obvious complaints like feeling mentally 'wired' all the time. Viniyoga is held as part of the regular classes, but with an individual emphasis. Older children here on a Family Retreat are welcomed into the yoga sessions, and smaller children are lovingly cared for while parents are in class.

The rest of the morning is free time to explore the beautiful property or relax, either in blissful solitude or with family and other guests. Early afternoons once again see the communal dining area humming with activity as lunch is served. Fresh salad is always first on the menu, which is a common element of French eating and also an easy way to 'educate' the palate towards a preference for raw food – a strong protection against cancer and other illnesses. Food is grown in Viveka's garden wherever possible, or sourced locally when not. Clean-up after lunch is done by guests, who are asked to wash and dry their own dishes.

Afternoons are again free, although during Family Retreat times (usually during the European school holidays) there are creative workshops for kids, or group trips to the river.

The pre-dinner yoga session is focused less on poses and more on breathing, to relax into the evening. This is also when yoga philosophy is taught, with plenty of interesting discussions on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Just for interest, yoga classes are held in a mixture of English and French, which may seem unremarkable to Europeans but is an exotic event for those of us from only-English speaking countries.

Bedtime is fairly early, but like the rest of the Viveka day there is no fixed schedule. The ethos here seems to be “rhythms, not routines” and activities like visiting the local markets are ideas suggested depending on the group's mood, rather than itineraries set in stone. Particularly for children, this is a welcome relief from a 'normal' life filled with time-checks and rushing from one event to the next.

Viveka is a retreat that is intent on doing as little possible damage to the natural environment, so tenting is the ideal way to avoid large permanent structures defacing the landscape. Accommodation is deliberately basic. Shared tents are high-standing canvas setups rather than low-lying nylon, so there is no feeling of being cramped. The futon beds are very comfortable and all bedding is supplied.There is one wooden cabin that sleeps one person, and the tents all sleep between one and four. Toilets are the waterless composting kind and so may be unfamiliar to some, although the idea that they are unhygienic or smelly is quickly dropped. Bathroom blocks are shared. Unlike other retreats, this is not one to visit if complete isolation is desired – yoga here is an ongoing action, including the yogic spirit of interacting well with other people.

Viveka is an unassuming, almost shy yoga retreat with the intimate feel of an extended-family summer camp. Excellent for families and solo travellers who are looking for an inexpensive way to learn some top-class Ashtanga in an environment of eco-focused relaxation.

About the area: Aude

The Aude district of southern France is that wildly beautiful region that is one-part French and one-part Spanish. In the metaphorical shadow of the mighty Pyrenees mountains, this is the former stronghold of the Cathars, whose own brand of Catalan history left a deep footprint on the local culture. Medieval villages, mighty palaces and fortresses dot the area, as do pockets of naturally occurring hot springs that make even winter outdoor bathing a pleasant adventure. Carcassone is the largest city in the area, and has plenty to see and do as well as the small and easily accessible budget airport that is home to Ryanair. The climate is Mediterranean with the dog days arriving in mid-August when temperatures routinely soar past a blistering 35 degrees C (95F). Winters are mild, but not warm, and snow is sometimes spotted in higher areas with day times sunny but cool at around 10 degrees C (50F).

Image credit: Viveka Yoga Retreat

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