Monday, March 31, 2014

Take a Forest Bath!

Just back from our meditative walk before yoga class this morning. The mist is hanging delicately in all the meandering valleys and the welcome drizzle is gently watering all the newly planted herbs and veggies in the kitchen gardens. The smells of damp Eucalyptus and Pine trees together with the scent from the emerging spring flowers was divine today.

This week is a Soft Power retreat. And there's no better example here of the power water has to softly carve out the hardest of stone over the years, than these valleys. It's quite fitting that showers are forecast this week as we're focusing on the energy of water and its restorative ability to heal our bodies.

All this year I will be guiding our guests every morning on meditative walks through the surrounding forests. Depending on the retreat, we draw our attention to the various elements, their presence and effect on the landscape around us, and what might be happening in our own bodies as we move through it. It's a great way to start the day. I spent much of the autumn and winter walking the puppies after their breakfast. Now all but one have found new homes, it's gonna be lovely to walk guests instead! :)

 When Katherine found this old post the other day on Mother Earth News about Forest Bathing, I had to share it on the blog.

"The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku may literally mean "forest bathing," but it doesn't involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic (or bathing) effect. Most of us have felt tension slip away in the midst of trees and nature’s beauty. But science now confirms its healing influence on the body. When you spend a few hours on a woodland hike or camping by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost your immune system." Photo Courtesy Fotolia/Inga Nielsen  

So there you have it. Scientific evidence, as if we needed it, that spending time with the trees is really good for us. The tree huggers were right all along. It's why we always encourage people to explore. Get out. Wander. Find a quiet secluded spot with an awesome view or find a rock by the streams and simply sit in the forest. Immerse your senses in the process. Smell it, feel, taste, touch, listen, and open up to the possibility that simply being in such an environment is healing in itself. When it really warms up in a few weeks time, it's nice to also be able to take a daily dip in the natural river pools and plunge pool to cool off. But until then, good to hear too that the non dip dry bathing concept is also just as therapeutic.

New Sweat Lodge

One of our guests who's been here a few times already, the lovely Georg, spent last week rebuilding a part of one of the terraces that had fallen in, then turned his attention to create this wee structure made from branches he found in the forest in front of the pizza oven by the Moses cottage. With 2 benches chainsawed from a pine trunk.

It's a Sweat Lodge. We bought new rugs yesterday to drape over the top and we're doing final heat checks on various stones from the river to see which won't explode in the fire. Seems to be the darker, harder more volcanic stone. Just need to check with the old guys in the village as they'll be sure to know, then we'll fire up the bread oven, heat the stones, bring them into the covered sweat lodge close the flaps, pour water on the hot rocks, and sweat.

When we get too hot, we'll explore the possibility of taking a plunge in this tank below fed by gravity from the river, with cold cold water, and returning back to the lodge again. We've talked forever about one day building a sweat lodge, and now, just like that, we might just have one. Thanks Georg! You're a star.


Nourish...

Last thing to mention today is that our new cook book "Nourish. Healing Meals from Vale de Moses" by Kat, is with the designers and the pdf should be ready for download in a few weeks. Keep an eye out for when it's released on FB or here on the blog. Then we'll be printing hard copies later in the year once we've taken a few more gorgeous food photos of all our retreat menus this season.

Happy Spring everyone. I hope you each get the chance to take a few hours out this week to visit any nearby forest or woodland to take a "forest bath".

On your own or with friends!   Enjoy. :)

Memphis x

"Ah listen, for silence is not lonely!
Imitate the magnificent trees
That speak no word of their rapture, but only
Breathe largely the luminous breeze."



From Corot by D.H. Lawrence, as featured on, and photo courtesy of, the Woodland Trust FB page. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Maybe in the stillness....

I love winter. The wind, the rain, the cold that drives us inside. Still stacks to do outside to get ready for spring, but when the weather howls, the fires get lit to roaring and we retreat inwards to the warmth of the hearth and stove; metaphorically and physically. Probably meta-physically too in some way. That's why I love it so. Every winter we've spent here since 2008, I've relished the time to read, to reflect, to plan, to ponder, to dream. To retreat.

Vonnie favours the sunshine of the summer, for she, after all, is a tropical island girl and genetically designed for a daily shower of free vitamin supplements that never cease to rain from the ever shining Barbados sun.  I suspect our future winters might be spent in other warmer climes, bless, but for this one, we're here, in Portugal, in the mountains, on our own, and it’s raining. Inside we remain. ;)

In this reflective season, something dawned on me. Over the course of 2013 an unexpected pattern had begun to emerge, on Facebook no less. Every week it seemed I was seeing another new profile or cover photo emerge on our guests FB pages (as they commented and shared each others holiday snaps), shots taken here on their stay at Vale de Moses. 

It was flattering to think people would choose our place as a beautiful setting to display their virtual identity on the cloud. Face after face of happy, bright souls with dreamy sunsets and misty valley vistas. All looking like they were feeling pretty lovely about life, bordering on content.

I realised it's on places like retreats and healthy holidays we often feel quite lovely. About everything. Relaxed, nourished, minds clear, bodies given an MOT and service, all far from the maddening crowds. The least worried. The most meditative. The most still. Even though every day our bodies are paradoxically more active than normal, practicing yoga, walking in forests, swimming in rivers, surfing, whatever. We feel the most active and yet the most still.

Maybe in that stillness of retreat, we get to know ourselves a bit better. 

And perhaps we actually like ourselves a little better than the stressed out version of ourselves we left back at home.

One thing is certain to me, everyone definitely shines after a week on retreat. “You’re positively glowing, darling”. So maybe it's only natural that photos taken at those moments are the ones we choose to share with the FB universe. Because we feel more like ourselves. And to make our friends jealous too no doubt!

Thanks to our guests who have let me share their selfies and Vale de Moses photos with you today. Each one of these photos today on the blog are from their FB covers or profiles and aren't they all beautiful! 

That's it really. To say it’s winter. Which you knew. And that Facebook is revealing patterns in our own human social behaviour and projection of virtual self image. Again, you knew. And that going on a retreat is really really good for you. If you've not gone on one before, and you are able to do so this year, then

"Retreat, retreat, retreat!"

Choose any one of hundreds of wonderful retreat spaces all over the world. Any one of them. Just go. Especially if you're not feeling particularly like the best you have ever felt. Book a retreat as soon as you can. If it's with us, we very much look forward to meeting you and showing you around this stunning part of Portugal.

Also in this last week we've had an enormous response to our Karma Volunteer recruitment, so successful in fact that looks like we're fully staffed already! If you'd like to be contacted in case anyone of our volunteers have to cancel, and at the same time be considered first for our 2015 teams, please still do apply for our Reserve team this year


Finally, finally, you might like to read the interview Vonnie had last week with the delightful Tameera Kemp who runs Light Stays Retreats in Australia. Great site.

Wishing you lots of warmth and cosyness wherever you maybe be wintering.

Memphis


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Calling all Karma Yoga Volunteers, lines are open...

One of the things that not many people know about running yoga retreats is that it takes a small army of helpers each week to enable a group of people to feel comfortable, well fed, clean and cared for while in the middle of the forest. Lots of food preparation, daily beautifying of communal, treatment and yoga practice spaces, sparkling clean bathrooms decorated with freshly cut forest flowers, from early in the morning til late into the evening.

Enter stage left (back stage left really), our fabulous Karma Volunteers who help us keep Vale de Moses pristine and shining with care and kindness throughout our yoga retreat season.

Recruitment has now begun for the 8 teams of 3 volunteers we need to cover month-long slots between mid March to November retreats. One per team needs a current driver's license to drive a jeep and tractor and be strong enough to lift heavy buckets and crates of fresh food.

If you're interested, or know anyone who you think would love the chance,  please take a look at our Karma Volunteer pack online with all you need to know about the role and how to apply. We'll be selecting most of the teams by end of January. So do apply as soon as you can if you're considering, otherwise you might need to wait til 2015!


We have thoroughly enjoyed hosting volunteers with us over the years. With kindness, a "willing to do whatever every day" attitude, big heart and strong reliable work ethic, we have a wonderful time together serving and caring for our guests on retreats. Some of our Karma Yogis have already become life long friends and a couple are now on our yoga teaching and therapy teams. They become part of the family and as such we consider carefully who we select.

We're properly looking forward to getting to know even more lovely people from all round the world again this year. Only a couple of months away now. :)

"Até Logo"

Memphis







Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A little Life Yoga - by Vonetta

2013 was a firecracker of a year. Well alive. As usual we Winters have had some great successes and some not so successful times.  The good thing about being floored by experience is that on the floor we can be inspired to bow down and look for encouragement in the tiniest little detail.  There have been times this year where I have been grateful for the quiet beauty of a single act of nature unfolding, or the soothing melody of the water continually flowing below, calming all.   At other times the quiet and solitude of the Vale was shown the door and the hills reverberated with the aliveness of everything; people, music, birds, dogs, bugs, jostling against everything else looking for a role in the play.

Andy’s Mum Sally once said to me that my hubby was the kind of man who liked to entertain.  At the time I thought that didn’t seem so bad, a little entertaining.  Never in my youngest dreams did I imagine that we would be entertaining coach loads of people.  Never did I imagine that I would have Happy Birthday sung to me in eight languages, in my own home.  Never did I imagine that my son would play piano to our guests and sooth us all into conversation.  Never did I imagine that I would watch my 14 year old daughter bossing around an entire kitchen, well perhaps I imagined that.  And yet, all that has occurred this year has seemed so natural, so obvious. Perhaps the great Tapestry Maker of life has been weaving this particular pattern for some time, if so, thank you Tapestry Maker, I like the pattern, and may we repeat what is beautiful and correct our mistakes.

Particularly brilliant threads of this year:

  • Joshy Bear’s soothing piano playing filling the silence.  Your kisses on the forehead every time I thought my brain might explode.  A kiss, simple but effective medicine.
  • Fleur blowing the trumpet; Fleur exclaiming how wonderful everything is; Fleur in fairy wings and sparkly dust.  I like your groove.
  • Tashi giving me what for and making me sit up straight.  Thanks Tash, my L2 and L3 will always thank you.  When asked if we yoginis should keep the bandhas on at all times, Master Dawa replied that you could wait for a bus, or while waiting for a bus put your bandhas on and practice yoga.  Favourite Soundbite of the Year:  Master Dawa “I would rather practice yoga than wait for a bus”
  • Ellie and Andy leading up a pizza storm and dancing in the Kitchen.
  • Emma Jane Bunn.  My London Girl.
  • The amazing Viking lady, Marte, who ran up and down the hills every day after the silent walk and after 3 hours of yoga. Awesome.
  • The art installations in the Forest made by our guests.  Placing something in the path encourages us to visit the path more often.  Thank you …for the mosaic in the Forest and the blue painted trunk, they never fail to make me smile. 
  • Being nurtured, soothed and calmed by Liese van Dam and her Ayurvedic oils. Yummy. 
  • Shrieks of laughter and squealing coming from the River in the Valley.
  • Running through the valleys, at the end of the day knowing that everything is being looked after by lovely people at home.
  • My crazy family on both sides.
  • Spending a whole four days with the Fantabulous Jagos, we are coming to home to you in 2014, make room for the Winters.
  • Everyone and anyone who chose to practice A Little Life Yoga at Vale de Moses.  As some of you may know I am taking a course in Natural Medicine over the next three years with The School of Natural Medicine.  I hope to gain a little empirical knowledge by posting up a few short questionnaires on Facebook.  Answering some of the light questions may be fun.  I hope you enjoy what we are learning and are willing to share your experiences.
  • Standing up on a Surf Board while staying with Sara Serrão's at her Cerca do Sul paradise.
  • The chaos of puppies, born on my birthday, hearing Alex squealing "PUUPPIIEEEES" in excitement.  Life is funny, for years I have repeated this mantra to calm my baby making hormones, “No late babies! No late babies” and then life presents us with 6 four legged hairy babies for my birthday, and of course their poos and the pups constantly doing everything they shouldn’t do. 
  • My girl Spin floating up into Bakasana, balancing her Shiva dreads.
  • Laughter Yoga with The Ernesto Fleetwood a.k.a Ollie Pell.  I still have your laughter ringing in my ears from time to time, “Very good, very good, Yeah!”
  • Giving more treatments of Acupuncture and Massage in one year than in any year previously.   At the end of 2013 I think it is the giving that makes this work so rewarding.
  • Practising with Hugh and Kim, you two have such apple wholesome sunshine country angel vibes.
  • Sitting on the back steps with the Katherine Smith, sipping something salubrious from a straw.  You lighten our lives and make things…better.
  • Being warm, warm, warm from the Forestry clearing of Andy and Fernando.  Cleaning the land and looking after ourselves with this free energy keeps us warm in so many ways. "Good Jawb" as our gorgeous American volunteer Ashley would say.
  • And finally, seeing in the New Year with our delightful Portuguese friends Sara, Raquel and Francisco and their boys.
Everything that has happened thus far has indeed changed my life, and because of all that has happened thus far I am becoming more relaxed and am able to accept that my life is ever changing.  Thank heavens for The resting place, the constant resting place within the hurly burly of everything, ‘the beloved sticky mat’.  When I started yoga I did it because I thought it would be good for me.  It is with considerable gratitude that I have found that all these years of practice have brought love to bloom.  Sometimes love is like that, it takes time to realise itself and for the lover to realise what love is.

The teachers and students of 2013 have confirmed for me that I love any yoga, and I really do not think it matters, to me what I practice so long as I am practicing as sincerely as possible, in the moment. Who cares whether your practice is steeped in silence or sprinkled with a sweet song?  Who cares whether Shavasana is your great delight or whether you like using your head as one giant foot?  Who cares whether it is austerity that floats your boat or playful flaying your arms around grinning.  I understand through this year that my mat helps to clarify what needs to be kept and what I no longer need.  Sometimes silence does helps, sometimes a tune.  Sometimes I am as stiff as a board and I feel all of my 40 years and at other times I am up for challenging the litheness of my kitty cat Angel.  It really doesn't matter.

What matters is the love, the love of asana, philosophy, colour and light and chanting and drumming and jumping and trying to be really really still and quiet and playing with your breath and doing it all with a sense of ‘Wow´, a miracle has happened and it isn’t yet 9am!  Come on the Day!  Yoga has given me that, for sure.  There are things I would like to leave me now in my life and there are some things that are keepers.  Thank you Andy Winter lover, business partner, friend, father of my babies and well, my everything, including, sometimes the one who drives me round the bend; for coming into the Shala cussing and swearing about the lack of light on this strangely dreamy, misty Old Year’s Day.  These photos will remind me that some New Year’s resolution is worth making.  Old Year’s Night 2012 I promised myself that I would attempt to acquire a little comfort and stability in Pincha Mayurasana in the middle of the room.  Pincha M, you have taught me that love conquers fear, you definitely a keeper.

So, do I have any New Year’s resolutions?  Loads… There are so many, many, many improvements I would like to make in the Vale.  There are postures I would love to experience and teachers to meet.  However, mostly I would like to indulge the Mummy Von this year.  The babes will be leaving these woods soon for senior school, and so, while with enthusiasm I say bring on the 2014, there is a little part of me, that says, ‘slow down’.

One of our guests gave me a beautiful bottle of true thick syrupy White Musk from Saudi Arabia.  Each time I open that bottle to indulge in a drop of the oil I am reminded that life is like this oil, achingly sweet and precious and I determined to savour every drop.

So to end, may our 2014 be as precious oil…let’s not waste a drop of it! Happy New Year’s Day and a Prosperous 2014.

Vonetta

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hibernating...

Our 2013 yoga retreat season finished in November with a flourish of glorious Argentinian Tango dancing and an Óga Yóga celebration in Irish. A fitting end in many ways to a wonderful year in which we welcomed guests, teachers and volunteers from all over the world to share our family home in the forest.

Since then we said goodbye for the winter to our awesome team of Olly and Spin, Katherine Smith, and Hugh & Kim, the last couple of a whole hard working crew we had the pleasure to get to know this year.

River's been spending her time alternating between prettifying every room in the house and studiously working on her Natural Physician training. I made the most of the last few dry and sunny winter weeks to gather, chop and store stacks and stacks of firewood from the land and river clearing we had done in the spring. Loving being the 4 of us again, retreating ourselves as a family into the cosyness of evenings spent in front of and devouring food cooked in, roaring wood burning stoves.

In between all of that, we've been developing our new retreat program for 2014, which, we're delighted to tell you, is now online and open for reservation on our www.valedemoses.com website and all weeks uploaded to our FB Events page.

As you'll see, we've moved to a Sunday afternoon arrival, Saturday afternoon departure for our retreats next year. We want to encourage our guests to spend a night or 2 exploring Lisbon and Porto before travelling up to us in the forest. A little pre retreat break. And also to give our team Saturday nights off to chill and/or get to chance to explore our local town of Oleiros a bit more often.

Finally, a big thank you to all who visited us this year for all your incredible photos. We've uploaded some of our favourites to a new FB album. Muito obrigado.

Here's wishing you a very happy Christmas, and may your dreams keep coming true in 2014.

Thanks for popping by.

Memphis 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Swimming in Rivers and Puppy Love!

We're having a scorcher folks! It's hot. Regularly up into the 40's and sizzling. So glad we were able to put in a couple of natural river pools this year. Has really helped all of us cool down in the late intense heat of the afternoons. We live on the edge of wilderness in the forests of central Portugal and as such we experience the elements of planet earth a tad more intensely than we used to in our old London life.

When the wind blows, the wood in the forest roars and dances. When the rain falls, the rivers' waters rage white. When you fall on a stone, you know the immovability of earth. As well as it's healing properties when we bathe in mud by the river. Now in summer, the fire from the sun in the sky sure does heat you up and everything around you. Thank God we're in the mountains so the evenings and mornings are fresh, enough for a jumper. And grateful that our houses here are bermed deep into the rock, so keep deliciously cool.

While the team are keeping cool inside, our guests are obviously making the most of the weather. This is one of the new irrigation tanks just completed below our guest house. It is fed directly from the river and rejoins it straight after.

The best thing about the tank isn't the squeals of delight we hear wafting up from the valley as people take a plunge into the refreshing cold, but the knowledge that all the big terraces below this tank can now be irrigated plentifully in the years to come. Big relief.

Water levels in this heat are running low as you can imagine, so everyone has kindly been careful with their water usage, quick showers, no running taps etc etc. As a back up we also just hooked up 3 outdoor showers that are run from an old Moorish water mine and heated on the way down by the sun. Means the showers are fresh in the mornings and evenings, but perfect shower temperature between 11am to 9pm.

For those who love a bigger swim we go to this magnificent natural river swimming pool called a Praia Fluvial, in Oleiros now and again, and once a week we all go to the River Zêzere for a decadent mud bath in the isolated wilds.

Mud baths are such a rejuvenating and elementally connecting thing to do, as any of our guests will attest. Always followed up with refreshments at the local cafés in Abitureira to meet the locals and chat under the shade of grapes, orange and olive trees. The kindness and advice of our neighbours here has often sustained us over the years. A precious anthropological experience that we can't let folk leave Oleiros without sampling. One of their highlights of the week.



Other news is we finally got the tipi up. Josh, Olly and I went into the forest a few weeks ago to cut some tall straight young Eucalyptus trees, de barked them immediately and dried them. Olly and Ernst put it up ready for its first guest, the wonderful Holly, a couple of weeks ago. There's also a 4 man tent next to it. Both have handmade Portuguese futons on frames and glammed up a little inside. Most cosy and already useful additional this year for those who ignored our fully booked sign on the website and enquired if we had somewhere to stay anyway!

Josh and Eloise are spending August, before they return to school mid September, visiting their grandparents in Barbados. This is Eli's new FB shot just to rub it in. While Vonetta and I are working through the heat of the summer, they are chilling with cocktails by tropical beaches. I'm wondering if these roles reverse anytime in the next few years. Where we put our feet up and they work to keep us in a manner to which we are still yet to be accustomed to! I suspect not so much!

So apart from swimming in rivers, in mud, in lovely guests, and the kids in the Caribbean sea, we're also swimming in puppies. It was Vonetta's 40th back in July and Eloise baked one outstanding cake to celebrate the occasion. Seriously peeps, these photos don't do it justice. Simply divine taste and texture, ingeniously sculpted and perfectly iced. I can still taste it. What a baker!


Fitting for the grandeur of the moment. Particularly as the day had already started with cries of "THE PUPPIES ARE HERE!!" screeching through the dawn over the valleys at 7.15am as Safira our dog began giving birth to 6 gorgeous little blind and wet heirs to the Moses dynasty.

We're thinking of keeping a couple of them and are currently talking to a few lovely peeps about whether they would like to take care of 4. One of the 2 black girls and three of the 4 boys. I'll leave you with a few pictures of Puppies below, cure enough to warm the hardest hearts. They are socialised beyond belief thanks to everyone who's stayed here and taken advantage of regular one on one puppy love therapy sessions as often as they could.

There's a lot of love around Vale de Moses this summer. Bursting at the seams with it. :)  We even had honeymooners Emily and James from Lisbon with us too (twas a grand excuse for more cake!). Plus a happy birthday sung in 6 different languages to Avril from Ireland. Surely this is the season to be jolly? Tra la la la la La la la la!

Only a few more retreats left this season. Still one or two spaces left in September and October. Reserve your place on Vale de Moses and we'll be seeing you later in the Autumn. And if you want to be first to be notified when our 2014 retreats are online, do like our FB page. Barbados retreats next Easter too. New schedule and dates should be up online in a month or so.

Peace and all good things to you. Wherever you are, we hope you're having a wonderful time.

Memphis


"And they call it, puppy love...."


First week
2 weeks old
Always sleeping in piles
Man and Dog!

Known as Cosmo or Ice

Ice leaving his cage

This is Burrow





Safira: Stamina and Patience
Too sweet!

Eloise in Puppy heaven
Josh and MiniMoses
Regal and proud already!
Eat, play, poo and sleep!