Pixie Lillas Spring Retreat @ Kimi Ora, 2016
In October 2016 was the 10th anniversary of Pixie Lillas’ seven-day retreat at Kimi Ora – what a gift to be taught by one of Australia’s most senior Iyengar teachers in such beautiful surroundings.
I love the daily rhythm – we start with pranayama at 6 am. Then it’s time for a silent breakfast; a scrumptious buffet offers fruit, nuts and other nourishment for the day ahead, and buttery croissants for that morning treat. There is time to sit and savour the view over Kaiteriteri with its golden sands, or for a walk through bush with vibrant birdsong before asana practice from 8.45 to 11 am. We have a long break before the next asana practice from 4 to 6 pm. Kimi Ora is built for relaxation and connection with nature, it’s the perfect setting to embrace the 7 day retreat.
In early years the thought ‘I’m not good enough’ kept me away; I attended the retreat in 2015 & 2016. Pixie quickly disperses all doubts of being adequate; she treats all students with compassion; her teaching is inclusive and considerate. She offers alternatives for students with restrictions and injuries, and in a gentle way guides us to reach just that little bit further than before. Yet, when I first arrived I felt a bit out of place - most of the other students are teachers, some with their own studios, they live and breathe yoga and have done so for years or decades. I’m no teacher, and I live in a city that offers plenty of yoga but no Iyengar yoga classes. Attending a retreat gives precise instructions for several days; I learn through observation and share the experience with likeminded yogis. The few notes I take relate mainly how yoga applies to and supports the mind and life in general.
In two retreats Pixie’s teaching and her superb sequencing guided my body and my mind to reach places I thought unachievable. We did not hold individual asanas for long; each session consisted of a sequence of asanas that built upon each other. Pixie’s precise instructions target details I did not consider before: two attachments of the calf muscle to the back of the knee to balance the lower leg, the space below and between each toe – I learn to observe and move my body as a whole and in detail. Every session leaves me focused and calm. While I felt the effects of the asanas in my body the thought ‘this is too hard’ didn’t come to mind.
I suspect every student takes home different nuggets. The main technicality that remains in my mind is the back’s division into four quarters, and the attention on the area just beneath the shoulder blades. Pixie kept our focus there through all asanas – drawing the area below the shoulder blades in automatically lifts the chest; focusing my attention onto lifting from beneath the shoulder blades in urdvha dhanurasana allowed me lift up for the first time ever.
The Question & Answer session on the last day included the eternal question of timing: How long to stay in an asana before moving on? Pixie’s response was once the breath is settled in the asana we have arrived, and can continue and move on to the next asana within the sequence. This is a gentle addition to complete the response I took home from another teacher and retreat; that screaming muscles buoy us to explore ways how we can remain in an asana longer, rather than telling us to move on. Only when the breath becomes unsettled is it time to move out of the asana. The combination of these encouragements to let the breath guide the timing of how long to remain in an asana now guides my home practice.
I leave the retreat strengthened and with renewed focus, and the realisation that despite being beyond 50 my body is well capable of finding new movements, of attaining asanas I’ve never been able to do before. The message is to listen and create the connection to my body, to my practice, and to get on the mat, to practice what fits the day. I won’t force myself through a strong practice if my body is tired and the head is not in the right space.
Pixie’s teaching reflects the depth of her practice, and the lightness in her asana and movement is inspirational. After seven days with Pixie’s guidance I’m centred, balanced and feel part of an international net of likeminded yogis. The focus on that area beneath my shoulder blades now is firmly imbedded in my practice. I look forward to Pixie’s next retreat.
Article originally published in the Yoga Link, Special Edition 2017
Iyengar Yoga Association of New Zealand (IYANZ)