"It’s more than just a great way to unwind; you get to share space and experiences with like-minded people."
"A good handful of the participants didn’t necessarily have a yoga or meditation practice beyond using it as a workout every now and then."
"In the afternoon, we usually did walking meditation into the mountains, followed by an hour-long meditation and dinner. "
Have you ever imagined what a yoga + meditation retreat would be like, and whether it might be right for you? Small-business owner Martina Cermakova was on the brink of burn-out when she signed herself up for a rustic yoga, art, and nature retreat in a rural corner of the Spanish Pyrenées in the spring of 2014. Her aim? “To get the necessary breathing space to take a step back and re-examine things in my life,” says Martina. The temporary escape was just what she needed to reconnect mind, body, and spirit. Here, the avid skateboarder, cookbook author, and entrepreneur shares her experience to help others who might be considering something similar to bolster well-being.
How important is the concept of “wellness” in your day-to-day life?
Mental and physical well-being is really the cornerstone of living my everyday mindfully. It’s really just a matter of self-love and self-care that I can’t imagine going out into the world without. The way I incorporate it changes depending on what feels right at the moment. For instance, I’m conscious of what I eat, and find that a raw vegan diet nourishes me the most. I simply listen to what my body and heart ask for, and do my best to respect that.
Why did you choose a yoga retreat out of all the possibilities?
It was most nourishing option for me. It offers the space and support to really slow down and detach yourself from your everyday habits. It’s more than just a great way to unwind'you get to share space and experiences with like-minded people, explore your own practice, and most importantly, yourself.
How did you discover Casa Cuadrau, and how did you determine that it was a good fit for you?
I found out about it through James Boag who does retreats there, and who happens to be an amazing and inspiring teacher. When not in Prague, you’ll find me hiking up mountain trails, so the secluded location in the Pyrenées was a dream! Plus, I’d heard nothing but good things about Katya and Daniel, who run the place.
Did you head into this adventure with specific personal goals in mind?
In the past year, my attention has shifted away from my yoga and meditation practice, and I was looking to reignite that fire within a community that fosters similar values of self-reflection. I’m not a fan of goals, so I was open to anything and everything, hoping to get the necessary breathing space to take a step back and re-examine things in my life.
Describe a typical day at Casa Cuadrau.
Everything at Casa Cuadrau was essentially optional, so you could choose to participate or opt out of anything. The day started at 6:30 am with an hour-long morning meditation followed by breakfast—a local and organic vegan meal that was, like all meals at Casa Cuadrau, prepared by the volunteers staying there. Until around 10 am we each did our hour of karma yoga—helping around the house either cleaning or helping out with the preparation of lunch. From 10 am until around noon, we had an asana class followed by lunch, which was once again deliciously local and fresh with an amazing salad bar. Until about 3 pm, we all had our time alone either to wander off into the beautiful nature or dig into Casa Cuadrau’s humble but poignant library. In the afternoon we usually did walking meditation into the mountains, followed by an hour-long meditation and dinner. Beginning at dinner time, we were invited to observe silence until our asana practice the next day, though, really at each meal one could opt to relish their food in silence in a designated courtyard, refining the use of their all five senses. We ended the day with good two hours of kirtan.
Can you give us a little snapshot portrait of some of your fellow attendees?
There were six of us and five volunteers who took participated in some parts of the daily program with a four-to-six ratio of men to women. It was a super varied group, with ages ranging from mid-20s to late 40s, and really varied backgrounds. A good handful of the participants didn’t necessarily have a yoga or meditation practice beyond using it as a workout every now and then. They mainly came for a respite from their jobs and lives, to move around and walk in nature, not necessarily to deepen their practice, which in some ways hindered deeper exploration for those of us who’ve had a long-standing practice.
Describe the area around the retreat.
Vío is a tiny little village in the Pyrenees, and with its handful of inhabitants well over 70 years of age, it’s serene and gets you as close to beautiful, unspoiled nature as you possibly could get without having to camp out. Casa Cuadra in itself has great energy about it. It’s a birth child of two yoga practitioners, Katya and Dani, who have reconstructed a crumbling building with the intention of creating a space to share with others, and it oozes that in every way.
Because you’re sharing limited space all day long with others, the retreat naturally shapes around the kind of people who attend it, to meet them where they are not only in their practice, but I suppose in life, too. I’ve had the luxury of having three days that were tailored to me only because the rest arrived later.
Before you left, you were feeling burned out neglectful of your yoga and meditation practices. How, if at all, did the experience help?
The retreat was a great breathing space. Getting away from the Czech Republic and your everyday concerns inevitably fosters more mind space and you can take a bit of a step back to reassess where you are and where you are going. Frankly, a week felt too short a time. If I weren’t so needy for personal space and lacking finances, I would have loved to stay much longer. It was also a good reminder that even if my yoga and meditation practice “suffer,” they are never gone, really. I haven’t actually practiced asana since I got back, and neither have I kept up my morning meditation practice, but I’m no longer feeling anxious about not scheduling them in as separate parts of my day. I’m mainly interested just living my practice in all its forms, because that’s what feels right at this moment.
What did you enjoy the most about the experience?
I really enjoyed meeting some of the people who’ve been part of Casa Cuadrau’s making, and I loved having being the opportunity to dedicate an entire week to self-inquiry and self-exploration.
Would you recommend Casa Cuadrau to a friend?
I would most definitely recommend Casa Cuadrau. The isolated and beautiful setting really bolsters inward work. Katya and Dani are very honest and giving, and that’s all mirrored in the energy of the place.
photos by Martina Cermacova