Socio-entrepreneur, Hanouf Aljuhail (a.k.a. ‘Basket Lady’), whom we know as the founder of House of Butterflies (HOB, bazaar January 2012), escaped this summer to the hills of Sabine in Italy’s land locked region of Umbria to fulfill a tradition she started four years ago. What was once about grieving and healing has turned into a wondrous journey of self-discovery. Hanouf’s experience with Rachel Bonkink’s week-long Revealing Vajra Yoga Retreat on the lush estate of In Sabina – which Taschen selected as one of the ‘Great Yoga Retreats’(2009) calling it ‘a second home that makes you forget the passing of time’– is about eating organic, total relaxation, and reflection whilst vacationing.
The Need to Escape
One week. That’s all Hanouf takes off every summer from her annual family getaway exclusively for herself, ever since she lost her baby sister to cancer in 2010. At first, the goal was to leave behind all that’s familiar in search for solitude, but over time, she discovered amazing places, learned so much about the universe, its diverse cultures and people, but most importantly, about one’s identity – the ‘Self’.
In Hanouf’s own words, she says: “I escape for a week from the roles I love playing all year – the mother, the wife, the employee, the daughter, etc. I believe that investing in one of the most important relationships, the one with your ownself, is the most crucial achievement in life. Once you step out of your comfort zone, you are forced to reconnect with your inner self, to find out how you’ve changed over the years, reappraise your identity…finding the ‘you’ again!”
In Sabina – Sustainable Estate
Hanouf nearly skipped with joy when she accidently stumbled upon ‘In Sabina’, a self-sustaining estate nestled in an utterly serene surrounding, giving her a whole new reason to visit and learn.
Sabina is conveniently situated just 60km North-East of Rome. According to one source, ‘it’s quite hard to say where ‘Sabina’ really begins and ends’!
From Rome, it takes less than an hour to drive to In Sabina estate, and the village of Torri lies 3 kms away. There’s a natural spring, gardens, pond and swimming pool on the property. A magnificent yoga platform sits in the valley, surrounded by nature and wildlife.
Estate guests are fortunate to drink water coming fresh and clean down from the hills of Torri. Due to the high altitude, some of the best olive oil in the world is grown in this region. Most produce are grown in its fields down the hill (tomatoes, olives, apples etc.). Meals are strictly vegetarian, freshly prepared by the talented visiting chef from the UK, Gloria. Lip-smacking marmalade and soup prepared in-house made Hanouf daydream about owning a sustainable home.
After each meal, guests carry leftovers to dispose in a compost bin, which is later taken to the composting site near the farm. When the composted soil is ready, it’s used to farm new vegetation, and the whole process is repeated over again.
Arriving In Sabina
The merits of a good retreat are all too well-known; especially one that combines body and mind rejuvenation in a tranquil environment, In Sabina being no exception. Comprised of two beautifully restored 17th century stone buildings, the estate is surrounded by acres of lush groves of olive trees, fruit trees and flowers, and several natural spots perfect for relaxation.
Hanouf arrived in Sabina on a dark night, with no lights in sight, but rather scattered candles lighting the pathways to the dining area and the guests’ rooms. She was greeted by the estate’s owner, Giulia Landor who held a lantern to walk her to the dining communal table where she met Rachel Bonkink, the retreat founder, and Laura Fisher, the guest yoga instructor. She instantly noticed that both Rachel and Laura appeared to be “zenned” and very laid back individuals. “I thought to myself, ‘must be the Italian mountains effect and that’s what I’d like to look like when I leave this place!” recalls, Hanouf.
Revealing Vajra – A holiday in a Retreat
Rachel Bonkink, founder of the Revealing Vajra Yoga, explained, “One of the reasons for the success of Revealing Vajra Holidays is the fact that they are all about relaxation. You can spend about 3.5 hours per day on the yoga mat, but that’s your choice. The main thing is to ‘Relax’, and do exactly what you feel like doing.” The word ‘Vajra’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘diamond’.
After leaving her corporate job in 2011, she has so far organized 16 retreats in 4 different countries. Her own corporate past makes her relatable to those getting away from the hectic lifestyle. “Many opt for my personal life coaching, where we focus on ‘getting a grip on our thoughts’, via the yoga philosophy,” she added. Rachel’s a Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a certified shiatsu practitioner, and has completed several yoga teacher trainings in India and the Netherlands.
Yoga and Meditating with a Monk
Morning Yoga began at 7am. Hanouf awoke to the sound of soft music – it was Rachel’s way of waking up the guests for the morning sessions. Over the next six days, 20 hours of Yoga were planned ranging from Hatha yoga, Yin yoga, Restorative yoga, Kundalini, Acro yoga, and meditating with a Monk. Most were beginners, mostly women of similar ages who came from different walks of life and bonded instantly. To get to the yoga platform, they had to go down a green bamboo path and once done, they’d hike up the hill back to the dining communal table and lodging rooms.
For all the good reasons, there is no WIFI In Sabina. Before you groan, according to Hanouf, ‘a week without internet isn’t so bad’. As it turns out, the world continues to exist uninterrupted while you were inactive on Facebook or not hashtagging on Twitter. It’s as simple as that, but extremely vital, to disconnect from chaos in order to return to the daily grind fully recharged and reinvigorated.
Hanouf returned from In Sabina spiritually energized, and inspired. Already an advocate of sustainable living, she says she rediscovered its infinite benefits at In Sabina. That said, Umbria is a destination of natural and historical beauty. Italy’s first Nobel Prize laureate, Giosuè Carducci aptly called Umbria ‘il cuor verde d’Italia’ in one of his poems, which translates as ‘the green heart of Italy’. Cities and towns within reach of In Sabina include Rome, Spoleto and Orvieto, Siena and the World Heritage Site of Assisi.
For more information about In Sabina, log on to: www.insabina.com .
The best time to visit Sabina and the surrounding areas is June to September; the weather is hot, but it is also when the place is most alive with many festivals.
HOB promotes the concept of green life through recycling, upcycling, sustainability and eco-friendly living, while employing co-op community workers in rural communities to make handmade baskets and home accessories. Visit www.hobq8.com .
Images by Hanouf Aljuhail / Rachel Bonkink.