Ryedale pair set up residential yoga retreat at Ampleforth Abbey

York Press: Jules Watson and Ruth Smith, who have founded a company offering yoga retreats at  Ampleforth Abbey Jules Watson and Ruth Smith, who have founded a company offering yoga retreats at Ampleforth Abbey

IT started out as a 50th birthday treat.

Jules Watson wanted to mark her half-century and looked for a residential yoga retreat.

On the advice of her yoga teacher she booked in to one run by renowned London based teacher Billy Doyle in Goldalming, Surrey.

She loved the experience, and felt refreshed and strengthened by it.

But it was frustrating she had to travel so far south for it.

So along with business partner Ruth Smith, with whom she already works at Kirkbymoorside’s Natural Health Centre, Jules launched the Little Yoga Company and thought of Ampleforth Abbey as the perfect location.

“When we approached them we weren’t even sure they would let us do a yoga retreat at the Abbey, but they said yes straight away,” Jules said, and the Abbey has proved an idyllic base.

“The monastic air of the building with all the long corridors, wood-panelled rooms and high ceilings really help the sense of retreat.

“We didn’t want to go to fancy hotel where you eat lots for a weekend, and do a little bit of yoga.”

Jules and Ruth were thrilled when Billy Doyle – renowned for his teaching of meditative Kashmir-style yoga - agreed to run their first weekends.

Almost a year has passed since the Little Yoga Company’s first guests arrived at Alban Roe house, Ampleforth College’s former junior school, and Ruth and Jules have put on three more retreats with Billy Doyle, among other teachers, taking charge.

Guests from Yorkshire and further afield – Scotland, even Norway and France - have booked in In late March, they ran their third event. Billy Doyle returned, and about a dozen guests gathered from the Friday evening. I joined a group of day guests, attending sessions in yoga and meditation.

The Abbey’s quiet location, already ideal for meditation and retreat, seemed even more remote as a heavy mist lay over the valley.

There is no point trying to keep in touch with the outside world when your mobile phone signal has gone and you can’t see beyond the trees 500 yards away.

Over the three-day retreat there were four meditation sessions and four hours of yoga.

Spending so long in the gym could be tough, but this is not a physically strenuous style of the tradition.

Billy explains it as a “subtle sensitive approach” designed to reconnect with the body.

He said: “Some forms of yoga are quite gymnastic, but this is more meditative and focused on the breathing.

“It’s not about forcing your body into a certain pose.”

Between the sessions were two open discussions – chance for Billy to explain the philosophy behind his practice of yoga.

For those with a busy mind, who find it difficult to turn their everyday concerns off for the weekend, the key is to let thoughts flit across your mind, observing them like clouds flitting across the sky, he said.

And that’s exactly what Jules and Ruth were hoping for when they launched the Little Yoga Company’s first retreat.

“It’s about more than just stretching your muscles or relaxing, yoga is about finding space,” Jules said.

* The Little Yoga Company has is running two more retreats in May and September 2014, with yoga teachers Billy Doyle, Diane Long and Sophy Hoare.

Find out more at www.littleyogacompany.co.uk.

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