Aerial Yoga Photo: Emma Jervis

Soaring souls

Set your body and soul soaring with Kabinga Yoga Retreat.

A handful of giggling women dangle in various states of asana from brightly coloured silks. A sight like this is not uncommon. In fact, inverted bodies are a typical feature at Kabinga Yoga Retreat.

“We know yoga can be quite serious, but we try to bring in the fun,” says Debbie Norford-Jones, co-founder of Kabinga Retreat. “Because we know people are taking time out, they’re on holiday, but nutritionally and holistically they’re doing themselves good.”

Often, yoga rouses images of sinewy bodies contorted into pretzel shapes, which can dissuade some from stepping onto the yoga mat. Not so at Kabinga. “We have all shapes and sizes coming here. We try and cater for everybody. I’m the first to admit I can’t do something because I have got a plate and pins in my ankle.”

At the age of 49, a sales manager in the tech industry, Debbie broke her leg in five places. “Doctors said I was going to limp, that I wouldn’t be able to do this and that. I said, ‘well, I’m not going to limp’.” The final operation was in the December.

The following September, Debbie and Kabinga co-founder Jules Morrow, a holistic practitioner, were booked onto an eight-week intensive course at Sampoorna Yoga School, Goa. “The whole time we were there we thought: How can we use this for other people? We plotted and dreamed. We wanted to have a high-end boutique retreat where people can experience luxury and nature.”

The plotting and the dreaming materialised as Kabinga, which is Swahili for ‘tranquil’. Set within the green hills outside of Lagos, the noisiest thing you’ll hear is the cockerel crowing in the nearby valley.

When it isn’t being a yoga retreat, Kabinga is a sumptuous family home with facilities like a fully-equipped gym, home cinema, a tennis court, salt-water and solar-heated swimming pool and hot tub, an extensive garden as well as plenty of hiking trails close-by.

“When people arrive, we say, ‘Yes, this is our home, but it’s your home for while you’re here’,” says Debbie. Always a maximum of 12 and often all women, guests to Kabinga arrive as strangers and depart as friends. Debbie attributes this to the meals everyone shares in the poolside kabana.

As a trained nutritionist, Debbie takes care of the meal planning and nutrition side of the retreat. “If people come and say they want to detox, we can put them on a detox programme. That said, the standard of food is all freshly prepared, local, seasonal produce. We make the meals look the same, so no one feels left out or like they’re missing something.” And if detox isn’t high on your list, an honesty bar is available, so guests can indulge and there’s also afternoon tea and cake, which is a favourite element for many guests.

“We have a beautician come in everyday, because for some of our guests it’s important to have those treatments available. Jules also offers Reiki and massage treatments like Indian Head Massage and Acupressure.”

Looking at Kabinga, it’s clear why guests don’t want to leave. “It’s a bubble,” Debbie explains. “I think it’s why we have so many guests returning every year.”

Throughout their stay, guests get to try different styles of yoga. “We do facial yoga, aerial yoga, water yoga, partner yoga on the beach so everyone can sample a different type of yoga. Facial yoga is Hatha Yoga to start with then we go through facial poses. You’re propped up at an angle on bolsters and blocks. Then you have an organic facemask. During your 15-minute Shivasana, you have on an organic facemask. When we’ve gone through the different types of yoga, at the end of the week and for the last session, we ask guests what type of yoga they want to do again. Nearly always it’s aerial yoga.”

Debbie explains: “Aerial yoga is called Soaring with the Soul. It’s one practice where you can let yourself go. As adults, we forget to play. Aerial yoga brings out a bit of the child in you. You find yourself realising you haven’t been upside down for so long. Hanging upside down is really good for your skin, for your blood supply. I’m actually 85,” Debbie, a glowing picture of vitality, jokes.

At the end of the trial aerial yoga class, we lie suspended above the ground supported by our silks. It’s a sensation unlike any other; it feels liquid, somehow. With the deep meditative state that yoga induces then the feeling of lightly swaying in the breeze, all stress melts away. Your breathing deepens; your minds let go. This is tranquillity.

Soaring souls
Aerial Yoga
Photo: Emma Jervis
Food is freshly prepared with local, seasonal produce
Keith Bone
Photo: Keith Bone
Soaring souls
Photo: Emma Jervis