The Greek retreat that helped me through grief – and ultimately changed my relationship with yoga

Yoga dates back thousands of years to ancient India. Centuries later, it is still considered a universal panacea for any ailment.

For decades I was advised to try yoga by grief counselors after my partner died, oncologists when I had breast cancer, my GP (for everything from depression to osteoporosis) and by friends for loneliness – they thought I would meet like-minded people there .

Each time I followed their advice and recoiled from the discomfort of all positions except the corpse, and especially all those feet. Bare feet, unless strapped to a baby, make me nauseous.

However, last fall I tried again. My mother had died, my grief was overwhelming, my cholesterol high, my blood pressure unstable. The stress caused my shoulders to knot, my neck to stiffen, and even the way I walked to change.

I was a block of frozen grief, I could barely breathe. My doctor prescribed medications that I did not want to take. Tablets to help me sleep, others to help me get through the day, something to lower my cholesterol, steroids for an unexplained rash.

Even my usual lifeline – walking miles every day – wasn’t working. More drastic measures were needed. This time, the advice to try yoga came from me.

I opted for a six-day, internet-free retreat on Silver Island, or Argironisos, a private island in a sheltered channel of the Aegean Sea between Evia and the landmass of central Greece.

Silver Island, or Argironissos, is a private island between Evia and the landmass of central Greece

Silver Island, or Argironissos, is a private island between Evia and the landmass of central Greece

It appealed to me for many reasons, including comments from previous visitors, who spoke of finding calm and comfort, camaraderie and community.

I loved the structure and the opportunities to be social with the twice-daily yoga sessions and three (vegetarian) meals a day, but just as important to me were the free hours in between.

I knew I would need time for myself and was looking forward to exploring the island’s 60 acres, perhaps grabbing a kayak for a paddle, finding a secluded spot among the olive groves or on a cliff to sit and to be my thoughts. Or to befriend the local stray cats and dogs who have found a home at the retreat.

The island, which has been in the Christie family since 1961, is now owned by Lissa and Claire, the granddaughters of the original owner, Spiro. Lissa was there to meet me and the rest of the group (10 of us, from Singapore, Canada, the US and the UK) at the Oreoi jetty (just over three hours from Athens by road or ferry ) for the short boat ride across.

Over breakfast – homemade granola and juices, local honey, fruit, vegan pancakes – Lissa told us a bit more about Argironissos. ‘There wasn’t even electricity and water here when Spiro bought it. Apart from the house – which was quite dilapidated – the church and the lighthouse – there was really nothing, but everyone who visited wanted to return.”

Silver IslandSilver Island

Some say the island’s name comes from the olive trees, whose leaves glisten in the sun

She says the name is a mystery. Some say it comes from a yet undiscovered horde of treasures buried by pirates and others from the thousands of olive trees, whose leaves glitter like precious metal in the rays of the golden sun. Lissa’s favorite story, however, is based on the island’s patron saints, Cosmas and Damian. “They received no payment for their work, so they came to be known as the ‘Anargyroi,’ meaning without silver.”

The island has always been her focus. Even when she lived and worked in London, she was constantly working on it. She has been living here with her husband Corne for about six months and leads the retreats from mid-April to mid-October.

Different teachers come for one or two weeks each, while sustainability initiatives include a solar farm, water collection, natural cleaning products and toiletries. Corne and Lissa cook, with the help of a few friends who come to help year after year, and sit around the table with guests for family-style meals. “People have made friends here; others have become our friends,” says Lisa.

Three days into my stay, my mother’s cat had to be euthanized in London. I was inconsolable, but felt no judgment or shame for grieving for him.

I spent my days feeling like I was only half present, and yet, going through the motions, two hours of early morning yoga, breakfast, walking, lunch, walking, two hours of evening yoga, reading, meeting the others for a drink and a chat around the fire pit before dinner, I started to feel soothed.

The retreat's communal dining areaThe retreat's communal dining area

The communal dining area of ​​the retreat

Of course the island played a major role in this, but so did yoga. Abby Paterson’s lessons were like none I had ever experienced. Despite the different ages of our group and our different competencies, she guided us through a program that suited us all. Her teachings were gentle but progressive. Each lesson took us a little further and showed us that we could do more.

Twice a day we went from our beautiful white and Mediterranean blue rooms (three in the main house and three in a separate villa) along paths lined with wildflowers and olive trees to take our places in yoga. shala (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘home’). I arrived a few minutes early to enjoy the view of the constant and ever-changing seascape.

The same every time, different every time.

A breeze blew in my face and brought my mind, which was so often in the past or future, to where my body was. Here; now; this moment.

Enlightenment can be obtained by going with the flowEnlightenment can be obtained by going with the flow

Taliotis: ‘Enlightenment can be achieved by going with the flow’

Abby led us through flowing sequences that expanded my shallow, barely noticeable breathing, opened my chest and lungs, and delivered oxygen and life to my extremities.

Massage balls went under the feet, under the base of the skull, under the sacrum. I felt the relief of releasing tension in the fascia – the connective tissue that surrounds and supports every organ, muscle, vessel and bone in our body.

We made small movements; we reached for the sky above, reached for the sea far beyond, bent down to the earth below and focused on the olive trees – symbols of peace.

To continue, to move from one position to another; seeing it all as one, step by step, forming the whole.

There was beauty in it, a lesson about what life is like. We move from one chapter to the next, sometimes thinking one ends before the other can begin, when each chapter is part of our ongoing story.

Yoga was right. Enlightenment can be obtained by going with the flow.

Xenia Taliotis traveled as a guest of Silver Island Yoga, with retreats from mid-April to early October. Prices start from €1,705 (£1,450) pp, based on two people, including all yoga classes (approximately four hours per day), three vegetarian meals per day (one of which is five courses) and boat transfer from Oreio. Transport from Athens to Oreio can be arranged at an additional cost.

Leave a Comment