In our cabin in the woods in Inverness this past weekend, seven women and I pushed the indoor adirondack chairs away from the center of the room, where just the night before we gathered around the hearth for dinner and laughing. We get comfortable on the floor and close our eyes, some of us taking sun baths as the morning’s strongest rays push through the windows, all of us listening to the chatty birds in the background. This morning, Becca, one of San Francisco’s most beloved yoga instructors, is our hearth, and she guides us through a short meditation.
With only coffee and a green smoothie in our stomachs, we have not yet faced the day’s thoughts and contemplations. We accept whatever floats before our internal eyes and ears, we assure these thoughts that we will return to them later, and we do our best to focus on the breath, the quiet, and the relaxation. We are a group of city women of various ages, backgrounds, and meditation proficiency, and we have come on The Pad’s yoga retreat to do simply that: retreat. Some of us carry unavoidable work stress throughout the week, unable to detach from chaotic work travel and unable to switch off. We open our eyes. One of us wonders how she can ensure that a few moments of quiet are locked into her busy schedule. “Is there a dial-in for this?” And so we rise and start our day.
Leila and Becca from San Francisco’s darling The Pad Studios in Cow Hollow are our hosts on this relaxed retreat at a quintessential, old cabin-like home in Inverness. Claudine, a nutrition-conscious chef, keeps us nourished and informed. We have breakfast on the wooden deck, where we also gather for cheese, crackers, and wine while the incredible Claudine puts the final touches on dinner. We have dinner in the oversized living room in front of the fire, accompanied by laughter and plenty of wine. Between the three of these amazing women and the other warm, cheerful, and oftentimes hilarious ladies, the weekend was perfection. We practiced yoga at Yoga Toes in Point Reyes Station, where we breathed in hints of hay from the barn/town hall. We drove through rolling meadows of grazing cows, hiked a cinematic lagoon trail that ended with our toes in the sand at the Pacific, and we indulged in professional massages on the lawn outside our living room. We are not forced to remain in headstands for hours at a time (does anyone do that?), and we are not made uncomfortable by being asked to share our innermost feelings, fears, and demons. We can simply be ourselves, enjoy each other’s company, relax, read a book, and breathe fresh air. If this is what San Francisco retreats are like, I am retreating every weekend. Although if this is what San Francisco residents are like, I am not sure if I would classify the weekend as a ‘retreat’ so much as a common desire to explore the city’s environs with likeminded people. I don’t even care that I have to walk outside across the length of the deck to reach the ladies room in the middle of the night. I am loving it. Clearly Becca’s meditations are effective.
Claudine, a friend of The Pad (everyone wonderful and loving is a Friend of The Pad), specializes in the Art of Living Deliciously. With long gams, beach waves, and laid-back California style, Claudine is a glam girl at ease in the kitchen. She brought creative but simple whole-food recipes to our weekend with a huge smile, and after the first evening of the world’s best cauliflower pizza with pistachio pesto and roasted tomatoes, we each want to marry Claudine. Amaranth porridge sweetened with a drop of maple syrup and textured with pecans, raw cacao and chia pudding, carrot and orange zest oats, asparagus frittatas, and a Mexican night with collard greens, shredded chicken, quinoa and beans, and avocado/cashew cream. Did I mention the lemon, coconut and date macaroons? We ate well, we ate a lot, and we ate varied meals. We all feel Claudine-deprivation now that we are back in the city.
Each facet of the weekend was equally idyllic. In a separate post, I will write more about our time in Point Reyes Station. To balance the stretching, we hit the trail at Abbott’s Lagoon for a sublime hike through West Marin’s finest, painterly nature. As we walk through seemingly endless rolling hills reminiscent of Ireland, we spy cows and a working farm in the distance. The topography changes quickly, and we find ourselves in desert-like sand dunes. When we reach the lagoon, the clouds play a game of cotton candy reflecting off of the water. Finally, we walk through the sand towards the vast ocean. On Abbott’s Lagoon, we traverse countless types of nature, and we feel fulfilled and even a little breathless. The hike is about three miles, and if you approach it at a decent speed, you will likely break a sweat. Otherwise it can be a leisurely stroll through the beauty of West Marin, doubtless a chosen spot for artists.
Some might say that yoga communities are universally lovely and warm. Maybe I need to do more investigating, drop into a few more yoga studios, participate in other group retreats, but something tells me that it doesn’t get more sincere, more accessible, more inclusive, and more well-rounded than the group at The Pad. These are intelligent, adventurous, and genuine people, and I feel like I hit the jackpot falling into this particular loving cup. Bonus that The Pad is walking distance to my apartment, extra bonus that I now count them as my friends. Namaste.