A yoga retreat at Australia’s mighty Uluru brings much more than expected. Namely flies. Lots of them.
There’s a fly trying to make its way up my nose. And its persistence surpassed my own intention to enjoy a quiet moment of contemplation in this morning’s glorious yoga studio. For the past hour, I’d been saluting the sun in front of Australia’s heart centre, Uluru, surrounded by red desert dotted with shrubs.
“Namaste,” our teacher Denby Sheather said to close the practice.
Eleven voices calmly responded in turn. Mine, on the other hand, was punctuated with a frenzied shake of the head to stop the winged plague from entering my nostrils. When I had visions of being at one with nature on this Desert Dreaming Uluru Yoga Retreat, this wasn’t what I foresaw. A loud buzzing sound swelled around my ears, signalling the end of my brief acquaintance with sought-after peace, and the beginning of another day’s battle with the flies.
It was pitch-black – and insect-free – when we first arrived at the lookout. As the sun rose, and Uluru was bathed in a technicoloured sky, tourists took their requisite selfies then left our small group to set up our mats on the deck in the early quiet of day. We began our yoga session in the opposite way that I’m used to in a sauna-like Bikram yoga class: there were no skimpy, butt-revealing short-shorts in sight; instead we were swamped in layers of beanies, socks and jumpers to combat the cool outdoors. And rather than having to stare at my sweaty complexion in the mirror, I faced the enormity of Uluru. As I rolled up my mat and silently cursed the growing onslaught of flies, I thought, this was the most incredible place I’d ever practised yoga.
Later that morning, we went on a 10.5km walk around the base of Uluru to see the Aboriginal sacred site up close. We were told Dreamtime stories of the local Anangu people from Mutitjulu, shown artwork on rock walls and informed of the most sacred areas, which were far enough from the track for us to keep a respectful distance.
It took us four hours to complete the track. In that time, I got to know the other women (and one token man) better. Not that many secrets remained after our initial soul-bearing, hand-holding welcome circle on the night we checked into Sails in the Desert resort.
Honestly, that first night of the retreat made me question whether it was a good idea to have come on this trip. The emerging theme for most of the women, as they spoke through tears, was that they were here for emotional healing. I thought I was here for a nice stretch and a hint of meditation. I’d already had my own Eat Pray Love experience, years earlier studying kung fu with Shaolin Monks in China, and I wasn’t crying out for a sequel.
Many yoga sessions, a dinner under the stars in the Field of Light, and a sunset camel ride later, I was happy that fate brought me to the desert. I felt so relaxed that not even the flies fazed me. And on the final night as we sat in a circle on the grass – this time without holding hands – I looked around and saw women who were a little less broken.
Desert Dreaming Yoga is a five-night/six-day retreat run by Denby Sheather of Yoga Spirit Journeys. The annual event includes yoga, meals, tours and accommodation. It’s just one of two yoga holidays being organised around Australia this year. The next one is Sacred Silence in the Daintree Rainforest, this October.
How to get there: Uluru is located in the heart of the Northern Territory. The closest airport is Ayers Rock, which is less than 10 minutes away from the main resort.
I stayed at: Sails in the Desert at Ayers Rock Resort.
Cost: Prices start at $3730 per person twin share for Desert Dreaming. It’s held in Uluru once a year.
More information: denbysheather.com
This article first appeared in the July 3, 2016 edition of body+soul.