The London Journalist's very own spa expert Charlotte Couldrey took 'Dry January' to the next level immersing herself in an intense women's only Juice Detox Retreat at Raw Horizons in Yorkshire! Here's how she got on...
After a Christmas in which my family of three managed to consume a magnum of champagne before breakfast, and fruit only made an appearance in the form of the traditional bottom-of-the-stocking tangerine, by the time the New Year rolled around I felt very much in need of a detox. Which is how I found myself, one grey January afternoon, arriving at Split Farthing Hall in Yorkshire.
This stunning country mansion, just outside Thirsk, is the home of Raw Horizons, which has been running women’s wellness retreats since 2012. It was founded by stepmother and daughter duo Claire and Andrea Maguire, after Claire’s struggle with cancer taught her the importance of looking after herself emotionally, as well as physically. She wanted to share everything she’d learned with other women, and to empower them to be kind to themselves, and so Raw Horizons was born.
Andrea and Claire now run several retreats: Healthily Happy, Yoga and Relaxation, and Wellbeing Coach Training – but I was there for the most intense of them all, the Juice Detox Retreat. The three-night experience promises to ‘detox, revive and renew,’ the mind and body through yoga, meditation, and, yes, juice.
The theory behind juicing is simple: extracting the juice from fruits and vegetables means the gut can absorb the nutrients more readily, as it doesn’t have to digest the fibre. Eschewing all potential toxins such as dairy, caffeine and wheat, and dramatically cutting the calories you consume, also gives your digestive system a complete reset. As Andrea says, you give your car a regular MOT, so why not your body?
All the juices are freshly pressed – hearing the whirr of the juicer usually was a sign that our next meal was moments away – and made with organic and locally sourced produce where possible. Every meal consisted of a different juice, giving us the widest possible variety of nutrients while always giving us something new to look forward to. And although I was wary as I sat down to my first juice, a sludge-coloured ‘Mean Green’ made with kale, cucumber and celery, it turned out to be really quite enjoyable. Followed by an even tastier ‘dessert juice,’ containing, among other things, sweet potato, it made for a surprisingly filling meal.
While the menu options at Raw Horizons are limited, the setting is positively opulent. The bedrooms are large, warm and comfortable, and there’s also the library, TV room, hot tub and sauna in which to relax. You can also book a massage or facial for a little extra luxury, or address your emotional state with a cord-cutting or reiki treatment.
The retreats are kept quite small, with a maximum of ten in each group, giving a friendly, convivial feeling to the experience. The women in my group varied widely in age and occupation, and had come from as far afield as Glasgow and Dublin. We were all there for different reasons: some just wanted a bit of a post-Christmas detox, another was looking for help for severe insomnia, while others came seeking more of a spiritual rebalance.
Because, as well as offering a detox for the body, Raw Horizons also provides a detox for the mind. There are regular activities scheduled throughout the day, teaching mindfulness techniques and giving the opportunity to slow down and reflect.
Our day would usually start with a session of Kundalini yoga, which is like no kind of yoga I’ve practised before. Its main goal is to build awareness, and is more like a moving meditation than a standard vinyasa flow. Conducted from a seated position, which makes it manageable even for anyone, Kundalini yoga focuses on the breath and on repeated movements, often while chanting, and ending in a long, relaxing savasana.
There were other kinds of meditation, from visualisations to gong baths, but my favourite of these was the chakra dancing. It aims to release negativity by moving ‘intuitively’ to a special chakra soundtrack, guided by the instructor’s empowering mantras. It felt ridiculous to start with – a group of grown women flailing about with their eyes closed – but there was something joyful and cathartic about the spontaneous movement, and the more I was able to let myself go the better I felt.
People’s reactions varied wildly to everything we experienced. The ends of the meditations were punctuated as often by tears as by snores, and while some felt invigorated by the change in diet, others were counting down the moments till they could get their teeth into solid food again.
I found my energy levels would ebb and flow throughout the day, feeling invigorated after consuming a juice, but increasingly sluggish and lethargic as the hours passed. Fortunately, with four meals a day including an ‘afternoon tea juice,’ there was never that long to wait until my next energy boost.
Having our meals regulated and activities structured to such an extent was soothing in itself. With nothing to plan, and nowhere to go apart from a stroll through the house’s extensive grounds, the spare hours felt free in a way that time never does in the real world. I took long showers, lay reading on my bed, and wrote extensively in my journal, inspired by the hours of meditation and introspection.
More than just a mini break, Raw Horizons provides an escape from the pressures of the everyday. It gives you a new perspective on the way you live your life, and the tools to bring about the necessary changes. So often women are driven by other people’s needs and forget to think about their own. Raw Horizons gives you the luxury of time to think about your own needs, be that physical, mental or spiritual, and the space to explore them.
A few weeks later and the flat stomach that can only be achieved by subsisting purely on fluids has long since gone, but the emotional impact of Raw Horizons has stayed me. ‘Self-care’ has become an all-too hashtag-able term, plastered across the packaging of a thousand scented candles and face masks, but at Raw Horizons it’s a way of life, not a marketing gimmick. If my experience has taught me anything, it’s the importance of taking some time out for myself, and that solitude is something to treasure, rather than fear. That, and the astonishing fact that you can juice a sweet potato.