After an amazing few days exploring the wonderful Portuguese capital, Lisbon (which i’m now in love with!), I set off for a small village called Fundao, four hours by train north east of Lisbon. I was making my way to Keela Yoga Farm for a 6 day Earth & Roots Yoga Retreat. The retreat was organised by Kimberly and Laurence, who own the farm, along with Anya, a yoga teacher who has a successful English-speaking studio in Berlin.
When I arrived at the farm with the rest of the group (about 12 others), I immediately felt content - I knew I was in for a relaxing week. I was shown to my accommodation - a tent with mattress and proper bedding - which was set amongst other tents, caravans and a few teepees, not to mention a stunning view of Portgual’s highest mountain, Monsanto (no, it’s not related to the evil agrochemical giant!).
After some settling in, we were giving a schedule for the next six days. We had sunrise yoga everyday at 7:30am, then breakfast and a morning workshop (including Permaculture or DIY beauty products). After lunch we generally had free time, but on one of the days there was a day trip to Monsanto to explore the beautiful village built into the mountain - one of the oldest villages in Portugal. I think one of everyone’s highlights was the food - three different delicious, plant-based meals everyday. Best of all, many of the ingredients were grown right there on the farm!
Earth & Roots Yoga Retreat focused heavily on self-discovery and reflection. We were encouraged to journal and given topics to think about each day. Our time was very much our own, and we were under no pressure to take part in all the activities or even socialise with the rest of the group. I really enjoyed having time to do nothing at all! It’s the perfect environment to completely disconnect - you feel no urge to look at your phone, barely give a second thought to the outside world and can really enjoy the simple life. I could also really feel the benefits of practicing yoga twice a day and loved Anya’s focus on mindfulness during her classes.
The retreat was an incredibly inspiring and creative environment. Besides Kimberly and Laurence, there are volunteers living there almost all year. One of my favourite aspects of the retreat was connecting with like-minded people and meeting people who are following their dreams. For example, Geethje, has quit her day job and built a camper van from scratch (almost completely herself) and is now travelling around Europe volunteering on various farms.
Keela Yoga Farm has been up and running for about a year and a half - which makes their set up all the more impressive. They have completely renovated the old, abandoned farmhouse, installed a solar energy system, a water system and are already growing their own food. What surprised me most was the bathroom facilities - they use compost toilets (a vital aspect of permaculture) but have managed to make the bathroom look and feel homey and clean. The shower is tiled and has hot water (although most of us opted to use the outdoor solar shower which was exhilarating!).
I had the chance to spent some time with Kimberly and Laurence, to find out what compelled them to start living this way and hear about some of the challenges they have come up against so far. Like many people, Kimberly and Laurence grew tired of the 9-5 (and then some) lifestyle while they were living in Singapore. They were living in the midst of an extremely wasteful society - and, despite trying their best to implement recycling schemes in their places of work, were left disheartened by their lack of control over where their waste goes. They wanted to make a difference. Kimberly told me, “It was one thing after another. Then we thought right let’s do it, let’s make a difference. It might be a small difference but if everybody thinks that they can’t change anything, then things won’t change. We’ve got to start somewhere.“
They were lucky to have family who, while in the beginning were a bit skeptical, have ultimately been very supportive of their decision, and even helped them develop their business plan. Is there anything they miss? “Being able to pop out and grab something I need. I guess it comes down to convenience. I miss Asian food! Also, hot water is a big one - not having it when you need it, especially in winter.” As you can imagine, one of the most rewarding things about deciding to live this way is, for them, working for themselves and working with like-minded people. Not only that, but they have noticed massive improvements in their mental health. “In singapore I had anxiety, heart palpitations and constant headaches - now I have none of that. While there are obviously still some challenges which result in worry, the only deadlines I have are ones I set for myself.”
Keela Yoga farm, while initially intending to focus primarily on yoga, aims to ultimately become a learning hub. A place for sharing knowledge and showcasing how to live more sustainably. Permaculture and food forestry is a key component - you can see how passionate Laurence is about this and his desire to teach others what he knows.
Their advice for people thinking about taking the plunge into off-grid living? Plan, plan, plan. "Take as many courses as possible and learn about the fundamentals of permaculture. Think about whether you really want to live on-site during the building phase or if it makes more sense to rent somewhere else initially."
Kimberly and Laurance’s only wish is for people to leave the farm feeling content, fulfilled and relaxed. I can vouch for that.
Do you want to learn more about permaculture and sustainable living? You can find out about volunteering and retreats at Keela yoga farm here. If you are in Berlin and you want to find an excellent yoga studio, I highly recommend checking out Yoga in English with Anya, on Monday’s and Wednesday’s in Kreuzberg.
The majority of the photos featured in this article were taken by Eglė Duleckytė.