The broken toilet is the final straw. After a month from hell where everything I've touched has turned to dust – culminating in this failed DIY attempt to fix a leaking cistern – I've had enough. Frustrated, I throw down my tools and head to a happier place, somewhere I can breathe, de-stress and focus on the positive.
I soon discover I'm not the only person feeling overwhelmed by life. During an "opening circle" at Happy Buddha Retreat at Wentworth Falls in NSW's Blue Mountains, 20 other women share their reasons for joining this three-day midweek yoga retreat, setting goals for the journey ahead.
Some have come simply to enjoy the yoga; others are escaping family commitments, desperate for a good night's sleep. High-flying career women are taking time for themselves, going offline to focus on their mental well-being; while a few admit to physical health issues, and the need to realign priorities.
"Most people just need a break, to find some space," Happy Buddha's retreat facilitator Courtney Rattle says. "Space to reflect, space to breathe, space to move, space to have fun and be joyful. Space to prioritise, find some balance."
After holding pop-up yoga weekends for six years at various venues, Happy Buddha Retreats – led by Courtney and owner Athil Singh – found a permanent home in Wentworth Falls two years ago, with the tranquil bushland setting and relaxed vibe of the Blue Mountains an essential part of the equation.
"The Blue Mountains is such a healing place," Courtney tells me as we gaze across the dense bushland flanking the retreat. "There's something about it that really centres you, whether it's the fresh air, or the slower pace. People walk in from their drive, and there's a different feeling even that evening, because they've spent a few hours up here."
This is no rustic, hippy-dippy cabin-in-the-woods, however. Built around an enticing swimming pool, Happy Buddha Retreat is modern and slick, with spacious en suite rooms, a comfy lounge area and a communal dining room where nourishing vegetarian meals are served courtesy of Jeevi, the "Laughing Chef".
While yoga is at the core of the retreat's itinerary, nothing is compulsory. I skip the early-morning Dynamic Flow Yoga in favour of the more relaxed Gentle Yoga; and for the first time I try Yin Yoga, a gentle practice based on extended stretches targeting deep connective tissues between muscles.
Guided Yoga Nidra meditation sessions – held after dinner each evening – prove I have no capacity to still my mind whilst flat on my back; but during a talk about the benefits of meditation, I learn I can find my zen in daily life, with simple activities such as gardening and cooking offering a chance to switch off.
Surprisingly, one of the highlights of the retreat is a drum circle – the very thought of which was once anathema to me. Instead, the laughter is as infectious as the beat as we all let loose on our bongos, in a joyous, carefree musical celebration that leaves every participant grinning from ear to ear.
On the final morning, the group gathers once again in the yoga room – hidden behind a Harry Potter-esque bookcase – to reflect on our goals from the first evening. Emotions run high: tears flow freely in outpourings of honesty, safe in the warm embrace of strangers, now friends.
In three short days, through focus, self-care, laughter and the uplifting presence of strong, beautiful women, my leaking toilet – along with the other debris littering my life – has been forgotten; I have discovered Courtney's promised "space".
"When we cultivate space, there's new growth," she says. "When there's new growth, there's expansion, and then new perspective when you walk off your yoga mat and into the world."
And that's a happy place indeed.
Julie Miller was a guest of Happy Buddha Retreats.
Happy Buddha Retreat is 90 minutes by car or two hours by train from Sydney.
There are two mid-week retreats from Monday-Wednesday and Wednesday-Friday, as well as weekend retreats. A two-night midweek retreat is priced at $399 per person (twin share) with weekend retreats $499. See happybuddharetreats.com.au