The Bikram Yoga Brevard retreat, August 21-24, 2014
Photography and yoga are two of my great passions in life. I am most inspired and comfortable with my camera in my hands or on my yoga mat. I was recently given an opportunity to combine two of my passions when my good friends Vivian Smith and Jill Haynie, who own Bikram Yoga Brevard, hosted a retreat in August 2014 at the beautiful Catatoga Club resort near Brevard, NC. It was such a pleasant surprise and honor when Vivian contacted me to see if I would be interested in attending the retreat so that I could document and photograph for them. Vivian told me all about the retreat. There would be a private chef preparing delicious, healthy meals and juices throughout the weekend. Not just any private chef but a young man named Liam Luttrell-Rowland, who works at The Admiral in Asheville, NC. (More about Liam and his amazing talents in the kitchen later.) There would be dockside posture clinics let by Zeb Homison, who owns Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh. Zeb is the 2014 USA Yoga Federation world asana champion, with amazing knowledge and the ability to bend his body with incredible strength and grace. My dear friend Craig Culbertson, another yoga asana champion, would also be helping with the posture clinic. Craig is the first ever senior men's USA Yoga Federation first place champion. There would be on-property waterfalls, lakes, hiking trails, a pool and a hot tub. The entire weekend sounded magical. Accepting this job was an easy decision for me. I decided to leave my house in Asheville early in the morning on Friday, the first full day of the retreat, to see if I could catch the sunrise on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville on my way to Brevard. I jumped on the BRP and arrived at the Pounding MIll Overlook in time to capture this incredible image - a beautiful premonition of things to come.
After being treated to a gorgeous sunrise, I headed down Highway 276 toward Brevard and the retreat. I had never practiced at the studio in Brevard before and was excited. Vivian used to teach at the Bikram studio in Asheville but left a couple of years ago to open her own studio. Immediately upon entering I was struck with how serene it felt inside. It was bright, airy and clean.
Vivian would be leading the class that morning. Although it had been a couple of years since I had taken one of Vivian's classes, I remember her being an excellent teacher. She has her own style of teaching, as many Bikram instructors do. I remember her classes being energetic and extra hot! I consider myself an avid Bikram enthusiast. I do my best to practice at least four or five times per week. I believe the practice provides me with an infinite number of health benefits and I firmly hold that one of the most important qualities a Bikram yoga teacher can have is the ability to make the practice resonate for students. This is important in all types of yoga, but Bikram stands out because it is always the same 26 postures and it is always hot. Sometimes excruciatingly hot. Vivian is a master at making the benefits of the practice accessible and real, and it's evident that she loves her career as a yoga teacher and studio owner. I had a great practice that morning and realized I missed taking Vivian's class.
After class we headed back to the resort for lunch. As I mentioned before, Liam Luttrell-Rowland who is a chef at The Admiral in Asheville, would be preparing the meals for the weekend. If you know anything about the amazing dining scene in Asheville, then you must know about The Admiral. I would argue that the The Admiral is one of the best restaurants in Asheville (which is saying a lot considering the food mecca that the city has become). It just oozes everything unique about dining out. The food is spectacular, they don't advertise, and the building certainly does not look like a place where world-class meals are prepared. If you were to walk by The Admiral unaware of the creativity behind its unassuming facade, you might never enter. But once in the know, you'd better call a month in advance to request a reservation because they are always slammed. The cocktails are tasty, and when the kitchen closes, the staff moves out the table and turns the place into a killer dance party.
I was excited to meet Liam and was hopeful he would be OK with me taking some pictures of him in action. For lunch, Liam treated us to a chicken salad with a mustard vinaigrette, couscous, a curry chick pea salad and a tossed salad with Bibb lettuce. The meal was excellent, and the presentation was beautiful.
So after starting my day with a gorgeous sunrise, taking a hot and sweaty yoga class led by a fabulous instructor and enjoying a world-class lunch, I was off to the pool to rest a bit and make some new friends. The retreat was off to a tremendous start.
As I mentioned before, Zeb Homison would be conducting the dockside posture clinics for the weekend. The clinic was to begin on the dock at 4:30 p.m. I saw Zeb head down to the dock around 3:30 p.m. and grabbed my camera. I thoroughly enjoyed taking photos of him as he warmed up his body with many incredible yoga postures. Zeb is famous for a posture called Mountain Pose (Parvatasana). It's really amazing to watch him enter this posture. Click this link to see some great video of Zeb's championship yoga routine.
The posture clinic began with everybody taking a turn declaring what yoga meant to them in as few words as possible. There were many great answers -- presence, happiness, inner peace. One person said that he began doing yoga because he wanted to improve his golf game and then it became so much more. It was a privilege to hear what brought so many people to yoga and what has kept them coming back.
A perk of being the official photographer was that I had the freedom to roam around during the clinic. I took the opportunity to take a ride in a canoe and capture some cool shots from the water.
After the posture clinic, we all headed back to the main lodge for dinner. Chef Liam had prepared local mountain trout baked in parchment paper. He topped the trout with leeks that had been slowly sautéed in butter throughout the day. He also prepared a roasted garlic cauliflower puree, a blend of baked beets and sweet potatoes and a side of wilted Swiss chard. For dessert, he whipped up a chocolate torte from his grandmother's recipe. It was magnificent.
I woke up early the next morning and headed down to the dock to take in the sunrise and practice yoga. The sunrise did not disappoint, and I had a great yoga session to boot. Chef Liam had prepared a beautiful breakfast that included fresh fruits, juices and steel-cut oats. It was perfect fuel for the Bikram class scheduled for ten o' clock that morning.
We departed and arrived at the studio. Zeb would be teaching class this morning. I really enjoy taking classes from new-to-me teachers. The studio was packed with some local Brevard students and the retreaters. It was extra hot. Zeb's teaching skills proved to be just as strong as his yoga practice. His class was soothing and a great complement to the weekend. After class, I got back to the resort as quickly as I could. My plan was to find one of the private waterfalls on the grounds and jump in immediately. The cold river water felt incredible. I took a few minutes to continue my Shavasana on a rock next to the waterfall, basking in the warm sunshine. It was perfect.
Then it was lunchtime! Chef Liam, once again, went above and beyond, preparing pesto bow tie pasta with peas, egg salad and a tossed green salad. The highlight was a cold Borscht soup. Borscht is a Ukranian beet-based soup that can be topped with sour cream. He made it from scratch -- again using an old family recipe.
After lunch we got hit with a crashing thunderstorm. I took the opportunity to relax and enjoy the sound of the falling rain and thunder. The storm subsided in time for the 4:30 p.m. posture clinic, again led by Zeb. As the retreaters arrived at the dock, you could tell that new friendships had formed. People were conversing, practicing handstands on the dock and laughing a lot. It was great to see this little yoga community develop over a 36-hour period. I was having lots of fun trying to capture the trees reflecting off the water and of course taking pictures of beautiful yogis with my camera.
The yogis on the dock were opening up more with questions and experiences. One woman had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She had been suffering, but the yoga had helped her feel less pain and regain some quality of life. One yogi had been able to quit taking heart medications that he had been on for years. It was inspiring. Personally I believe yoga has helped me overcome chronic digestion issues. I have been able to stop taking many prescription medications that many highly specialized doctors strongly advised me never to do. The clinic ended, and we headed back to the lodge for dinner and many bottles of wine. For Chef Liam's final meal, he prepared a tasty grilled flank steak salad with a roasted squash puree. He also made family-style plates of black-eyed peas, sautéed eggplant and wild rice. Dessert was homemade peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, we gathered by the fire and chatted with our new friends. We all had at least one thing in common: yoga! Yoga was enough to connect us and bring us together for a magical weekend. Many thanks to Vivian Smith and Jill Haynie of Bikram Yoga Brevard. I had a great time and hope you will have me back next year.
To see my full slide show of pictures form the weekend please click this link: Retreat Slideshow.