It’s not often you can answer the question, ‘what did you do over the weekend’ with ‘sat by a bonfire in the desert and gazed at the stars’
At Alma Retreat (Alma means soul in Portuguese and Spanish), a newly launched mindfulness and wellness retreat in Ras Al Khaimah near the Bedouin Oasis Camp, you’ll see the stars more often in two days than you have in the last year, especially from the roofless bathrooms.
‘It’s a unique way to feel at one with nature. There is you and then there’s the sky’, explains Sarah Arnold, the founder of Alma. ‘That’s the idea of the glamping experience we provide. We don’t want guests to rough it out, but we don’t want to create the sterile experience of a hotel either.’
The pretty blue-green and white canvas cabins are kitted out with a functioning toilet, shower, fresh towels, a bathrobe and a marshmallow-soft double bed with cushions galore and a detox foot mask that leaves you feeling rejuvenated and fresh in the morning.
The community area is all about self-service - a wood and straw structure is laid out with comfortable divans, low tables, and a drawer stocked with fresh fruits, herbal teas, protein shakes, containers of detox juices supplied daily by Detox Delight and nutrition bars. Processed and junk are words that don’t exist here at the retreat. There’s a tiny library shelf, too, where you’ll find the most offbeat reading material- books on Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, mindfulness, yoga and the law of attraction. Pick as you please to feed mind and body.
It’s not all book learning here – Alma lets you practice the mindfulness they preach through a holistic approach . During my two-day stay we dabbled in Hatha yoga, meditation, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), healthy eating and art classes, which are all integral part of the retreat.
We start the weekend with a gong meditation art class conducted by Soul Art Centre. Instructor Zarine talks us through the process telling us what to expect during the 30-minute session; soon after we’re asked to paint whatever we want to. The positive vibrations of the gong are supposed to reveal your innermost thoughts and desires and that then translates into the painting. There’s no structure to the art we create, it’s abstract and in my case, a mishmash of colours and shapes. Do they mean anything? Like all art meaning lies in the eyes of the beholder and the mind of the creator. Zarine is a veteran in her field, conducting classes across the country and this professionalism is reflected in all of the retreat’s partners and voluntary instructors.
Yoga instructor Diana Azavedo has been teaching for over nine years in Dubai as has Coach Marco, a Dubai based-fitness trainer who specializes in functional training and HITT routines. Even the beginner’s routines will leave you sore and knackered the next day but the retreat has a sweat-lodge, built in the Native-American tradition, and an ice bath to treat and cure fatigued muscles. Mindfulness and fitness are supported with healthy eating; Alma offers guests four kinds of portion-controlled, organic diets – vegan, fasting with juices, raw and Paleo. It’s a great way to test out a meal plan you wouldn’t usually – I surprisingly enjoy my vegan dinner of string beans, mashed sweet potato, pine-nuts sautéed with onions and mushrooms. Breakfast is muesli, yoghurt and berries in a Mason jar and lunch is quinoa salad. Vegan, I learn, isn’t all faux meat, tofu and insipid flavours.
Alma Retreat is Sarah’s passion and pet project that she juggles with a full-time job as an IT consultant. The German expat, who is also a certified yoga teacher, decided to create a sanctuary here in the UAE similar to what she had experienced during her travels abroad – to provide a respite for people from the hectic rat race of the city and recalibrate. Alma’s isolation and calm is a jarring contrast from our 24/7 lifestyles.
Situated smack in the middle of RAK’s expansive desert, a few kilometers off the Al Wadi Resort, the camp is surrounded by nothingness and endless sand dunes – a few hours here and the silence, chirping of birds and whistling wind melt stress away.
While solitude, self-reflection and disconnecting from the outside world and technology are important objectives of the retreat, the idea Sarah says is not to alienate or insulate people. Communication is key; guests are encouraged to interact and share their stories during group discussions on mindfulness as well as bond and make new friends through partner workouts and eating together at the community meals.
On the last day, as the 15 of us of stand at a sharing circle around a bonfire to mark the end of the retreat, we’re no longer strangers. There is a sense of unity in having found some semblance of balance together. We leave armed with techniques to stay healthy, battle stress and plenty of new friends.
I can’t think of a more productive and restful way to spend a weekend.
Prices for a one-night, two-day retreat is Dh799 per person for a sharing cabin or Dh999 for a single person inclusive of meals and activties. Visit iamalma.com
Alma Retreat closes for the summer in June, re-opening only in September. There’s a special family retreat for Easter on April 14.