Life is fast. We go fast, the days go fast, years rush by and it feels like all we achieved is a blink. When was the last time you took time out with just you and your closest girlfriends to duck out of the fast lane for a while? For so many of us it's something we talk about but never actually get around to doing. More often than not the task just feels too big and too expensive to achieve. But, according to copious amounts of research and study, we're harming our health if we don't nurture time with friends. Beauticate Managing Editor, Rikki, was feeling the pinch of the fastness and needed to hit the brakes, while taking a break. So, she and her best friend set off for a weekend at Billabong Retreat - a getaway that didn't require a plane ticket, more than one small packed bag and didn't break the budget. Here, she talks the importance on our health and wellbeing to take time out to disconnect from the rush to reconnect with friends, and just how easy that can be.
For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by friendship. There’s a meme on Instagram that reads: Friendship is so weird… you just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like “Yup, I like this one” and you just do stuff with them. And yeah, it’s weird. It’s become more interesting as I’ve gotten older because the connecting factors that start friendships start to change, yet the friendship somehow remains. Old school friends, workmates, friends you meet through romantic relationships long ended, friends bonded over babies who are no longer tiny bubs… Circumstances no longer keep you together, yet, here we are, mates. And it’s not just mushy feels, science backs it up…
A study published in the journal Personal Relationships showed that as we age, supportive friendships are crucial to our wellbeing, even more than strong family connections. Conversely, having toxic friends (friends who cause strain) are far more connected to the cause of chronic illness than having stressful spouses or kids. Psychology Today published a study showing that people who interacted with their strong ties (close friends) daily rated much higher in overall happiness and belonging than those who had more interactions with weak ties (acquaintances).
So, when I was invited to spend a few nights at the Billabong Retreat in Maraylya - about 43kms north west of Sydney CBD - I took my oldest and dearest friend, Jade. We met in primary school, so our life circumstances have seen many an iteration: interstate moves, new friendship groups, different unis, demanding jobs, births, deaths, husbands… we’ve been through it all. It takes work, time and dedication to keep a friendship alive (sometimes even more than your romantic relationships). But, life gets so busy and the next thing you know it’s already August 2017 and people are counting down the weekends to Christmas. Going on an overseas getaway with your girlfriends can take years to plan and with adulting commitments, it can be a financial strain. But, there are beautiful little gems tucked away less than an hour from the CBD that are perfect for bonding and won’t break your budget. Like, Billabong.
After a bit of juggling (I have a one-year-old, Jade has two kids under 4 and recently moved back to NSW from Mt Isa), we sorted a date, packed a small bag each and ran for the Hills for full nights’ sleep and drinking whole mugs of HOT tea. No stinky toddler staring us right in the eye ESP’ing aaahahaha yo’ a fool if you think that’s getting drunk all the way. I’m ready to lose my mind in 3, 2, waaaahhhhhh. (Or, for anyone sans kid, a chance to enjoy a tea, not quickly downing one between meetings). I'm a bit flustered on arrival (there's a '90s remix on the radio I'm heavily invested in. Amazing, but not calm), but just driving into Billabong gives off a a sense of what's to come. Suddenly we're in a leafy, rustic, tree house-like sanctuary, and can’t help but take in a deep breath and relax into a slow exhale (a strange luxury not many of us afford ourselves in the space of a day). At reception, check-in isn’t about taking our credit card (rooms are pre-paid, see prices here), instead we get a key attached to a small wooden tablet with an affirmation ‘you are not your thoughts’ engraved on the back. Hmmm ok, so maybe this is more hippy dippy than I thought… However, we power on because, sleep.
We arrive too late to make the welcome talk and first yoga class (there’s no mucking around getting all guests into the zen zone), so we check out our digs for the next few nights and wow… While rustic, the amenities are modern and newly renovated. Rooms are cosy and warm (we’re in the communal lodge, but there are single tree house cottages available, with outdoor bath…) to counter the icy air of twilight in winter. We take the break to grab our first of 600 cups of tea and sit outside. This quiet, simple pleasure shocks me a bit – I genuinely can’t remember the last time we weren’t wrangling something or someone while attempting conversation. I can’t emphasise enough, Billabong is so quiet. Disarmingly so… Just you, the birds and the billabong. But we chatter away for an hour or so and settle into this strange new world of zippo noise. Dinner is at 6. We’re starving, but also curious if the primarily vegan menu is going to be a meal of mungbeans and dirt. It’s not… If you’re only looking for one true reason to visit this place, it’s the food. Seriously. The most delicious, nourishing, fresh feast I’ve ever had. They need to release a cookbook, asap.
Post dinner, it’s meditation hour. Yep, hour. I look nervously at Jade who is a meditation novice and wonder if she’s going to kill me in 62 minutes. Our host, Heather has the exact kind of soothing voice you expect from someone about to take a room of women through an hour of guided meditation. I wish immediately that I had a recording of her to lull me to sleep every night. As it turns out, it is meditation for me (sort of, I struggle to get in the zone and think instead of everyone who has ever wronged me, how my toe is so itchy and did we leave the heater on in the very wooden lodge..?) and nap time for Jade. About two minutes in, my bud is quietly snoring. I did promise her sleep, after all… I spend the last quarter of the session with the blanket in my mouth to muffle my laughs as Jade goes into deeper and deeper REM, with an accompanying snore soundtrack. But, she’s not the only one…an orchestra of sleep is well under way in this room and I wonder how many women are also here for the pure pleasure of a nap. Sleep that night is deep, uninterrupted and glorious. Then 6:30am wakeup call for 7am yoga…
Billabong aren’t strict about rules, but they just gently encourage a digital detox and hope you come to classes. I’ll admit, I talk the talk with yoga more than I pose the pose. These days, the closest I get to a regular practice is scrolling through #blessed on Instagram. Looking out onto the trees while holding tree pose makes me feel pretty smug and I’m busting to 'gram it. But I have promised myself to reconnect by disconnecting. Breakfast is just as incredible as dinner and then we prepare ourselves for the yet-to-be revealed ‘workshop’. We soon find out it's a walk around the property, slowly and in silence. Not like, strolling slow. But, sllloooow. I feel ridiculous and, seeing everyone else, I know I look ridiculous. Like back in grade 4, Jade and I hold our breath to stop laughing and decide we can’t look at each other for the rest of this situation. After a while I realise we’re not holding our breath anymore, we’re actually doing it. Going slow, with intention, checking out every teeny bug on every teeny leaf. It makes me think of my son and how he's constantly in the moment but is forced to race along the path with me because I’m so late for that thing that doesn’t matter. So yeah, I’ve sculled the Koolaid. So's Jade.
There are quite big chunks of time reserved for just hanging out. Something Jade and I haven’t had since highschool-age visits. We prop ourselves up in the library (a room full of comfy Scandi couches, armchairs and knitted blankets) with, of course, another tea and the bush backdrop. We catch up on life and laugh about the old times and the old old times (both include me needing medical attention for sunburn). Unlike if we had maybe gone to an Air BnB or did a home visit, there are no distractions – no TV, no phone in our hands, no kids wanting food and a wiped butt, no anxiety that work needs to be done, no wine… A place set up to promote yoga, meditation and slower living keeps us acutely aware that we should do just that. The classes continue over the next 48 hours, we get to know a few of the other women but mostly hang out with each other. And, the world did not fall apart in our absence (or, presence). Maybe it’s time we all made this (at least) a yearly ritual… Seek out these little, close by, financially achievable retreats that re-connect you with your girlfriends. After all, your long term health and wellbeing is counting on it…
Not a Sydney-sider? Here are similar places close to your capital city:
Melbourne: Rocklyn Yoga Ashram - 1hr 35min from CBD
Brisbane: Springbrook Theosophical Society Retreat Centre - 1hr 45min from CBD
Adelaide: Skillful Mind Retreats - 14min from CBD
Perth: Eden Lights Retreat - 40min from CBD
Hobart: Tranquil Point Retreat - 30min from CBD
Canberra: Simplicity Retreats - 7min from CBD
Story by Rikki Hodge-Smith