We’re delighted to launch our ‘Sanctuary Sessions’ guest interview series with Lauren Macdonald – medical doctor, psychology graduate, yoga teacher and advocate of holistic medicine.
Tell us about yourself – what brought you to Sen Wellness?
I first became aware of Sen Wellness at the beginning of 2016, not long after I’d been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I’d recently left my job as a doctor in Brighton and I’d just started having treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. In the meantime I’d thrown myself into researching all I could about my disease and what I could do alongside conventional treatment to help my body fight the tumours. It quickly became clear that I needed reduce my stress levels, support my immune system and reduce the inflammation in my body. The holistic approach I took involved starting a regular yoga and meditation practice, exercising regularly, massage and acupuncture therapies, switching to a plant-based diet and doing everything I could to support my gut microbiome. I began blogging about my journey and through my blog I connected with Sam at Sen Wellness. I had several sessions with Sam during that year and we stayed in touch throughout my treatment. A few months after finding out I’d had a complete response to immunotherapy I made the decision to travel to India to complete my yoga teacher training. Practicing yoga throughout my treatment had helped me to stay mindful, calm and grounded when my life felt totally out of control. Immersing myself in the training for a month enabled me to further my knowledge about the mind-body connection, deepen my yoga practice and ultimately, start to trust my body again. It was always in the back of my mind to visit the Sanctuary at some point as it sounded like the ideal setting to learn more about Ayurveda and kundalini and, ultimately, continue on my healing journey.
How was your experience as a guest at the sanctuary?
From the moment the huge wooden gates swung open revealing the inner haven of the Sanctuary, I knew this experience was going to be much more transformative than I could ever have imagined. It’s almost impossible to translate the magic of the Sanctuary through photos or written words – it’s one of those places that simply needs to be experienced to be believed. A typical day involves being woken up just before sunrise with a cumin and cardamon tea, sunrise kundalini yoga on the beach, the most colourful breakfast and then a day of Ayurvedic treatments, reading, laughing, walking, swimming and more yoga and delicious, nutritious food. There’s also visits to nearby temples and local markets and once a week one of the monks from a nearby temple leads a very special meditation, followed by a deeply relaxing gong bath. It’s honestly magical! In the month I was there I heard incredible stories, made new friends from across the globe and felt a deep connection with everyone I met. The staff also play a significant part in your retreat experience as they always great you with a huge smile and make you feel at home from the moment you arrive. I left the Sanctuary feeling stronger, healthier, happier and more energised than I’d felt in years.
We’d love to hear more about your experience as a yoga teacher/medical doctor and facilitating Golden Summer Tetreat.
It was a huge privilege to be part of the team facilitating the Golden Summer Retreat for 10 days during my stay at the Sanctuary. I’ve attended several different retreats as a guest in the past and I know how valuable it is to completely remove myself from everyday life and open myself up to the lessons and gifts that can be gained from a retreat. It was an honour to observe and facilitate the guests during the 10 days, especially as for many it was their first retreat experience. Sam, Rebekah and Candace created a safe space where everyone could disengage from daily stresses, and old thought patterns and many of them underwent deep inner transformations during the retreat. The cacao ceremonies lead by Rebekah encouraged heart opening conversations and forged deeper connections with each other. The kundalini yoga and meditation that Candace taught every morning on the beach further encouraged us to journey inwards, become more mindful and let go of any inhibitions. By the end of the retreat even the quietest, most introverted of the guests had found their (chanting) voice. I especially loved having the opportunity to teach vinyasa and yin yoga classes in the beautiful rooftop shala overlooking the lagoon in the evenings. This style of yoga complemented the kundalini style taught in the mornings and Candace helped elevate my classes by adding a gong bath during savasana – just as the sun started sinking behind the palm trees. Overall, it was a truly transformative retreat and I’m convinced the guests took away as much from it as I did.
How would you say the Sen Wellness program benefits translates to a busy London lifestyle?
The Sen Wellness experience doesn’t just stop the moment you leave the Sanctuary. I’m still on several Whatsapp groups with different guests from the retreat and it’s amazing how many people have kept up a daily meditation practice as a result of Candace’s inspiring teaching. I also know guests who’ve quit their jobs, taken sabbaticals, improved their diet, reduced their alcohol intake and taken up yoga – all as a result of their visit to the Sanctuary. The skills you learn are things you can integrate into everyday life to help you to better cope with the stresses and strains of modern living. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a crowded tube or a deserted beach, when you close your eyes and journey inwards you can still connect with the experience and find moments of peace and calm.