Masía Yoga Luna, where the wounded heal and the fit reboot
May 12th 2021 Barcelona
Today I visit a Yoga Masía in Castelldefels near Barcelona. The benefits of yoga have long since been established. But still, your faithful servant has always associated this practice with tree huggers and smokers of herbal cigarettes.
To my great surprise this ancient style farmhouse has been converted into a luxurious yoga retreat. And lo and behold, I find the entire Barcelona A team here.
I, Gwyneth Paltrow will get to the bottom of this story in a chat with founder Najet Boulafdal.
As I approach the light showered lobby of the retreat I see a few barefoot “yoga people” all dressed in colourful yoga outfits . Except for those cute ankle grips where their toes poke out. Although the lobby -for want of a better word- is crowded with these top athletes and their technical staff, the place exudes a sunny calm.
In the middle of the quiet hullabaloo stands a tiny woman chatting in a relaxed manner with a few people while keeping an eye on her young child playing on a blue mandala beach towel.
Najet Boulafdal welcomes me with a big smile and asks me to leave my Jimmy Choos at the door. Oops, my first faux-pas! I should have gotten the clue seeing all these bare toes. My host provides me with a pair of socks, ‘Don’t worry, they’re new’, she reassures me with her smile.
She leads me to her office and asks one of the teachers to keep an eye on the little one.
Her office, as it turns out, is a veranda facing south with a breathtaking view on the sea on one side and acres of green to the horizon north.
Najet Boulafdal: You weren’t expecting this, were you?
Gwyneth Paltrow: I must admit, I have been surprised a few times since I got here.
Najet Boulafdal: In a good way, I hope?
Her confident face tells me she knows the answer to that question.
Gwyneth Paltrow: As you know I scour the earth for retreats and weekend escapes where people can go to leave their busy lives behind. When the editor told me about a yoga retreat in an old farm at the Spanish coast, I must admit I thought I would arrive in a dingy place without indoor plumbing.
Najet Boulafdal: It’s a common misgiving. People mistake yoga for poverty and old farms for dingy doss houses. I’d stand for neither. This is a three centuries old farmhouse, mind you. But I made sure it has both the bare necessities and the little pleasures of life.
GP: Define those necessities and luxuries.
NB: Necessities in a retreat I think could be defined as a few outdoor jacuzzis and a large warmed swimming pool. As for the luxuries, we do have hot and cold water indoors (laughing out loud!)
No, seriously, I designed and furnished this place first and foremost for myself. I drew up a list of the spaces and accommodations I look for when I travel with my family.
In the meantime a tray with delicious looking bites and beverages have arrived. Before I get the chance to ask if these yummy snack contain yucky ingredients Najet assures me they are gluten and lactose free. Besides these little bundles of culinary joy are, my favourite kind: raw!
NB: We cultivate body, mind and soul and the ingredients are sourced directly from our kitchen gardens. ( She adds, not without pride.)
I am starting to like this place even more and am seriously considering moving in. But I need to know how all of this came to be. So I start by asking her the basics: what is this place?
NB: This is my home and my sanctuary. Along with my team of yoga teachers we offer the possibility for individuals, children and families to come and heal.
GP: Am I to understand that your guests are people are all suffering from diseases or PTSD or mental illness?
NB: Let me ask you a question instead: who among any of us isn’t wounded or suffering in some form or other? So the honest answer is probably yes, most of my guests are suffering in some way, even if it’s “only” from fatigue.
Roughly I receive three kinds of visitors. The first group consists of people who understand the boundaries of their capacity. They come here when they feel in need of recharging their batteries.
Then there are people -both children and adults- who have some kind of an injury, maybe the are anxious or stressed out. So they come here to heal. Our aim is to get as many people as possible from the second to the first, once they’ve healed, of course.
As for the third group, I can unabashedly state that they are my favourites: children who were dealt a bad hand at birth for whom yoga is a great asset to level the playing field.
GP: Do these categories mingle, how do you determine who’s in which group? Do you organise separate programs for these profiles?
NB: People come to the masía to reboot or for specific yoga workshops.
Today we are honoured by the visit of the greatest football team on the planet. Barcelona’s A-team have come here for a restorative and Yin Yoga workshop, as they’re from the area most of them commute to their homes and families.
Some of them and especially their technical team take advantage of the off time in the evening for some type of team building and they attend the morning meditation session at five am!
As they have the same status in this country as the Beatles had back in the day, they rent the whole masía. But for us mortals we organise several retreats and workshops simultaneously.
Part of the stay is shared, but we make sure that people who crave silence and calm have the choice to attend chanting sessions or cooking therapies if they like. But alternatives are offered.
GP: Which alternatives are these? Why not teach them the healing force of cooking?
NB: We organise several sessions of gentle and restorative yoga as well as creative therapies with qualified teachers. For people who flee the hustle and bustle of a busy city life, soothing activities are necessary for rehabilitation.
It goes without saying that they’re welcome to join the various cooking and juicing workshops, but it can get a bit loud and busy in the kitchens. I don’t want to add to their distress.
What I usually advice for guests looking for healing through health conscious eating is joining the teachers in the kitchen gardens. All the teachers, myself included, work in the gardens. This is not a chore, it’s a really soothing experience.
GP: I know this to be true from my time in England, I spent many an hour in my yard tilling the earth for great produce. I always felt relaxed despite my aching knees.
NB: Exactly! Listen the garden was the only part we had to change dramatically in the whole domain. And a bit against the clock, because I wanted to be ready for sowing this spring. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends, some of whom are now teaching and living here.
It wasn’t an easy job, but I noticed that some of my friends would bring their friends and colleagues who needed to unwind. They found that working with the earth had an instantaneous cathartic effect.
Once people feel stronger, they attend the more invigorating workshops.
We have a questionnaire we ask people to fill out before they arrive. Guest who are at the end of their rope usually reply only to half the questions or fewer.
Some of them just want to sleep in and not be surrounded by noise and news screens all the time.
We adopt a very strict no internet policy, there is no wifi access!
GP: You mentioned children, do you run a parallel holiday camp for kids?
NB: Not really, but we do have a separate program, at least once a month for children. Sometimes we collaborate with schools, orphanages or with institutions where children are in care.
We offer weeklong stays for children who grow up in institutions and orphanages along with their carers. These are karma yoga stays, which means they don’t have to pay for their retreat.
The same goes for children from families who can’t afford to go on a holiday. There are organisations, often located in inner cities who would take these kids for a day trip to the beach free from charge for the parents.
Thanks to our karma yoga program we offer them weeklong stays during school vacations with the organisation’s staff and teach the children yoga, mindfulness and other fun activities.
For children growing up without a family home, it’s important to be surrounded -when possible- by caring people who are not paid to show affection.
Children growing up in families who struggle to make ends meet often suffer from transferred stress. Even when parents never mention their financial worries, the kids are usually aware of their parents’ problems and carry them on their tiny shoulders.
Again, we truly believe that yoga and mindfulness offer coping strategies that will allow these children to find peace and tranquility within themselves.
I really started this place with children in my mind. You will notice that all the rooms and spaces cater to smaller beings. That wasn’t only done for my own benefit. But I digress, I am sure you’re not interested in the making of of my masía.
GP: Au contraire! I am very curious to learn how you managed to create this amazing place. How did you get the idea to build this retreat? Why did you decide to go with yoga?
NB: Actually, the yoga came first. I had been practicing yoga for a few years when one of my teachers in Brussels approached me about a teacher training the studio was organising. This training was a kids yoga teacher course.
At that time I had been a language teacher for over fifteen years, I decided to enlist. And I never looked back.
By the time I had completed the three modules of the kids yoga training I had possibly experienced the most harrowing year of my life, with losses greater than I ever had. Human losses, no material involved. Even though money was always tight to say the least.
At the end of this training period I had lost my job as a North Africa correspondent for a respected news journal in Belgium. I was fed up with my noisy neighbours and had the feeling I needed to start from scratch. So I thought why not start over in another country with a friendlier climate?
That’s when I decided to act upon my mood board and create a sanctuary for myself and others. A place where I would teach yoga to children and welcome people who needed to recharge their batteries by retreating from their busy lives. That was at the beginning of 2016.
GP: How, then did you manage to accomplish this extraordinary feat, did you have some help or support from your family and friends?
NB: Somewhere in September 2016 I saw a Facebook post on my yoga teacher’s Eknath wall. It read ‘It’s that time of the year again. For those who are interested in the Master Key, watch the video below.‘
I hadn’t the faintest idea of what the Master Key was and generally distrusted anything with the word ‘master’ in it. I found it rather aggressive. Little did I know, my life was about to change.
GP: I am intrigued, what was this Master Key? How did it change you?
NB: Well, it didn’t change me as much as it brought out the best there is in me but not without a lot of soul searching, a lot of hard work and daily practice in getting rid of my bad procrastination habits. I nearly fell of the wagon a few times.
The Master Key is a method that combines various ancient sources to enter into contact with the subconscious so you can change the way it leads your way. You receive techniques to actually change the way it thinks.
It was the hardest work I have ever done, and that includes the winter when I tilled these gardens. Five years of university don’t even come close to the practice and work I put in the six months I followed the Master Key Master Mind Alliance (MKMMA).
GP: It sounds like the villain empire in a SCIFI franchise.
NB: It isn’t. It changes the way you think. The MKMMA does help you to create new neural pathways -furrows if you like- to plant good habits or at least to prepare your brain for good seeds.
First of all it really taught me there truly was no shortcut to success. That most of it was going to be practice and the rest of it work. I know this sounds as clear as day and as simple as that but for me it wasn’t. And for a lot of people it still isn’t.
People who are successful make it look so simple, they seem to have loads of spare time to prefect their tennis volley or the indulge in time-consuming hobbies.
The weird thing is that the work didn’t deter me, I had always worked hard, it just hadn’t paid as I would have liked. And the amazing thing is that I had results after a only few weeks. Not that I received sizeable yoga requests out of the blue, but small victories were mine.
Through the teachings of the MKMMA and the support of my personal MKMMA guide I truly absorbed certain notion that I had heard before and applied them. One of them was as simple as can be: you repeat ‘do it now!’ twenty five times twice a day.
Before I knew it, I stopped myself from making a cup of tea before replying emails –procrastination is…- and chanted ‘do it now’ while tending to my admin.
I am very grateful for stumbling, by accident on that link on my yoga teacher’s FaceBook wall. And for the guidance I received. And for the support of the MKMMA community. And no we are not a cult!
GP: Surely working hard on this project could not have been easy. I am sure you’ve had to sacrifice a great deal to start this retreat?
NB: I promised myself I would train like an athlete who was preparing for the Olympics. Wasting time was not an option!
I discovered that a lot of my time I wasted with really silly things, such as watching home restoring shows on YouTube or reruns of Barça games. When I started adding up the hours of this type of idleness I was gobsmacked!
Also, I spent hours on social media pretending to be marketing my business, but instead staring at strangers’ posts. Even reading the interesting stuff I found the be a waste of time. I cold never really remember any of it.
So I cut down on screen time, drastically. Even cutting down to checking my mail only three times a day.
Another thing I gave up, quite easily, is happy hour. I stopped going out during the week and even in the weekends I would save my date night, with myself or someone else, for special occasions or for soul nourishing treats.
Last week the University of Barcelona organised a lecture by Jon Kabat-Zinn, in a few weeks Guru Amma will be in town, I don’t mind standing in line to meet uplifting people.
And when I do go out, which is hardly ever, I don’t drink alcohol. I just find that I win a few extra hours per day when I haven’t had a glass of that excellent rioja.
On very special occasions, I do indulge in a wine and staying up late. But for as long as I was building my business, alcohol and junk food were banned.
GP: So, It still is a mystery how you built this place when only a few years ago you were broke. How did you actually start this place up?
NB: During the MKMMA course I wrote a sort of business plan. I started by researching everything to do with yoga in Barcelona, it turned out that’s a lot. I knew I had to offer something different and at least have a strong profile.
Every week I happily dedicated five hours to prospecting for suitable places to organise yoga retreats. Occasionally I attended retreats to get a feel of what I needed in that sort of setting.
Before the end of 2016 I was teaching in various places all over Barcelona. By March of 2017 I had organised my first family yoga retreat in a masía that usually hosted weddings.
GP: What was your first organising experience like? Did you enjoy it? I can imaging it must have been nerve-wracking.
NB: I loved every minute of it! This was my dream come true, or at least phase one of that dream. I spent weeks finetuning my program, the workshops to organise and of course the right teachers for the job. I enjoyed planning the food I’d serve and contacting farmers for local produce.
I even started a renting/sharing trend for yoga studio furnishings. I would have bought everything but at the time I had no place to store the props afterwards.
For this first time I was very hands-on and I was so pumped! I coordinated the team of teachers ad their schedules.
I taught the children yoga and mindfulness while their parents were meditating and practicing yoga. The children and I made healthy snacks for the mid-morning walk in the woods.
I led the group of guests lending a hand in the kitchen (it’s called karma yoga), I taught family yoga in the afternoon and attended other teachers’ classes of creative family therapy when I didn’t have a group.
So for that first retreat I booked an extra day to enjoy all the luxurious facilities and I won’t hide that I had a glass of champagne in the outdoor jacuzzi.
GP: You had earned that!
NB: I sure did! I really felt I had to celebrate my first success which inspired me to organise more of these. And happy guests are better then an expensive marketing campaign.
The rest is history.
As I walk from the beach back to the masía I see the athletes practicing yoga in a large studio with huge window panes. They seem at peace and don’t mind me poking my head through the door. On the first row of the studio is Najet’s young child sitting in lotus position on a purple mat, completely blended into the group of athletic deities.
I am sure my stay is going to be wholesome, interesting and great fun!