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Cool People Doing Cool Stuff: Ram & Bhavani of Sanctuary Hill Retreat


A few months ago, Sans Pareil went to New Plymouth and checked out the wonderful Sanctuary Hill Retreat while it was still in its very early days. Now, fully up and running we sat down with the husband and wife owners, Ram and Bhavani and talked about their passion for yoga, wellness and meeting in Canada!

What made an Architect from Mexico and a Chef from New Zealand want to move to New Plymouth and set up a yoga studio and retreat?

Ram: I had been working in the private yacht industry as a Chef for quite a while and after spending time at the yoga ashrams during different periods I decided to come back to my homeland to find a space to dedicate myself to teach yoga. New Plymouth felt like a perfect place to combine yoga and good surf so this is the
place I chose to establish the Sivananda Yoga Centre 10 years ago.

Bhavani: Three years later after Ram established Sivananda Centre, we met in Canada. I honestly came to New Plymouth because Ram lived here and as our relationship grew I naturally became part of the yoga center. I was working in Mexico with design and construction but had dwelled into yoga for some time and felt it was a very good time for me to deepen my practice. So my teacher suggested a teacher training in Canada, so I flew there to do my thing and Ram was there at the same ashram school.

Both: It had always been a dream to take our Yoga centre to the next level in starting a retreat where people could experience stepping out of their busy lives to spend time with themselves in nature allowing healing food and the practices of yoga to weave their magic. After we worked down south at the Aro Ha retreat
the vision became clearer to develop a space that combined both the benefits of yoga ashram combined with that of a wellness retreat and so the concept of Sanctuary Hill came alive.

I love that you not only offer the yoga side, but you also offer the gourmet raw food dishes. Do you think this sets you quite far apart from other yoga retreats?

Ram: I have always loved food and cooking, one thing I personally struggled with when being a chef was how backward the industry is. Most places I worked in my younger years only cared about how food looked and tasted without any thought of what the food is actually doing to our bodies and the mind. The food we do create is carefully crafted to leave our guests feeling lighter and brighter and I do believe the whole experience is quite unique. We not only put on a retreat but invite our guests to join us in the way we strive to live.

What made you set up in the countryside? A lot of retreats I’ve seen usually go to the beach. What is it you love about this particular location?
We first visited the site where we are some 5 years ago but were not in a position to go for it at the time. Fate brought us back as we actually passed by it by accident and saw it was for sale. We came in and had a look and loved what we saw but it wasn’t until a few weeks later when we were on holiday in Mexico that the vision for it became very clear. We hadn’t considered it while we were here but I guess it was a kind of epiphany. Everything from there seemed to click into place and the plan came to life. Why we love this place is because it really is a sanctuary – we grow as much food as we can which will in a few years account for a high percentage of the fruits and vegetables used for retreats. We will also move it towards being a self-sufficient space as much as we can. As the landscaping develops over the next 10 years or so it will come more and more into its own and the Sanctuary feeling will continue to deepen.

Why do you think yoga is so important for people to practice?
Ram: I really feel yoga has such a positive impact on anyone who wants to access its benefits. I personally started practicing yoga because I had a sore back. What I got was so much more. I came from a place of being really unhealthy – overweight, too much drinking, liver imbalance and a lot of stress from high
pressured jobs. After a few years of practice, my body had completely changed, my mind was at peace and I felt like I had more clarity than I have ever had in my life. It also helped me to understand about deeper aspects of life – what happiness is, what do I really want to do with my life and how to move through the ups and downs remaining with the peace we find on the mat. When I teach yoga now for me it is not about my teacher trainings or doing complex sequence’s all I do is try to share what I experience in my own practice.

Bhavani: Yoga can help remind us of the basic goodness and simple treasures in life. If you really look at it, it’s practiced with bare feet and all you need is a space on earth. We live in a world where it’s quite easy to forget this and make us feel disconnected to our bodies and in essence who we are. This simplicity, breath
and body movement has enriched my life by self-reflection, slowing down for self-care and befriending with who I am right now. Importance of general wellness seems to be ignored by the majority of people.

Do you feel that your retreats combat this idea that we only worry about our health once we see actual symptoms?
Ram: I feel a lot more people are becoming aware of health and wellness but the biggest problem people seem to face is finding the time for themselves or allowing the time to look after themselves. Our retreats are for exactly that, people can dedicate a weekend off from life to gift themselves a weekend, a weekend of wellness can really do wonders. The way society is it is sometimes also hard to be healthy. We try to teach people also simple tricks and tips to integrate into daily life to keep the wellness going after they leave us.

Bhavani: I also think it is important to create a safe container where people can come together to have deep conversations about their wellbeing. A very common thing I hear when people think about doing something for themselves is: Guilt. It’s not uncommon for people to think that doing something for our health is being selfish. And by health, I am not only speaking about proper diet, but proper sleep, balanced emotions, and time for reflection. We can notice the symptoms when we have normalized feeling overwhelmed, stressed or with anxiety. The retreats are also prevention to these symptoms avoiding having a pressure cooker with no escape valve. We allow these conversations to surface so a sense of wellbeing is cultivated from a much deeper level.

What is coming up for you in the near future?

Both: This year we have a few retreats on the horizon as well as welcoming some great guest teachers to come and visit. As we grow there will be more and more weekend retreats with different themes – meditation, detox, yoga immersion and we will also be looking to develop some week-long programs in the following
year to go to the next level. Thank you very much for this interview, we feel very excited to share this
offering to our growing communities.

Make sure to follow along on their facebook page and to check out the beautiful retreat its self, by contacting them through their website.




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  1. […] isn’t the first time they have featured on Sans Pareil, and that’s no coincidence because they are amazing. A few months ago, we went along to a […]

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