Meet Rosie Parton – Founder of Funky Cactus Yoga

Can you share with us the pivotal moment or experience that led you to discover yoga as a tool for healing after the loss of a close family member? And did it serve as a refuge for your amidst grief?

The pivotal moment for me was during the first class back after my cousin passed. There had been such immense pain in every waking moment up until that point. It was being lost in the movement and focusing on my breathing that allowed me to be fully present so for that one hour I wasn’t in pain. It was the only time since he had passed away that I’d noticed any kind of lightness or hope.

What inspired you to transition from being a yoga practitioner to becoming a yoga teacher, and ultimately founding Funky Cactus Yoga?

It was ultimately the peace that I felt. It had such a profound impact on me that I knew I wanted to share that with others. It didn’t have to be grief-specific, I knew that if that one hour class could bring me peace from the suffering in my life, it could do the same for others. Whether it’s work-related stress, personal health conditions, anxiety, family problems or loss. My cousin passed in July 2019 and I signed up for my teacher training 5 months later. 

Could you walk us through the journey of starting your wellness retreats business? What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

I knew I wanted to delve in deeper with people than just one hour classes. I wanted to create beautiful and transformational experiences from the ground up, where I really got to know each individual on the retreat, and they were there in a safe, held space with others who are like-minded. You didn’t have to be suffering to come on a retreat either, maybe you just needed some time to prioritise yourself, or to slow down, or to delve deeper into your yoga practice. I planned my first retreat, a couple of hours away from where I lived at the time in the Yorkshire countryside. The main risk was the deposit for the venue which I used my savings for. As soon as the venue was booked, I put an email out to see if any of my community and friends were interested. I was really lucky in that I already had a small network of people from teaching local classes. Half of the people that came were people I knew and half of the people were from retreat booking websites, which really helped me get off the ground initially. My dad and his partner are chefs so I asked them if they would be happy to do the food and they were really excited to take on the new venture of plant-based eating. I’m so grateful to be working with people that I know and love and trust. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced is getting the word out. Word-of-mouth has been my best friend and repeat bookings help a lot with most people booking time and time again. It’s still something I’m overcoming, but what has helped is teaching more public classes and getting to know the students in the class. This helps me find people who connect with my teaching, and who then go on to book retreats. 

How does witnessing such transformations inspire and drive your work? You mentioned a transformational experience with a participant who had recently suffered losses. Could you delve deeper into that experience and how it impacted both you and the participant?

It was a real full circle moment for me, because this was the reason that I initially started teaching in the first place. So to know and experience firsthand helping someone find a few moments of peace and hope like I did when I started yoga was an emotional experience for us both! It made me feel as though I was truly living in my purpose, and that I was in exactly the right place. For Lyn, it only reminded her what she already knew deep down. That her life still has meaning, love and purpose without their physical presence and that she can still find moments of joy and find new things that light her up. On a physical level, she progressed so much throughout the week in her yoga practice, after two traumatic events her body was holding so much trauma that she really started to process and move through that week. This was emphasised by her pulling the card ‘the Second Bloom’ from our deck, indicating a new start. She’s a wonderful human being and truly brings a light to every room. We were very lucky to have her on the retreat.

What role do you believe vulnerability plays in the healing process, both for yourself and for those who attend your retreats?

As Brene Brown said, ‘vulnerability is the only bridge to connection’. I’ve noticed it so much within the guests that attend these retreats, the ones that are willing to be the most vulnerable are the ones who get the most out of the experience and see the most growth. It’s the ability to keep our hearts open in the harder times that allows us to heal and build deeper connections with ourselves and others. Closing off is the easy option, keeping your heart open is hard, but necessary. A certain amount of vulnerability is required from everybody from the offset. I open the retreats by sharing my personal journey and move on to the question of why guests are here. We continue to have daily sharing circles with prompts that encourage openness. It can be daunting at first, especially if people aren’t used to sharing openly with others, but it’s a beautiful way to create a space for active listening and for individuals to be heard without advice or comments being offered.

How do you integrate mindfulness and healing practices into the environment of Funky Cactus Yoga retreats to create safe and supportive spaces for participants?

I like to think of our retreats as combining ancient, sacred practices with modern science. People have been meditating for thousands of years without data to back it up, just feeling. I love that with the wellness industry growing we now have hard data to back up what we already knew – that this stuff is good for us. We combine yoga, movement, meditation, ceremonies, rituals, breathwork, ice baths and nutritionally dense plant-based whole foods and always set in nature to create holistic experiences for the mind, body and soul. A lot of what creates the environment is the team. I have a wonderful assistant Georgie (who happens to also be my best friend) who is also key in creating that safe space for people to just rest and come out of fight or flight, giving their nervous systems a break. My Dad and his partner Joanna are our chefs and they excel at what they do and are always there for a cup of tea and a chat when needed. I’m so grateful to these three for helping me create these experiences for people to heal and return home to themselves.

Can you share a particularly memorable moment or story from one of your retreats that encapsulates the essence of what Funky Cactus Yoga is all about?

My favourite time on the retreats is the closing circle. It’s a space that we create to seal off a retreat before we go our separate ways and integrate back into real life. We reflect on our experience and talk about how we can take our practices from the retreat into day-to-day life. We also send love around the circle so everyone ends the retreat feeling loved, respected and held. 

Finally, what advice would you offer to individuals who may be struggling with grief or other challenges in life, based on your own journey and experiences in facilitating healing through yoga?

My advice is only to take one day at a time and feel everything that arises. Denial, rage, sadness, all of it. The saying goes that you have to ‘feel it to heal it’ and it was only once I allowed myself to express my emotions fully and really ride that roller coaster than I began to start healing. Also, if you can find something that gets you really present and offers you even a few minutes of peace, then do that. It looks different for everyone, for my brother it’s triathlon and training really hard, for me it’s yoga, for some it’s ice baths. Find your version of present. My last piece of advice is to just be kind to yourself. This is the hardest thing we have to go through as humans and you are surviving it. It is one experience that unites us all, because it is something we all experience at some point. 

by Harness Editor

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