From music festivals to lesbian nights out, there are an increasing number of events dedicated to queer women in the UK and worldwide. There is now an event for everyone, where they can feel safe and connect with other people in their community.
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However, few of these spaces are dedicated to true, capital W well-being. No one denies how fun lesbian bars and gay clubs are; the Nonchalant crew is known to love a party. But there is immense value in slowing down and taking time out for our minds and bodies, especially for those of us living challenging, busy, or in some way difficult lives.
Enter the LezBe Mindful Wellness Weekender, a well-being retreat dedicated exclusively to LBTQ women and non-binary people. Following Nonchalant’s introduction of the event in September, I was delighted to attend this year’s mini-festival – and can’t wait to tell you all about it.
This year’s event is at a luxury glamping site in Norfolk. Gorgeous as it looks in the pictures, I am a little scared of attending on my own, carrying everything from food to my yoga mat all the way from London. I need not have feared: a WhatsApp group full of this year’s attendees come to my rescue and I am picked up from the station by three lovely ladies – and make instant friends.
“Looking after attendees is an important factor for me and my events”, says Kalie Jade, the founder of LezBe Mindful. “Attending a queer women’s retreat by yourself can be pretty daunting, but by organising car shares, guests feel connected from the outset. Plus, it’s good for the environment.”
We arrived onsite late Friday afternoon and I was immediately inspired by the site’s beauty. My eyes, so accustomed to urban greyness, bask in the fresh greens and deep blues of the Norfolk countryside. Next, we are shown to our accommodation. The Norfolk site really puts the glam in glamping, with beautifully decorated, cosy tents, yurts, and shepherd’s huts, with luxury bedding and even some wood-fired heaters provided. With warm water and fully equipped bathrooms available, I really feel like I’m getting the best of both worlds: being in nature without sacrificing comfort.
The weekend has a rich line-up of activities, starting off with communal cooking. Preparing dinner with a group of strangers could have been a daunting prospect, but as we each begin chopping, washing, frying, and baking, magic happens. In the site’s beautiful, wood-panelled kitchen, we all come together to make and enjoy nourishing food.
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It is a simple but very powerful way to build a community – and fill our bellies with lovely dishes. We end up with a gorgeous feast of barbecued meats, vegetable couscous, potato and spinach curry, fruit salad, and bananas roasted with chocolate and marshmallows to round it off. That night, I go to bed under the stars already feeling happier, lighter, and excited for the weekend ahead.
Day two begins with birdsong and blaring sunshine warming the dewy, wet grass outside our tent. I am not a frequent camper, but seeing the sun rise over the beautiful natural lake starts to help me understand the appeal.
The first point on our Saturday wellbeing agenda is cold water swimming. I understand that is a divisive sentence. Many might be turned off by the idea of bathing in icy lake water in place of your morning coffee. But the benefits of cold water therapy are significant, for the mind and body alike. “Cold water therapy is one of our core principles at LezBe Mindful”, says Kalie. “We love introducing people to this kind of therapy. At my retreats, we always practice immersion together to support people who haven’t tried it before.”
Kalie is an advocate, but she doesn’t force anybody to try anything. All throughout the weekend, she encourages participation in workshops and activities, but everything is optional, which gives guests a lot of freedom. So, I don’t have to do it. But her enthusiasm for cold water swimming proves to be infectious. Swimsuit on, flip flops at the ready, I walk to the lake and dive right in.
The effects are not immediate. It takes a good few seconds for the pinching and discomfort to dissipate, but it slowly begins to give way to a sensation of complete calm. It is as if someone has turned down the volume on my thoughts, making the TV static of anxiety disappear, allowing me to focus on the here and now.
This feeling stays with me for much of the weekend as I try new things with the support of Kalie and her loving group of like-minded people. The morning continues with lakeside meditation and an opening circle, in which guests are invited to talk about what brought them here. Whether they speak or just listen, people are honest and non-judgmental. We might have come to the site as strangers, but the act of sharing immediately brings us together. There is a sense of homecoming and peace.
The rest of Saturday is spent in the sunshine. Activities include mindful bingo (a fun exercise for setting well-being goals), wand whittling, and learning about crystals. The day culminates in an evening sound bath – something I’m also completely new to – where we lie, covered in blankets, staring at the sky and listening to the sound of a gong and wind chimes. It is restful and rejuvenating at the same time.
In the evening, we cook pizza in the site’s wood-fired oven. Inside, the energy is that of a huge sleepover as we curl up on the communal room couches, clutching mugs of tea and snacks. Outside, the vibe changes a little as guests enjoy Kalie’s vision of creating a wild spa, with an outdoor hot tub and a mobile sauna. Everywhere, there is a continued sense of connection and peace.
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By the time Sunday rolls around, I feel as if someone has replaced my batteries. The morning swim is every bit as glorious as the day before. I treat myself to a massage and feel any remaining stress evaporate. I even join a line of guests trying out the ice bath, Kalie’s surprise for our last day. We take turns sitting in freezing water for a good few minutes, with Kalie behind us to guide our breathing and concentration. Once again, discomfort is followed by bliss and I feel utterly alive.
After a final shared lunch, we gather for the closing circle, and this is when I become aware of the bond we have built over the weekend. Several guests open up and share words of appreciation and gratitude. Many say that they have felt seen, heard, and supported in the past two days. That they have been able to let go of something they were battling with. That they have made peace with themselves. That they have found hope. For the second time that weekend, I found myself moved to tears. I recognise myself in the words of these people whom I have only known for forty-eight hours.
There is a point when none of us can say anything more: we come together in a group hug to say our goodbyes.
“I created this space because I wanted to offer a life-changing experience”, says Kalie. “I had a dream to break the mould of a lesbian festival and offer something completely unique, centred around wellbeing and wholesome activities.
“Some people come just to relax and de-stress, but others use the space to process challenging things. To witness the growth and transition of each attendee is a huge blessing”.
The weekend has definitely shown me the power of community. In the few days after, guests continued to give thanks in the WhatsApp group. “It was a fantastic weekend, full of fun, honesty, vulnerability, and love”. I couldn’t have put it better myself. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what other guests have said:
“Kalie created a safe haven and a melting pot of spirituality and nature, it was just what I needed after a stressful month at work!”
“There was something for everyone, but you could also do nothing at all. I am honoured to have been able to join everyone on this retreat and will be sure to return!”
“I have just been on the most amazing experience of my life. I was very nervous, meeting new people and spending a whole weekend with them but we all bonded beautifully and still keep in contact. My advice is if you get the chance to go, then do it! It was an amazing experience. One that will not disappoint!”
Fresh off the excitement of the 2023 Weekender, Kalie is already thinking about next year’s events. Surprise: a retreat abroad may be in the works – but you’ll have to follow the LezBe Mindful page on Facebook and or Instagram to stay up to date. Kalie also hosts a Meetup group for queer women: join Spiritual Lesbians and Wellbeing.
Love Team Nonchalant x
Last Updated on 29th November 2023 by Nonchalant Magazine