Emma Whitehair takes control of her emotional life with the Arrigo Programme
After my last breakup I initially turned to some fairly harmless distractions: redecorating my flat, a girlie holiday and the fail-safe getting over someone by getting under someone else tactic. It wasn’t until I found out that my ex had started publishing a social media love-fest, a few days after telling me he wasn’t ready to date, that I found myself distressed and humiliated.
I knew deep down there was more to this, it wasn’t about him, it was all ‘my stuff’ begging for attention. The distractions weren’t enough anymore. I realised I needed to do some serious soul-searching before even thinking about getting into another relationship, if I wanted it to be healthy and long lasting. This was my time to evolve emotionally. This little crack in my heart was giving me a chance to go in to feel, then heal, wounds from my past.
It was at this point that the expression, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear’ couldn’t have been more apt. And, through a series of coincidences, I was seamlessly booked in to do an emotional detox at The Arrigo Programme.
Often likened to The Hoffman Process, The Arrigo Programme won ‘Best Holistic Hideaway 2015’ at the Conde Nast Traveller Spa Awards. However, as luxurious as this retreat may be, don’t think of it is a conventional spa break. Everyone can benefit from the healing at The Arrigo Programme, as long as they are prepared for some deep, and sometimes uncomfortable, work with their emotions, spirit and body.
Founded 14 years ago by psychotherapist and bio-dynamic psychologist, Fiona Arrigo, the retreat prioritises women’s wellbeing and draws on a combination of ancient philosophies, alternative remedies and modern-day psychotherapy. With a rota of therapists who all come to visit your private dwelling for one-to-one sessions, Fiona oversees her clients’ personal journey of transformation and healing.
The retreat is based near Glastonbury in Somerset, one of England’s most charged laylines. Historically a place for broken people to heal, the area still attracts many people seeking to become more spiritually conscious. As I arrived at Double House Farm, I was warmly greeted by my ‘angel’ Caroline, who would to be looking after me during my stay. She led me through to the spacious and light, stylishly converted traditional stone barn, which I was happy to be calling my home for the duration of my stay. The only guest, on my personal solitary retreat, would just be my healer for company.
With huge bouquets of fresh flowers in every room, and the scent of candles surrounded by rosebuds held in Himalayan salt lamps (a natural energetic air purifier) on every surface, I was also pleased to discover that the kitchen was abundantly stocked full of healthy and organic snacks. Kale chips, hummus, almond butter, fresh fruit, all thoughtfully catered especially to my tastes, which were detailed in a questionnaire I had previously filled out.
Environmentally considerate pretty corked glass refillable bottles of pure spring water from the famous Chalice Well in Glastonbury were in every room and generous gifts were laid out on my Egyptian cotton linen dressed double bed – including a journal, rose oil and silk eye-mask and pillow case.
I was feeling spoilt already, but even writing that word doesn’t feel appropriate in the context of The Arrigo Programme; here you feel like it’s all deserved indulgence. With its large sitting room, cosy sofas and armchairs to curl up in and wood-burning open log fire, I immediately felt that this was a nurturing space to relax and have some headspace – my own private rural retreat.
Warm, dynamic and fun, Fiona Arrigo has been practising psychotherapy for 30 years with a multi-discipline instinctive and spiritual approach. A glamorous earth mother with luxuriously bohemian style, peering over her nose-perched spectacles, I was drawn in for a hug and felt comforted immediately.
I was instructed to limit the use of any digital devices and not to listen to my own music through the dock or watch TV and instead, read, watch and listen to the specially curated material left in the retreat for me. Books such as ‘Coming Home’ and ‘The Five Levels of Attachment’, films with the theme of awakening and soothing sounds on the curated iPod.
We then touched on my childhood and I tearfully told of a chaotic time – parents who divorced when I was eight, an alcoholic mother who eventually died of the disease and a father who raised me as best he could while working long hours and all over the country.
Fiona commented on how well I had done in life considering the traumas I had experienced in my formative years. I have a survivalist instinct yet she could see my wounds were still holding me back from being the best version of my adult self.
A table setting for one was laid out in the country-style kitchen and a bespoke meal, to complement my programme, was left for me to prepare. All the food is fresh, organic and locally sourced where possible. Fiona recommends a protein-based lunch then a light supper of soup and salad – the optimal regime to allow your digestive system to work in harmony with her programme and allow rest and relaxation at night.
Following my romantic meal for one, craniosacral therapist Diana arrived for my first session within in the private treatment room in my farmhouse. Instantly noting my ‘vitality’ and commenting on how healthy I seemed, Diana could also see I was physically retracted, holding on to tension and adrenalin. Working with the fluid in my body, which she explained should be free to move -– like a tide. I felt very safe in her hands and she commented on how ‘thirsty for this work’ I was.
On my first morning at the retreat I awoke to my angel starting the fire, putting on soothing music, bringing me coffee in bed then preparing breakfast. As I enjoyed sheep yoghurt with granola, berries and a smoothie, she tidied up, made the bed and cleared my space for the day, lighting scented candles as she went. This became our morning ritual for the duration of my retreat.
Later, in Astrological Counselling with Simon we talked through my birth chart, a snapshot of the sky at the exact moment I was born, my blueprint so to speak. Simon explained that we are born when our karma is aligned with the stars, so all our ‘lessons’ are energetically matched and at a soul level, we choose the challenge. I also learnt that our rising sign – or ‘ascendent’ – is the sign that was rising over the Eastern horizon at your time of birth.
It’s different to your main star sign and an important part of your astrological personality profile as it illustrates your outward self: a social mask of sorts. Influencing people’s first impression of you, how you interact socially and how you view and relate to others. Mine is Aries, making me appear open, lively, independent, and dominant.
The North Node is what one’s soul purpose in this lifetime is, and mine is in The Fourth House, interestingly also referred to as the House of the Mother, the Parent or the Nurturer. This, along with Saturn in Cancer, shows that I feel the need to create the emotional security I missed out on as a child, and sometimes want to hold on to relationships, even when they’re not working. Pluto in my second house of Taurus is passion and sexual energy, but it’s shadow is obsession, while Venus square to Neptune make me an incurable romantic.
I’m metaphorically wearing rose tinted spectacles, which often leads to disappointment. I think I see a knight in shining armour who then falls off his horse. Overall, my chart shows I’m an old soul learning advanced lessons – apparently they get tougher as we go on. Oh joy!
Soon after this Jenny arrived for acupuncture. She described me as ‘a fine filly’ – full of good energy, however she could sense that underneath this was a soul exhausted by carrying around all my ‘junk in the trunk’. This deeply resonated. Everyone comments on how much energy I appear to have on the surface, yet inside I feel knackered. This, she explained, was probably why I have a tendency to crave sugar and caffeine.
Having taken my Chinese energy pulses both before and after setting to work with her needles, Jenny was pleasantly surprised at how receptive I was to her work and she was optimistic that my underlying tiredness should dissipate somewhat before my return home.
The last treatment of my first day was Tibetan Pulsing with Anna. A deep type of energy work to shift blockages further, bringing me back into my body. Looking into my eyes with a torch and magnifying glass led her to believe the heart area is where I needed most work to release pain. I laid down with my head resting on her thigh as she put hands on different points of my body, including the right hip, which is connected to heart. A very comforting experience, at one point I even nodded off which is not something I usually do in treatments, especially after a good night’s sleep.
I also experienced pleasant sensations that could have been blocks being released, a sudden flow of energy, and I was left feeling feeling deeply peaceful and nurtured after our session.
After these treatments I understood why Fiona had wanted my programme to start with the craniosacral, acupuncture and Tibetan Pulsing work. It was like expanding my container so we weren’t pouring water into a thimble. They had each helped my body make the internal space it so desperately craved and I felt like an armadillo who’d uncurled from it’s ball.
During my time with Fiona the following morning she explained that she could see an internal disconnect and restricted diaphragm. Because of my inner distressed child, my central nervous system is in fight or flight mode, it thinks I’m unsafe. The mis-match of energy with my confident nature, that of a natural survivor, means I am not at peace with myself and find it very hard to really relax. She was very keen to see how I was doing same time the next day after a day of body work to reintegrate.
Kinesiology with Louisa was an emotional session, and through talking to her I came to understand that I’m holding on to a bucket of repressed emotion that’s full to the brim, a little more goes in there and I’m overflowing.
My second counselling session with Simon brought further profound revelations. We observed that I had suffered my first real heartbreak as a child, when I had to detach from my first love – my mother. For my own safety and sanity, at a young age, I had to let go of my relationship with her, about 10 years before she passed away. This has made the ending of my adult relationships a huge trigger for me.
I had never really mourned her loss, and this pent up emotion sometimes comes out when I allow myself to grieve the end of a relationship longer than I probably would ‘normally’. We did some regression work to identify what my inner child needed now – security, stability and self-parenting – then both ended up giggling over some of the details of the Greek tragedy that were my formative years. Simon actually had an interesting perspective on this, believing that some people are chosen to suffer early in life to become teachers who can guide others through the obstacles of life.
Body work with David was another real eye opener. He offers deep nutritional life advice on a whole other level, using many disciplines. I learnt that from an ancient Chinese perspective, I have a deep yin energy, I am ‘the youngest daughter’ with a perpetual child-like quality. This is one of the deep female expressions and David felt I needed to support this energy by having a partner in life with stable calm qualities – the inner tantra of the divine masculine, which would allow my anxiety to be released and cultivate stillness. Without this protective yang energy, I have a tendency to pretend to be tougher than I really am, and can sometimes feel incomplete.
I also learnt that I have issues around liver stagnation due to withholding anger and tension after trauma which are causing my current ailments. Heat from the liver floods the chest causing asthma and also irritates the membranes causing my allergies. Plus, it affects the meridians that run through the sciatic area that have been causing me excruciating pain for months. (The sciatica was also put down to a fear of moving forward by the other therapists.)
The prescription was to do some sweat inducing exercise – to release this heat, I was also told I have ‘thrifty genes’ that suit light fasting and was given a list of foods that suit my system.
The most intense of all my sessions at The Arrigo Project was Transformational Breath work with Julie. A session of deep belly breathing with body mapping that caused such a charge of energy, my hands were tingling like crazy and felt like they weren’t mine – almost bigger, and at times clenched, when they were actually relaxed and open.
The tingling also spread to my face and I felt rushing sensations in my body. Julie put pressure on certain points of my chest connected with compassion which had me weeping cathartically, while the sounding and pounding exercise (punching a pillow while yelling and stamping out my feet like a tantruming child), released anger, and also had me belly laughing. Leaving me feeling a little giddy, spaced out and amazed by the power of our breath, I was hungry to continue to develop this breathing practice when I got home.
As my four-day bespoke programme of complementary work drew to an end, I observed how well it had flowed. After each session, information was communicated to matriarch Fiona so the programme could be tailored accordingly. I was gently opened up, energetically and emotionally, before being shaken like a snow globe, then gently closed down with some grounding acupuncture and acupressure point work with Jenny, ensuring an easy reintegration into my normal life the following morning.
During my time at The Arrigo Programme I was moved by the empathic and healing abilities of the team Fiona put together to, well, put me back together. I felt held and mothered, something that I had been craving at a deep level for many years.
I was nurtured – even on a basic level, when the therapists replaced the candles, made tea and lit the fire, before leaving me in comfort to process our sessions. The secluded retreat never feels isolated and is the perfect warm and safe place to spend in your pyjamas, to cry out any grief and sadness, yell out anger and injustice – then let it all go. I felt safe enough to allow access to places within me that I hadn’t felt for years.
I’ve returned feeling proud of the investment I made in myself – more centred, and ready to move forward with the warm and fuzzy glow of self-realisation.
A standard four-day Arrigo Programme residential retreat package of four treatments daily, designed by Fiona Arrigo, costs £5,395 all inclusive. (Extra days may be added at £1,348.50 a day.)