To bee or not to bee: Sarah Tucker explores the buzz around yoga with bees (yes, bees!) and finds it a calming and meditative back-to-nature experience
Ilike bees. As insects go, they have good PR. Industrious, hard working, team builders, able to prioritise, focus, and, if necessary, attack, but if they do so, a part of them dies.
There is nothing negative about the bee. They are a force for good. They seem naturally zen. So I should not have been surprised when on a recent trip to France, I found a small group of people who were taking part in ‘bee yoga’. Naturally I had to find out more.
“It started about 10 years ago,” Catherine Ballot explains to me, as we walk in the garden where she keeps her bees. “I saw a monk in my partner’s garden and he was touching a large swarm of bees and talking to them.”
Ballot assures me that I don’t need to be good at yoga to practice with the bees. Everyone can do it, children, adults, even handicapped people. They just need to keep close to her. By this time, I am walking very close to her.
She tells me everyone takes a different amount of time to prepare to practice yoga with the bees, depending on their ability to relax – although being surrounded by bees that could sting you at any moment isn’t exactly the most conducive form of relaxation. Savasana it is not.
The bees aren’t special ‘yogi bees’ and haven’t been prepared in any way. They don’t need to be trained, Ballot explains, they will come to us naturally.
The preparation consists of an hour and a half yoga practice in the garden and meditation while Ballot talks to me, explaining what she wants me to do and what she doesn’t want me to do (no sharp movements, no screaming) and how I should breathe and sit. She has specially built relaxation spaces, including one that is an elevated bench with a platform above made of sections of the bee’s honeycomb. I choose to lie there while she talks to the occasional bee hovering nearby.
I ask if anyone has been stung. “You have to know that some people come to yoga to be stung. The bees always know where to sting you and why they have to do it. But usually, if you respect our bees, and the knowledge we share with you, no one is stung.”
This is sort of reassuring, so I carefully listen to everything she says. Surrounded by glorious countryside, in the small village of Lahitte-Toupier, it’s easy to relax. No harsh studio lights, or noisy spinning class next door to contend with.
Ballot asks me to place my hands on the bees, which are on their hive, but to continue to breathe as I am now. A slow, deep, even breath. I realise then I don’t know if I’m allergic to bee stings, but then remember I was stung once as a child, and am hoping I didn’t mistake it for a wasp. A few buzz around my hand and arm and a few around my face, but I keep my cool and place my hand gently close to the bees. I feel their wings graze my skin, and then as I close my eyes become more aware of the sound. Strangely, it does sound like an Omm, more hum than buzz. It’s hypnotic and I find myself not wanting to pull my hands away. It is only when Ballot taps me on the shoulder and asks me to gently pull my hands away that I do so.
The company’s website describes how others have felt who have experienced bee yoga, but they don’t really do it justice. It’s not something you should think about too much, but afterwards when you have felt the wings and the warmth of their furry bodies on your skin, and the sound, the vibration, it is overwhelming. I found myself getting quite tearful, which Ballot says is very common. It becomes an almost religious experience, and I felt privileged to be given the opportunity to do this.
“People look at bees differently after they do this. They realise how fragile, important and magical they are,” she says, “they think of all insects – not just bees – in a different way. We are afraid of this magical creature because it stings, but really it is an incredible creation.”
I did not allow myself to be completely covered in bees, but some do, and this depends on your level of self-confidence. And as Ballot says, it also depends on the bees. “They go where they want to,” she shrugs. “We never push anyone into anything and everyone who takes part has to be mentally ready. No one experience is the same. They may come to you and they may not. They have a whole garden to fly in. It also depends on what activities you decide to do. For example, if you take a bath in honey water, you will be covered in bees. If you choose a licking bee just part of your body will be covered. The gentle sensation of the bees licking the honey off your fingers is almost meditative in its process.”
I asked why bees, and not wasps or other insects that buzz or hum – like humming birds. “Because bees produce honey and other wonderful products and give us pleasure, treatment, care. You also need to be aware that we have had a special relationship since the dawn of time with bees, even if we don’t choose to remember this.”
A full yoga package costs around €1,000 which includes all the activities, vegan full board and individual camping tent which is pitched close to the hives. Professional instructors are there during all the yoga activities. Other activities include guided mountain walks, bathing in the thermal waters of Cauterets, and learning how to open hives, honey massages and associated honey products for purchase.
Would I do it again? In an instant. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Is it one of the most unique experiences I have ever had in my life? Completely. The gym will seem so dull in comparison now and when I see a bee buzzing around the flowers in my garden this spring, I may be tempted to draw closer and do a tree pose!
Discover more about Bee Yoga at:en.ballot-flurin.com
Sarah Tucker is a qualified yoga instructor and broadcaster and author of The A To Zen Of Yoga (£7.99) out in all good book shops and amazon.