So, what’s this yoga thing about?

Three years ago a dream of mine became reality.

 

It was a huge dream and there were SO many moments when I doubted my ability to actually make it happen.

 

Everyday, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best self on a mental and physical basis. Of course, I can advise people how to do this in person, over the phone, in an online course or through sharing the written word but these are all delivered over short periods of time in an otherwise hectic schedule.  

It is quite different learning how to transform your life in a setting that enables reflection, thought and the opportunity to work out exactly how to do this.

The way we live day to day just doesn’t allow us to do that. We need to do that.

There is no getting around the fact that of all the things that are important in life – your health is Numero Uno. Number 1. Top of the Charts. If you don’t have your health and well-being sorted then every single other thing in your life just can’t get a look in.

Sometimes, when I get asked about my retreat in Italy, I hear sighs and then more sighs.  I mean lets face it; there are very few people who would not love to go hang out in Tuscany.

However, I get that flying all the way across the world and spending an entire week focusing on self-care and well-being just seems well, frivolous. The truth is, it is anything but.

Most of the people that have attended one of my retreats over the past three years have been women.  Women are notorious for not dedicating enough time to look after themselves and not putting on their proverbial oxygen masks first before helping others. Looking after ourselves should not be luxury but a necessity. Sometimes it means travelling in the opposite direction to achieve that and investing in self both in a financial and time sense.

Silvestri once said

“To be able to see who we are, we must go far away and look from a distance.”

I think he is quite literally spot on.

So what does one do at a retreat?

Each morning starts with freshly brewed coffee or tea followed by an Iyengar yoga session. Let’s be clear from the outset, you do not need to be a yogi or an expert to be doing this yoga.  Every retreat I have run is made up of plenty of people who have never done yoga (but would like to), some who have dabbled occasionally and then some who are quite capable. Our yoga instructor Vicki Vollmer is adept at tailoring each yoga session for every person in that room.  I believe she is actually a magician.

Aside from yoga, each day usually includes moving your body – it might be a scenic walk, a bike and walking cultural tour of Lucca with the talented and entertaining Federico, a hike between the villages and over the mountains of the Cinque Terre with all its spectacular views and scrumptious seafood, or moving your arms mixing things in a delectable cooking lesson making pesto, gnocchi and tiramisu with Maria Angela our 76 year old chef.

 

“Julie’s Retreat in Italy was more than I could have dreamed of. It was an opportunity to pause, reflect, engage the senses, connect with other inspiring women and see the best Italy has to offer. The daily yoga practice and delicious healthy food, coupled with health and wellbeing ‘chats’ and suggestions helped me to recalibrate in a way I don’t think I ever could have at home in the bustle of daily life. If you feel that you need some time for you, time to reflect and re-energise, this retreat is perfect.”

Tash Broomhall

There is plenty of time and space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you can implement positive changes in your day to day life (and the strategies to do it), increase the flexibility and strength in your body, experience the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucket load, increase your energy by putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and of course, your senses will be taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

This is not an airy-fairy junket designed simply to enable an escape from real life.  Yes, it is an escape but one with a purpose. You.

If this has your name all over it, head over to www.juliemeek.com.au/retreats for the details.  Or if you feel like a chat, email me at julie@juliemeek.com.au

Pizza Perfection

 

It is rare to find someone who doesn’t like pizza isn’t it? 

Friday nights in our household are sacred pizza nights. It’s pretty much a religion and on the odd occasions it is just not possible – there is every chance a riot can ensue.

We do have an enduring love affair with Italy and we constantly strive to make pizza in the Italian way.  I say the royal ‘we’ but my role in the pizza making is solely to prepare the dough.  It is a very important job though!

It is actually my husband who is the expert chef and he produces simply delicious pizza from scratch. Right now, Friday night is imminent and perhaps you too have a tradition like mine.  Maybe you don’t but you would like to.

So, I am sharing the love – our family pizza dough recipe is coming right up so that you can experience the Friday night pizza religion too.

Pizza Dough (makes 6 large)

Ingredients

2.5 cups OO pizza flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons yeast

200ml water

Pasta or other tomato based sauce

Method

In the following order place the water, flour, salt, oil and yeast into the basin of a bread maker or Thermomix and put on Dough Setting.  This process takes around 90 minutes depending on the equipment you are using.  You could mix the dough by hand and leave to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen (whether it is in a bread maker or otherwise) divide into six equal portions. Using a heavy rolling pin (we use a marble one) to roll and shape into a base the size of a large dinner plate. Spread each with four tablespoons of pasta sauce.

Our favourite toppings include:

  • Tuna, onion + grated cheese
  • Olive oil, fresh rosemary and salt (the delicious image above)
  • Thinly sliced cold roast beef or lamb + mango chutney
  • Prosciutto + artichokes + sliced mushrooms
  • Ham, pineapple + grated cheese (apologies to all the Italians as this is NOT the Italian way but it is the kids way)
  • Salami + capers + grated cheese

Don’t forget – the golden rule is simplicity and keeping the toppings to a minimum.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Italy, Yoga and Retreat – 3 Things That Should Be on Your Bucket List

You may remember me writing earlier this year about my rocky relationship with yoga. I am happy to say that although I am still no expert, each week it gets less rocky and to be quite honest; in the past few months it has been my saving grace.

This year marked the second round of my Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreats.

I have been fortunate enough to lead and meet some truly lovely people who have been looking for a mixture of things – yoga yes, relaxation yes, exceptional food yes and the beautiful Italian culture and history, all yes. Quite the international cohort, this retreat has attracted people from Australia, UK, Scotland, Canada, USA and Switzerland all looking for a slice of wellness.

 

 

As a Dietitian and Performance Specialist, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best performance on a mental and physical basis. The thing is, sometimes, it is not always possible to do this at your back door and distance and space are required. Sometimes the lessons that we teach others are the ones we learn ourselves.

On the last day of the retreat this year, my Dad passed away very unexpectedly. There are few words to describe how I felt being in another country without my family nearby, while the world crashed around me.

The beautiful people at my retreat went from having a fabulous week of yoga and completely immersing themselves in relaxation and wellness, to watching me having a complete meltdown. I will be forever grateful for their care and compassion on that day.

In the time since, whilst dealing with the loss of my Dad, regular yoga has been key to my mental and physical well-being. I could not have gotten by without it.

Like me, the yoga experience of the people attending the retreats varies hugely, all the way from never having done a single move through to occasional yoginess and then right up to getting bendy every other day. Somehow, our yogi Vicki caters to each level, making it comfortable yet challenging for each and every person. With gentle firmness throughout the session, she reminds us that we could do better or we could do more in particular poses and encourages us to imagine what could happen if we held a pose for just that bit longer. Vicki makes everyone want to go that bit further and not to forget that time and space are essential for anything to grow.

But let’s face it – for most of us, considering making a trip to Italy for a retreat might seem self-indulgent at best. Especially when many people have to consider the logistical challenges of child-care, work and finances to even make this happen. Committing to a retreat in another country is no snap decision and how do you know if it is for you?

It’s in the little and the big things and just like beauty, I think it is in the eye of the beholder. It’s having time and the space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you could implement positive changes in your day to day life, feeling that sense of increased flexibility and strength in your body, the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucket load, the increased energy that results from putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and your senses being taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

Registrations are now open for my 2018 Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreat, 18-25 August 2018. If you or anyone you know would like to find some Zen, drop me a line at julie@juliemeek.com.au

For more information and all the details, head over my the Italian Retreats Page.

Namaste.

The beauty of a wellness retreat

A yoga and wellness retreat. Have you ever been to one?

To be quite honest, yoga and I have had a rather rocky relationship over many years. There have been many times that I have been so discouraged with my ineptitude that I lost all hope of the relationship going anywhere. There was certainly no zen to be found in any of our encounters. I tried courses. I tried programs. I tried just going. And yet, so many of the poses continued to be unavailable to me on a regular basis.

After a few years of much needed separation, one of my friends invited me to join her for a yoga class with a teacher she described quite simply as fabulous. Naturally I was wary of rekindling something that so far had produced only angst, suffering and anti-zen. But you know what? As I walked out of Mia’s cosy, calm and welcoming studio that day, everything had changed.

I got me some zen.

As a Performance Specialist, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best performance on a mental and physical basis. Of course, I can advise people how to do this in person, over the phone, in an online course or through sharing the written word but these are all delivered over short periods of time.

My friend Siobhan, a fellow Australian, had moved to Italy seven years previously and had been running amazing yoga retreats in the ever popular Tuscan region of Italy. We have much in common in the wellness arena and ironically fuelled by many a caffeine driven conversation, I quickly realised that bringing people together for an wellness retreat was something I would love to do. My mission was to incorporate all aspects of wellness and health in addition to amazing food, local wine full of antioxidants, a spectacular and restful setting, a spot of culture and a healthy dose of fun all underpinned by oodles of zen in the form of yoga incorporated into each day. Tall order you say?

Well, now more than two years of busting yoga moves, I have just realised a dream and finished running my very first Yoga and Wellness Retreat in Tuscany, Italy.

It seems that there are people around the world that agree with my tall order and last month, fourteen people joined me at the Yoga in Italy’s Il Borghino villa in the hills overlooking beautiful Lucca, Tuscany for seven days and nights. Quite the international cohort, the retreat attracted people from Western Australia, the UK, Scotland, Canada and the US, all looking for a slice of wellness.

By bringing people together from various corners of the world with unique personalities, outlooks and different life experiences, I worried that my retreat goers wouldn’t like each other or they wouldn’t enjoy what I had planned or the yoga would be too hard or too easy or they would struggle with vegetarian food. The list goes on. It became obvious within the first few hours of everyone arriving that I needn’t have spent a single second wasting energy on creating those elaborate scenarios. I had 14 beautiful people along for the ride and let’s face it – anyone making the effort to travel to a yoga and wellness retreat in a foreign country requires a positive mindset and willingness to be open to new experiences.

On that first night, whilst enjoying our welcome dinner of authentic Italian lasagne overlooking the shimmering pool under the stars, accompanied by the wine grown around us and fireflies drifting between the garden foliage, the week stretched deliciously ahead.

Each morning started with freshly brewed coffee or tea followed by 90 minutes of Iyengar yoga. Let’s be clear from the outset that I have not performed miracles and become a yoga teacher in the shortest time frame known to man. No, no, no.

Our yogi Vicki was a New Yorker but had been living in Italy for the past eight years. Along with everyone else in the group, I have never experienced yoga like this before. It is difficult to find the right words to describe Vicki – her way of teaching, her life lessons and the way that she instilled the love of yoga into every single person over seven special days was truly unique. The yoga experience in the room varied hugely, all the way from never having done a single move through to occasional yoginess and then right up to getting bendy every other day. Somehow Vicki catered to each level, making it comfortable yet challenging for each and every person and with gentle firmness throughout the session, she would remind us that we could do better or we could do more in particular poses and encouraged us to imagine what could happen if we held a pose for just that bit longer. Vicki made us all want to go that bit further and reminded us not to forget that time and space are essential for anything to grow. Namaste Vicki.

An activity marked each day and included – a scenic walk down (and of course, then back up again) to the very picturesque Tenuta Maria Teresa – a local vineyard where we sampled their wares, a bike and walking cultural tour of Lucca with the talented and entertaining Federico, a hike between the villages and over the mountains of the Cinque Terre with all its spectacular views and scrumptious seafood, a night out at the Puccini opera in one of the oldest churches in Italy and a delectable cooking lesson making pesto, gnocchi and tiramisu with Maria Angela our 76 year old chef.

Almost everyone at the retreat was not vegetarian and yet, the food was one of the highlights. Maria Angela makes the food each day with love, love, love and it showed in every single dish she created. There were ooh’s and aah’s around the table at every mealtime and animated discussions about whether we could recreate these delights back home. Thankfully, last year Maria Angela and Siobhan compiled “Food for Thought,’ a cookbook containing all the ancient recipes that are prepared on a daily basis for the yoga and wellness retreats. I think I have ticked off five items so far – only another 30 to go! Time and space, time and space.

How do you know if a retreat has been successful? It’s in the little and the big things and just like beauty, I think it is in the eye of the beholder. It’s having time and the space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you could implement positive changes in your day to day life, feeling that sense of increased flexibility and strength in your body, the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucketload, the increased energy that results from putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and your senses being taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

As retreat leader, I took so much away from those seven days. I know that the conversations that were had and the fact that my gorgeous group of attendees were refusing to entertain the idea of leaving Il Borghino EVER, were pretty clear indicators that they too, took much away back to their corner of the globe. Ciao for now Italia.

I truly believe that we all need something to look forward to and with that in mind, registrations are open for my 2017 Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreats. The first week in June is fully booked but the second week from the 1st-8th July is now open. If you or anyone you know would like to find some zen, drop me a line at julie@juliemeek.com.au for a brochure and further details.

Gladiators on water

It’s difficult to go to Venice without experiencing a gondola ride isn’t it? I have actually been on one before but not with our three children (and with good reason). And so began the search up and down steps, and in and out of the rabbit warren of streets that makes this floating city unique. Finally we spy a very glossy black and gold number that frankly looked too good for the likes of us (and worth 35 000 Euros) but the gondolier was spruiking his goods nearby and happily his price was good, so off we sailed, or perhaps rowed with Rudi.  After ensuring that everyone was strapped down, I mean in, I couldn’t help but notice that Rudi was not like the other gondoliers I had seen around Venice. Rudi had rippling muscles. He also reminded me of a machine gun, speaking in fast, rapid bursts without seeming to breathe and after a mini-interrogation I discovered that this man had been rowing gondoliers since the age of four and was in fact an elite athlete. Naturally my curiosity was piqued and with further probing he explained that he trained for 90 minutes each day outside of his daily rowing and no, he didn’t eat anything out of the ordinary and just ate three meals each day.  I knew Rudi wasn’t telling me the whole story as language was no small barrier so as soon as I was able I did the Google.

The Vignottini. To me this name has the ring of mafia about it and why not as we are in the perfect place for it. But no, my new friend Rudi is one half of a fearsome duo with his cousin Igor that has been competing in gondola racing around the canals of Venice for the last 20 years. They are feared and revered and are firmly sewn into the fabric of the history surrounding professional gondolier racing. The most important Venetian race of the season is the Regatta Storica, through the Grand Canal and winning this event has been likened to winning the Ironman Triathlon or the Tour de France or both. Not sure whether this is possible but the Italians are very dramatic.  To win this regatta five years in a row is almost an impossible feat and a couple of years ago, the two arch rivals, The Vignottini and another famous rowing duo, Ivo Redolfi-Tezzat and Giampaulo D’Este were both competing for this honour. In a major upset The Vignottini triumphed and wrote themselves into the history books. Yep, that was our gondolier.

In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert – in anything. Sure, there needs to be talent and opportunity but this aside, the 10 000 hours still stands. Talent and genetics are clearly there for Rudi, rowing a gondola since the age of 4, living on the canals and rowing for a living all provide opportunity and way more than 10 000 hours, paving the way to becoming a world class expert and performer. What are you doing your 10 000 hours in?

Back to food. I often advise people to do a large food shopping trip to assist in time management, less impulse buying and organisation and I do the same thing when at home. Italy however is making me think. I love the fact that there are little fresh produce stores on every corner which allows me to buy whatever we feel like on the day and there is so much less wastage. How do you do your shopping?

Strange things sometimes turn up in menu’s and our lunch in Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet was no exception. There were many choices to make but two in particular caught my eye. ‘Flayed cavallo’ (horse) and Equina Pizza, with horse once again being the main ingredient. I think ‘flayed’ was meant to be ‘fryed” but maybe not, it could go both ways. Yes, I know that it’s just another source of meat and one that is quite popular here in Italy but I can’t get past Mr Ed.   

One half of the Vignottini

Rapallo, Rapallo let down your hair

The second week of my Italian insights trip finds me in Rapallo, a town on the Ligurian coast considered to be part of the Italian Riviera.  Given that we are not celebrities, there was no swanning around Riviera style but it has given me some time to reflect on the way of life in Italy and whether it enhances personal peak performance.

It is probably best to get the negative aspects out of the way first just so we can concentrate on the positive features. I am instinctively going to hold my breath while saying that there is an excellent chance I have second hand smoked my way through a packet of cigarettes since I have been here.  So many people smoke that it would be easier to count those who didn’t in a packed out San Marco Square in Venice ( a LOT of people can jam in there).  Italy is currently sitting at  fourth in the Top 10 countries with the highest rates of lung cancer and as countries number 2, 3 and 4 differ only by  a whisker, they are up there with the leaders.  Hungary is at the top of the ladder but I would say that this is not a game many would want to win.  It certainly makes one appreciate the anti-smoking laws that Australia has in place, particularly where food is involved.

In other areas, the Italians have got things sewn up.  What’s not to like about the daily siesta for example? Research has quite clearly found that adequate sleep and rest is essential to our wellbeing and longevity of life.  The dedication to the siesta is absolute and the shops here are literally shut down somewhere between 12 and 1pm and even if part of  a customers body happened to be over the threshold of the shopfront, it would be trapped in the roller door that comes down religiously, as they wait for no-one. Retailers don’t open again until 3.30-4.00pm allowing staff to go home and rest or do whatever they fancy. I like.

Exercise is an essential part of your peak daily performance and from what I have seen so far, lots of Italians walk or cycle as the main mode of transport. Even the Italian ladies perch themselves on their biciclette complete with skirt, stockings and heels.  And although it seemed a little inconvenient at the time, I know that walking up and down to our mill house in Rapallo like little mules did us the world of good.

And of course, the Italian food.  In many respects it seems like food from the god’s or is it for the god’s?  Whichever way it goes, the Mediterranean diet has a lot going for it.  Red wine, olive oil, tomatoes full of lycopene and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables do the trick. Eating too much bread can be an issue though as every time you sit down at a ristorante, a basket of bread and breadsticks appear magically. Add that to a pasta or pizza meal and we are talking carbo-loading on a daily basis without the 10 hours of exercise that should go with it. Carbohydrates seem to have an additive effect too, the more I eat, the more I eat.  Although bread is delicious here, I am yet to sight any that is not white and is therefore low in fibre.  However, carbohydrates do supply energy and your brain really doesn’t function without it, something you may notice at around 3pm when you feel like having a lie down.  And no, there is no truth in the fairytale that these foods shouldn’t be eaten after 3 or 5 or 8pm, or whatever time is plucked from the sky. Just make sure that you watch portion sizes and choose high fibre low glycemic carbohydrates.

Lets not forget the role of happiness in enhancing performance.  This can be found everywhere here in the form of gelato.  There is no doubt it is my responsibilty and my job to road test flavours and there are so many that I do need to try a new one each time.  The good news is that gelato contains slightly less fat (4-8%) than regular ice-cream (around 10%) but it does have a little more sugar.  Some of the fruit flavours like fragola (strawberry) and limone (lemon) are fat-free which further adds to my happiness.

And lastly, forget Italian leather and handbags as a girls best friend.  Everyone and I mean everyone, has a dog here.  They don’t sit at home and pine for their owners either, these pampered dogs go everywhere.  They travel by train in special doggy bags, get some wind through their fur sitting in baskets at the front of bikes, walk the streets, dine at the best restaurants and even become a handbag accessory.  So what  does this have to do with performance you ask?  Research has shown that pet owners benefit physically and psychologically from their furry friends.  Benefits shown include decreased rate of depression, lowered blood lipid and cholesterol levels, less social isolation and increased fitness. 

Lets see what Venice has to offer.

Super nonna bicicletta power