The beauty of a wellness retreat

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.

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