Healthy living, Well-being, Yoga

My First Yoga Retreat

So, I have finally made it to a yoga retreat.  It was a Kundalini Yoga retreat, but as it’s the first retreat I’ve been on I couldn’t tell you how it compares with other yoga retreats, but from my perspective it is everything I hoped it would be.

Having said that, there are aspects that I didn’t find easy, but in the end it was worth the trials and tribulations along the way.  I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot that I can take away into my every day life.

As with everything I signed up without really thinking things through.

The last time that happened I found myself parasailing with a family friend.  

Vila Uma, Quarteira

So, here I was going along to a retreat with yoga instructor I had only met online and I had met none of the other participants before I arrived at the villa. Initially I hadn’t intended to stay over as it was so close to home and that may have impacted the room I was given to stay in, twin beds with a shared bathroom.  I hate shared bathrooms and would never ever choose to stay in a room without an ensuite.

My first night wasn’t great.  

First of all I had to take on a massive scorpion / spider combo that had decided to make itself at home on my pillow. And then I had to wait for my room mate to come back from a night on the town. She arrived back at 4am. At 5am I was sitting on the toilet in the shared bathroom crying because I wanted a cup of tea and there was someone sleeping in the lounge and so I couldn’t get to the kitchen without disturbing them. Husband told me to just go and get the cup of tea!

That’s when I realised the problem was me.  It was all coming from inside me and it was my thoughts creating the situation. It was my anxious thoughts about man eating spider-scorpions, being in a strange bed, in a strange villa, with 9 strangers.  It was me that believed I couldn’t get the cup of tea. Nor did it matter what my room mate was doing, I would not have slept that night.

So I did what I do best, and legged it back home for the next couple of nights.

That’s when I learned the first thing about myself. It’s OK to be anxious and afraid and vulnerable. And it’s OK to rely on the support of strangers to get you through.  I’ve had my fingers burned a few too many times on that one so I do tend to keep people at arms length for what is probably more than a realistic length of time. I don’t like to ask for help and try to help myself as much as I can, often spurning the help and support of others. All of the other participants were there for the same reason, for yoga in a beautiful location.  To relax, recharge and rejuvenate away from home.  But in order to me to do that, I needed to trust and put my faith in people I had never met before.  Something that I evidently find very difficult.   

The instructors running the retreat were amazing and it was their encouragement that enabled me to go back to the villa to complete the retreat.  I’m really glad I did. I also realised that I’m more than happy to share a room with twin beds with a bathroom the other side of the hallway and I wondered where on earth the belief that I couldn’t ever came from.  

It wasn’t the last time I had to rely on the support of the others during that week.

They got me on to a boat trip that I REALLY didn’t want to do.  I could have quite happily walked away at the last minute.  Which is very unlike me.  Usually, like the parasailing, if I’ve signed up to do something, I’m doing it. They got me swimming in a very rough ocean that resulted in my face planting my way out in the most ungainly fashion.  It was neither smooth, nor cool. But I did both of those things and I loved them both and will do them again. I’m hoping my experience in the rough ocean will be enough to finally get me on that paddle board! 

Boat trip to Benagil Caves

I learned that I could go on another yoga retreat, stay for the whole week (without having to make a run for home) and even contemplate travelling a further distance too.

I learned that there are people like me.  There is a place where I belong and I do fit in.  It was so lovely to feel happy and at peace with where I was.  I didn’t once feel like I had to look over my shoulder, or check myself to make sure I was doing all I could to fit in, or not ruffle any feathers.  It was the first time in a very long time that I was able to just be me and that was enough.  

I didn’t have to drink more.

Or be more.

Or be less.

I could just be me and people seemed to like me.  I didn’t have to change in any way shape or form.

I learned about healthy eating, which is something I really struggle to get my head around. Most of all I learned that actually it’s really straight forward and nothing like as complicated as everyone would have you believe. All you need is good simple, healthy food.  Cooking meals from scratch with the best quality ingredients you can afford. You don’t need to cut things out, or add things in straight away.

I came away with a bit of a saying in my head – is this real food? When I look at something and am thinking of eating it.  Is that real food?  Is that something that I want to eat now?  Or something I will enjoy?  Will it make my insides smile?  It’s scarily straight forward.  It’s also surprising how much food isn’t actually real food, but processed stuff that looks like food. The key thing for me is for the first time I’ve not rushed home and thrown everything out of the cupboard.  I am making small daily changes that I can maintain over time.  

I learned more about Kundalini Yoga.  And I love it.

I ended the retreat with a 40 day practice and I am really enjoying the challenge of completing it every day.  It’s the first time I’ve found a yoga practice that I felt was sustainable and that was appropriate for my body and my needs at this time. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but quite frankly I’ve re-connected with that part of me that really doesn’t worry too much about other people’s thoughts or opinions.  Unfortunately, it might have unleashed that part of me that challenges back, which is always a tricky place to be! 

I learned that you really do need to know the yoga instructor that runs the retreat. I am pretty much a beginner when it comes to Kundalini Yoga and not once was I made to feel that I was not competent enough to complete one of the sessions, but I knew that would be the case because I’d been to lessons prior to the retreat. There were times when I really struggled.  I struggled with anxious thoughts a few times throughout the course of the retreat, but because I had that prior experience I knew I would be held and supported through my moments of crisis.  I’m not sure that I’d feel so comfortable or at ease with someone I knew nothing about or who I hadn’t met before. Going away with a group of strangers was a huge step for me and so to know nothing about the practicalities of the yoga sessions on top would probably have been far too much for me to manage. And I would have been devastated if I didn’t enjoy the yoga sessions.

I also learned to think through practicalities which has never been a strong point of mine!  I was thrilled when my yoga instructor was hosting a retreat just a short distance away from my apartment in Albufeira. I did not think through that those people coming along would want to take advantage of everything that the Algarve has to offer.  They wanted to go to the beach.  They wanted to experience the nightlife.  Both of those things are perfectly normal.

What I was looking for was a break from that. An escape from the madness of living in a busy tourist resort in the summer. Fortunately the villa was set in beautiful grounds with a swimming pool so I was able to get my escape from holiday madness, but it still highlighted to me what to look for in a retreat.  I realise now that at that time I needed wooded glades in a secluded forest! There was a tree.  A beautiful tree which provided shade for the morning and evening yoga sessions.  That was enough for me to feel like I was a million miles away from the touristic chaos of the Algarve in July.

What I learned most of all is that my life has become to safe.  To easy.  Too routine.  I need to shake things up a bit, push myself more and seek out opportunities that may scare me, as the benefits far outweigh the anxious anticipation.  There is still plenty of life left in me and I came away with determination to take advantage of all and every experience, or friendships that come my way and to embrace those things that bring me joy.  It’s also given me a renewed strength to say no to those things that bring me down.

So.  Would I go on a yoga retreat again?  Definitely.  But next time I’d be armed with more information on which to base my decision and a lot more confidence to know I’d be able to embrace the opportunity it offered me.

I went on yoga retreat with and

Albufeira, Portugal, Well-being, Yoga

Yoga, but not as I know it

Imagine, if you will, your typical yoga class.  Full of beautiful, serene, slim yogis moving seamlessly from posture to posture, a delight to behold.  And then there’s me.  Mid 40’s, a little overweight, huffing and puffing red faced from one posture of torture into the next.  In my head, however, I believe I look like the former typical yogi.

That, for me sums up yoga.  In the same class you will find those that epitomise yoga: those that really want to and are a million miles away; those whose hearts aren’t really in it but think they should do yoga because it will make them less stressed; those who think it’s going to be really easy and want to cry 10 minutes into the class (these tend to be young, and / or male) and those who we all hate (this could just be me) – who turn up for the first time and can get into all the poses with ease.  Every class is normally a mix of the above.  All are welcome and all are encouraged to take from the class what they can and all are reminded that this is a journey.

Imagine then, if you will, this slightly rounded 40 something trying yoga in a foreign country.  Oh yes, this is the situation I found myself in earlier in the week.  Buoyed up with enthusiasm for my new favourite form of exercise I was on a mission to find myself a class in Albufeira.  There aren’t many – certainly not many that are advertised at least – and even fewer that are taught in English.  This was not going to put me off and I thought a yoga class was as good a place as any to master Portuguese – and all the yoga poses have sanskrit names, so how hard could this be.

Off I trotted on a very wet morning (it’s rained A LOT) in Portugal during March, but that’s a whole other matter, to my very first and very last Portuguese yoga class.  It would seem that there is a whole other form of yoga which I have not heard of, until now.  Samkhya yoga – which according to is ‘an Indian philosophy that defines the language of yoga……. The Samkhya philosophy systematically deciphers every part of our being, from the lowest level of mortal existence to the highest level of eternal consciousness and spirit. The journey through Samkhya unfolds through three processes: reading (comprehending terminology and philosophy), contemplation and meditation (understanding and feeling the philosophy), and yoga practice (applying the philosophy so that our understanding results in authentic experience)’.

It would seem that there are 25 elements to Samkya yoga and it would also seem that the aim is to include all 25 elements into each and every lesson.  And so on a very wet and cold morning in March I found myself sitting cross legged, holding my nose in various different ways whilst breathing, clapping whilst chanting to the accompaniment of jingle bells, holding my arms out to the side and looking at my thumbs without moving my head and meditating.  Eventually we got to the poses, and I was ready – I understood this part – I was back into my comfort zone.  Four poses later and we were back in a seated position giving thanks to the great guru for bestowing this gift of yoga upon us.  At which point, I think I may have lost the plot a little.

I appreciate that I am appearing dismissive of this method of yoga.  I’m a convert to meditation and so understand the benefits of including it, but beyond that I’ll admit I was a bit lost.   It’s a form of yoga I don’t understand, which doesn’t mean it’s in any way lesser to other forms I have tried before, but at this time and place it’s not the right choice for me.  I found myself thinking of reasons to go again, why I should go again as the teacher and the other students were so lovely and so thrilled to have me joining home in their class. Upon further investigation, it would appear that this is the most popular form of yoga in Portugal, this particular teacher is very experienced and her classes are incredibly popular.

My experience has left me quite wary of trying other yoga classes in the area and also with a dilemma – how and where to practice my yoga – at least twice a week whilst I am living in Albufeira.  Imagine, (again), the early morning sun rising on the beach, the waves lapping lightly upon the shore and me effortlessly moving from pose to pose, with people watching in a state of awe.  This is my vision of doing yoga in Portugal.   More realistically, I fear people will find me on my purple mat, trying yoga on a slope struggling to get it flat, still huffing and puffing my way through some poses, getting sand everywhere with a colour on my face that increasingly matches my purple mat.  Either way, it is going to require some planning and research on my part to achieve that aim and I need to step away from classes.


Mindfulness, Walking, Well-being, Yoga

Mindful Musings

So far, so good!  At the end of three weeks I have successfully completed at least 20 minutes of mindful meditation every day!  Within that I have also attended a mindfulness class and practiced yoga at least 4 times per week.  I’ve also set up a small accountability group to make sure that I maintain the practice.  So far so good!

What I have learned thus far.

  • Primarily, that if I want to do something badly enough I can do it – motivation isn’t an issue.
  • That exercise doesn’t have to be target driven!  Until now my exercise has been based around challenges, distance, or times.  Speed sessions, interval sessions, long runs, tempo runs.  None of that matters with yoga.  Yes, you need to watch your alignment if you want to prevent injury and yes, there is quite a lot of structure to it – but thereafter it’s entirely up to you.  There is no way to measure this week’s performance against last.  Already I can see some improvements in some postures – for the first time in forever I can actually nearly touch my toes!  What a delightful way to be measuring progress!  All that matters is how you feel in your body today and what it can achieve today and if it’s not as good as last week, then never mind!
  • Exercise can be fun!  I tried Zumba this week.  Looking at the range of lessons on at the gym at a suitable time, I was left with the choice of Zumba.  Never been my first choice – obviously being a choice of older ladies.  Oh, how wrong I was.  After 10 minutes I wanted to collapse!  But as with the yoga – there is no target.  I can’t possibly measure my performance this week against that of subsequent weeks – other than will my arms and legs ever be co-ordinated with each other.  One thing I also found at Zumba was normal sized ladies, of a certain age, exercising for fun – followed by a cup of tea and a natter.  I may have finally found my tribe!  And socialising is definitely a key aspect of exercising.  I will definitely be going back again.
  • That I walk much further than I anticipated.  I’ve set myself the challenge of walking 1000 miles during 2018.  I thought I would just count all the steps / miles on my FitBit.  By the end of three weeks I have walked 100 miles.  This would make in the region of 1700 miles in the year,  I either need to just count miles where I deliberately take a walk, or increase my target to make it a challenge.
  • That yoga – or mindfulness meditation – I’m not sure which, gives you energy!  Only a few weeks in I am already feeling more enthusiastic and full of life than I have in many years.  It’s also been surprisingly easy to fit it in to my daily life.  I’ve been using two apps – Headspace which is subscription based, very accessible and very straightforward; and Insight Timer, which has the advantage of being free and has a huge range of different meditations to choose from.
  • That it doesn’t take long to feel the benefits of yoga and / or meditation.  As I started both at pretty much the same time I’m not sure which is the creator of the benefits – but already I creak less when I get out of bed.  Already, I am more aware of my posture when I am walking and sitting.  Already, I am more aware of my surroundings and appreciating them far more.
  • The gym has an empty twilight zone at 8:00 am in the morning. The workers have left and the ladies that lunch have yet to arrive.  It’s just bliss!

pexels-photo-374101.jpegAs part of this journey I have come across a couple of really interesting Mindfulness courses.  The first is Positively Mindful which I have been attending at Breathe Bristol yoga studio.  This is an hourly drop in session with a mixture of meditation and self enquiry.  I’ve also started a more formal Mindfulness living course at My Awareness yoga in Montpelier.  So far I’ve only attended one of nine sessions, so I’m interested to see where that journey will take me.  The key thing I have picked up is that this is a journey – one to be taken at a pace that best benefits me.    In my head I look like a super sleek toned yogi – the reality the image is as far removed from that as it is possible to be – however, already I can see that I have made some progress on postures and this gives me hope.