Posts tagged #yoga

VANA RETREAT, INDIA

Three years ago I was contacted about a role, for a soon to be opened retreat in India, called Vana. It was an interesting offer, but alas my gypsy soul was well settled back in Australia so moving to another continent was not an option. However, my curiosity was piqued and I was keen to follow this wellness newcomer to see what it would offer when opened. Cut to October 2017 and I find myself touching down at Dehra Dun airport prepared and ready for 7 days of contemporary ashram living. 

A friendly and humble Indian driver was waiting to collect me at the gate and then we drove through villages and countryside for an hour before arriving through the gates of Vana. A welcome bracelet (red thread) was wrapped and tied around my wrist upon arrival, which is traditional when entering temple ceremonies and rituals.

I was inducted into the Vana way and shown to my room before I made my way back to the Tibetan Healing Centre for a Sowa Rigpa therapy, which followed with dinner and bed. The next morning I began my day with a classical hatha yoga class, which included pranayama and yoga nidra to close the class. Something the yoga classes in the west have lost. After breakfast I made my way to the wellness centre with 'spa wish list' in hand. My initial wellness consultation was with an Ayurvedic Doctor and based upon the discussion I was asked to surrender to the prescribed plan that was seen to be best for my dosha and current imbalance. By lunch time I had received my spa itinerary for the entire week, which includes a daily Ayurvedic massage, tibetan healing, a consultation with the Tibetan Doctor and a number of other treatments. 

This is a contemporary ashram in every sense. Vana Retreat offers inspiration as to the power of simplicity, spirituality and silence. This retreat model was appropriate given the location and design of the property as it is not an expansive property and by way of its very design causes one to go on a journey of inner reflection. No mobile phones are allowed in public spaces and this causes further 'present moment awareness' and makes me realise how attached I have become to my device. I enjoy this digital detox. A set of white kurta pajamas are delivered to the room every day and not having to think about what to wear is one less decision each day and has a way of removing the egoic need we typically have to be 'special'.

Currently Vana offers a minimum 7 day retreat and soon this will be a minimum of 10 days as they strive to preserve a purist philosophy and maximise the healing result for guests. I met quite a number of guests who have already been to Vana 5 to 7 times in the 3 years it has been open. Certainly testament to Vana doing something very right. There is certainly a purity to the Vana way that is expressed through the ecological approach of the building, the spa and healing therapies, and the approach to food. The Dalai Lama has been to visit and bless Vana, and quite honestly the strong intention that belies this business can be felt in the ether. Spiritual and cultural traditions are honoured and as a guest I have the opportunity to touch the authentic essence of India without the usual dirt and noise of the country. 

Finally where would a retreat be without its food? Well I can say the approach to food is not restrictive in terms of flavours and colours, but rather served in small portions so that the taste buds can enjoy a variety of ayurvedic foods in a contemporary sense. A cooking class is also presented twice a week. One of my favourite times is afternoon tea in the lounge with my book 'The Road Less Travelled' by Scott M Peck. Apparently when the student is ready the teacher appears, and it seems I am now ready to read this classic tale of personal growth and spiritual development, which lands deeply inside of me given the reflection time I have had on retreat.

Day 7 comes around all too soon, but what I can say is that I am well rested and ready for the final leg of this 5 week exploration holiday. Upon departure another red thread bracelet with a charm is wrapped and tied around my wrist with well wishes. I am also given a red thread (presented on a copper platter) and invited to make a wish whilst tying the thread around an installation on the wall in the welcome/farewell pavilion. I pause and think for a moment before tying my 'lucky' thread to the wall. 

Overall Vana Retreat offers something very unique. Bringing Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and healing together ensures that the Vana way offers a lot of wisdom, integrity and applicable philosophies for modern day life and psychological development.

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KAMALAYA, KOH SAMUI

I have been visiting health retreats all over the world for 20 years now and Kamalaya had been on my wish list for well over 6 years, so you can imagine my delight when I was asked to fly to Thailand and visit Kamalaya as a mystery judge for the World Spa & Wellness Awards. 

The island of Koh Samui in Thailand has been health retreat central for over 20 years. In fact it was here that I went through my first 7 day fasting program back in 2000. It was also at this retreat that I attended my first yoga class and met my yoga teacher. Some years later I returned to the island for a second retreat and so when I landed at the airport I felt like I was coming home. 

The transfer to Kamalaya was smooth and within 50 minutes I was greeted into the lovely reception area for check-in. I was feeling wonderful already! I had booked a 7 night stay and after a busy year of moving interstate, studying interior design and work I was certainly ready to get my glow back on, and be an advocate for spa wellness. It was truly the perfect end to the year. 

My initial wellness consultation was thorough and my wellness advisor was exceptionally helpful with explaining certain speciality therapies on the spa menu. From there a plan was made and soon thereafter I arrived to the spa reception for my first treatment, which was an Ayurvedic Marma Point Massage, ideal for grounding and balancing. I had now arrived into my body and could already feel this was going to be an amazing week. 

Perched on a steep hillside that drops down to the sea and a private beach, I found myself feeling expanded and yet still. Whichever way I walked required some incidental exercise, along with some detoxification due to the sweating that naturally happens in the humidity of Thailand. In addition there was a daily schedule of classes that included yoga, meditation, pilates, aqua aerobics and some other things. I loved using the fitness centre and running on the treadmill with its spectacular view over the water and I also loved dancing freely in the yoga pavilion that sat on top of the hill. I hold this in my memory as 'my special place'. 

The food philosophy was absolutely perfect and I could not fault a single item. It has been carefully planned from all angles and whether one follows a vegan, raw, ayuvedic, TCM or paleo diet the menu and breakfast buffet had it all. The food was always beautifully presented, full of life, vitality and colour and of course delicious. It was such an inspiring culinary experience that I would return for this alone. The restaurant featured private tables along with a communal dining experience which is fabulous when travelling alone or if you are wanting to meet other wellness travellers. 

The spa and wellness menu is amongst the most comprehensive you will find anywhere. The approach to healing for mind, body and soul is available via a myriad of treatments to choose from. In addition, Kamalaya hosts some of the worlds best healing practitioners who offer their own specialty therapies, which ensures this spa menu will never be boring, and nor will your journey back to self. 

Finally what I most loved about Kamalaya is the pure intention that it was built upon. Created by John and Karina Stewart, this is a tale of love. They met at the feet of their Guru in India and from there became good friends. John was living in a Himalayan ashram at this time, and Karina was living in the USA and a practicing Chinese Doctor amongst other things. Some 11 years later John was told that it was time for him to leave the ashram and go into the world. He called Karina and with a shared vision they soon married and began the task of finding the perfect location for the retreat they imagined. During this time they met Marc Cornaz, who brought his exceptional experience as a hotelier to the development of the retreat so that today Kamalaya offers a luxury 5 star experience that rivals any other luxury resort.

Kamalaya offers an experience that touches mind, body and soul. I absolutely loved my week here and hope to return some day in the not too distant future.

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THE STRESS LESS LIFE

As we power through the 21st century, it can sometimes feel as though we exist in a perpetual state of busyness. Often, with busyness, comes the inevitable... stress. Whether it’s the stress to perform well at work or in our studies, or to keep abreast of what’s happening in our lives. Generally at some point we may all experience the effects of stress.

When talk turns to stress, we immediately associate it with negative implications and something we should strive to avoid. In fact, we actually need a good dose of stress to get us moving, enticing us to move forward in our daily lives. However, there is a fine line between having enough stress to motivate without causing too much pressure. The key to good health and wellbeing is finding that very balance that enhances rather than incapacitates us.

Research suggests that at least one in four Australians experience moderate to severe levels of stress1. Think about how often you have heard friends and family say that they are stressed? You’ve probably said it a million times yourself. But what is stress?

Stress is a natural response to a challenging situation, which may be caused by what’s happening around us as well as the demands we place on ourselves. It causes the ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies that enables us to react to the stressors in our lives. When most people talk about stress they primarily refer to emotional distress, which includes feelings of anger or irritability, anxiety and depression, which is attached to a whole range of physical and physiological responses such as muscular and digestive problems.

If not managed, a build up of stress can lead to health issues such headaches, muscular tension, sleeplessness and a heightened susceptibility to colds and flus. Left untreated, the strain on the body from the symptoms of stress can manifest into serious health conditions leading to heart disease, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and anxiety disorder.

It’s not all doom and gloom, because when managed, stress can work for you. Every body reacts to stress differently, and while some may cope, others may struggle when confronted with the same issues. The key is in recognising your own limits and implementing strategies to keep you from crossing over that fine line to destress.

As spa and wellness professionals, its particularly important that we walk our talk and make a consistent habit of supporting our wellbeing so as to maintain a healthy level of calm. Here are some tips and reminders toward living a calm balanced lifestyle. 

Exercise - whether that’s a heart thumping run or a stroll along the beach or through the bush, whatever it is, get the body moving.

Sleep – it is recommended that adults need between seven and nine hours sleep a night to allow the body to repair and rejuvenate.

Eat well – fuelling up on nutritious wholefoods not only boosts the immune system, but also creates calm in a body that’s already functioning in a high state of arousal. 

Share your stress – talk about how you feel, if not to friends and family, to a qualified health professional.

Explore relaxation – regularly practice meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, tai chi or treat yourself to a spa treatment and time out from your daily routine.

Life is for living and the more present we can be, the more we can enjoy the magic of each moment and share the calm with friends, family and clients. 

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