A couple of weeks ago, as a special birthday treat to myself I took myself off for, for the first time ever, on a week-long yoga retreat in Portugal. Part of me felt so guilty especially leaving my 10yr old daughter but I knew I needed a special break. It was heavenly, to say the least. But it was only when I got there that I realised how much I needed it. My shoulders were tight and my energy levels in great need of topping up. My mind was still spinning with the echoes of to-do lists, deadlines and demands. I needed a break not just to recharge the batteries but also the space to step back from everything and reconnect with my creativity (currently working on Book 2).
And I definitely got this. The tranquil Vale de Moses retreat nestles among the valleys and mountains of Serra de Estrela. I began to get an inkling of the remoteness when the Sat Nav gave up an hour away from the retreat and the WiFi signal became non-existent. On retreat, our days started with a walking meditation in the forest, breathing in fresh, cool mountain air followed by 2 hrs of yoga and then 2 hrs of dance in the afternoon. This was no resting retreat! The food was hearty and delicious and at night we turned in early for bed.
And I was interested to find that, compared to my usual life back in London, there were a few things that I was doing differently:
- No breakfast within 30 minutes of rising – those of you who know my work know that I place huge emphasis on eating breakfast soon after rising to stabilise blood sugar, minimise adrenaline production and optimise melatonin secretion for sleep. On retreat, we didn’t eat until 11am, hours after I’d gotten out of bed and exerted myself.
The difference: my adrenal glands and thyroid aren’t running in overdrive trying to meet the demands of parenthood, commuting, patients, presentations, emails… so the need for fuel becomes less important and my physiology, assisted by nature, quiet, minimal technology and focused breathwork, is in a natural state of balance and equilibrium.
- Less need for sleep – I was often up at 3 or 4am and writing. Nourished by nature, fresh air, good food and the perfect balance of rest and activity, I simply needed less sleep.
- I worked in bed on my laptop – I’m always telling my patients and clients to keep their bedrooms tech-free but here in Vale de Moses I deliberately slept with my curtains open so that I was woken in the early hours by moonlight streaming through my window. Between 2 and 4am is a powerful time for creativity and I was more than happy to surf this wave and tap away at my keyboard while snuggled into my comfy bed.
- I ate wheat and dairy products – the gut, with its rich supply of nerves, is often referred to as the second brain. This is why we probably get an intuitive or ‘gut feel’ for something. It’s often our gut that tells us when we’re out of balance or running in overdrive and in the driven world we inhabit, it’s no surprise that so many of us have inflammatory gut problems, intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome. I (and my gut) gratefully relished the delicious breads and cheeses with no ill effects at all.
- I didn’t need to read – as a self-confessed bookworm, I often need to have a book on the go. Something to help me disconnect from the day, the mental chatter and demands around me. In the mountains, the perfect soporific aid was silence. It’s only when I’m in the mountains that I can truly appreciate that silence is a sound and one that I – and many of us – simply don’t get enough of.
Back in the London the following week, I missed the mountains and my fellow yogis but I was happy to be back with my family and in the thick of things. First day back in the City and I felt myself walking faster, talking faster, breathing faster…I knew it was time to start having breakfast again.