One thing the last few years of travel has really taught me, is the importance of well being. The truth is, when you're travelling solo, there is no-one else to look after you and if you don't learn to take good care of yourself, you're not going to get the most out of every experience. I've really taught myself to slow down a bit over the last year, I've accepted that I don't have to do and achieve everything, that sometimes it's okay to sit back and just appreciate life instead of giving 110% and exhausting myself. I'm still learning, every single day, but I definitely have a better appreciation for what makes me happy both mentally and physically than I did when I was first travelling. What helps me be my best self? Lots of exercise, tasty, healthy food, a wide open horizon and lots of time spent outdoors. I've realised that being online is my job and to a certain extent, is a hobby, but that I can't let it dominate in any way because it really does impact on my mental health.One thing that has really helped me to stay balanced over the years is gifting myself time. We're always so busy rushing around trying to do everything in our careers, relationships and in our free time, but sometimes we just need to give ourselves time to breathe. I was so guilty of never giving myself time to just be still, and I still am, but I'm trying my best to improve. And so, when an opportunity came up to review an Inner Peace Retreat with Psychologies Magazine, I jumped at the chance to spend a day deep in the countryside and really getting to know myself. Taking place at West Lexham Manor, near Norwich, the retreat offered a weekend spent focusing on psychology, mindfulness, creativity, meditation and movement set against the backdrop of the stunning grounds. What more could a girl want?Driving up to West Lexham Manor through frozen fields and breathing in the crisp morning air, I instantly felt refreshed and ready for restoration of my mind, body and soul. The stunning grounds were the perfect place for that and I couldn't wait to explore more later on. On arrival, the organisers gave a warm welcome and ushered us into morning tai chi in the beautifully restored barn which has been purposefully created for group events and weddings. With sunshine beaming through the windows and birdsong in the background, we started the day by warming up our aching bodies and minds led by neuroscientist Dr Tamara Russell, who was definitely one of the most memorable characters from the weekend. After the session, we went for breakfast in the sun-drenched hall, and it was clear to see the emphasis on well being from the delicious, healthy meal of locally sourced ingredients that awaited us.We were back in with Dr Tamara for our first session of the day, Practical Models for Exploring Body and Mind, which was a fascinating insight into neuroscience and psychology, but with a real life context that made it easily accessible for anyone new to the topic. Tamara used various exercises to look at the way we relate to ourselves and how that affects us in our daily life when we make decisions or react to situations. After studying a bit of neuroscience and psychology at university, I've always been fascinated by models like these and how they can be used to understand why we are the way we are. We all found this workshop so interesting and helpful that it actually ran over into the break and later I could hear many of those attending the retreat continuing the discussion over lunch.Later on we had another workshop, this time with Suzy Greaves, editor of Psychologies Magazine, which was one I was really excited for. Being a journalist, I'm always looking to develop my skills in any way I can, so a journaling/writing workshop with Suzy seemed perfect for me. This time we had an opportunity to get outside and breathe in the fresh air and to take in the sights, sounds and smells as we wandered around the grounds. Nature is so soothing, and despite being based in North Norfolk, I find that lately I haven't had a chance to just get outside and appreciate it, something that I'm sure has caused me to feel a bit stressed out. We were told to just write freely, uninterrupted by others and uninterrupted by thoughts of how we should write. I let my hand glide across the page and all of us taking part felt our innermost thoughts and feelings pour out on to the page. I was amazed at what came out, what I'd been holding in and finally just had to explode across the page, pure stream of consciousness.We enjoyed a leisurely lunch - let me tell you the food was just incredible - followed by a chance to explore the grounds with owner Edmund Colville, as he discussed the retreat and the lay-lines around his family home. Later that afternoon, we had our final workshop of the day, which was easily my favourite and really left an incredible impression on me. The 5 Rhythms Movement workshop with meditation teacher Chris Connors forced the group to throw away all inhibitions, stresses and worries, and to really let loose. We're talking 90 minutes of dancing freely as a mass and an individual to various pieces of music, and by the end of the session, everyone was exhausted but liberated, making their way out of the barn with smiles on faces and a new sense of peace. I thought I was pretty relaxed before I walked into that workshop, but I can tell you I felt like a completely different person by the time I walked out of it and I know every single person in that room felt exactly the same. Sadly I had to leave after this workshop and didn't get a chance to chat to the others over dinner, but the whole experience was beyond anything I could have hoped.Whether you need stillness, a chance to slow down or if you are searching for inner peace, these workshops give you a chance to take a time-out in the unspoilt beauty of West Norfolk. If this sounds like something that would be right up your street, there will be many other retreats taking place this year which focus on yoga, mindfulness and body confidence, and another Psychologies Inner Peace Retreat is in the pipeline. Both men and women attended and while some were more interested in the psychology, others were going through some huge life changes, but all felt just as welcome and came away with a genuine sense of inner peace. Find out more and book at www.westlexham.org
*Images provided by West Lexham Manor
Have you been to a retreat? Would you like to attend one? How do you find peace in your daily life?
It can be hard as a backpacker to keep fit and healthy when you're constantly moving between places. That transient life of late nights and long bus journeys doesn't always translate to the bohemian vegan lifestyle you imagine for travellers, instead there can often be far too many beers and dirty 7/11 toasted sandwiches. It's easy when you keep moving between different groups of people to give into every treat meal and to lose track of what you're putting into your body. But, at the same time, it's more important than ever, because let's face it, no-one wants to get ill when they're travelling. Eating the wrong things, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much and not exercising is the perfect way to ruin your immune system and leave you vulnerable to whatever bugs are being passed around. If you're travelling in Asia, this can be even more of a problem when even the water and the food you eat could be carrying all sorts. If you want to be a smart traveller and keep going for the longest time, while still enjoying yourself and not feeling ill, it's important to look after yourself. I've written posts before about healthy eating and staying fit on the road, but this time I want to focus on some of my favourite fitness experiences I've had since travelling.
When I work out, I like to finish up completely exhausted and to feel that I have worked every single muscle in my body. After trying boxing back in the UK, then Thai boxing, Muay Thai, when I was passing through Hua Hin, in Thailand, I can safely say I have never had a workout that has left me so satisfied afterwards. Martial arts are great because they really do work every part of your body, they test your body in different ways and with so many different types, there really is a martial art for everyone. I love the focus you get as you perfect the moves, and the way you can quickly develop skills if you show dedication. In just one morning session, thanks to my amazing trainer, I had mastered several of the basic moves and had completely re-ignited my passion for working out - after weeks of partying it, this was no easy feat. One thing Thailand comes with is some amazing gyms, they may be basic but damn, they get the job done, and they come with some incredibly dedicated trainers who will push you until you get the results you were after. When I was taking boxercise classes back in the UK, I noticed the quickest changes to my body I have seen with any type of exercise and was impressed to see even the areas which can be more difficult to train were becoming more toned and a lot stronger. I could totally understand why so many people decide to take on week-long or even month-long intensive courses while they're travelling, I would love to have done the same, but sadly had too many other trips planned and not enough time to stay put.Martial arts are a great workout choice for travellers, whether male or female, it's a great full body workout that only needs a gym and a few pieces of equipment, it is also perfect to try in Asia where there are specialist centres on every corner. It's a fantastic workout for building confidence and perfect for solo travellers who appreciate knowing how to defend themselves - it may not ever be necessary to use but can give great peace of mind when you're on your own. For those who want to feel strong and need a workout that takes them further than the usual yoga and running, this is perfect for building muscle tone and for pushing your body. It's just what you need to give you focus when you travel and to pull you out of that backpacker slump. If you need to lose weight and get healthy again, it's a good opportunity to learn new skills while doing so, and will really help boost your immune system - it's hard to get ill when your body is fighting fit! If you fancy trying martial arts, wherever you are in the world, why not join Martial Tribes - it's a social hub for all martial arts and fitness enthusiasts to connect.
Always popular with travellers, yoga is a fantastic way to keep lean, fit and toned while travelling, but it also can be a great way to stay grounded. It's easy to get carried away with the excitement of your life, but taking the time to practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness can really make you focus on appreciating every second. I spent a life changing week at Hariharalya Yoga and Meditation Retreat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and I don't think I've been the same person since. The week of peacefulness was just what I needed to take me from the lowest time I've had travelling, to one of the highest. Just days before I had nearly died in a bus crash, I was injured, aching and completely exhausted, but a week of nourishing my body and my mind with health, rest and gratitude gave me what I needed to love travelling again. Whether you take part in a retreat, take a quick yoga class or just follow tutorials on YouTube with your own mat in the sunshine, yoga is so freeing when you travel. It means taking a moment out of your busy day to reflect, then clear your mind and to stretch out your body. Just what all us backpackers need after rubbish hostel beds and overnight bus rides. It's worth having a look online and around where you're staying for free classes - I took part in an incredible sunset yoga session on a beach on Koh Lanta, Thailand, completely for free thanks to another traveller who wanted to share his knowledge with the world.
Running has become my go-to workout - no matter where I am in the world or what facilities are available, as long as I have my trainers in my bag and a sports bra to strap the girls down, I'm good to go! I love cardio workouts, I like to feel like I've exhausted myself and pushed myself further than the last time, so when I'm travelling, running is a great way to both experience the location and to stay fit. When I was in Asia, I'd get up early to run on the beach or around the city before the heat grew too fierce - beach running has always been my favourite because the sea is always such a perfect distraction and perfect for cooling off after. In Australia, I loved running - the country is made for runners with such a big focus on fitness. There's endless beautiful trails, paths and places to explore while you're working out. Particular highlights were runs along Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, Noosa National Park coastal walk, around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and Melbourne, and those sweaty runs along Darwin Esplanade in the dark. There are so many amazing places to go running, you'd be a fool not to!
I have a confession, before I went away travelling I had not been on a bike in about a decade. I used to love riding my bike as a kid, but just lost interest as I grew up and had no real reason to ride, but you'll be pleased to know they are right when they say "it's like riding a bike" - you never forget. When I was in Asia, bikes were terrible quality but cheap to hire and a perfect way to explore the countries at your own pace. I cycled around stunning old ruins in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, Thailand, I cruised around Da Lat, Vietnam, exploring waterfalls, and through the Cambodian countryside in Siem Reap with friends. It's a fantastic way to see the country, you just see so much more when you cycle past the world than you would from the back of a tuk-tuk or motorbike plus you can stop whenever you want to explore. If you're not as confident on a motorbike, cycling can be a great - and much safer - alternative, just keep your wits about you when you're on busy roads. In Australia, there are so many beautiful places to cycle and explore - one of my favourite days in Melbourne was spent mountain biking around the trails in a beautiful reserve.
You walk a lot as a traveller and it's easy to forget that this in itself is a great workout. Whether you spend a day walking around exploring a new city, hiking through the jungle to waterfalls or climbing a mountain to watch the sunrise - it all counts. This is actually one of my favourite ways to workout because it doesn't actually feel like a workout, you're so busy looking at the amazing views or spotting creatures lurking in the woods or diving into waterfalls that you don't realise how much you are burning. I loved huge jungle hikes in Khao Sok, Thailand, we'd be covered in sweat and chased by monkeys, but it was all worth it when you reached the stunning gorge or lake at the end of it. I had friends who climbed huge peaks in Nepal or Bali and said it was the highlight of their trip - getting outside and getting active can be one of the best ways to experience a country. In Melbourne, I spent a weekend camping at Grampians National Park with friends, we spent two days hiking to viewpoints, climbing through gorges and walking through forests - it was incredible.
How do you like to keep fit when you travel? What are your favourite fitness experiences? What martial arts workouts can you recommend?
I'm so excited to share this post with you guys, and I warn you in advance its going to be a long one, because it's all about one of the most amazing places I have ever been - a place of healing, of peace and of happiness. Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat was the only reason I stayed in Cambodia for as long as I did, and it was the only reason I didn't immediately book a flight to Bangkok after that crash. I was devastated after the crash, worried I wouldn't physically be able to cope with a week of yoga and exercise but it turned out there was so much more to Hariharalaya - and that week turned out to be one of the best of my life. I have never felt more welcome than at the moment we pulled up through the gates, it was like coming to a sanctuary, like coming home. And for one week, the staff and the small group of us who had signed up for the experience were a little family, supporting each other through and helping each other to deal with personal problems, get back to basics and focusing on what is really important, and just building new life-changing habits. I can't thank Leah, of Roots and Toots, and Christine, of Don't Forget To Move, enough for the recommendations - this place couldn't have been any more perfect for me at this point in my life.Leah actually said something really interesting to me after the crash about how perhaps all those struggles leading up to it and finally arriving at Hariharalaya were supposed to happen - to make it an extra special experience when I actually made it there. And I think she's right, because it really did make it all the more amazing to know what I had been through to get there - it made me really value every single second of the days I spent there and I really took a lot away from it. Being there, in the Cambodian countryside, completely cut off from technology and the outside world, I really had the opportunity to focus on myself and to live truly in the moment. When leaving the retreat five days later, I cant even begin to express how much had changed - I was a completely different person. I walked in there completely disheartened and basically a broken person from all this travelling - I was exhausted from moving so quickly between places and I was tired of feeling unsafe and victimised by the country. Then, thanks to the crash I was physically broken as well - my body had had enough of it all and was screaming stop. In just five days I was bouncing off the walls, happy and comforted by the amazing individuals around me, I regained my excitement and passion for travelling. I felt strong again, my body responded so well to the programme of yoga, meditation, great food, massages and even acupressure thanks to another guest.
So what did we actually get up to at Hariharalaya?
Our programme started daily at 6.50 when we were woken by a gong that gave us ten minutes until our morning yoga and meditation session, this took place in an open studio where we could see out across the lawns. The morning session consisted of an hour of yoga, which varied daily depending on who was taking the class, followed by 30 minutes of meditation and sometimes we also led into this with chanting led by the owner, Joel. It was a peaceful start to the morning during which no one communicated other than the teachers - it was a time for self-reflection and preparing for the day ahead. After this, we would enjoy a super healthy, vegan breakfast - I cannot rave about the food enough, it was just out of this world and I have never missed meat less in my entire life. Every mealtime we were piling our plates high with all this delicious, nutritional goodness and knowing we were fuelling our bodies for the day instead of poisoning them with oils and fats hidden in usual backpacker fare. After a break during which we could read, play chess, use the gym, cycle around the village or do whatever we wanted, we would have the opportunity to sign up for extra afternoon sessions after another delicious meal.These afternoon sessions included body language workshops, movement workshops, one-to-one yoga sessions to develop a personal programme, or even massages with experts. I took the body language workshop with Sean and found it really interesting to learn from someone who is also the most well-known magician in the whole of Cambodia and uses body language in a lot of his tricks. The One-to-One session with Maike was fantastic, she talked with me about what I wanted out of yoga and helped me to develop a personalised programme that worked towards my goals and used moves I had grown to love over the week - it was so good that I'm still doing it over a month later! And the massages - oh the massages! There were two to choose from and I simply had to indulge in both the four hands massage - which was fabulous and very invigorating - and the blind shiatsu massage, which was my favourite. The blind massage was done by a gentleman who actually massages Angelina Jolie at a flash hotel in Siem Reap for hundreds but I had the chance to try it for just a few dollars and oh my word it was easily the best massage of my life - it also really helped my bruised legs.After, we would be called in to our sunset yoga and meditation session which was timed perfect to catch the last rays and really was quite powerful for all of us. We all loved this wind-down session before dinner because it totally relaxed us all and gave time for some real peace and quiet. The evening meal was always something to look forward to and it was always so lovely to all sit round the table together discussing everything from the yoga sessions to heavy metal music - it all came up and it was great to spend time really getting to know each other and laughing, a lot. In those final hours before bed, we would spend the evenings being wowed by Sean's magic by the pool, watching movies, playing table tennis and pool in the games room, playing card games or dancing the night away as musicians from the local village played. It was a beautiful way to round off the days and we always fell into bed shattered from the day.
Why should you experience Hariharalaya?
This point is one I have mixed feeling about - on the one hand, I loved it so much there that I just want to be selfish and keep it as a secret all for myself. But the other, much bigger part of me is so filled with love for this place that I can't bear to not share it with you. Hariharalaya is such a special place filled with love, it really helps you see things clearly and to change your view of the world. It's not just the incredible team of staff who work hard to make your experience everything that it could possibly be, but also the guests who really teach you something. Coming from all different backgrounds and ways of life, I made the closest friends with people I probably never would have met outside in the real world, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity. Hariharalaya draws a whole other crowd of travellers, completely unlike those you will meet anywhere else and that is what makes it so amazing. It provides a home, a shelter, for anyone in crisis, and even those who aren't, to come and feel safe, to take a break from the outside world and to rebuild. Whether you just love yoga and want to break the trend of doing it in fitness clubs, or whether you just need to reassess everything in your life, this is the place for you.That doesn't convince you? Well, while I was there, I was lucky enough to share my experience with one girl who connected with Hariharalya much more than any of us, she was already on her second visit in just a few months, and before the week was out she had signed up to do her third week from the following Monday, with hopes of training to become a yoga teacher the following year. I'm so happy I could be there to see how she drew as a person in just days, and that I had the chance to be a part of our little family. I know that no matter how far we are scattered around the globe, that we will all be friends for life after sharing that time together. You can find out more about Hariharalya, and how to sign up, at the website.
Have you been to Hariharalya? Tell me about your experience. Can you recommend any other yoga and meditation retreats in South East Asia?
There are plenty out there who think backpacking, when it really comes down to it, is pretty much just spending months on end lazing on a beach, tanning and partying as soon as the sun goes down. I won't lie, there's plenty of that, but there is also so much more to it all. I'm talking about the hours on end spent wandering the streets, looking at beautiful buildings, talking to local people, trying food and soaking up the culture. I'm talking about the times when you get up at half past five to hike up to the highest point of the town to watch the sun rise, when you are chased by monkeys are crazy dogs to get to a temple, and the times when you go off exploring on bikes. It's actually pretty damn busy, and looking back now over the last few weeks, I can't understand how I've managed to cram so much in. It's pretty tiring actually, I haven't really had many days of just doing nothing and relaxing because I've been so keen to explore and discover more about the places I am staying in.
Anyone who knew me, or read this blog when I was at home, will know that I never stopped. I was working four jobs at one point to pay for this trip, alongside blogging and still having a life - I love to be busy and to enjoy the world around me to the max, so much so that I would often exhaust myself because there was no let up. Out here, I'm definitely a lot better at giving myself time to enjoy, appreciate and to relax, but I'm still on the go all the time - I guess it's just me, I really like being busy. But travelling has really made me understand that sometimes doing nothing can be the experience in itself. Just having that time to let it all sink in, to reflect on my experiences while I am out here. And this doesn't just apply to me out here, I wish it was something I had done more of when I was at home, perhaps then I wouldn't have felt such a need to get away from it all.
I think it is something we all could learn - to appreciate "Dolce Far Niente" as it is called in Eat Pray Love - anyone who has seen the film or read the book will remember the description by the Italian guy of "The Sweetness of Doing Nothing". That we shouldn't feel guilt for taking time out to just be still and at peace instead of sitting in front of mindless and brain numbing TV, instead of rushing around like a crazy person, and instead of expecting so much of ourselves all the time. Look at the way we greet each other after a long day at work - "what did you do today?" Like the success of our whole day is measured around what we achieved, what we ticked off our list, and if it isn't enough, we feel guilty or lazy. Why don't we ask what has made us happy today, or what has made us smile?
They say travelling changes you, but I disagree, I don't think it changes you. I think it just brings you out of yourself - into the person you always had potential to become. It just takes all of those pressures of society, family, friends and the rest away, allows to you to breathe and to look at what you want to do, for yourself, and not for anyone else. After a tough two years of putting insane pressure on myself by working so much, studying, writing both for this blog and for the festival website, plus keeping up with my family, friends and my boyfriend - it became too much. I removed myself from the whole situation and I can honestly say I've never been happier. I no longer feel pressure to achieve, achieve, achieve at work, or to write when I'm exhausted so I don't disappoint myself or my readers - now I do things because I truly want to, and if feels great.
I'm writing this post in the middle of a week spent in Phuket Town, which is actually becoming one of my favourite places so far. It's so bohemian here, full of amazing little coffee shops and cafes that are filled with books and art, so quiet I almost think I am the only person to discover them, and totally inspiring for writing. Through these heavenly little discoveries, I have truly found the sweetness in doing nothing, which has in turn completely inspired me to write. The first visit to my favourite of these little cafes, The Gallery, I sat on a sofa covered in deliciously comfy pillows, I ate poached eggs and avocado on toast with salsa, I drank fruity smoothies and I read a magazine. The magazine was two months out of date, but it didn't matter because I was outside my comfort zone, I was relaxing and feeling no urge to move or walk or do anything, I was just enjoying that moment of mindless food and reading. To put this in perspective, I genuinely haven't read a magazine for about two years because I am always too busy.
Since then, I have spent lots of time doing the same, escaping to these little havens where smooth jazz versions of my favourite songs play in the background while I take in the art hanging on the walls, where I watch the world go by on the other side of the window and where I find my inspiration to write for you guys. I tried this a few times back at home, but the fast pace of life there always got to me and I always ended up tapping my feet, impatient to get on with the next thing, here I feel I am able to give myself this time without guilt or worry. It's such a good feeling, but one I think can be achieved anywhere, it just depends on whether you will let yourself - I never did at home, but here I finally do. So how can you achieve this at home?
Try these tips and see how it works for you - if you saw my previous post on mindfulness, those tips are also great for this!
1. Turn off the TV
2. Give yourself 10 minutes a day to just sit
3. Lock yourself in a room, or go to a coffee shop, just anywhere you can be alone with your thoughts
4. Let your mind wander and appreciate everything around you
5. It might sound silly, but trust me, it makes a huge difference to your life and heck you deserve it!
What do you do to unwind and relax? Do you give yourself enough time to just be?