This March, Danielle Brown, Exotic Yoga Retreats co-owner, and her mom, Sandy Gumtow, went on a yoga safari retreat together to South Africa and Botswana. Here’s the story of what they experienced and what they learned about themselves and one another, in their own words….
Danielle: So, mom- what did you think when I reached out in January to invite you to join me in South Africa and Botswana on an Exotic Yoga Retreat?
Sandy: Well, I was so excited! At this stage of my life, time is very valuable, and I don’t get to spend as much time with you as I would like- we live far apart, and you are so busy. So having the opportunity to travel together was something I was not going to say no to.
Danielle: I know! We had so much fun traveling together a few years ago in Italy, and I learned something on that trip- we travel well together. You are really easy going and always up for an adventure, even at the last minute! So I thought I would invite you to join me in Africa, which I knew would be a big deal for you. What were your thoughts about coming to Africa?
Sandy: I’ve always, always wanted to go to Africa; it’s been on my bucket list for a long time to do a safari! I was less sure about the yoga- and what a yoga safari would be like. I’m pretty new to yoga, so I wasn’t sure how well I could keep up, and whether this trip would be something for a beginner yogi like me.
Danielle: I’m glad you said that, because that’s one of the things we hear a LOT from clients- I think people might sometimes assume you have to be really advanced at yoga, or we do yoga all day- and that can dissuade people from joining us. So, what do you think about yoga now, after a 10 day yoga retreat?
Sandy: Well, first, I’m happy that I could completely go at my own pace and there was absolutely no pressure to do more than I wanted to. Nina, our instructor, was amazing and helped make adjustments and corrections, and took the time to explain things so I could learn. There were so many levels and facets to yoga that I didn’t realize before this trip- the different methods of yoga, the poses and what they are good for, all of the correlations to life regarding love, inner self, discovery…. I absolutely loved the yoga, and that was not the part of the trip I was most excited about before I came. In fact, I’m going to be working more yoga and meditation into my daily life now that I’m back from retreat. But I will admit, the best part of the retreat for me was the amazing wildlife. Would you agree?
Danielle: Yes, for sure! In the past, I’ve gone on yoga retreats mostly for the yoga; that’s how I seek out and choose a retreat. But the absolute highlight of this trip for me was the wildlife and the safari game drives. I don’t know if we got lucky or not, but having multiple lion sightings (5 lions in all!), seeing a leopard up close (almost too close!), seeing a mother rhino and her newborn, and coming upon a herd of 40 elephants– from the giant matriarch to the tiniest baby elephant– at their morning trip to the watering hole, exceeded all expectations I had about what we were going to see. And of course, that doesn’t even cover the numerous giraffes, warthogs, zebras, antelopes, wildebeest, baboons, hyenas and ostriches we saw all week. There were too many amazing animals to count.
Sandy: For me, I loved the evening sundowner drives. The bush at night really comes alive. My favorite moment was when we came upon a bull elephant just as the sun was setting- he was directly in our path! I have never been so close to such a giant, magnificent animal. He surprised us and we surprised him. And of course, the evening tradition of having a cocktail and watching the sun go down in the gorgeous African landscape is something I loved on this retreat.
Danielle: They call this time of the day the golden hour, and for good reason. As the sun sets over the sandstone rock formations, it turns everything a beautiful shade of rose gold. It was such a spectacular setting to gather at the end of the day around a handcrafted cocktail, enjoy the gorgeous sunset together, and watch the animals prepare for nighttime. One other really great surprise for me on this retreat was the food and drink. A lot of our retreats are really centered on amazing culinary experiences, but I didn’t necessarily have high expectations going in to this retreat. But that ended up being one of the most special parts of the trip!
Sandy: The food was just incredible. And not just the food, but the entire culinary experience. We enjoyed so many wonderful South African wines on this trip, and a few unique varietals that I loved. And each meal was just gorgeous. We started each morning with a leisurely brunch outside on the grounds of our lodges, enjoying made-to-order eggs, fresh fruit and juice, and delicious local specialties, like vegetable pies. In the afternoon we enjoyed a delicious high tea- a simple, tasty snack to nourish us after yoga. Dinner each evening was a three-course meal, full of surprises- one evening we enjoyed a delicious braai (a Botswanan barbeque), other nights we had dinner in a stunning outdoor setting with local entertainment. The food we enjoyed on this trip was incredible.
Danielle: And I think that builds on what the entire experience was like at the beautiful safari lodges we stayed at. They were so luxe, but so down-to-earth and approachable. The staff at each lodge treated us like family, and we really enjoyed getting to know them during our stay. Speaking of people, what did you think about our retreat group?
Sandy: Our retreat group was amazing. We were a group of women, ranging in age, yoga ability, cultural background and interests. But we really bonded over the course of the trip. I came away with friends that I’ll have for life and so enjoyed meeting these women. We had so many huge laughs and emotional moments over the course of our trip and I cherish that.
Danielle: So, did this trip change you?
Sandy: Looking back on it, it really did. I came to the trip a very beginner yogi and came away having learned a lot about the practice and art of yoga, and a greater appreciation for it. I learned much more about the culture of South Africa and Botswana, and saw an amazing new part of the world that was brand new to me. It really did open my world, in many ways. What about you?
Danielle: Every yoga retreat I take changes me in some way. This particular trip was good for my soul, exactly what I needed as life has been so busy lately for me. I came here in order to let go of some things- stress, anxiety, worry- and let in creativity, peace, and kindness. I rested and refreshed. I unplugged (isn’t that often one of the greatest luxuries). And I came back a better version of myself. I am so glad you came away changed for the better as well! So, can we travel the world together again soon?
Sandy: Absolutely! It was so much fun to spend time with my daughter. Now we need to find our next retreat to go on together in 2020. Yoga retreats are the perfect way for us to stay connected and spend quality time together.
Inspired by Danielle and Sandy’s story? Bring your mother- or your daughter (or son, niece, nephew!)- on one of our retreats in 2019! Danielle and Sandy’s pick for the next best retreat to do together is in TUSCANY!
Over the several years that Exotic Yoga Retreats has been running successful travel yoga retreats around the world, our team has picked up on a few commonly touted misconceptions about yoga retreats. As we gear up for a glorious summer of sunshine, yoga, food, wine and luxury in Europe – where we run a number of much loved and quality holidays – we thought it prudent to clear the air and bust some of these yoga retreat myths.
Only women go on yoga retreats.
Whilst the majority of our guests on retreats are women, it is not the case that there are only women on retreats. We frequently have male yogis and partners joining in too. This is particularly the case for our retreats over the Festive Season and New Years. In fact, in the past we have run couples retreats in glorious, romantic locations like the Greek Islands.
Yoga retreats are for advanced yogis only.
This is probably the most commonly heard misconception, and it is so far from the truth. It is very normal to have people on retreats who are trying out yoga for the first time, or who have only done yoga a handful of times in their lives. It is also common for us to have people join in on our yoga holidays who are older, and less able bodied. The point is that our yoga instructors are skilled and accommodating. They are able to create a safe environment for yogis of all different levels. This means that those who are advanced and seeking to deepen their form and find new strength and poise, are accommodated for just as much as those who are building their foundations and exploring experiences for the first time.
Exotic Yoga Retreats on safari in Africa!
On yoga retreats you have to do several hours of yoga a day.
Yoga is fabulous for mind, body and soul – but we believe that too much yoga makes you miss out on all the other incredible experiences of life and travel. For this reason, after many years of experience, we have designed programs that have the perfect balance between yoga daily, and plenty of time to thrive in and discover the beauty of the world around. Some of our most loved retreats and holidays are designed for adventurous travellers – they include frequent cultural and nature excursions with expert local guides. Moreover, our yoga programs come with no strings attached – you join in when it suits you. If you wake up in a stunning suite overlooking the ocean in one of our top class luxury destinations, and fancy a lie in rather than a morning Vinyasa flow, this is completely fine and actually encouraged. We foster a ‘come as you are’, non-competitive vibe on yoga retreats and holidays, so you can do all the yoga sessions, or some, or none.
Whilst there are many yoga retreat organisers that do make rigid diet plans for retreats, this is not at all part of the Exotic Yoga Retreats ethos. We adore nourishing, balanced and delectable cuisines from around the world. Our handpicked locations are chosen with remarkable chefs and cuisine as a requirement. We make no rules or ‘diet plans’ for our guests, and all tribes, from carnivores, to gluten free, to vegan are welcome. As we select premium locations, we are able to meet your dietary requirements and ensure you get the food that makes your heart sing! Furthermore, we adore wine, and we curate experiences that include a ritual of toasting the beauty of a passing day with a glass of fine wine, or cocktail of your choice. This embrace of all things vital and divine is part of our philosophy of ‘healthy hedonism’.
La Bella Vita in Tuscany – our annual pilgrimage to Italy in summer!
Yoga retreats are for deep personal journeys, not something for family and friends to join in.
We believe that a yoga retreat is an opportunity to recharge your batteries, gain vitality and ‘joie de vivre’, explore and taste the beauty of a stunning destination, and connect with like-minded cosmopolitan people. If it is important for you to do this as a solo journey, with plenty of calming alone time, then perfect, you will find our retreats accommodating of that desire. However, our holidays and retreats are very much about having fun and connecting with people, so it is absolutely appropriate and encouraged that couples, friends and families embark on our retreats together!
On a yoga retreat you are forced to adopt a certain degree of spirituals, or religious practices.
This myth is easy to bust! Whilst there are plenty of yoga retreats out there that adhere to particular lineages of spiritualism, Exotic Yoga Retreats is owned and run by a team of vibrant and divergent women who have no singular spiritual or religious adherence. We are all open-minded humanists, and we project no dogmas or beliefs on any of our retreat programs or guests.
Siena is one of Italy’s most iconic cities, and an absolute must-see on any Italian holiday itinerary. It is a charming, arty, more low-key cousin of Florence, the biggest city in the Tuscany region. Both are esteemed in their architectural and cultural heritage. Indeed, the whole Tuscan region is ancient, and feels like a journey through the pages of time.
Siena offers the visitor a taste of Tuscan heritage and splendour, and yet, in its charming and understated way, persuades you linger, is never brash or hurried, and encourages you to feel the true Italian ‘la bella vita’. This is precisely why the Exotic Yoga Retreats team adores Siena, and has included it as a special excursion during our Tuscan Villa Holiday this June.
Here is our recommendation for how to spend the perfect day in Siena:
In true Italian style, begin the day with an espresso, a pastry, and a vantage point to watch the passing crowds. There is no better place to do this than the heartbeat of Siena, Piazza del Campo. This famous square was designed in a conch, or shell shape, and has a uniquely intimate feel to it. There are many cafes to choose from, and many imposing structures to gaze at whilst you sip your espresso. Look out for the Fonte Gaia, the largest fountain in the city with stunning marble sculptures, the Palazzo Comunale (the town hall), and the Torre del Mangia (the red brick tower – you can’t miss it!).
From here you are well placed to get a cultural fix. Most tourists go directly to the Palazzo Comunale, which houses the Civic Museum and an array of works by Sienese artists. They also flock to the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta, a cathedral with outstanding examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture and decor. Both are incredible, but often overrun with other tourists. If you are out and about early enough, we highly recommend walking up the 400 steps of the Torre del Mangia to get an unprecedented panoramic of the city and surrounding Tuscan Hills.
If you fancy something a little less frenetic, we think the most visually astounding site is the Biblioteca Piccolomini. The frescos on the walls and ceilings inside the main library hall are truly extraordinary. It is a spellbinding visit. Look out for some scenes in the frescos of the life of Pope Pius II, who commissioned the library for his uncle. This is a unique must-see (take care, the library is secretly tucked inside the Duomo, it’s easy to miss, and many do!)
Fresh from your cultural feast, you may want to stop by fountain Fonte Gaia, named after the emotion of joy! This is not the biggest or most famous fountain in Siena, but we consider it the most charming. Drop a coin, and make a wish! It is much quieter here than around other main attractions in the city, so you may even want to pause and bask in the sun for a few mellow moments of meditation.
From there, it’s lunchtime! Walking away from Piazza del Campo, head down Via di Cittá and turn onto Via s.Pietro. You will notice many restaurants and bars along this street. We highly recommend Bar Osteria Enea, right at the very end of the street on the corner of Via s.Pietro and Via Saint ‘Agata. Grab a crusty loaf and some of their divine antipasti and salads of the day. This gorgeous, small, family run restaurant is the perfect stop to take-away your meal, and then walk directly across the road to the Botanical Gardens (Orto Botanico del’Università di Siena), which lie just behind the Natural History Museum. Find a shady spot beneath some trees, listen to the chatter of birds, and savour your fresh, casual lunch at leisure.
For motivation, walk back along Via s.Pietro towards the centre and stop in at a gelateria for a post lunch treat. From there, stroll onto Via Banchi di Sopra, which is the main shopping street in Siena. This small city is famous for its ceramics and leather goods, so brace yourself for some divine boutique shops and handbags to drool over. There are plenty of tiny and quirky cafes on this street too, if you need a quick espresso to fortify you. Don’t forget to stop and look around between shops. You will be walking through a UNESCO World Heritage protected ancient conglomerate on buildings, piazzas, and cobbled walk-ways.
Alternative to an afternoon of shopping: If you are looking for a different kind of indulgence, why not head towards the Tuscan Wine School? They are conveniently situated on Via Stalloreggi, right in the historic centre. They run a daily 2 hour tasting from 4pm – 6pm, which is intended to deliver an expert guided and very jolly run-through of the top Tuscan cultivars and vineyards. They also run express tastings on request for around 45 mins.
Head north east of the Piazza del Campo. You would have worked up an appetite from the shopping, and may be in need of an Italian tradition – an aperitif before dinner. We recommend Il Cavaliere Errante’s terrace seating. Although this is a cute restaurant, they have superb wines by the glass, and all the classic Italian cocktails, as well non-alcoholic spritzers. The outdoor seating looks directly onto the beautiful facade of the Insigne Collegiate di Santa Maria. There are charming frescos inside the church, if its still open and you are interested. It is also directly en route from the centre to our top top recommendation for your dinner: Tre Cristi Enoteca Ristorante.
While the building Tre Cristi occupies dates to the fifteenth century, it began operating in the 1830’s. The name derives from the incredible and enormous original artwork placed in the main dining room in 1865, depicting three Christ figures. All other furniture and decoration dates to the 1920s. Apart from the decor, the food is sublime. Expect to journey through the sensations of a traditional Tuscan country villa.
Does this sound like a divine day in Italy? Why not join us for many days filled with splendour on an Italian summer yoga holiday. We have three planned for 2019:
Tuscany is famed for its hedonistic pleasures. It has rich cultural heritage in arts, food, architecture, and rolling countryside vistas. To some, the idea of hosting a yoga retreat or holiday in Tuscany might seem disconnected from the typical Tuscan offerings, and it may not be on your conventional yoga retreat location list. After extensive travel, location scouting and time spent in Tuscany, we believe otherwise! Exotic Yoga Retreats has been taking happy yoga travellers to Tuscany for many years, and we keep on returning for more!
Here are 5 reasons why we believe Tuscany should be the location for your 2019 European summer yoga getaway:
Vit-D fix: Sunshine!
Tuscany is bathed in sunshine for much of the summer. Many of us have a deficiency of sunshine’s nutrient gift; Vitamin D. Reasons for this can be due to working in an office all day, living in the northern hemisphere with long dark winters, having metabolic disorders or anaemia that stops sufficient absorption of nutrients, or simply not privileging the time to get outside more. This lack in Vitamin D can severely affect our immunity levels and bone health, as well as our mental stability. Numerous medical studies have found compelling evidence of the direct link between time in the sun and mental wellbeing. We do not need medical experts to tell us, however, that sunshine is nature’s happiness! This is age-old, simple and intuitive. The Tuscan sun and a fruitful daily yoga practice are a perfect partnership – both working on simple, intuitive and natural methods to enhance wellbeing.
All images supplied by Villa Lena, Tuscany
Organic, fresh produce
Once you have been doused in Vitamin D and feel-good rays, it’s time to nourish the soul. What better way to do than through vital fresh produce? Tuscan cuisine is not only delicious, as we know, it is also strongly rooted in the concept of a diet being based on whole foods, that are locally-sourced, seasonal and balanced. Tuscan cuisine invites us to care about how food is sourced and prepared. It invites us to forget the now outdated notions of ‘slimming diets’ and ‘calorie counters’, and rather embrace a sustainable relationship with food and ourselves. This is also one of the most important lessons of yoga – to embrace your body, health and tendencies as they are, and to work with them for optimum living, rather than to work against them, or try to force oneself into a mould of right / wrong. As there is no ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ ingredients in a balanced Tuscan diet, so we learn that there are no ‘wrong’ aspects of yourself or your body, as you move deeper into your yoga practice.
A Tuscan summer is spacious. There is time to savour food, wine, nature, arts and relaxation. Tuscan locals are famously friendly and approachable. Why? Well, apart from a cultural tendency to love a good natter with friends old and new, it may because they have the time to be! When last were you able to really fruitfully engage in a conversation with someone without wondering to yourself about the next thing on your ‘to-do’ list to complete before the close of the day? When last did you sit down for a coffee or meal and not check your mobile phone for email notifications and missed-calls from a colleague or boss? Well, this is the everyday in Tuscany. This is also one of the central lessons of yoga practice; to be able to move through life with poise and mindfulness. There is no chance of cultivating presence if you feel time-pressured and rushed. Mindful living is living in spaciousness, where it feels OK to observe time, to listen carefully, to not always rush ‘to do something’ – life in Tuscany!
Organic produce bursting with nutrients and flavour.
A feast for the eyes
Beauty as it arises before the eyes draws us to feel a greater spiritual connection, whatever our personal notion of what spirituality may be. The beauty of the Tuscan countryside is awe-inspiring. Such beauty moves us deeply, and softens even the most hardened and exhausted of hearts. As in a fruitful and regular yoga practice, we are brought to appreciate the glorious gift of life. More than just the countryside vistas, Tuscany offers three stunning city centres – Florence, Sienna and Pisa. All are renowned for their architectural beauty, and Florence in particular is known as the most important city in the world to view Renaissance art. The relatively convenient proximity of these centres to countryside villas ensures that you have the opportunity to taste the majesty of Italian art and history, without being weighed-down by the buzz and smoke of a frantic urban centre.
Connection and communion
Tuscany is considered to be the root of culture, history and cuisine in Italy, and yet there is nothing pretentious about Tuscan people. The abundance of life here is overflowing and the generosity of spirit of locals matches this. When you are greeted in Tuscany it is usually with warmth and sincerity. When a farmer insists you taste his latest press of extra virgin olive oil, it is not to show off, but rather to share with. This communion and kinship is the greatest gift of all the bounty in Tuscany. Indeed, the word ‘yoga’ means communion – the yoke of life, and the practice of yoga is to learn to collect all dislocated aspects of yourself, body, mind and soul, and to bring them together again. Through yoga we rebuild ourselves as whole beings.
Discover your wholeness, and bask in the bounty of Tuscany this summer!
Exotic Yoga Retreats has TWO gorgeous Tuscan villa locations for you to savour this summer:
Sometimes you take a step towards a dream when you least expect it. In this case, it was a step taken in a place far away, on the bucket-list adventure of a lifetime. This small step has led to many good things since. Let’s step back and explain….
In the early summer of 2018, Danielle decided she needed a break from work. She reached out to her friend of over 20 years, Erika, and both felt like they needed to re-energize and refresh somewhere far away from the daily grind. Spontaneously, Danielle found a break in her schedule for two weeks in August and called Erika, “I have August 1st-15th free. Want to travel somewhere?” And like the adventurous traveler she is, Erika jumped at the opportunity.
Neither Erika or Danielle are strangers to travel – between them they have visited nearly 80 countries. For this trip, both felt compelled to find something active, adventurous, unique, and luxurious. They turned to ‘Google’ and stumbled upon Exotic Yoga Retreats and their annual adventure to Bhutan. They engaged Exotic Yoga Retreats’ owner, Gayle Olson, in many questions about this personally curated travel experience. A week later, they decided to sign up. Little did they know what an impactful decision that would turn out to be.
Landing in Bhutan was like traveling to an entirely new world. Nestled deep in the high Himalayas, amid lush forest, twisting rivers, and green valleys, this small Buddhist nation remains incredibly beautiful and unspoiled. Danielle and Erika were greeted with a warm local welcome and whisked away with their retreat group to the first of four unique guesthouses; a restored palace in the countryside. That afternoon they sank into traditional Bhutanese hot stone baths to soak away the jet lag and get their minds focused on the retreat ahead. Refreshed, the Bhutan group convened for a restorative yoga session overlooking the entire valley, followed by a wonderful dinner of fresh local ingredients. It was the perfect start to a magical trip.
Each day on retreat brought a new adventure, with lots of surprises along the way. From exploring many breathtaking temples and important cultural sites, shopping for local jewellery and handicrafts, hiking in the countryside, visiting the market with locals, to eating expertly prepared, local and fresh food (the ‘momos’ were a crowd favorite!), every day held something special. As they traveled around this magical country, Danielle and Erika enjoyed incredible hospitality in each and every location – from a local women-owned lodge in a small village, to a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World 5-star resort, where the royals stay on their travels. The Exotic Yoga Retreats’ Bhutanese local guide, Dorji, helped everyone immerse themselves in the culture.
For Danielle and Erika, yoga was the perfect way to stay balanced and energized on the trip. They formed part of a group comprised of all levels- from beginner to longtime practitioner. Nina Butler, Exotic Yoga Retreats tour leader and yoga instructor, expertly tailored each session to not only their ability, but also the group’s energy and daily itinerary. Most mornings, the group were encouraged to find their edge on their mats for an energizing flow session. Most evenings involved a meditation and restorative, or gentle class. All of this set the perfect stage for possibility.
So back to the dream…. Near the last day of the trip, Danielle and Erika made the iconic hike up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery. Perched at 10,240 feet on the side of a cliff, this stunning monastery, built in the 1600s, is an incredibly spiritual place. Getting there is not an easy feat. It is a few hours up, so you get time to dream and let your mind wander. En route, Erika and Danielle had a chance to reflect on their careers, their life goals and their longtime dream of running a travel and adventure business. As lifetime friends, they always thought this would be, “someday…..” which usually meant, years off, at a more “sensible and practical” time.
As they were daydreaming out loud, Nina happened to overhear and mentioned that perhaps, just perhaps, Gayle Olson would be interested in bringing on some new partners as she worked to grow Exotic Yoga Retreats. Danielle and Erika tucked this idea away for exploration as they reached the sacred monastery, and celebrated the breathtaking views from ancient vantage points.
This idea had taken root in their minds and spirits, and as they said farewell to Bhutan, to their new friends, and to their retreat, they vowed to explore the possibility when they arrived back in California. Fast forward a few weeks, and they found ourselves sitting down to lunch with Gayle. The three talented businesswomen brainstormed what a new partnership and a next chapter of Exotic Yoga Retreats could look like, together.
Six months down the line, Erika and Danielle are co-owners of Exotic Yoga Retreats alongside Gayle. They are all on a mission to build a thriving, sustainable business that makes a positive impact in people’s lives. They are committed to opening their Exotic Yoga Retreats family (meaning, clients, both new and returning) to worldly experiences in health, wellness, adventure, luxury, mindfulness and friendship.
The Exotic Yoga Retreats team is growing, with the addition of Lauren and Nina as their Client Relations and yoga Instructor leads. They support locally owned businesses around the world, and are actively scouting new adventures to add to their growing portfolio. All of this is possible because Danielle and Erika signed up for an adventure, said yes to a dream, and took the leap!
“Whether your travel and adventure dream is seeing a new country, trying out a yoga retreat for the first time, getting out of your comfort zone on a new travel experience, or deepening your practice in a focused way, we invite you to join us on retreat somewhere in the world soon. We’d be honoured to welcome you– or welcome you back– to our growing Exotic Yoga Retreats family.” – Danielle, Erika & Gayle.
Convinced this adventure to Bhutan is for you?
Enjoy $300 off this trip-of-a-lifetime! Use promo code EYRFAMILY to reserve your space and book before April 30th.
Want to meet Danielle and Erika, and ask them questions about their trip to Bhutan? Are you considering the 2019 Bhutan Cultural Immersion and Yoga Holiday? Exotic Yoga Retreats has set up an open Google Hangout session JUST FOR YOU! Ask Erika, Danielle, Nina and Lauren any questions you may have and start planning your trip to Bhutan!
There are plenty of motivational blogs and ‘productivity’ articles that profess the benefits of ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’ as an imperative habit to cultivate in order to achieve success and find fulfilment in life. The benefits are manifold, and many of these articles focus on this habit pattern within the workplace, or in relation to careers and personal projects. All outstandingly successful people speak of bold decisions, risk taking, backing themselves and an ever-ready willingness to embrace newness.
The logic behind this is quite straightforward: If you continually do things that are already known to you, that you find non-stressful and comfortably achievable, you never grow. Transformation is necessitated by breaking new ground and being ‘out of your comfort zone’. Not only does it drive change in life, it expands your ability, and it is energising – the more you open yourself up to, the more you find you can achieve.
Being a ‘stranger’ cultivates humanity
We need not only practice this habit pattern within the workplace. Travel is a fabulous (and, some may argue, even more enjoyable) way to expand your limits of familiarity and comfort. When we travel we immerse ourselves in new sights, sounds, tastes and sensations. We move from the familiar feeling of ‘belonging’ to being an outsider. In this way we renegotiate our identity. All that we’ve come to think of ourselves back home no longer matters, and we are ‘strange’ to others, as much as they are ‘strange’ to us.
This strangeness is a refreshing challenge. Through it, we are invited to learn more about ourselves. In travelling, we take leave of our daily lives, our jobs, our roles in our society, and in creating distance from this, we can view it anew. We can gain new insights, and maybe even garner a perspective needed to enact necessary changes that we could not see or bring ourselves to enact when immersed in normality.
Moreover, the new strangeness we recognise in ourselves brings us to a greater sense of empathy. We are just as strange as those we encounter in the societies we travel through, and thus, we are invited to look beyond superficial differences, and notice deep routed and profound commonalities. When we are able to recognise commonality across divergences, we cultivate humanity.
Embracing the unfamiliar = thinking out of the box
When we are traveling to new landscapes, negotiating a new language, and feasting on new sensations, we are not only moving out of comfort zone. On a cellular level we are cultivating new neurological connections. Our brain is able to reorganise and quite physically refresh itself.
Moreover, when we are in unfamiliar spaces we have to dispense with expectations. Travel is all about the ‘unplanned’ interruptions, delays and serendipitous occurrences. This is the beauty, and at times, exhausting frustration, of adventurous travel. This calls upon us to be ok with the unexpected. We let go of our dominating, hyper-organised mind patterns, and we let ourselves be truly surprised. In the age of Google, where we can search for and check out just about everything before encounter it in reality, this experience of surprise and the unknown is both rare and valuable.
The combination of new neurological connections, and the embrace of the unexpected, is the perfect recipe for creativity. In this way, travel helps us to cultivate creative thinking. We learn the new habits of discovery, open-mindedness and receptiveness. Moreover, when we let go of our control over the flow of the day, we venture into more intuitive and instinctive mind patterns, and this is precisely from where creativity flourishes.
Yoga and travel: the perfect balance of revitalisation
As much as moving out of your comfort zone cultivates positive change and personal growth, if we consistently push ourselves to do things we find hard with harshness, this can be detrimental and harmful. It’s also worth considering that many people who have consistently high stress levels, or entrenched anxiety disorders, have cultivated the mind-habit pattern of pushing themselves too far. Over time one loses their ability to gauge what is healthy pressure and what is harmful stress.
Indeed, the wisdom on challenging yourself to try things out of your comfort zone is that you should maintain self-aware. You should embrace newness within reason and not completely extend yourself, or forcing yourself to do something that doesn’t serve you, or is harmful to others.
This is a foundational lesson in yoga practice. In yoga class you may hear your instructor encouraging you to discover your ‘edge’ in a particular posture. This is calling upon you to practice leaning into discomfort within reason, and without hurting yourself, or those around you. Your ‘edge’ on the mat is that healthy stage of effort-filled practice that allows for progress, yet does not bring about injury or fatigue.
For this reason, yoga is a superb companion on your travels to unique and unfamiliar lands. On a daily basis on the yoga mat, you cultivate the habit of working to your ‘edge’ and navigating what is uncomfortable, and yet not harmful. This is a safe space to do it ‘on the mat’, and it prepares us to apply the same habit pattern over the day when we step out into the unknown world.
Indeed, this is the full expression of what ‘yoga’ should mean for us: A safe and healthy habit of mind and body patterns that has the power to expand into, and positively benefit, our daily lives. Travel and yoga are superb companions, bringing us to deepen our practice, refresh our thought and habit patterns, and gain new perspectives on ourselves and the world around. Most importantly, it encourages us to embrace the day, to revitalise on a deep physical and mental level, and thus return back home completely refreshed.
Find the right balance with Exotic Yoga Retreats. Join us on exotic travel in luxury and benefit from world-class yoga instruction. Why not savour the wildly unique destination ofKenya, orBhutan?
Each day on safari with Exotic Yoga Retreats is bookmarked by a sky ablaze with colour. Sunrise and sunset is when it’s best to view wild animals in the African bush. This calls upon us
to drop everything else we may be doing in order to observe and fully appreciate the profound twice daily occurrence. In the normal flow of life, as we go about fulfilling job requirements, or home and social responsibilities, we rarely notice this, and yet in the bush, it is the most important factor to a day.
As the sun rises and falls, there is a stillness that envelops the bushveld. The energy is charged, as if the landscape and all the wildlife on it have taken a collective inhalation. We pause in unison.
Once we return to our lodge after a morning game drive, there is commonly time for a lazy brunch, and then rest. Over the middle of each day, the heat in the African bush rises, and as the animals seek shelter from the sun and doze – so do safari guests.
Then, just as the heat starts to die down, it’s the perfect time for yoga. When you are in a safari lodge, it is not possible to simply take a run or walk for exercise – wild animals surround you! Although the lodge itself is completely safe, its advisable to only venture into the wilderness on a jeep or on foot with a game ranger.
This means that yoga is a wonderful form of exercise in the African bush. You can enjoy a class on a deck, or veranda, with wilderness views and in the safety of the lodge grounds. Not only does it offer us the opportunity to stretch, tone and re-align, but it also keeps in with the rhythm of the bush. Yoga is about observing energy, breath and body. These are all the components incorporated in an enjoyable safari jeep drive.
On safari in Kenya! Images courtesy of Sirikoi, our yoga safari location for Kenya 2019.
With quiet observation, we notice some incredible details in the wilderness of a safari landscape. This is also the case with observing our own minds and bodies through yoga and meditation.
After an afternoon yoga session, there is an opportunity to grab a delicious, healthy snack and cup of tea, before starting out on the evening game drive. Just as the African sky is licked with orange, red and pink flames, the game ranger brings the jeep to a halt, and you are invited to step out of the jeep and observe this inspirational natural phenomenon with a sundowner drink in hand. This is a safari tradition and an absolute joy! We pause in unison and celebrate the beauty of nature!
Upon return to the lodge for dinner, there is commonly an opportunity to dine under the stars. With year-round temperate conditions, dining al-fresco is frequently an option. As the African bushveld has little light pollution, the stars are simply magical. The sky is lit up like a royal banquet. Surrounded by nature we feast!
When it’s time to retire for the night to your private suite, we drink in the soothing sounds of pristine wilderness. Sleep in the Africa bush is guaranteed to be sweet after a perfectly balanced day and plenty of fresh air. This is the moment to surrender, and to drift into the dreamscape of the African bush, before arising at dawn, refreshed and ready to dance with the rhythm of the wild once again.
Mapungubwe is an ancient archeological marvel, and stunning rock formation where the borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is of immense importance to African identity and history.
On our upcoming African Safari yoga retreat we are embarking on an excursion to visit Mapungubwe. We will be crossing over the mighty Limpopo River from our Botswana home for a week, Tuli Private Game Reserve, to engage in a startlingly profound and enriching cultural experience.
It is likely, if you are reading this from a country outside of Africa, that you have never heard of Mapungubwe. The relatively scant publicity of Mapungubwe outside of Africa is telling because this was a cradle for tribal kingdoms and African social progress long before Europeans set foot on the continent. It is commonly considered by westerners that African history only begins with the infiltration of European expansionism. In actual fact, African society and tribal economies were advanced, complex and progressively transforming long before European contact. Mapungubwe is unequivocal evidence of this.
This ancient location we will be visiting as part of our immersive, enriching, and unique retreat programme, has hosted several civilisations from 900 AD to the beginning of 1300 AD. Mapungubwe is considered by archeologists today to have been the first place in Africa to show class distinction (between royals and commoners), and it is the first place to separate a leader on the hill with the people scattered over the savannah below. It is also the first place to have a stone wall palace providing ritual seclusion for the sacred leader of the community.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a secret top-tip for travel and cultural-lovers alike.
As marvellous and fascinating as the society of the time was, it is just as interesting to contemplate how and why this settlement of roughly 5, 000 people vanished. Indeed, this World Heritage protected site is also a mystery tale. It was only discovered in the 20th century by archeologists. This means that the site remained completely untouched for thousands of years. All the burial sites, pottery, jewellery, rock formations and treasures of the wealthy trading community were abandoned and left in a purity until recent discovery.
Some speculate it could have been an earthquake that caused the society to flee, whilst others consider that the head of the royal family died. Another opinion touted is that this was one of the earliest and most profound traces of the effects of climate change on human settlement. Indeed, there is evidence from around 1300 AD, for 10 years, of a catastrophic drought in the whole of Southern Africa.
An award-winning museum has been built nearby the archeological site. This houses some of the most prized artefacts uncovered, including stunning gold beaded jewellery, poetry and a replica of the most famous discovery, a golden rhino (permanently housed at Pretoria University in South Africa’s capital city). Exotic Yoga Retreats guests will be lucky enough to have a guided tour of the site, as well as the museum. It is in opportunity to gain unprecedented insight into early Southern African society. The spiritual significance of the rock formations offer us an unforgettable encounter with the intersection between culture, history, nature and spirituality.
Does this cultural immersion on an African Safari yoga retreat appeal to you? Click here to discover more about our unique itinerary and join us this March!
Over New Year 2018/2019 I taught yoga on the Exotic Yoga Retreats Mexico retreat. It was a wondrous week of wellness, relaxation, nature immersion and fun. Many of those who participated in the week spoke of how their intentions for 2019 centred around being more present and aware in their daily lives.
It is often the case, especially when our lives get busy and work/family pressures heat up, that we lose our sense of presence. We become caught up in our dramas and deadlines and lose track of what is really unfolding. We also lose contact with what really matters to us and, often, our healthy habits and routines get thrown out the window in the process.
I have a close friend who describes her work week as a tunnel. She enters into it early on a Monday morning and only emerges on a Friday evening. Over each week she has no real recollection of what she ate and did aside from work, work, work. This ‘dark tunnel’ is an apt visualisation of what happens to us all when we lose our sense of presence. We are closed off from reality unfolding around us. Time passes in a haze. Imagine how many hours of your life have passed you by! This is tragic; each moment is unique, irreplaceable and precious.
Mindfulness – being present and aware in each moment – is like any other state of mind, it is habitual. it can only be introduced into your life if you cultivate it as a habit pattern. It cannot be forced. We can cultivate presence by making incremental and manageable small steps, that over time gain momentum and become effortless and continuous.
I’ve decided to collate some of my thoughts and teachings over the week on this topic into 4 simple interlinked points.
1. Choose one activity.
Choose an activity that has absolutely nothing to do with your work, or everyday responsibilities, that you love doing, and that does not require of you to be in front of a screen/mobile phone. Think of something that is a joy to do, and perhaps calls upon you to be creative and think differently. It must be something that is accessible for you start now. For example, dance / yoga/ tai chi/ walking/ painting/ pottery/ singing in a choir. Once you’ve chosen it, dispense with the expectation of yourself to be good at it. That is not the point at all. It is about pure enjoyment. You can be good at your work and other things in life, whether you’re talented at salsa dance classes or not is irrelevant. Now commit to doing this activity a minimum of 30 minutes a day, at least 3 times per week. If you can do it every single day, even better! When we do stuff without pressuring ourselves and with joy, we are immediately present. Its a 30 minutes to savour!
Now that you have chosen your joyful outlet, apply this simple directive to ensure you keep up doing it! PPSP:
PLAN – put the activity and the time you’re going to do it in your diary as you would a board meeting with your boss.
PRIORITISE – Of course, you can schedule your joyful outlet in the early morning, or late evening, or in your lunch break from work, but it is a meeting with yourself of the highest priority. It is non-negotiable.
START SMALL – Don’t expect yourself to immediately be dance champion in your city, practicing 2 hours per day. Schedule in manageable and achievable time frames.
PROTECT – Value this time and fiercely protect it. Make sure you spend at least 1 minute of this 30 minutes just observing yourself doing this thing you love. Just 1 minute!
3. Be OK with subliminal moments.
When there is a gap in your day of a few minutes, or a break in conversation with someone. Try to observe this gap and not react to it. Try to sit with the discomfort you feel when you stop. Observe.
4. Lean into feelings of discomfort.
If you catch yourself itching with impatience whilst getting ready for work, lean into this moment and try to stop reacting. It is usually when we experience discomfort, or a sense of impatience/dissatisfaction with life that we react and do things to try to not feel uncomfortable – to distract the mind. Over the day, try to lean into these moments and observe for a few seconds. Discomfort is the indicator that you are about to loose presence. It is actually a very valuable thing to feel. Consider it your presence alarm bell. Stop. Lean in. Don’t react.
I hope these are manageable and helpful points you can implement in your everyday life. Presence is the most fruitful gift, once grasped and experienced, it permeates and grows quickly.
There are packing-nerds (like me) who pack their bags weeks or more in advance of a trip. There are the packing-challenged, who procrastinate, digging out the suitcase until late night before travel. And then there are the cool, ‘packing is no big deal’ adrenaline junkies who leave packing for an international trip to just a few hours before the flight. For those of you who fall into the first two categories and would like to start your journey organized and stress-free, try these five travel tips — and let me know how it goes!
1. BE LIGHT — BRING ONE SUITCASE & ONE SHOULDER BAG
It’s much easier to keep track of — and carry — one shoulder bag and one suitcase. As soon as you start having small miscellaneous bags, you are bound to lose track of one! And if you’re like me and enjoy collecting gifts and treasures to bring home, try starting your trip with a suitcase that is only 2/3 full—leaving room to fit in souvenirs you find along the way!
2. BE ORGANIZED — DOWNLOAD THIS APP!
My new favorite travel companion is TripIt, an app that automatically downloads all of your travel information (flights, hotels, rental cars, etc.) into one master itinerary that is accessible on your phone, with or without internet. It also stores important travel documents such as passport information, driver’s license and emergency contacts. As you decide on each aspect of your trip, remember to use the same email address for all of your bookings!
3. BE HEALTHY
Carry a water bottle. Keeping hydrated is key to good health! Drink a full bottle of water en route to the airport; fill it again once you’re past security; then on the plane, ask the flight attendants to fill your bottle instead of using plastic cups — so by the time you’ve reached your destination, you’ve hydrated with at least three full bottles of water!
Carry healthy snacks with you. Consider what kind of snacks make you feel energized and satiated, and are easy to travel with. In my handbag I always carry a packet of unsalted nuts, an energy bar and an apple. When preparing for a day of travel, I include a few packets of instant organic oatmeal, a handful of ginger-lemon tea bags and two hard-boiled eggs for protein (which I politely wait to eat until I’m at an airport and refrain from eating on the plane due to smell!).
4. BE RELAXED
We all get anxious sometimes – how we deal with our anxiety is the true test of our yoga practice. Even with the best of planning, sometimes plans will get off track — this is the nature of travel (and life!) Remember to “stay in the flow” — and use a bit of humor instead of a complaint! If you feel yourself starting to stress out, reconnect with your breath through the simple pranayama breathing exercise Sama vritti: breathe in through your nose for a count of five, hold your breath for five, then exhale through your mouth for a count of five. This simple “equal breathing” exercise will relax your mind and calm your nervous system.
5. BE GRATEFUL
When travel is delayed or you are that lucky traveler chosen for a special security check, remember how incredibly fortunate you are to be standing in that line, traveling to a foreign destination and on your way to a yoga retreat — you are one of the luckiest persons in the world! Keep that in mind as you travel, and when a mishap happens, smile and spread your light!
SAMPLE RETREAT PACKING
As you pack for your yoga retreat, think layers – clothing that is versatile, multipurpose and in the same color family. Choose yoga leggings and tank tops that become part of an outfit for sightseeing or a nice dinner out. Add your favorite scarf or cute shoes to pull it all together. Bring a sweater for cool evenings, a comfy sweatshirt for lounging and a lightweight compressible down jacket to keep you warm in transit on planes and trains. Make sure you love each piece you bring, because you’ll be wearing it more than once!
• depending on the retreat, a pair of casual, comfy shoes that have a little style
• airplane outfit: something warm and layered, a hat or scarf to keep warm, a compressible down jacket
• bathing suit and wrap
• 3-5 tank tops or T-shirts to use for yoga that can double as day wear
• 3 yoga pants: one short, one capri and one full-length
• feather-light, compressible down jacket or cozy fleece
• a lounge outfit consisting of your favorite sweatshirt and leggings.
Travel kit for the plane or train
• eye pillow
• ear plugs
• immune booster (vitamin C or Source Natural’s Wellness Formula)
• scarf to use as blanket or wrap to stay warm on flight
• water bottle, tea bags and healthy snacks
• 2 international power adapters
• a back-up ATM card to get cash
• copy of your passport, in a separate bag from your passport
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.
Then take half the clothes and twice the money”. – Susan Heller