I’ve recently returned from a fabulously relaxing week of yoga, mountain air and delicious home-made vegetarian food in the Alpujarra mountains near Granada. And I feel amazingly calm, much more so than I would have been a week or so earlier. That week “out”, away from the rat race, rebalancing myself was just what I needed – an opportunity for introspection, strengthening yoga practice, social interaction with delightful people and no obligation to think about humdrum matters of everyday routine. And breathe….
I’ve been doing yoga for just over 10 years now, albeit only for an hour and a half a week during term time. I do plenty of other kinds of exercise too, from my twice-daily dog walks, through dance, to tennis and badminton. Yet yoga is the one thing that really offers all-round benefits, being good for the body, mind and soul. Dog-walking is non-negotiable, of course, and I love it, but yoga has the ability to change your perspective on the world.
I first started soon after I separated from my then husband and felt the need to switch off and distract my mind from the ghastly anguish associated with an acrimonious divorce. The strengthening and stretching aspects were secondary in those days, but I soon found that the neck and back ache that used to afflict me after hours stooped over the computer had disappeared. The balance I improved through my yoga practice helped in my dance and tennis and I found I was walking taller and holding myself better. The breathing and meditation aspects were completely transformational for me, though – I learned how to step back from day-to-day worries and move into another, better place. Meditation allows you to acknowledge thoughts, accept them and then move on – something we all need to do from time to time!
This whole week of yoga practice at Las Chimeneas in the tiny pueblo blanco of Mairena, high in the Alpujarra mountains, was a revelation. Practising yoga for 2 to 2 ½ hours each morning on a beautiful bamboo-shaded terrace in the heart of the olive and orange groves, with the hum of cicadas and the melodious song of golden orioles in the background, was quite simply out of this world. On one occasion, after contorting ourselves into the tricky eagle posture, both arms and legs, we were astounded to see a booted eagle soaring overhead – almost as if he’d been summoned by our valiant efforts! We had another hour or so of practice late afternoon in a beautiful room in the village, overlooking the spectacular mountain vista, windows wide open to allow in the mountain breeze during one of the hottest weeks of the year. Our teacher, Carrie, was great fun, inspirational and not afraid to man-handle us into the necessary positions – just what you need, and you can really feel yourself improving on a daily basis with so much practice. Breathing in the fresh air and increased suppleness and stretchability in the heat were further advantages of a week devoted to yoga….
But this wasn’t just about yoga – it was also a chance to unwind fully, with no thoughts of work, apart from the odd check on e-mails every now and again – I could only get wi-fi in the main house and restaurant, so it really was a brief check-in. Carrie did moot having a gadget-free day on one occasion, but we must all have looked so horror-struck that it didn’t actually come about! Seriously though, being offline far more than online is a relaxation in itself, along with reading by the pool, chatting to fellow guests and eating healthy, yet delicious vegetarian food – with no restrictions on good coffee or wine! Trips to the higher echelons of the Sierra Nevada for a wonderful guided walk in the mountains, to a local bodega, olive press and weaver, and to Granada to visit the fabulous Alhambra, which surpassed even my keen gardener’s expectations, were the icing on the cake.
I’ve been trying to describe the sensation I’ve returned with after this holiday of holidays and I can only think of serenity: nearly two weeks into my chaotic freelance schedule, work coming out of my ears, and I still feel that sense of serenity and peace with the world. I’ve even stuck to the vegetarian diet, although possibly partly also because I’ve returned to more produce from my allotment than I know what to do with! We all need to switch off every now and again. I truly believe that not working at weekends and taking breaks at regular intervals is good for us: we work better as a result, and we’re fresher when we return to work. If that holiday also gives us a huge sense of well-being and the ability to take everything in our stride, then that’s a huge bonus. I’ll certainly be going again.