Life & Style | Yoga

Take a New Year's resolution retreat

We’re all pledging that this will be the year we eat, exercise or live a little better. But why not make good on your promises when you jet off on holiday, too? We show you how to go beyond the traditional book-and-beach break and kick-start your healthiest, happiest year yet

  • By Kate Birch, Aquairus magazine
  • Published: 11:16 January 21, 2013
  • Aquarius

Take a New Year's resolution retreat
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Sporty types can learn to scuba dive, kite surf and horse ride, in destinations as diverse as Morocco, Ecuador, Thailand and Australia.

THIS YEAR I WILL… LEARN A NEW SKILL

Take an edu-vacation to either learn a new skill or hone the hobby you have. An increasing number of travel companies are boasting breaks where you can learn everything from scuba diving to speaking a language. Go Learn To (www.golearnto.com) is one such company where you can book enrichment retreats in almost any area. For foodies, there’s culinary courses, from learning to cook a type of cuisine (from Russian to Thai) to specialist cookery breaks for those want to learn specific skills... think truffle hunting in Italy, or a four-day charcuterie and butchery course in France.

For creative types, there’s everything from photography and painting breaks, to holidays where you can learn to dance, play a musical instrument or craft something. We love the three-day perfume making break in France’s fragrance capital, Grasse (20 minutes from Nice airport) where you learn to concoct the perfect perfume. The programme, plus overnight stay and breakfast, will cost you just Dh1,490. Meanwhile, sporty types can learn to scuba dive, kite surf and horse ride, in destinations as diverse as Morocco, Ecuador, Thailand and Australia. And if you don’t want to limit yourself to learning just one new skill, opt for a double-up break… combine horse riding with wine tasting in Bordeaux; surfing with Spanish lessons in Costa Rica or cooking with photography in Morocco.

Another hobby holiday company is Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com), which fuses sightseeing with the development of skills… learn to play polo in Argentina, scuba dive in the Red Sea, or speak Gaelic in Scotland. For expertise in specific areas, however, take note: if you want to improve your writing skills, take a writing holiday on Skyros Island in Greece, which delivers writing-based workshops from distinguished writers (www.skyros.com); if you want to improve your photography skills, look no further than Creative Escapes (www.creative-escapes.co.uk); and if you want to learn a new painting technique, try Frui (www.frui.co.uk). Looking for longer than just a week or two? Offering what they call the ‘Gap Year for Grown Ups’, Inspired Breaks (www.inspiredbreaks.co.uk) has adult educational breaks, from one week to one year. Learn to speak Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala, from one week (Dh1,760) to four weeks (Dh4,700), including a stay with a host family, full meals, four hours a day language tuition and weekly afternoon activities, such as salsa classes and Spanish movie visits.

…STOP SMOKING
The Stop Smoking Programme at medical spa SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain (www.shawellnessclinic.com) claims to help you quit the cancer sticks for good, working both on physical and psychological conditions.
Treatments on this seven-day programme are customised and include macrobiotic diet, herbal medicine, acupuncture, laser therapy and oxygen therapy, with a focus on ensuring you don’t relapse. You also get a personalised post-treatment health plan and two months of follow-up consultation by email. Other activities include talks, yoga, t’ai chi, walks, lectures and healthy cooking classes. Dh9,700.

THIS YEAR I WILL

...IMPROVE MY MEMORY
A health-focused resort, the Canyon Ranch Tuscon (www.canyonranch.com) has a Life Enhancement Centre, offering a variety of programmes, including the week-long focus on brain fitness and longevity in October 2013. A team of experts share techniques designed to help keep your brain fit for life.

Not only will your mind get a workout, but you’ll learn smart strategies and have a brilliant break... think dining on nutritious cuisine, spa treatments, 12 fitness sessions and bike rides through desert canyons.

...CHANGE MY JOB
The Big Career Stretch, a one-week retreat in Spain (www.thebigstretch.com) can help you achieve clarity and confidence to go in a new direction.

Things that may be holding you back are addressed, while the ‘idea generation’ boosts your creativity. It may be the answer to your career questions, push you into taking a risk, or just clarify what you’re capable of. Dh13,200, including programme, coaching on your return, room, all gourmet meals and Malaga airport transfers.

…GET FIT
Fitscape (www.fitscape.co.uk) offers all-inclusive (except flights) seven-night tailored fitness programmes from Dh1,395, aimed at upping your fitness and motivation levels. A personal trainer creates a high-energy programme for you, selecting a mix of up to eight fitness sessions a day, including one-on-one fitness training, hiking, strength-building or cardio circuits, core fitness sessions, running, mountain biking, boxercise and sports-specific training (from golf to tennis). Choose from three destinations, including a five-star hotel in the Dolomite mountains, Italy; a boutique hotel in Spain; and a mountain-top Kasbah in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

THIS YEAR I WILL… LOSE WEIGHT
Combine a diet regime with a holiday to help you not just shake off the festive excess but also kick-start healthy habits for the year. Probably the best-known of the weight-loss spas, Viva Mayr Clinic (www.viva-mayr.com) on the shores of Austria’s picturesque Lake Worth, claims it can help you lose 8lb (3.6kg) a week. Though pricey (Dh830 per night for full-board room and programme) it offers a strict and effective cure that purges the body of toxins, promising to not only shift a significant amount of weight, but also give you more energy and younger-looking skin. You learn how to chew properly, become aware of your own digestive system’s rhythms, cut down on carbs and portion sizes and increase unsaturated fatty acids. The focus here is not just losing weight, but teaching you healthy habits, so you don’t put the weight back on when you leave. It’s a similar story at leading medical spa SHA Wellness Clinic (www.shawellnessclinic.com), which offers a two-week Intensive Weight Loss Programme, for those who want to banish the bulge both instantly and long-term. It combines diet, exercise and other therapies (from lymphatic drainage massage, to colon hydrotherapy and acupuncture) near the beach in the Valencia region of Spain... and you leave with a personalised health programme and continue to get two months email coaching and consultation.Dh23,000 for two weeks.

If however, the emotional side of eating is what’s causing you weight issues, try NuBeginnings (www.nubeginnings.co.uk) in the UK, a week-long weightloss retreat, which not only claims an average weight loss of 10lbs but also specifically addresses your “relationship with food.” You spend the week, walking and exercising in the open air, eating small, healthy meals, and undertaking hypnotherapy in order to reprogramme your attitude to food, with talks on nutrition and an NLP session to set goals.

THIS YEAR I WILL…

MAKE LIFE CHANGES

Stuck in a rut? At a crossroads? Feeling low? There are a number of companies offering holidays that fuse life coaching and therapy within stunning settings. These claim to help you reappraise your life in order to bring about positive change. The Big Stretch (www.thebigstretch.com) is one. Developed by a psychologist and strategist, it offers week-long retreats, combining quiet time in the natural landscape of the Alpujarras mountains of Sierra Nevada in Spain (just an hour from Malaga airport), with mental stimulation, coaching and creative problem-solving activities by experts, to help you “pinpoint fresh starts and bold actions and bring laser-like focus on big questions, so you can make sound choices, fast.” Your days include creative thinking, outdoor walking and activities and individual coaching sessions, while your evenings can be spent at the Michelin-starred restaurant in the nearby village, or on an alfresco picnic. Dh13,250.

The Life Change People (www.thelifechangepeople.com) are another company catering to those in need of a life change. Their most popular programme, The Counselling Retreat, Chiang Mai, Thailand, condenses four months of counselling, life coaching and therapy into a unique and individual Change Therapy Programme, that, say founders Alex Gunn and Chrissy Richman, help “clarify your decision-making, increase your confidence, overcome challenges in your life and find new ways forward while on holiday.” For Dh5,500, you get seven nights in a beautiful five-star boutique hotel, a personalised therapy programme and 12 weeks follow-up online counselling and life coaching. As it’s also a holiday, you can take advantage of activities such as elephant trekking, Thai cooking classes and even flying lessons… let them know what you enjoy, and they’ll tailor-make a programme for you.

Finally, claiming to help you “leave behind life’s limitations, recharge your passion and go for what really matters,” Life Choices holidays are set in the Sporades Islands in Greece, where you stay in an apartment just 10 minutes from the beach. Choose a programme that’s right for you, from one to two weeks: try The Path of Happiness, two weeks in June (Dh5,855) or Transform Your Life, two weeks in August (Dh7,330). You get half-board accommodation, the Life Choices course and early-morning yoga. www.responsibletravel.com.


“I WANT TO BECOME A FULLY FLEDGED YOGINI”

Regular yoga bunny Charlotte Cox heads off to sunny Sardinia to learn how to improve her skills and see if she can achieve her ultimate goal – the elusive headstand

Having attended yoga classes for just over a year and always struggling with the same old poses, I travelled to a yoga retreat in Sardinia to see if I could improve. I wanted, for once, to feel a bit more graceful, flexible and poised. In short, I wanted to feel more yoga bunny, less Yogi Bear. But, as a novice, the idea of a full-on yoga break had always scared me. A week surrounded by serious pros? Eating nothing but mung beans? Having to wear, gulp, tie-dye clothing? No, thanks.

Imagine my relief when I arrived at the friendly, sun-drenched Sardinia Yoga. There were people sunbathing. And relaxing in the pool. And eating carbs. The four-star Grand Hotel, home to Sardinia Yoga, is tucked away in an enclave of the Costa Smeralda coastline. With its own beach, pool and day beds among the olive trees, it’s a world away from the more basic accommodation of some yoga breaks.

“We wanted to create an accessible holiday for people who like yoga, but are not absorbed in the lifestyle,” explains Sardinia Yoga’s spokesman. It was evident that this is a popular approach. Each person in the group went to Sardinia to work on their yoga practice, but also for a darned good holiday.

Days at Sardinia Yoga begin at 7am, with two hours of yoga by the sea, held in a space perched halfway down the hillside, overlooking the sea, and, as we began, the sun rose gradually to reveal idyllic sands and lush greenery.

I found the yoga itself as mesmerising as the surroundings. Our teacher expertly guided the group through hatha poses that worked on our full range of movement and were taught at a pace to suit everyone. While the beginners were never left behind, there was plenty to challenge the more experienced.

But most important was the sense of fun that filled each class. As the week continued, the moves became more challenging, but the collaborative nature of the group meant
I was keen to try new feats and free to giggle at my more Yogi Bear-ish blunders.

After two hours of yoga, the group had earned a reward. And that came, each day, in the form of a huge buffet brunch served at the hotel’s open La Terrazza restaurant. These were not the meager rations I had envisaged – there were Italian pastas, seafood, meats and salads, all bursting with freshness.

It was also an opportunity to get to know the others and make plans for the rest of the day. From sailing trips to cooking lessons, there’s plenty to do – or simply soak up the sun.

The trouble is, you can get very used to this blissed-out lifestyle, so the walk down to the morning yoga class on my final day was a sad one. But my instructor soon swept away any thoughts of home with a challenging final class, promising us that we could do things we never thought possible. And, as my feet left the ground and I pulled off my first ever headstand, I had to agree. A great opportunity to take my yoga further and meet fantastic new people, Sardinia Yoga turned my world upside down in more ways than one.

Priced from Dh1,945 for three nights, and from Dh4,200 for seven nights, including accommodation, two hours of yoga daily and daily brunch. Opens in May 2013, www.sardiniayoga.com.

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