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Villa Benvenuti Exterior

Villa Benvenuti

Sometimes in life a series of events sets off a chain reaction that results in an outcome that is beyond your expectations. This is exactly how I ended up spending 7 days at a yoga retreat in a centuries old Tuscan villa just outside of Lucca back in June. I got to spend the week with four incredibly beautiful and talented women who shared their laughter, life lessons and hearts with me. I got to spend the week  in an amazing villa, surrounded by vineyards and luscious green gardens. I got to fall asleep daily in a hammock under the trees, or on a sun lounge by the pool. I got spoilt with delicious Tuscan food, vegetarian of course, and a cheeky glass of wine with dinner, made from the grapes grown on the property. The retreat was at the delightful Villa Benvenuti, which is also available for private hire, and consisted of all food, accommodation and twice daily yoga & pilates.

Villa Benvenuti Yoga Room

Our yoga teacher for the retreat was Lauren from 19r Yoga and Pilates, originally from New York and currently residing Florence. Lauren started us off each morning with an invigorating Ashtanga sequence in the dedicated yoga space on the top floor of the villa. Afterwards we would head downstairs for breakfast of home made muesli and toast with local jam and honey.

Villa Benvenuti Breakfast

During the day we had free time for bush walking, a swim in the pool, a massage with the delightful Isabelle, or of course a sleep in the hammock.

Villa Benvenuti Chair Massage

Enjoying a chair massage from Isabelle the onsite masseuse

Villa Benvenuti Pool

In the afternoon we would head back up to the yoga room for about half an hour of ab-focused pilates, after which we would pick up our mats and head outside to the grass for some inversion practice and yin yoga.

Headstand on the grass

Towards the end of the week we did a cooking class with the retreat chef Maria-Angela. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how good the food is yet but it was ah-maze-ing, there was not one meal that I didn’t go back for a second helping. I think we were all trying to think of ways that we could bring her back to Australia with us. In our cooking class Maria-Angela taught us to make Gnocchi with pesto, over a cheeky glass of prosecco of course.

Maria-Angela making gnocchi

Maria-Angela demonstrating how to make gnocchi

The town of Lucca was only 15 minutes away from the villa, so we spent a bit of time exploring the ancient walled city and eating some of the best Gelati we found on the entire trip to Italy.

The week was truly amazing and if you are ever looking for an unforgettable yoga retreat experience in Europe I can’t recommend Villa Benvenuti enough.

L xx

Savasana or Corpse Pose probably has to be one of my favourite poses. My fiancé likes to refer to it as ‘the lie down bit at the end’, and it certainly is a great chance for relaxation at the end of class, but it is also so much more than that. After a yoga practice Savasana allows us to connect in with our parasympathetic system and make sure our body benefits from all the work we have just done.

The parasympathetic system is often referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ function; it works in opposition to the sympathetic system, or our ‘fight or flight’ response. The fight or flight response uses your body’s energy sources to prepare for a stressful situation, whereas the rest and digest  system helps restore the body’s energy. As suggested by referring to the parasympathetic system as ‘rest and digest’, it also increases blood flow to the gut and aides digestion. Savasana is particularly important if we’ve done a strong yoga practice and raised our heart rate; it brings the body back into a balanced state.

For me, Savasana is like an old friend, I know it is always waiting for me at the end of my practice and while we may not always get on, it’s always there for me when I need it. On some days I can’t wait to get through my practice so that I can flop into Savasana and on other days lying in Savasana feels like an eternity and no matter how hard I try I can’t surrender to its calm. Either way there is always a comfort in knowing that the pose is there when I need it.

My relationship with Savasana wasn’t always comfortable, particularly as a beginner when there were times when Savasana almost felt like torture. If this is you, try to stick with it, the calm will come and I can’t stress how important this pose is. Constantly hanging out in fight or flight mode stresses and exhausts our body, Savasana is a chance to reboot and replenish the body, not to mention it’s nice to have a little lie down at the end of class.

L xx

The Boyfriend and I have spent the last 4 days in Siem Reap exploring the temples of Angkor, having massages and eating banana pancakes. Siem Reap is a beautiful reprieve after the chaos of Phnom Penh and words cannot describe how amazing the Angkor temples are.

Yesterday we headed to the Peace Cafe across the river from the Old Market for a morning yoga class and some breakfast but when we got there the yoga class was cancelled because the teacher was away. My disappointment was palpable to say the least, since we’ve been in Cambodia my yoga asana practice has been non-existent and I was really looking forward to giving my body a well deserved stretch.

Peace Cafe Sign

Yoga-less and slightly despondent we sat down to order some breakfast. Shortly after an American couple showed up asking about the yoga class and were also told it had been cancelled, at which point a Welsh guy who had been sitting having a coffee said that he had come for the class as well. They all seemed really keen, so I offered to lead the class if the cafe could provide the room and the mats. So somehow, in that random way things seem to happen when you are travelling, I ended up teaching a yoga class to a few Farangs above a Cambodian cafe.

Peace CafePeace Cafe Comfy Chairs

The cafe had a great yoga space above the kitchen and afterwards I sat down to a lovely (read: hippy) breakfast of scrambled tofu, a green smoothie and an oatmeal cookie. Peace cafe is an absolute vegetarian paradise, if you’re ever in the area make sure you stop by the food is great and the juices are uber-fresh.

Peace Cafe Green Smoothie

L xx

Last night I went to my first AntiGravity Yoga class at House of Yoga in Redfern. If you haven’t heard of AntiGravity Yoga it’s basically a series of yoga postures done using the assistance of a big hammock. Upon walking into the studio at House of Yoga I was greeted by rows of white silk hammocks that swing from bolts in the roof. The hammocks are big enough to completely envelope you in your own little cocoon, or as the teacher Holly described it, like being back in the womb.

AntiGravity Yoga

We start the class relaxing in the aforementioned silky white cocoon, and then get straight into the good stuff; inversions, we spent the next five odd minutes hanging upside down with our legs intertwined in our hammocks. One of the great things about AntiGravity Yoga is that it makes inversions a lot more accessible; it takes the pressure off your neck that you might experience in headstand and also removes some of that fear that often pops up when trying to get your body upside down because the hammock just feels so darn safe and supportive. Inversions are fantastic for improving your circulation, alleviate compression in the spine and get you to see the world from a different perspective. So, if you are planning on heading to an AntiGravity class be prepared to spend a bit of time upside down, however if you have high blood pressure or detached retinas it’s best to avoid inversions.

After hanging upside down for a while we moved into some hip openers and back bends, including a very ambitious attempt at a standing split on my part. Then we worked on gripping the hammock and using our upper body strength to pull ourselves up into different positions ie pike & straddle. In regular, run-of-the-mill, gravity bound yoga there is a decent amount push (chataranga) but there is no pull, so it was great to be able to work the biceps and back muscles.

To finish off the class we laid back down in the silky white cocoon for blissful savasana, and it was one Ah-mazing savasana, set off by the gentle swaying of the hammock and the supportive feeling of being gathered up in the light white fabric.

There is defintely a space for  AntiGravity Yoga alongside my regular Hatha practice, it is challenging, exhilarating, blissful and oh so fun. If you feel like shaking up your yoga practice and trying something different, give it a go.

Check out this video from lululemon to give you an idea what to expect in an AntiGravity class:

After just one class, do you think it’s too soon to get an AntiGravity hammock installed in my house?

L xx

Most people are familiar with the concept of Yin and Yang, they are the two interdependent yet opposing forces that make up the universe; dark and light, cold and hot, passive and active, etc, etc.

You might think that all yoga is inherently yin, however when compared to other forms of yoga such as sweaty vinyasa or physically demanding ashtanga, Yin Yoga is much slower and passive.

Yin and Yang

Yin Yoga targets connective tissue, stretching around the joints as opposed to stretching the muscle. Anyone familiar with exercise or sports will know that generally adding pressure or strain to the joints is a no-no, mostly because when done incorrectly the chances of injury are quite high. In Yin Yoga the idea is to gently stretch the connective tissue by holding a pose for a generous amount of time (at least 2-3 minutes), resulting in lovely luscious connective tissue which is stronger and longer.

The long holds and slow movements foster a deep sense of relaxation, which is absolutely divine after a long day at work. Most of the poses are either seated or reclining and holding the pose for a  long time is great for flexibility and calming the mind. However, for this exact reason it can also be one of the more mentally challenging yoga practices. If you find it hard to shut off or let go of thoughts, Yin Yoga will definitely be hard at first, but if you stick with it the benefits will be amazing; quieter mind, healthy and happy joints, stillness, mental stability and lower stress levels.

L xx

SFO Yoga Room Interior

Air travel can be stressful, not to mention hard on the body; we were not designed to sit for 8+ hours in a cramped space. It’s not uncommon to see passengers stretching in the aisle of a plane or stretched out on the floor of the airport lounge during a lay over, so the unveiling of a Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport makes perfect sense.

SFO Yoga Room

The Yoga Room is the “first of its kind” and consists of a 14 square metre space with hard wood floors, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and loaner yoga mats.

Drawing inspiration from contemporary color and light artists, the architects of Terminal 2, Gensler, designed a room enveloped in a calming blue color. A floating wall symbolizes a buoyant spirit and enlightened mind. Light levels are set low and warm in juxtaposition to the bright, light filled concourse.

San Francisco International Airport, I love you and your yoga embracing ways, you’ve really outdone yourself, thank you for paving the way and hopefully many more airports will follow in your footsteps.

I have a five hour lay over at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in two weeks, do you think they could get a yoga room installed before then? Reasonable request, don’t you think?

L xx

Old Cassette

For me, music and yoga go hand-in-hand, a well crafted playlist has the power to take me deeper into my practice and deliver a mind-blowingly good savasana. Some songs make it into my yoga playlist over and over again, while others come and go but each of them help add an extra dimension to my practice. Some days what you really need when you get to your mat is silence, other days it’s an insanely awesome yoga playlist… either way I wholeheartedly encourage you try spicing up your yoga practice with a few tunes and see how it makes you feel.

Here are the tunes that are currently residing in my yoga playlist (Click through on the links for the YouTube clips):

Limit to Your Love – James Blake

Destiny – Zero 7

How Come You Never Go There – Feist

Crosses – Jose Gonzalez

Lordy May – Boy & Bear

Brother – Matt Corby

The Cave – Mumford & Sons

Home Sweet Home – Lady of the Sunshine

Breath Me – Sia

She’s Only Happy in the Sun – Ben Harper

This playlist will see me through a good 40 minute session, and is definitely suited to a yin style practice with nice long holds and a whole lotta breathing. And savasana at the end to Sia and Ben Harper is divine.

L xx

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