The Secret to Travelling and Travelling Well

There have been two significant moments on my yoga journey. Two occasions that made my myriad attempts to stand on one leg, one arm, one toe, a journey at all. There have been two teachers and two destinations.

After those moments, that was it, my body and mind found the rhythm, entered the flow. After years of falling around, of furious shaking (ok, I still shake), and having teachers give me that look, I finally, simply, instantly, understood what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps all those former failures weren’t failures, but rather the first cobblestones of my yoga path. Perhaps, I just hadn’t found the right teacher.

It happened first in a quiet corner of the lawn, beneath trees that hid the sky, at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in Johannesburg. I sat beside Julia Geffers, a yogi much further along on her journey, but a runner, like myself. We had a connection. It was just the two of us. And not once did she give me that look.

As the air cooled around us on the September afternoon, Julia guided me through the positions, focusing on opening the hips, something runners cannot focus enough on. We closed our eyes and perhaps it was the serenity of the hotel’s gardens or the fact that neither of us had been able to go for a run in days and were aching to stretch and move, but my body, my hips, my joints, my toes found a new strength and breath. And they flowed. Simply, beautifully, and even with a little co-ordination. I felt the stillness for the first time. The quiet sense of presence that all the mat-carrying enthusiasts I had met in my life had talked about.

But I know that it also had a lot to do with my teacher. With her lack of judgement, her gentleness, her patience, her own comfort within herself, and an enviable strength that at once called on my own to take to the mat.

As Julia turned upside down and proceeded to stand on her head, I contentedly sat back and watched. One day, I said.

And I’ve been practicing ever since.

In the meantime, Julia sends me images of her doing headstands wherever in the world she finds herself. Wherever there is a flat, quiet piece of earth, she rolls out her mat and tinkles her toes at the sky.

I started to see the accessibility of yoga. While I couldn’t run everywhere in the world, for instance not alone down foreign streets at night, or while in big cat country, I could do yoga anywhere. In my hotel room, in the garden, on the pool deck.

So when I found myself a couple thousand kilometres further north, at ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya, I saw a yoga mat in the closet and a printout of a few yoga poses and I leapt. Every free moment I had, I felt a great draw to pick up the mat and roll it out in front of my villa, looking out over the vast plains, at the zebra and giraffe moving slowly, slowly.

I sat the instructions down in front of my feet and let myself take over as teacher, reconnecting with that quietness, that ease, that strength, that patience and that kindness that Julia had shown me.

During each session I felt a space of quiet enter the excitement that being on safari in a new land brings. A stillness between the busyness of having so much to do and to see. A silence between the many conversations. A belonging amid the strangeness, a sense of control amid the unknown. And a home while away.

Now at home in Cape Town, I have, without effort, held onto the practice. I feel the same gravitation to hug the earth and bend my body to salute the sun every time I see a quiet piece of ground (whether carpet, gravel, tile, grass, or wood) that Julia probably does.

And while I have a goal – that elusive headstand – I also have something much more, something that I can always access. I have a sense of peace, no matter where in the world I am. I have the secret to travelling and travelling well, to remaining present and fully feeling and enjoying the moment, whether on a lawn in Johannesburg or at a pool overlooking a waterhole in Kenya.

In case Julia’s upside-down stances can inspire you in the way they have me, here is a look at her feats executed all around the world, whether in the Damaraland Desert of Namibia on the Challenge4ACause cycle or a luxury tented camp overlooking the dramatic wilderness of Rajasthan in India.

Discover more about yoga at our Relais & Châteaux Africa and the Indian Ocean hotels and lodges in our blogs, from Delaire Graff Estate in the Cape Winelands to the wilderness of Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa and Royal Chundu on the Zambezi River.

 

 

15 Places in Africa for the Best Sleep of Your Life

I don’t think I have ever uttered the words, “Sleep when you’re dead.” I understand the notion behind the adage and I’m all for living a full and adventurous life. But that full and adventurous life includes sleep. Hours and hours of it.

I don’t enjoy sleep for the reasons Hemingway did. As he wrote, “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake.” But I do like the renewal of it,  like Ghandi. “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn,” the peacemaker once said.

Above: Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

I’ll admit, though, to sleep being an oddity… as George Carlin describes it:

“People say, ‘I’m going to sleep now,’ as if it were nothing. But it’s really a bizarre activity. ‘For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I’m going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.’

If you didn’t know what sleep was, and you had only seen it in a science fiction movie, you would think it was weird and tell all your friends about the movie you’d seen.

‘They had these people, you know? And they would walk around all day and be OK? And then, once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life. As they lay there, completely vulnerable to their enemies, their only movements were to occasionally shift from one position to another; or, if one of the ‘mind adventures’ got too real, they would sit up and scream and be glad they weren’t unconscious anymore. Then they would drink a lot of coffee.’

So, next time you see someone sleeping, make believe you’re in a science fiction movie. And whisper, ‘The creature is regenerating itself.’”

Above: AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, Johannesburg

I’m convinced that even those who say they contentedly live on only four hours of sleep a night would not turn down the offer of eight whole hours of sweet slumber. Perhaps all they’re missing is the time, or the right mood, the right setting, and the right company (which might very well be no company at all).

After all..

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” ― Anthony Burgess

Above: ol Donyo Lodge

So turn in early or sleep in late… but sleep. Sleep is essential to life, to a good life, a full life. It improves our concentration and productivity; it boosts energy and fitness; it makes us happier; it can improve metabolism; it makes us more sociable, more able to handle each other; it can improve memory; it makes us feel more relaxed; and as a result it enhances our experience of a destination while travelling.

Read more about the importance of sleep in this blog from Red Carnation Hotels, which features the Relais & Chateaux lodge, Bushmans Kloof in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa.

Above: Mara Plains Camp

Here are 15 places in Africa and the Indian Ocean with the promise of the best night’s sleep in your life. Whether for you that means a single down pillow and block-out curtains; the soft sounds of the sea lapping the shore; or leaving the spouse and/or children at home.

How you spend the wakeful hours is up to you… tire yourself out with adventures from sunrise to set or reset your mind and body with slow, restful relaxation.

20° Sud Boutique Hôtel, Mauritius

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, Johannesburg

Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, Cederberg Mountains

Camp Jabulani, Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa

The Cellars-Hohenort, Cape Town

Château de Feuilles, Seychelles

Seychelles

Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Winelands

Ellerman House, Cape Town

Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sand, South Africa

Mara Plains Camp, Kenya

ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

Royal Chundu, Zambia

Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, Zanzibar

Zarafa Camp, Botswana

Discover more unique places to sleep in our article, 10 Best Unexpected Rooms, on Instants, the Relais & Châteaux Magazine.

Why You Should Give Yoga Another Try

It’s easy to think that yoga is something for other people, as your head throbs while you attempt to rest the weight of thirty, forty, fifty years upon it. I kept hearing people say that, while it originated in India, “yoga is for everyone”. It doesn’t discriminate, but rather transcends religion, culture, race, gender and age. It may be easier to learn than the Argentine tango, but I often wondered, when glimpsing out from under my own shaky downward dog at the bumbling happening on the mats around me, if yoga is perhaps not for everyone.

And then I detected the changes.

The subtle ways my body started to give way more than it used to. The freeing of my breath from the chest and stomach. The quiet that replaced the noise. The stillness that transformed the tension. The passion that flowed back into the compassion. And the future that returned home to the present.

And what I realised was that yoga is something we get better at, the more time and energy we dedicate to it. It is a practice that demands practice and that rewards loyalty and tenacity, each time you roll out your mat. It feels foreign at first, as much as that tango, but, slowly, it becomes a part of you. And you, and you, and you.

It was the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, who called for a day dedicated to yoga, during a speech at the UN General Assembly:

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

The 21st of June was chosen as the date to celebrate the day on, as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and has a special significance in many parts of the world. Modi’s hope was for International Yoga Day to help spread the practice of yoga and its positive influence around the world.

As Indian spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said, “It is very difficult for any philosophy, religion or culture to survive without state patronage. Yoga has existed so far almost like an orphan. Now, official recognition by the UN would further spread the benefit of yoga to the entire world. India is the land where yoga was born and we must finally take the responsibility to spread it everywhere, starting from classrooms. This will help young people to move away from gun culture and violence.”

While spreading from north to south, east to west, yoga made a home in many of our lodges in remote parts of Africa, including Londolozi Private Game Reserve, with yoga teacher, BeJay Watson, and Royal Chundu, with Kundalini teacher, Live Shanti. In places where the stillness of the wilderness, the simple fresh air freedom, serves as the idyllic setting for yogis of still beginning their journey, wondering, as I have, if yoga really is “for everyone”, as well as the more advanced yogis.

Take a look below at one of Royal Chundu’s yoga retreats held on the banks of the Zambezi River and discover more about Londolozi’s yoga sessions in their blogs, Conscious Safari: Yoga at Londolozi, and A Place To Be: Londolozi’s New Yoga Deck 

“Why they always look so serious in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight at hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile. (From Ketut Liyer, the Balinese healer).”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love