By Kirstie Christensen.
I have to be completely honest, I procrastinated writing this article for weeks, it was pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do list’ time and time again. So much happened in my one week Italian adventure, how could I possibly summarise my experience in a couple of pages?
Lucky for me, I was given a deadline. As I (finally) sat down to write, I thought to myself, firstly, wow what a week, I could write a short book on all my amazing experiences. Then, secondly, I tried to pinpoint my favourite moments of the trip. Asking myself what did I enjoy most? The simplicity of the Italian cuisine, the exposure to authentic Italian music, the breathtaking landscape, the ancient architecture, the art and history, the people I connected with along the way or simply the time and space I created for myself? I quickly came to the conclusion that there were no favourites, I loved every moment, every moment was unique and loved for different reasons.
The decision to go
After approximately three minutes of contemplation on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in the office I booked my flights. From that moment I approached my European adventure with enthusiasm and passion (once I had drawn up a detailed spreadsheet outlining the logistics of my three children for the week). It was time to celebrate, the stars had aligned and the universe had presented me with a wonderful week-long gift.
The name of the ‘Yoga Holiday’ was SAVOUR. The concept of savouring and being present in the moment resonated and spoke to me loud and clear as did a trip to Italy and doing what I love most…..Yoga! It was a win win in my eyes.
Firstly I would like to say….Italy…I love you! From the minute I boarded the high speed train from Milano and set eyes on your spectacular countryside you stole my heart….forever.
A yoga holiday, not a yoga retreat
Here is my personal experience of my first ‘Yoga Holiday’. This was not a ‘Yoga Retreat’. What is the difference you ask? Well a yoga retreat often includes many hours of yoga classes each day, dietary limitations and structured schedules. A Yoga Holiday on the other hand, while there is still plenty of yoga, offers so much more. Savour Italy presented endless opportunities to savour all that Italy had to offer – beautiful countryside, organic markets and cooking experiences, local organic wine, day excursions exploring the natural enviroment and local historic towns and the warm hospitality and shared celebration the Italian culture is famous for, and everything was optional.
Welcome to Le Marche
The Le Marche region of central Italy is breathtaking and full of charm. It attracts visitors seeking the taste of genuine Italy, untouched by mass tourism. Our accommodation at Oasi Biologica is known as an ‘Agriturismo’ — a working organic farm and winery run by a local ‘bellisimo Italiana’ family. The farm is an oasis of peace, nestled between the green hills around Ascoli Piceno, among vineyards, olive groves and endless rows of fruit tress. The vast landscape reminded me of a beautiful patchwork quilt. The still unspoilt nature was the perfect place to restore my mind, body and spirit.
On arrival (after a few missed turns in my little rent-a-fiat), I was welcomed with open arms by the owners Giovanni and Irma, a friendly smile and a much needed coffee, “uno macchiato prega” (one macchiato please). Oh the coffee! I have to admit, I love my coffee, and it is fair to say that Italy’s coffee culture is one of the world’s finest. Coffee is enjoyed standing up, usually at the bar and the options are limited, the Italians are all about simplicity, “thou shalt not muck around with the authentic and natural beauty”. This applies not only to the coffee but to the Italian food as well.
They say people either “eat to live” or “live to eat”. When I was backpacking in Italy 18 years ago I was eating to live, to survive, however, this time it was a very different experience. The Italian’s celebrate food, they eat seasonal and local produce and they share their meals with family and friends. We were lucky enough to spend an afternoon in the kitchen with Irma, learning the art of making biscotti and an evening in the basement of the farm amongst the wine vats, with Giovanni walking us, step by step, through the organic wine making processes. Read this article, written by one of the Savour Italy hosts, Janet Lowndes, for a more detailed description of the Italian food experience.
I love the Italian people. They are kind, modest, gentle and completely relaxed. The connections I made, with my limited Italian dialogue and their limited English, were unforgettable. I learnt that you don’t need words to connect and communicate, facial expressions and gestures can tell a story and create lifelong friendships.
Let’s talk yoga, after all this was a Yoga Holiday. Firstly, what type of yoga did we practice? Did it involve making shapes on our yoga mats all day? Absolutely not. To practice yoga asana (postures) a yoga mat is very helpful, however, yoga is so much more than asana and very little of yoga requires a yoga mat. Yoga is about connecting, coming together and uniting. When I say this, I am referring to the connection of the mind and body, the connection with your breath, the connection with other people (the sanga / community), the connection with your external environment, Mother Nature, connection with your ‘self’ and a connection and understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves.
Michael opened our first session together as a group with a quote by William James “Our lives are the sum total of whatever we have chosen to focus our attention on.” This quote sang to me and I decided from that moment my intention, my sankalpa, for my Italian adventure was to pay attention and see what happened. I disconnected from the digital world and decided to truly live in the now.
So, although we practiced on our mats most mornings and evenings, the yoga element of the holiday was integrated into every moment of every day, it was about connecting and savouring. Whether it was picking a bunch of organic grapes from the vines, noticing the distant sounds of bells from the local hilltop village, gazing at the ornate ancient architecture or simply noticing the sweet aromas escaping from the kitchen before meal times.
Paying attention and connecting
I quickly realised it was quite difficult to pay complete attention and connect with each precious moment. First I needed to adapt, as everything in Italy is a little different from being at home. The time difference was a big one, the weather and the effects on my skin and hair, the food (I have never eaten so much bread and cheese in all my life), the language (ordering an espresso and receiving a large milky coffee). What challenged me the most was the gift of space and time I had all to myself. I have a busy life back in Australia with work and children and I was not used to or comfortable with this feeling of spaciousness. At first I found myself reacting instead of adapting, it was confronting and I felt a little anxious. Then I was able to ‘let go’ and surrender.
Once I was able to let go and connect, I was able to REALLY notice, to pay complete attention. This is when the magic happened. I started to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I felt a racing sense of excitement and burst of energy but at the same time I felt calm. As the days went by the feeling intensified and I felt so many wonderful emotions, gratitude, love, but most importantly I felt content and I felt happy.
Not only did I have all these wonderful feelings radiating from the inside, my vitality levels increased, my quality of sleep improved and my inward journey during my asana practice deepened.
Savouring the extraordinary in the ordinary
As we waved arrivederci (goodbye) to Oasi Biologica and headed to Rome I decided to continue my ‘Italian intention’, I was committed to paying attention and seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Since arriving home, I can honestly say, I have brought a piece of Italy with me. I am savouring my moments, I am taking time for ‘me’ and connecting with my family and friends in a way I have not done before. I am happy to have returned home a better version of myself, stronger and clearer, more grateful.
My week in Italy was an adventure of a lifetime, memories were made that I will forever cherish and new habits formed that have positively changed my life.
Thank you Savour Italy.
With gratitude x