A gentle knock on the door at 7.15am alerts me to the fact that there is a cup of hot water and lemon waiting for me. I stretch out in the huge comfy bed and hover in that delicious state of semi-conscious slumber before gradually, peacefully, coming to. Then, I shimmy out of my room in a pristine white, cosy dressing gown with a sleepy smile on my face, gulp my lemon water in one and feel a surge of energy beginning to tingle through my body. I walk back to my room for the self-loving task of body brushing in a gloriously warm shower and feel as if I’ve already set my good intentions for the day – and it’s way before 8am. I pull back the curtains and gasp at the beautiful, autumnal countryside views from my window and sigh…is it all a just a dream, or have I woken up living the healthy, calm and peaceful life I always imagined? Read on and find out…
Since I returned from my holiday in Sardinia where pasta, pizza and Aperol Spritzes were the mainstay of my diet, I knew I had to take myself in hand, so I’d been tentatively cutting down on carbs and sugar, inspired by a couple of my friends who were singing the praises of feeling and looking so much better since doing so (blog post about this on the way shortly!)
I was actually beginning to drop a couple of pounds and was happy with this, but I still felt off-kilter. I’ve always known that a healthy diet and regular exercise goes a huge way into feeling good in yourself, but what about other factors, like stress? When that impacts your life, it’s easy to let your good intentions go out the window.
There have been so many stressful situations surrounding me and my family this year – I won’t go into detail but let’s just say, when you’re a mum and a wife, a sister, a daughter and a friend, the stress and worries that hit those you love are automatically taken on by you – even if those around you don’t want them to be – you can’t help it. If you’re anything like me, you want to try and fix things and make all the pain, stress and trauma go away. But sometimes you can’t. And that in itself is stressful – especially when you bundle it up with any personal dramas or problems you might be feeling yourself. We cope though don’t we? Because, especially as women – that is just what we do. So, when I got an email from one of my favourite Insta friends – Juls, inviting me to join her and the team at their Stress Reset Body Retreat, I could’ve danced. Well, I did dance – with the dog because nobody else was home!
A few days before I left for The Body Retreat, I filled up the fridge for the kidults, issued lists to Stressed Husband (recycling? What coloured boxes? Number for an ironing lady? Organising the dog to be walked?) checked the weather forecast for where I was heading in Somerset for the days ahead (torrential rain) and packed accordingly…3 pairs of walking boots, 10 fleeces, 20 pairs of warm walking socks. I was genuinely tempted to sneak in some coffee and mini wine bottles – as caffeine and alcohol were off limits at the retreat and not only was I really not sure about how I’d cope with that, friends and family were giving me looks that said, ‘You! No coffee or wine? Pah’. Bit of a worrying sign wasn’t it? Still, I dug deep and decided I’d go cold-turkey and give it a real go – all my Bear Grylls vibes were coming out in me!
Arriving at the retreat, I immediately felt my inner pressure valve release…the warm welcome from Juls and Julie was an early indication of the support, encouragement and kindness from them to come. And as soon as I dropped in my suitcase and bags (yep, there were numerous – clothing for rainy, cold weather is really heavy! ) Typical then, that everyday on the retreat was super sunny and warm. I wasn’t complaining though!
Who are the Body Retreat’s Juls Abernethy and Julie Brealy?
I initially ‘knew’ Juls by following her and The Body Retreat on Instagram, while searching for like-minded healthy, empowering women to follow! I instantly clicked with her passion for women’s wellbeing and her cheeky sense of humour – which was a match for mine.
Having suffered adrenal failure – more commonly known as burnout – Juls had first hand knowledge of the powerful affect stress has on our bodies. Over the years since then, she has studied and researched non-stop (and still is!) to find the most effective therapies, treatments and lifestyle changes to help women cope with stress. She has an arsenal of qualifications under her belt to offer well-founded solutions, including Neuro Linguistic Programming to Master level and Hypnotherapy specialising in women’s wellbeing, weight management, stress and sleep. Combining her knowledge with Julie Brealy’s – who is a former semi-pro sportswoman, personal trainer and premier designer of some of the top weight loss bootcamps in the UK – means that this formidable team are passionate about living a healthy life and more than qualified to impart their expertise to women at their retreats.
On the first day I met my fellow retreaters in the comfy, spacious upstairs lounge where Juls was going to give us the lowdown for the rest of our stay. But, I must admit, before we gathered, I rolled around on the huge bed in my room, delighting that I’d have a few days off the snoring, sleep-talking and random leg kicks I’ve put up with from Stressed Husband over our 27 year marriage!
My fellow retreaters were so lovely – we all led very different lives, yet straight away we shared a bond in knowing that we were all here for the same thing: For once, doing something else other than caring for others, taking time out to put ourselves first and to help make our own lives calmer, more balanced and less stressful so that we could then take what we learned at the retreat out into the ‘real world’ to make coping with difficulties easier, our lives happier and healthier and thus, having a positive effect on those around us!
Juls kick-started the retreat with an in-depth talk on stress and how it affects every part of us from digestion, brain function, heart, kidneys, liver, skin, hair – absolutely everything! She explained how our mind and body is intrinsically linked and why a holistic approach – which is exactly that at the retreat – is the most effective way to reset your stress levels.
I must say that during almost every chat and workshop at the retreat, I experienced so many ‘a-ha’ moments where I learnt something new and interesting that clicked with me and which I knew would stay with me and help me on my wellbeing journey for life.
In the evening, Julie would write on a board our activities for the next day which, over the stay, included workshops led by professionals at the top of their game, in mindfulness, nutrition, pilates, yoga and stretch. Then we had the regulars which I loved from day one: Starting with the hot lemon and body brushing to carry on the body’s detoxifying, onto wake-up workout – fun, heart-pumping and energising! Then gorgeous walks in the stunning countryside (which included Bella the dog joining us – yay! Helping to relieve my home-sickness for my lovely boy Troy) So did feeding the local pigs who were adorable and even greedier than my Lab! We had twice a day swim and sauna sessions – to further enhance detoxing – during which the retreaters and me would chat excitedly about how we were feeling, astonished about how much we were learning and mostly – that we couldn’t believe how blooming delicious the food was! I guess, like me, they’d also been panicking a bit about whether we’d have enough to eat and whether it would be edible…it certainly was – and then some!
So many of my friends asked me about the food (obviously worrying about how I would cope with miniscule portions – along with no caffeine and alcohol) but they honestly need not have worried. Every dish prepared by Juls or talented retreat chef, Fleur, was a healthy portion of gastronomical delights! As we ate around the table 3 times a day, Juls would go through what we were eating and why it was so nourishing and good for our bodies. Each meal was nutritionally balanced to make sure we didn’t experience a dip in energy, sugar cravings or hunger. Learning about ‘conscious eating’ was a revelation! We would put our cutlery down between mouthfuls and each meal would last at least 15 minutes. I was used to shovelling it in while scrolling through the phone or watching T.V then thinking ‘oh, where has that gone?’ when I looked down at the plate! It did feel a bit awkward at first but a quick, matronly look from Juls if you started shovelling, was enough to remind you to put down that fork and be more conscious and it soon became a habit.
One of the side effects of detoxing is headaches and lethargy, and there was a brief point for most of us during our stay, where we felt a bit ‘off’ and heavy headed. We were forewarned this would happen, but constant drinking of water and unlimited herbal teas, plus lots of time for relaxing and lounging, was advised and it soon passed. After the lull came the rise of energy and feeling of complete revitalisation.
Having a smoothie snack scheduled in the afternoon was always a winner with us retreaters and we ooh’d and ahh’d over our Greena Colada’s as if they were the real, rum variety!
How many of us can say we sleep really well? Good sleep is imperative to helping us cope with stress in our lives and my sleep has been scuppered by so many factors on and off throughout my adulthood, ranging from: job stress, huge uncomfortable pregnancy belly, fractious babies and toddlers with projectile vomiting, too much booze and late night partying, teenagers out clubbing with their phones switched off and finally, hot flushes and need-to-wee during the menopause years! But, all that aside, I do know what proper deep sleep is – sometimes experienced when I’m on holiday and I would love more of it. Juls’ Sleep Hypno sessions were wonderful and helped me achieve sleep so deep that when I got back to my room, I couldn’t remember my head even touching the pillow before floating off in calm, dreamy darkness. The Sleep Hypno took place every night before bed when we were already relaxed from having soothing massages and learning various forms of body calming techniques during the day. I did worry that I’d snored out loud once or twice but I was assured by Juls and the retreaters I didn’t actually nod off, I was just happily ‘under’.
By Friday morning, when it was time to leave, every one of us wished the retreat could’ve gone on for longer. One of the women who had already been on a recent weight-loss retreat with Juls and Julie was planning her next one for a few months time! Although the Stress Reset programme isn’t aimed at weight-loss, I did actually lose 4lbs, an inch off each thigh, an inch off the hips, 2 from my waist and 2 from the chest area, measured under the bra. Julie explained that this is where they are delighted at seeing a decrease in inches because it’s the area well known for storing ‘toxic fat’ which stress hormones attribute to and which can be dangerous, causing risk of many diseases such as diabetes 2 and heart attack. My body fat percentage had gone from 34% to 30% which is in the ideal range for my age.
Of course, I’m not denying that a boost in the weight-loss department isn’t amazing – I was totally detoxed when I left – but I knew in the ‘real world’ I would still have a coffee and the odd glass of wine and two weeks on, I have – though much, much less than before.
As soon as I returned home from the retreat I felt the most relaxed and peaceful I’d ever felt and although I love going on holiday and always return refreshed after having had a change of scenery and fun – I do often feel as if I’ve drunk and eaten so much I need to detox. So, coming back from the retreat was a different feeling all together. I felt as if I was glowing from the inside out and had some amazing feedback from people who hadn’t even known I’d been away – not just about my fresh looking complexion and slimmer body (massive bonus!), but my relaxed, chilled out persona. I certainly feel now that I have all the health and wellbeing tricks and tools to keep any emerging stress under control. I’ve already booked onto a meditation course and am doing regular yoga and HIIT exercise to keep my wellbeing levels high and stress low and I’m eating much more healthily, but not denying myself the odd treat – of course.
I went through the cupboards like a wild thing after the retreat and started stocking up on pulses, fruit, veg and herbal teas but to be truthful, although Stressed Husband was well impressed with my newfound bounce and vigour for a healthy life, there was no way he was allowing me to throw away his pies and chips! Though he is happy to do a few meat-free meals each week and no alcohol days Monday to Thursday – which is a step in the right direction 😉
As you know through my writing work and my blog, I share the same values as Juls and Julie – a passion to offer advice in my features to help women feel and look good – to encourage healthy, happy ageing. I was invited along to The Body Retreat in my capacity not just as a writer and blogger but as a midlife, busy woman going through many of life’s stressful ups and downs – like most us are – and to see whether I thought the retreat experience was helpful for me, and to review it honestly, on my blog. So, everything I have written in this post is truthful and exactly how it was for me.
To find out more about The Body Retreat, their ethos and the retreats they have coming up, click here – The Body Retreat