What a clean-living novice learned on a wellness getaway

What comes to mind when you think of the words ‘clean living’? Bare feet, hessian clothing and an abundance of quinoa at every meal? Those were the images that instantly conjured up in my mind upon hearing those words – until very recently.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Conscious Living Retreat taster, a wellness getaway organised by Lucy Mills, founder of Your Ideal Fit and a globally recognised Pilates instructor, who emphasises the importance of mindfulness and body biomechanics when striving towards your fitness goals, and how it’s all about being in tune with your own body. Together with Sjaniel Turrel from Chemistry of Wellness, Lou Ashton from VivoBareFoot, Skyler Shah from Yatay Yoga and Lauren Lovatt from Plant Academy, the two-day, one-night event – a taster of a longer event taking place between 14th June and 17th June 2019 at the gorgeous West Lexham Manor in Norfolk – Lucy immersed me in world of clean, conscious and natural living, a world I had never really set foot in, or been inspired to set foot in, before. I came away inspired and having learned quite a bit - here’s what I discovered:

It’s okay to be out of your comfort zone

I’m a total urbanite; I’m also a millennial who loves being online… oh, and I had never attended a Pilates class in my life. I had reservations about attending the retreat, with images of sitting at the back of the class in a pool of sweat while the other attendees stretched like gazelles, before sharing tips on how to get the perfect crunch in their homemade kale crisps. Now, there were kale crisps (delicious, FYI, especially the ones with a bit of spice), but my preconceptions about the Pilates classes were totally unfounded.

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Taking a class in the evening, before dinner, and in the morning, before breakfast, Lucy expertly walked us through each position in a way that was easy to grasp, even if you’d never laid your bod on a yoga mat before (we used sustainable ones from Yatay Yoga, which were super comfy and non-slip – ideal for those sweaty, shaky, where-even-are-you-lower-ab-muscles moments). In her rather soothing voice, she used relative examples that you could visualise, such as rolling your hands along a tennis ball, so you could get the correct form and movement. We worked the movements step by step, starting with simple movements and working our way towards the more demanding holds slowly and, somehow, you’d get there without realising – the sign of a good teacher! Lucy was constantly reassuring and helpful, and I never once felt silly, awkward or inadequate in the classes. In fact, I felt pretty damn good about myself. Lucy’s previous clients include celebrities, royalty, exercise newbies and people who are rehabilitating from injuries, and it is easy to see why they seek her out.

Plant-based food isn’t plain nor boring

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Probably my biggest takeaway from this trip: I was truly inspired by the menu created by the Plant Academy’s Lauren Lovett. While in recent years, I have become more mindful about eating healthily, I often don’t feel full after a meal without meat or fish, and those who know me will know I have a rather unhealthy obsession with fried chicken.

However, the food at the Conscious Living Retreat was divine. Lauren initially began cooking as a way to address mental health and its relationship with food, and how you can support your mind with cookery. She founded Plant Academy in East London, where you can learn to cook scrumptious plant-based dished that not only taste great, but are great for your body and mind, too. “To get people to eat well, you not only have to make food delicious; you have to make it cool,” she said to Cotswold Life.

Lauren created meat- and gluten-free courses at the retreat, with some ingredients foraged by Danny Seeley from the local area. I chowed down on dishes such as coffee roasted wild beets with Chimmicuri, zucchini fillets with candied pecans, and confit carrot lox on cultured buckwheat pancakes, and delicious desserts, like fermented lemon posset with hot berries and toasted coconut ginger biscotti. It wasn’t all herbal teas and water either; sipping on mulled pomegranate juice, I could have almost been drinking red wine, while the next morning, my turmeric latte warmed me right up. After this retreat, I most definitely want to incorporate some more flavoursome, filling plant-based dishes in my repertoire.

There’s so much to ‘conscious living’ that we don’t even consider

There are so many parts of our daily routine that we don’t even give a second thought to – or I know I don’t, at least. Listening to the panel at the retreat, made up of Lucy, Sjaniel, Lou, Skyler, Lauren and Isabelle Colville (who owns West Lexham Manor), I realised how many aspects of my life I do automatically, with little regard for the impact on my body or the environment around me.

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On the second day of the retreat, we took part in a natural beauty workshop, run by Sjaniel, who has been a make-up artist for over 20 years. She showcased make-up from Twelve Beauty, Jillian Dempsey and Green People, and as someone who has used the same foundation for the last 10 years, I learned a lot in regards to the environmental impact of certain ingredients, as well as its effect of my skin and hair. For example, I never realised the amount of silicon that appears in the products that I use, and the way it creates a barrier around my skin and hair, preventing them from breathing… then washes down the plug hole, leaving a film of plastic in its wake.

Being mixed race, and being one of three ‘people of colour’ on the retreat, it was pretty obvious that there is a lot of progression still to be made in the natural beauty movement, especially in regards to creating make-up to suit a range of skin tones – something Sjaniel herself recognises. However, the products I tried left my skin feeling soft and light, which was great.

After lunch, we also listened to a talk from Lou from VivoBarefoot, a company who create shoes for a range of activities that mimic being barefoot – the natural way to walk. She described how with regular shoes, our feet are squished, elevated, moulded in certain ways, whether in trainers, heels or other types of footwear. With VivoBarefoot, these are all addressed in their designs.

Sometimes you just need to switch off

My favourite part of the retreat was the location. From the moment we entered the main barn, which was dimly lit and smelt incredible, I knew I would love this place. West Lexham Manor sits in 21 acres of sprawling grounds, with a barn house, treehouses, a manmade lake and a rustic, country getaway vibe. I slept in a barn en-suite room, adorned with exposed wooden beams and symmetrical images on the walls. The colour scheme is earthy, with calming bluey greens, and dark and light woods. The bathrooms in this room type are huge, with a lovely deep bath and underfloor heating.

Elsewhere on the grounds, you can stay in treehouses, where in some, trees literally grow through the room.  Isabelle explained that West Lexham was created to be a ‘nest’ to grow oneself – as was their journey in building it. They wanted to create a place of subtle education for living in an eco-friendly way, and used a plethora of upcycled materials, for example, some tables are made from garage doors, while the toilet block for glampers were built using the floor of the Norwich Theatre Royal. The hotel is run on around 90% renewable energy; the sustainability message is all-encompassing through the food, atmosphere and physical attributes of the abode – down to the little touches, such as drawer handles and a humourous notes. The beautiful welcome note from Lucy said it all, really: here you can “exhale the London madness.”

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I thoroughly recommend the Conscious Living Retreat, whether you’re a novice like me, or well into your wellness – I was inspired and enlightened on this way of life, with many of my misconceptions changed within the short 24 hours.

The full retreat takes place between 14th June and 17th June 2019, with a series of workshops, classes and country walks – find out more here.