England

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.

How to survive camping if you're a bit of a princess

Last year, I went to my first ever festival. Hell, it was the first time I had ever camped in my life. I was never a Brownie, or a cadet, and as an adult, I am more of a hotel than a tent kind of gal.

I am the last person my friends or family would ever expect to go to a festival, but with a new "just say yes" attitude, free tickets from work and a trusting friend, I headed to the Isle of Wight 2016. And guess what? I actually had the best three days; it's a strong contender for my best weekend of last year. So, after a second visit this year, and amidst festival season, here's how to survive a festival when you're a bit of a princess:

Choose wisely
Choose the festival wisely. Isle of Wight has a nice, chilled crowd, the music is varied and, perhaps most importantly, the mud isn't too bad. It's probably best to start with one like this, if you're not after a baptism of fire. Holy water? Holy mud wash, more like.

Embrace it all
You have to embrace your surroundings for what it is. And 5* luxury accommodation it isn't, even in the VIP section. Once you make peace with the fact your shoes will get muddy, the toilets will smell, and lose yourself in the notion that it doesn't really matter what time it is, you will have fun. The first thing I did was don my wellies (you'll care less about mud then), pack a small bag with cleanliness essentials and stuff I would hate to be stolen (phone, keys, glasses) and set up the tent with my sleeping bag. That way, I know I will have everything I will need with me at all times, and any worry will melt away.

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Tent
Try and get to the site during the day, so you're not attempting to put a tent up in the dark. Last year was the first time my friend or I had ever put up a tent and we did pretty well! It may have taken us the best part of an hour, and we may have had a smidgen of help from the owner of the tent (over the phone) and our tent neighbour, but it stayed sturdy for the whole three days. The same can't be said for the tent our friends put up for us this year. Arriving at dusk, they put up the tent, which promptly fell down while they were in the main arena. Cue hours of walking, a plea to the police and a night in the welfare tent! Thankfully, they found it and put it back up, ready for our arrival.

Pitch up not too close to the path, near - but not too near - a toilet, and close to something that you'll remember when it's dark, you're drunk and there are a million tents. Last year was a tent with a large flag on top, this year was a sign that said: "purple 1" and two orange tents in quick succession.

Pack strategically
Ain't nobody got time for two pulley suitcases and a holdall. Bear in mind you're going to be on grass, if not mud, so carry your stuff in a backpack or a holdall. A word to the wise: don't carry a bag on one shoulder. You will have to walk for a while, whether it's along the pier from the ferry or through the car park, and that shiz gets painful! It's not the weight, but rather the thinned strap pushing into your shoulder. Also, carry a smaller bag that you can wear once you leave your tent.

The main items, aside from wellies, tent and sleeping bag that you will need are:

- Plastic bottles (either to fill with water or alcohol to consume in the campsite area. No glass bottles are allowed).
- Wipes - this is your toilet roll, your shower, your glitter remover, your mud decruster. Bring a big pack of baby wipes to leave in the tent, and a handbag sized one to carry around with you.
- Hand sanitiser - good for your life and sanity.
- An old phone that has an incredible battery life, or your normal phone popped on airplane mode. If you do the former, make sure you have an emergency contact saved, as well as the numbers of the people you're with. 
- Double the amount of socks you think you'll need.
- A spare outfit, along with one for each day.
- Lots of plastic bags - these become bins, keep things dry if it rains, and generally come in handy.
- Spray deodorant - which can double as perfume.
- Lippy and hair bobbles: pop your hair back for the weekend and dress up your face with some lippy.
- A light jacket that can be easily tied around your waist, but will keep you warm in the evening and can double as a mat when you sit on the ground.
- Plastic cups - you can drink out of them, brush your teeth into them, and make some arts and crafts, if you're feeling particularly boho.
- If you're a contact lens wearer, opt for daily wear ones, rather than monthlies. Your hands are no where near as clean as they are at home, and you don't need an eye infection to go with your three day hangover at the end of the weekend.

Food
To save money, bring breakfast stuff that will store well (like breakfast bars, or cereals if you like cereal without milk) and lots of water. Bring any alcohol, poured into plastic bottles, but be mindful that you'll only be able to drink it at your tent. 

The rest of your meals can be bought from the many many stalls. In my opinion, the food is quite expensive, but the drinks are London prices. Opt for stodgy foods if you don't want to spend too long on those portaloos...

Festivals are a great way to escape, so I can't say enough: go, go, GO!

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