Exhausted all the time? Olivia Hartland-Robbins went to Chaya Yoga Retreats in Ibiza and learnt how to incorporate ‘retreat life’ into everyday routine to beat burnout
Do you feel like a big ball of stress 24/7? Have you forgotten how to relax? Are you exhausted all of the time? The World Health Organisation (WHO) has named stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century – yikes.
Stress overload leads to a fight or flight response being triggered in our bodies, so basically our body feels like it’s under attack when we get stressed. This is why chronic stress leaves people feeling ‘burnt out’.
Stress also causes the release of various hormones, including cortisol. Once the adrenaline from the stress has worn off, we are still left with cortisol in our system which can be bad news not only for your waist line but also for our physical and mental health.
Don’t panic though (you’ll only increase those cortisol levels). Simple solutions can be made daily to help you reduce your stress levels.
During the retreat, I learnt how to incorporate ‘retreat life’ into everyday routine to help beat burnout and control stress.
#1 Have a digital detox
We live in a world where we are constantly checking emails, running to meetings, taking phone calls, planning appointments. We have forgotten how to chill out and make time for ourselves away from our digital devices.
Even when we aren’t at work we are still in ‘work mode’ and seeing a not so great work email can totally ruin your day.
Chaya retreats encourage their guests to say goodbye to their devices for a week – that includes your phone, laptop and watching TV. Of course it’s not compulsory, but they suggest it’s probably for the best if you want the proper detox experience. They even look after your devices for you if you don’t trust yourself to keep them switched off.
As I was there for work reasons (to review the retreat) I wasn’t able to switch off from all of my devices, but I tried my best to stay away from them as much as possible (plus I didn’t want to trigger all the other guests who were actually on the digital detox).
Set a time in the evenings where you avoid all digital devices, say from 8pm onwards
During the first few days of less phone interaction I noticed that when it was time to check my phone – I felt a sense of dread. This shocked me, back at home and at work, it feels like second nature to check my phone, almost like a reflex.
But being away from my phone for even a few hours made me anxious and stressed to go back to it – that doesn’t say much for my everyday stress levels now does it?
Of course in the real world, you can’t keep your devices switched off all day. Most jobs involve the use of at least two digital devices. So, why not set a time in the evenings where you avoid all digital devices, say from 8pm onwards?
According to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical University, those who look at electronic devices before bed have less quality sleep.
Their study monitored twelve adult volunteers, half of which read a paper book and half from an e-reader before bed. Those who used electronics took longer to fall asleep, had less Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and were less alert the next morning.
That’s because electronic light disrupts your circadian rhythm along with suppressing melatonin, that’s the hormone that promotes sleep. So if you’re reading this before bed, STOP right now – but make sure you come back tomorrow…
If sleep is a struggle even after saying goodbye to devices before bed, try taking a magnesium supplement which helps calm the muscles and mind before bed. Try: Vitabiotics, Ultra Magnesium, £5.75
#2 Start your day with dynamic yoga
One of my favourite parts of the retreat was the morning yoga, with London-based yoga teacher Micki Ramondt.
Yes it was early (7:30am to be precise), but there is something about being up that early that helps to clear the mind. The birds were chirping, the weather wasn’t too hot and I felt like I had the whole day ahead of me.
Oh and the location of our morning yoga was amazing – have a look at this (I’m in the picture somewhere):
Plus there are so many benefits to the simple act of moving around in the mornings, let alone spending your morning doing energising and dynamic yoga.
Yoga helps to cleanse the body via the lymphatic system – the lymph nodes are responsible for helping to fight infection and get rid of toxins in the body.
Plus, yoga also aids flexibility, builds muscle strength, improves blood flow and boosts immunity. That’s a lot of healthy benefits to cover in just the morning alone.
I was a tad apprehensive about the amount of yoga we would be doing in Ibiza. The morning sessions were an hour and a half to two hours long, and I still consider myself a beginner yogi. But honestly, Micki was such a great teacher I felt like a pro, especially by the end.
#3 Eat 26 plant-based foods a month
No matter where you go, and if you seriously love food (like me) what you eat always leaves an impression, and boy did retreat chef Laura Paine (@laura_paine) make a scrummy impression.
The food, which was all plant-based and 50 percent raw, tasted incredible. Everyday I kept asking Laura what the all the ingredients were and how on earth she made it taste so damn yummy. Kale salads, quinoa, flaxseed crackers and delicious all-raw sugar-free chia puddings were one of the highlights of the retreats and eating that way was so energising too.
The reason I was so interested in how everything was so tasty was because the detox week meant no salt, no sugar and no strong flavourings such as garlic – but I repeat, it still tasted amazing.
Many people overlook the importance of gut health. But an optimal bacteria balance in the gut is fundamental to the functioning of the intestinal nervous system. Plus, the gut is also responsible for producing chemicals that can affect our mood and therefore our stress levels.
Our gut microbiota or flora, also known as ‘gut bugs’ communicates with our brain. This communication is known as the gut-brain-axis, and inflammation of the gut has been linked to causing mental illnesses including anxiety and depression.
Eating plant-based food is a great way to improve your gut health and therefore your mental health.
By feeding our gut with the right healthy foods, our gut ‘bugs’ will send calm signals to the brain lessening your chances of a low mood, anxiety or depression. Feed them the wrong way and they will send stress signals to the brain.
Aim to eat 26 different plant foods every single month
One of the best ways to improve your gut health is to eat a ‘diverse diet’. We all know that you need plenty of servings of fruits and vegetables every day to stay healthy, but if you eat a rainbow’s variety of foods, you’re getting all kinds of different nutrients that you wouldn’t get if you just stuck to a few veg types here and there.
Aim to eat 26 different plant foods every single month, it’s what health experts call eating the alphabet or the rainbow. I probably ate 26 different plant-based foods in just one week at Chaya Yoga Retreats, let alone in a whole month. My gut must have totally loved me by the time I left… and Laura of course.
If you really are struggling to eat loads of veggies try a supplement with a blend of key nutrients such as BioCare’s SucroGuard, £8.95
#4 Try reiki
Have you heard of reiki? I hadn’t either. It’s a form of alternative medicine called energy healing in which the practitioner will hover or place their hands over specific areas of the body, including your head, limbs and torso for around two to five minutes.
If there is a particular injury or area that needs to be worked on, the therapist may spend longer focusing on this area. While the practitioner holds their hands lightly on or over the body, a transfer of energy takes place.
During this time, the practitioner’s hands may be warm and tingling. When the therapist feels that the heat, or energy in their hands has lessened, they will then remove their hands.
I was unsure what to expect when going into my treatment. To start, my therapist Daisy Ellison spoke to me about how I was feeling and if there was anything in particular I wanted to work on, be that physical issues or emotional issues.
Due to the detox week I was experiencing some dull headaches, so this was at the forefront of my mind, as well as just helping me to stress less and chill out in general.
Laying on a very comfortable bed, with some atmospheric and relaxing music in the background Daisy began her treatment.
I felt so relaxed and my headache was gone
The treatment lasted an hour and I have honestly never felt so relaxed. At one point (although I was half asleep) Daisy had her hands very lightly on either side of my head, she kept them there for around five minutes and very slowly pulled her hands away.
It felt like she had taken a hat off of my head – no joke. I felt so relaxed and my headache was gone. I also experienced some extremely weird visuals but apparently that is quite normal.
After Daisy explained that she had sensed I needed to be more in tune with my emotions, she also gave me some homework – I needed to work on spending more time in nature, specifically walking on the grass barefoot.
If you are needing help with physical or emotional pain, reiki may just be something you need to try.
#5 End your day with meditation
Taking just two minutes a day to breathe in a quite space can make a huge difference. Have you ever gone to sit down after a long day but your mind is still buzzing? This makes it hard to wind down after a long day.
People no longer know how to relax. Sitting and watching the TV can be considered relaxing but in order to truly zone out and calm down after a long day we need to slow down our breathing in a quiet space, doing nothing else other than sitting there with only your thoughts for company. Meditation is perfect for this.
Meditation is a hot topic when it comes to relieving stress and improving your mood, and getting into meditation has never been easier. Meditation apps and meditation videos on YouTube are the perfect way to get started.
Every evening at Chaya Yoga Retreats we would spend around half an hour meditating before dinner. This was so that we could process all of our thoughts and feelings of the day, and try to calm our central nervous system and cortisol levels.
It was probably my favourite time of the day (other than dinner). As strong as the urge to go to bed and take a nap before dinner was, I was always glad for the evening meditation. I felt extremely relaxed and it gave me the perfect opportunity to really think about my day and how lucky I was to experience the things that I had.
Of course, not everyone has half an hour every evening, but even five to ten minutes of meditation can make all the difference to your stress levels and will help calm down your nervous system, and reduce cortisol levels before bed, so why not give it a try?
#6 Detox your body with a juice fast
One of the main talking points of the retreat week was the impending two-day juice fast. The whole week wasn’t spent juicing, they weren’t going to throw us in at the deep end.
Instead they slowly eased us into the two day juice fast by slowly lessening the amount of food we were eating and eliminating sugar, dairy, caffeine, gluten and eventually cooked food.
Check out the what the fridge looked like whilst we were on our organic juice fast…
The juice fast was hard. Eating for most people is one of the most important times of the day, plus eating is usually a way to socialise with friends and family.
So, not eating for two days was just weird for me. On the first day everyone complained that they were hungry, that they head a headache, that they were craving chocolate and that they just wanted to go to bed.
But by the second day, everyone (and I really do mean everyone) was saying how much better they felt. People said they had more energy and that they had slept better.
I found that a short juice cleanse could act as a gateway to eating a more balanced diet and giving my digestive system a rest, though according to most experts it’s not an ideal way to lose weight as it’s not sustainable.
#7 Spend your morning in silence
At Chaya Yoga Retreats they encourage you to spend your morning in silence. This totally new and extremely hard for me – I usually spend my morning listening to the radio or my Harry Potter audio books (don’t laugh) or I chat to my doggies (okay, you can laugh).
The reason the retreat encourages morning silence is because they believe that the mornings should be a sacred and personal time for people to process and reflect on the thoughts and feelings you had from the day before and during the night.
It makes sense. Although I like my little morning routine, it definitely doesn’t involve any time for me to process and reflect on my thoughts.
During the retreat week, it was literally impossible for me to not even whisper good morning to people at first. But I tried my best, and after a few days I loved the routine of grabbing my herbal tea, nodding to others and making my way down to morning yoga – all in silence.
Morning silence took away the stressy thoughts that usually run through my head after I wake up. I’d recommend it – wake up, get your tea and get ready in silence. Reflect and process how you are feeling instead of listening to the TV or radio.
#8 Be open with your feelings
One thing that struck me most about Chaya Yoga Retreats was the sense of community. From the very beginning we were all encouraged to share our thoughts and feelings with one another – admittedly something I have never been too good at doing.
But there really is something about sharing your feelings with others, because once you say something out loud you realise it’s time to deal with whatever it is that’s upsetting you. Plus, telling other people means they can offer their words of wisdom and help you through it too.
Research from the University of Michigan found that chatting with your girlfriends isn’t just a fun way to spend a Friday night, it actually helps your health significantly.
Spending time with friends increases your body’s production of the hormone progesterone, which boosts your well-being and lowers anxiety and stress.
According to the study, this information supports the evolutionary theory of altruism; which states that the hormonal basis of social bonds allow people to suppress self-interest in order to promote the well-being of others.
So next time you are feeling upset or down or just need some advice, talk about it and open up to someone – that’s got to be better than holding it all in right?
#9 Treat yourself to a healing massage
Everyone loves a massage. But have you ever had a healing massage? Again like reiki, I hadn’t experienced a healing massage and I had no idea what to expect.
Chaya resident masseuse and healer Judit Yague has been practicing healing arts for over 15 years including massage therapy. Judit explained that it would be like a normal massage but that she senses and feels energy from other people, and channels her own energy during the massage – I was obviously fascinated.
Judit took magic touch to a whole new level, when afterwards revealed the energy she had felt from me during the massage.
I won’t go into the personal details, but she mentioned a few things about my past that surprised me and I was fascinated.
I can’t recommend a healing massage with Judit enough, by the end of the treatment I felt a sense of well-being, openness and relaxation – it was magical.
Chaya Yoga Retreats was selected by The Observer as one of Europe’s top retreats.
Chaya’s Founder, Lucy Hill curates retreats that will combine yoga designed to purify body, mind and soul, a nourishing detox menu from locally sourced foods, shamanic rituals, breath work, holistic therapies and restrictions on use of digital devices to leave guests feeling reviving and shining inside and out on returning to the real world.