22 June, 2015

Azul Fit Yoga and Pilates Retreat

Last week I went on my first ever retreat holiday at Azul Fit in Fuertaventura, Spain. Having never been on a fitness style holiday before I was unsure what to expect, if my yoga and pilates skills would be up to par and if I would feel a bit uneasy going solo. Let me begin by saying all of those thoughts evaporated within five minutes of arriving at the beautiful Villa Azul.

In fact it actually felt very empowering to be doing something on your own that was focused 100% on you. Upon arrival we were greeted with our first (of many) delicious vegetarian/vegan dinners. As I chomped down on my curried tofu I introduced myself to the other guests. Some had come with friends, some were solo and some were regulars. I instantly felt at ease and excited for my week ahead. We were given our schedules for the week and informed of where we could go for our complimentary massage (hello!)

I was staying in the Bali room which was just off the main living/dining area and after dropping off my things I walked around the villa taking in the amazing surroundings. It felt like we were in the middle of a desert but with the added bonus of being in a gorgeous villa.

The next day I awoke ready for my first class. The schedule was basically one Pilates class and one Yoga class a day. One in the morning and the other late afternoon. There were also other optional activities available including a trip to the beach in Corralejo, a volcano hike and a nutrition workshop. I got into Pilates last year by following Cassie Ho's Pop Pilates and having never been to an actual class before I was keen to focus and improve my skills. Our instructor was Alex Estornal, an experienced Pilates teacher and dancer. We started off the week with the basics and breathing techniques adding new moves each day.

By the end of the week with daily classes with Alex I could already see my improvement and I really managed to engage my core properly and breath correctly - something I've found difficult to master using just videos on Youtube to practise. Each class felt like you had individual attention and assistance if you needed it and seeing your progress change each day, despite your aching limbs was brilliant. For the first time in my life I managed to do a proper push up - without bent knees!

The classes intensity increased each day as we got stronger and I definitely worked up a proper sweat each class. At the end of each morning session we hop footed it upstairs to enjoy our well-deserved brunch. Each day the Brunch was different, and just as amazing as the day before. We enjoyed coconut porridge, healthy pancakes, breakfast salads, breakfast cakes (yes, cake for breakfast) and there was always granola, yogurt, fresh fruit and homemade sour dough bread each day too.

Halfway through the week, I was feeling a bit brave and looking to improve my technique even more so I booked a reformer class with Alex. I've always wanted to try a reformer class so figured this was the perfect opportunity. I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed this session despite how much the equipment looked like a torture machine! It was challenging but the resistance from the reformer somehow made it a bit easier and I felt much more controlled than just using my own body weight. I am now looking into booking reformer classes at home to carry on what I've learned.

I've recently got into Yoga and it's something that I'd really like to do every day as part of my lifestyle. I've been to a few Yoga classes, including Hot Yoga (oof) but I've never really connected with it as much as I would have liked. This changed completely during my time at Villa Azul. Our instructor Valentina Parmigiani showed us how to do ujjayi breathing which is where you essentially constrict your throat muscles as you breath in and out through your nose. It's quite loud but concentrating on my breathing really helped me to hold poses for longer and breathe into my stretches. With Valentina's help my flexibility increased and before I knew it I had my hands flat on the floor, was doing shoulder stands and I even attempted a headstand (with some help from the wall!)

We also got to try Meditation, Tai Chi, which actually killed my thighs - so. many. squats (who knew!) and Kundalini Yoga with the lovely instructor and one of the Villa Managers Frauke.

We had two free nights during the week where we went as a group to the local restaurants which was lovely. I highly recommend Casa Marcos - their stuffed peppers and honey aubergines had us all drooling! The rest of the time we were treated to the most yummy dinners each night. The menu was created by nutritionist Jo Dombernowsky and it was some of the best healthy food I've ever eaten. Often resulting in seconds! I even bought Jo's cookbook so I can make the recipes we ate at home.

I also opted into attending Jo's nutrition workshop which I found super informative, helpful and insightful. Covering food quality, food preparation and eating habits I learnt a lot of useful advice for ensuring a healthy balanced diet at home. For the second part of the workshop Jo spoke about Ayurveda - an ancient Indian natural healing practise. We did a quiz to find out what our prominent dosha is and we were given useful diet advice according to that.

During the rest of the time, we had free time so we could explore the island at our leisure or relax by the pool. I must admit I spent most of my free time by the pool with my book. I well and truly went for the 'retreat vibe' however there were plenty of excursions that the team were happy to organise for you. One lady went surfing and four others went horse riding. In the evenings we mostly all sat in the living room enjoying our dessert and herbal teas and getting to know each other. It felt like a real 'home from home' atmosphere.

On the last day I did join in the hike and climbed the 10k route up to the top of one of the volcanoes and back again. The views were incredible and it was such a joy to walk up there with all the new friends I'd made. Everyone in our group was so lovely and having spoken to the returning guests they had found it was always the same. Lovely people, in lovely surroundings.

I wouldn't hesitate to go back to Azul Fit again and I'm already looking at their upcoming retreats to see which I fancy booking next. The Santorini Yoga Retreat is calling me and my new found flexibility!
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