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Spa + Wellness

Raw foods and 'real' downtime in Puglia

I am a world voyager, an expert packer, an intrepid adventurer and a free spirited travel writer always willing to embark on my next journey into the unknown.

Then I have my first cup of coffee, my daughter wakes up and reality hits: I’m also a mother, a spouse, a pet-owner, a homeowner and a full-time freelancer. My travels have to be carefully orchestrated well in advance, with a logistics game plan executed with military precision: Who’s getting our daughter off to school? Who will take her to dance on Monday? Who’ll come by to let the dogs out a few times a day? Who’s meeting the cable guy when he calls on Thursday, sometime between 8:30 and whenever he decides to show up? And how on earth will everyone not starve to death in my absence?

In short, Real Life can fuck with your travel plans.

Not that I don’t love my real life and the real people I share it with. But I also love travel—it’s my career, after all—and making a very anchored life mesh with my chronic wanderlust is always a challenge. So when I had the chance to spend a week alone (alone, she said, weeping with joy) at a yoga and raw foods retreat in Puglia, Italy, hours and hours away from my home base in Umbria, selling the idea to my family was a delicate ask. As in, broach the subject with your spouse right after you’ve just had awesome acrobatic sex kind of delicate.

I must have done something right because a few weeks later, I found myself arriving just in time for lunch at Kaliyoga, an all-inclusive, upscale yoga retreat center near Martina Franca in Puglia, the heel of the boot in southern Italy. Kaliyoga is set within the stone walls of an old farm, with a masseria, or main manor house, surrounded by pod-like trulli structures—those charming, round, cone-roofed buildings that look like they’re straight out of The Hobbit. My room was in a trullo, and it was a cool, dreamy place to sleep and relax, even at the height of a southern Italy summer.

Our day started at 7:30am with meditation in the yoga shala, followed by a 2 hour yoga session with Tashi Dawa, Kaliyoga Italy’s certified Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga teacher. While I’m not a yoga-phobe, I’m also not a yoga fanatic, so I was worried about being shown up by a bunch of bendy-flexy, patchouli-smelling women who did not abandon their husbands and children to live out some escapist fantasy of independence and lack of responsibility.

But it’s possible I have issues.

The daily yoga sessions—there was another 90-minute session at 5 pm—were challenging without being extreme. Each retreat attendee worked to her ability, with Tashi there to lead, demonstrate, correct our form and push us to go a little farther each time. She was (she is!) wonderful, in that girl-crush, wish-she-was-your-best-friend kind of wonderful—funny, wise, supportive and completely devoted to helping others through her teaching and practice. Tashi promised us at the beginning of the week that we’d be surprised at how much we would improve, and she was right. My strength, flexibility and balance, not half-bad when I arrived, were markedly better by the end of the week. That’s what four hours of yoga a day will get you!

As much as I enjoyed the yoga—more than I thought I would, really—I was even more interested in a detoxing week of raw food. Kaliyoga runs their “Yoga Cleanse” retreats several times each year, and brings in Alessandra Giannandrea, a raw food specialist who prepared three delicious meals a day of vegan raw or only lightly cooked food. Breakfast, which came right after morning yoga, might be raw granola or a chia seed pudding, along with fresh fruit and juice. Food was gloriously colourful and it felt good to eat it, knowing I was ingesting clean, nutrient-packed food that was doing my body good. Lunches were the biggest meal of the day, with raw crackers made of seeds and vegetable pulp, salads of mixed greens, seeds and fruit, and entrées like raw pizza made of sprouted buckwheat crust, raw pesto and marinara sauce of sun-dried tomatoes. Eating raw for the week never felt like a hardship or sacrifice; instead it was a celebration of abundance, flavour and nature’s bounty.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Heath

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Heath

After our 5pm yoga session, we’d gather at a different part of the compound each evening for aperitivo, which in Italy means a before dinner cocktail but at Kaliyoga meant a refreshing fruit juice and soda water spritz with a portion or two of finger food. Meals were always outside, so our dinners, often with lightly cooked fare like rice or sweet potatoes as an entrée, took place on a shady patio. Guests would linger afterwards to get to know one another, or retire to their rooms to read (there are no TVs on the property and use of computers and smart phones is discouraged) or turn in early. Fresh fruit and herbal tea were always on hand.

I didn’t know quite what to expect of my week at Kaliyoga, from how I would like being by myself with a group of strangers to how I would like the food and the yoga, to how I would feel about being away from my family—guilt? Relief? Longing? In the end, it was a little bit of all three.

I spoke to my husband and daughter each evening. The first two nights, my daughter cried into the phone, asking when I was coming home. By the third night, she was cheerful and calm. She’d still ask when I was coming home, and if I said, “In four days,” she’d reply, “Okay, tomorrow?” but there were no more tears or desperate pleading. The dogs were fine. My husband was fine. Turns out they could survive a week without me.

The silence and tranquility at Kaliyoga initially had me feeling somewhat ill at ease. Like most women, I’m someone who always has too many things to do, too much to think about (to the point of not being able to sleep at night), and other people to do things for. Once you get used to living that way, it’s hard to adjust to having free hours to do nothing, except maybe lay by the pool, nap or read in a hammock. And although there was a group of about 12 of us at the retreat, chatting was pretty much reserved for mealtimes; instead we were encouraged to pass our days with minimal interactions and just focus on being alone with ourselves.

Mindfulness, yes, but not the Instagram-selfie-on-a-mountaintop or buy-my-e-book-on-mindfulness kind of mindfulness. I can’t even claim that I was there for self-discovery, because my goals for setting out on a raw foods and yoga retreat were basically to see what it would be like and to lose a few pounds in the process. By later in the week—just as it was time to start thinking about leaving, of course—I felt relaxed, at peace with myself and ready to re-embrace Real Life with a sense of positivity, calm and renewed love.

And I lost three pounds—even if I was craving gluten by the time I got off the plane.

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