Friday, 30 November 2018

LBC LISTENERS 30TH NOVEMBER 2018 . - YOGA AND STRESS IN SCHOOLS - HOW YOGA HELPS WITH DIGITAL DETOX.



"The Prime Minister thanks you for your letter but is too busy to make time for such matters." 

It wasn't my idea. On the world's first International Yoga Day two years ago, I interviewed the High Commissioner of India, Mr Rajan Matal, who told me that Indian Prime Minister Modi asks his cabinet to meditate and practice yoga every morning, believing this helps with clarity of vision. He suggested the then Prime Minister, David Cameron should do the same with his cabinet. So, I wrote to him and received the above response.  I did the same with Theresa May and was told “she’s rather busy with Brexit at the moment.” But if the England football team are able to make time for yoga, the twelve boys and coach survived with the help of daily meditation, perhaps our politicians would make better decisions if they did too. 

Yoga is hardly a niche cult. At one time during International Yoga Day, Mr Matal told me there were over 30 million around the world practicing yoga simultaneously. That’s an awful lot of ‘Om’. Prime Minister Modi believes, like millions around the world, that yoga makes you more productive and focused. Executives at Glaxo Smith Klein, even pregnant ones, get up early to attend a six am yoga class. I know, I've taught them. Rugby players used yoga while training for the World Cup. I've taught them, too. Many celebrities wouldn't go anywhere without their yoga mat and in the travel industry wellness retreats are thriving. I’ve witnessed first hand the benefits it has in schools. I teach at one particular school in Ham, Meadlands, and children as young as four are using breathing techniques to not only calm themselves, but to focus and calm those in their peer group. But it’s not for Cameron. He’s too busy to make time for such things.

 COME TOGETHER

So, does yoga really make us more compassionate, balanced human beings? The internet is full of websites which expound its virtues, claiming it is good for everything from asthma, to high blood pressure, to back pain, to self-awareness, to arthritis, to anti-ageing, weight loss and mental health (www.holisticonline.com/yoga). That seems a tall order for a few backbends.

Yoga means to join, to bring together, and the elements it claims to bring together are the mind, body and spirit, finding balance in nature. Yoga is the practice of learning how to breathe and sit so you are able to meditate for long periods of time. It is also allowing you to rise above ego, above need and fear. 

The irony is there is an awful lot of ego among those who practice it and those who preach it. Many of those who practice yoga, and make a point of being seen to practice it are not brilliant exemplars of humility in humanity, though they would likely be even more self-absorbed if they didn’t do it? This is where the detractors start to have a point. Yoga has become a global, multi-million pound industry, feeding on the fears of those beautiful people seeking alternative remedies for the world's biggest killer, stress. 

But for yoga to work, you have to be into it for the right reasons.

OFF BALANCE

The New York Times in 2012 famously published an article entitled ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ (http://nyti.ms/1Em1pqb). It caused uproar amongst the yogascenti who rushed to its defence. The article questioned the peace-and-love reputation of yoga, in particular the practice of Bikram yoga, copyrighted by multi-millionaire Choudray Bikram, performed in 105˚F heat, and the injuries incurred when doing backbends and inversions (head stands, shoulder stands, hand stands). 

The article had a point. Yoga, not just Bikram, has become an obsession for some, stretching themselves way beyond its gentler principles. I never suggest head or hand stands in my classes, as they are too advanced for most people and the classes are too large to align everybody individually, vital when practicing more challenging postures. Even some instructors become regular clients of physiotherapists and osteopaths. 

"The problem is," says Chris James, a well-respected yoga instructor, "many instructors are now treated like Gods. They are not. They are human. They swear, they fuck. They are like anyone else. They are not special other than that they are teachers. That is what makes them special. And if they forget that, they forget what yoga is all about. Rising above the ego."

LETTING GO

I was not a willing convert. I remember as a ten year old, watching an old lady who would wear white on TV, early on Sunday mornings. She would demonstrate yoga postures on a back drop of white, like some sort of bendy angel. I was more bemused than enlightened. I was re-introduced to yoga in my 20s at a health club. The yoga teacher didn't wear white but she was still in something floaty and her pupils were all skinny and aloof. Everyone looked as though they needed a good meal and a good laugh. Then Ginger Spice launched her own yoga DVD. After that, I wanted nothing to do with it. Yoga had gone from Om to dumb.

It wasn't until I met an instructor at a business hotel in Delhi that I became really interested. He was a former professional gymnast, very grounded, who laughed in class. He told me about the importance of breathing properly. He told me that yoga is not balancing on one foot for hours but about strengthening our ability to meditate and give our brains a rest. He explained which postures were good for letting go, which for improving focus, which for anger issues, which for moving on and so on. It made me realise yoga was as much about the emotional benefits as it was the physical. 

"We live our lives in our heads, not in our bodies,” he told me. “Even professional sports people, who are more body focused than most, are susceptible to self-sabotage, over-competitiveness and anger management issues.” 

Now that I’m a yoga teacher, I get personal trainers contact me, asking me to practice some yoga with tennis players who have anger issues. Tennis is, after all, a middle class form of boxing. Tennis players are not team players. 

CHOOSE YOUR YOGA

There are many different types of yoga, but they all stem from one philosophy focusing on our ability to listen to the breath rather than our thoughts. Simple to say, difficult to do. Secondly, the yogic philosophy is about observation. It’s about listening to the body and not listening to the mind, the thoughts and arguments in our head. It is not about judgement. 

You don't judge yourself and you don't judge others. In many ways, it’s a nonsense to have yoga classes in gyms because being in a gym is all about competitiveness, self-judgement and the sense that nothing is ever enough. Yoga is about acceptance. 

Among the most popular forms of yoga are Hatha, which focuses on the breath (Pranayama) and is meditative. Iyengar which concentrates on precision and alignment. Power yoga, a Westernised version, more cardio exercise than meditation and made popular by Madonna. Vinyasa is more dance orientated and means 'flow'. Anusara yoga deals with the opening of the heart, restorative on relaxation, while Jivamukti is a mix of Vinyasa and chanting. Kundalini focuses on your core and Ashtanga, which is apparently favoured by men, focuses on progression from one posture to the next, so you are not able to progress to the next group of postures until you have mastered the first. There is a wealth of yoga types but they are all bastardised versions of Hatha.

Gurus believe the practice is based on the centuries old Eastern idea that health is about body and mind in harmony, and that illness is caused by any physical, psychological, environmental, nutritional or spiritual disharmony. 

I personally believe its origins are pagan. The postures, or asanas, focus on the elements of earth, air, fire and water. Although there is only one posture called 'tree', all the postures stimulate the ability to root and uplift, to reach out. Many are named after animals and although the images of the people practicing yoga are mainly slim, long limbed twenty or thirty something females, yoga is suitable and excellent for everyone from two year olds to eighty year olds and beyond. I have taught both ends of the age spectrum, and strongly believe it should be taught in schools as part to the curriculum. 

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Cameron and May may not get it but children do. They know we hold emotion in our body. I taught a class of nine year olds focusing on the postures that help with memory, concentration and the ability to listen; all balancing postures. I made it fun and found they were excellent at learning the colours of the chakras. They even got the Sanskrit names of the postures correct. One child came up to me at the end and thanked me, saying "Do you have any postures for sadness?" 

"Yes, there are postures for sadness." says Martin Clark, editor of ‘Om’ magazine, the leading UK yoga title, "And loneliness, heartbreak, anger, greed, vanity, impatience, lack of focus and jealousy. All the seven sins and more. The main one is fear. Fear feeds off greed and need. Yoga help you rise above the ego. You feel no fear and you want nothing. You need nothing.” That’s not just a fairy tale. It’s a state of mind which leads to gratitude and acceptance. When you have that, you are content. 

In the United States, the David Lynch Foundation which sponsors transcendental meditation in schools throughout the US has achieved startling results on both the academic success of students and also their overall behaviour and sense of well-being. 

Look through their website (www.davidlynchfoundation.org) and you will find a list as long as your Om of statistics showing how their Quiet Time programme had raised levels of creativity among students and improved teacher retention. Just a few minutes of shared meditation time each morning has reduced teacher burnout, reduced the incidence amongst teachers and pupils of stress, anxiety and depression. 

One headmaster comments, “Stress is the number one enemy of public education, especially in inner city schools. It creates tension and violence and compromises the cognitive and psychological capacity of students.” 

STRESS DEATH

This is not only true of inner city schools but every school, hospital, place of employment in the world. Stress not only weakens our ability to think straight, it kills, either directly through cancer, or indirectly through violence. So, why isn't it in all our schools? The official answer is schools have been resistant because it has religious and cult-like connotations. But this is changing. 

Although not officially part of the school curriculum in the UK, schools are now introducing meditation and yoga sessions into the curriculum, albeit sometime as clubs. I teach Year five and six students in a few primary schools where I live. There are also organisations: Club Morgan (http://www.club-morgan.com) and Yogabuds (http://yogabuds.com), among many others trying to bring the benefits of yoga to our increasingly over-stressed kiddies. 

As I write, Education Secretary Michael Gove, has introduced another test for seven year olds, so it would seem to be a good time to also introduce a way for the children to deal with the added stress that this exam will place upon young children, teachers and parents. 

EMPOWER CRAZY

Clearly, I am a convert. I teach in clubs and schools locally and have written a book about how yoga helps with emotional baggage for adults and children. I believe the work of these groups can be massively empowering for adults and children. 

So, why wouldn’t our Prime Minister be interested in further empowering himself? Perhaps, it just sounds too unscientific? When we stop listening to our thoughts and start listening to our body we tap into our instincts, which is not just in our gut but throughout our body: that cold sensation we feel when something is right. Our body knows it even if our mind does not. So many of us have forgotten to trust our instinct and intuition. We trust establishment, the media, the TV, the experts, and have forgotten to trust in ourselves. Perhaps, ironically that is why politicians wouldn't want school children and grown-ups to take up yoga. They would stop listening to them and start doing their own thing. How do you begin to govern, coerce, convince or bully someone who can see right through you eh?"

Perhaps that is why our Prime Minister doesn't get the point of yoga. After all, how many politicians do you know who would manage to rise above their ego, huh? Or indeed want a populace to govern who had no fear and needed nothing? I think he’s wrong. I am not alone in thinking yoga is a great way of bringing yourself back down to earth.

The late Lord Yehudi Menuhin was a friend of Iyengar, one of the leading yoga gurus, and was a wonderful bright eyed, self-effacing man who practiced yoga. "I always over run my bath, and yoga helps with memory," he told me once when I interviewed him. "And I practice in the nude, which is most disconcerting for hotel staff who come into clean the room in the morning and forget to knock." 

Winston Churchill used to dictate letters in the bath, surely Theresa May’s not that uptight about being caught in an embarrassing position?

Sarah Tucker is an author, journalist and broadcaster, and teaches in school in Ham and Richmond. Currently campaigning to get yoga on the national curriculum, she would like to hear from all schools and yoga instructors who would be happy to be involved in a scheme to make this happen. madasatucker@aol.com


Sarah Tucker’s A to Zen of Travel and The Brilliant Book series (Book of Brilliant Balances, Terrific Twists, Super Stretches, Brilliant Breathing is out in all good book shops and available from amazon.  Her latest The Book of Excellent Energies in the new year  ALL BOOKS AVAILABLE ON sarahtucker.info and all good book shops.  

Sunday, 25 November 2018

12 MUST DO'S OF CHRISTMAS

Hermit like I have been busy for the past few months, but this Christmas I am out investigating the must dos. Things and places which are unique to London.  And ideally accessible (free or superb value for what they are - so not always necessarily cheap).  First call, is Dennis Severs House in Folgate Street.
Centred in the soul less land of greed and money, (E1) this place is a 3D novel. £10 and £5 for concessions, it is open all year but at Christmas transforms into a Christmas wake as you walk around is silence.  No phones, no noise, no questions. It is bliss. You touch nothing, question nothing, observe everything.  Even the portraits occasionally tel you to shuussssh.   It is a walking meditation and a credit to those who devised it.  My report is attached later in the blog. I interviewed Joel, who was born to speak on radio.  It takes 45 minutes to walk around the house and discover the story and the truth, whatever you wish it to be, of this place.   There was a similar idea with the Petersham Players at Petersham House many years ago, and it was utterly magical. Walking through each room. This place and idea is special, unique and a must do for Christmas.  It is the soul in this soul less part of town.  @dennissevershouse. book early. All evenings now taken but Sunday afternoon and day time free. A must do for families who want their children to be quiet. And be careful.   And be good.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

EVERYTHING IN AUGUST

ps, I haven't been to all of these places in August, but I have been to all of these places in 2018 - just forgot to post them.   More to come.

SKI RESORTS FOR NON SKIERS











Say hi to the sky.   Four hours every day at La Folie Douce, half way up the mountain in Courcheval, I lived a Martini ad.  Beautiful (ish) people dancing on tables, dancers and singers belting out rock ballads (in tune) while skiers parapented, swooping above our heads, like psychedelic eagles, as the DJ shouted out ‘say hi to the sky’. £30 for a small fish n chips, magnums of champagne being sent down every five minutes to the highest bidder and everyone dancing on tables in their ski boots, risking leg, limb and pride to boogie with girls dressed as pirates, one guy dressed as an Indian chief, another dressed in a unitard pink and turquoise unicorn outfit, with pink stilettos who oddly managed to pull it off brilliantly. Perhaps this is the Russian effect.  There was plenty of bling at the lunch, which happens every day on the mountain, and plenty of bling on view in Courcheval itself, where leopard skin pants, bee stung lips and channel mirrored sunglasses are worn like uniform - regardless of gender.   Diamond encrusted skis on view in the Chanel, Prada, Hermes outlets.  So much has changed since my 18 – 30 basic ski holidays in Mayhofen, when rooms were simple, food was basic and the snow was slush and ice if you were lucky and the skis were heavy and boots were painful and ill fitting and like lead weights. European ski resorts were designed for skiers and little else.  You paid a lot of money to be cold and uncomfortable and in pain.   You either skied or you watched skiers and there wasn’t much to watch as restaurants were designed for functional eating rather than enjoyment.  And mountain cafes served chips and beer.    Regardless of the Russian effect, and perhaps a little because of it, so much has changed and for the better.  
The snow has been good this year unlike the past five.   This is good for the resorts who still heavily depend on the winter season.  Two years ago I spent Christmas in Morzine and there was no snow.  Many European resorts had pushed their summer seasons, with mountain biking, trekking, hiking, electric bikes, but as the winter approached each year, they have always hoped the snows would return.   Even expert skiers find it challenging to ski on ice, and the North American and even South American ski market, where the snow has traditionally fallen heavy and consistently, have benefitted from Europe’s loss.  European ski resorts have therefore had to think what else would attract winter visitors.  As a result snow or no snow, there is now plenty to offer non skiers regardless of the snow.   
For a start, accommodation has improved experientially.  Chalets in particular have upped their game to cater for groups who want to spread the cost and have skiers who want to be on the slopes all day and those who want to lounge by the Jacuzzi, and make the apres ski, part of their all day experience.   This January, I visited the Chalet Iona, just outside Meribel, which caters for up to eighteen.  Each room has satellite Tv, deep thick pile carpets, good connection wifi and a chef and chauffeur if you want. The view over the three valleys is phenomenal.  Food is superb (a veritable work of art) both inside the chalet and there’s also a huge range of restaurants which offer great food at a variety of prices – not just those suited to Russian wallets.   Check out the Chabotte – Chabichou Hotel for people watching as well as good food reasonably priced (for Courcheval).   Pilates and yoga instructors will come to the chalet, and if you don’t want them coming to you, there are plenty of classes in the valley which you can attend.  The nearby large and elegantly designed Acquamotion centre (www.aquamotion-courcheval.com) offers acqua kick boxing so you can kick the wave out of the water, as well as enjoying the spa, sauna, salt water grotto, hamman, massage and even virtual reality experience where you can ski even if you never actually hit the slopes.   A black run without the pain so to speak.   Here you also learn to water surf – good practice for those who want to snow board, as well as aquabiking – think spinning class under water, and there’s a adults only area as well as a family area.  
Meribel is very English – you will hear lots of English voices, but don’t let that put you off. The month before I was in Verbier, at the stylish W Hotel with its own spa and indoor pool, and Richard Branson’s chalet, which is pricier, but has its own staff, chef, chauffeur and guide.  Snow shoeing guided by the Bond girl sounding Cherries Von Bauer, worked every muscle in my thighs and core, but you can also go on gentler, more horizontal routes.  All ski resorts now are looking at ways to keep visitors entertained even if they don’t ski.    

GOOD LIFE IN LISBON

Lisbon is a four-hour flight away, and ten degrees warmer than the UK in the winter – more if you originate from Scotland.  Described as the European San Francisco, in that it is hilly (built on seven of them), has a bridge not dissimilar to that of the Golden Gate, has a light favoured by creative types – authors and artists – and is also built on a fault line, so like San Francisco, they are expecting a tsunami of Biblical proportions any time soon.    (Why is it always the most beautiful places in the world, which are at risk?).  
I stayed at the Corinthia Hotel, a short drive from the airport, which is in the heart of the city.   Although the flagship of this family run hotel group is in London, a bridge away from Waterloo station, this hotel has the largest spa in Europe. There is everything here from a state of the art gym, personal trainer, excellent thalassotherapy centre, signature massages including the Portuguese adventure which takes you on a sensual journey of all cinnamon, clove, bay and salt.  This retreat is inspired by the most traditional and historical Portuguese ingredients. Inspired in the Indian Discovery Routes, led by Vasco da Gama, this treatment starts with a full body exfoliation with flor de sal (fleur de sel) from our coast, enhanced by the unique properties of clove buds and cinnamon, a few of the first exquisite spices that were brought to Europe by the Portuguese Navigator in 1498. This lovely exfoliation follows with a powerful soothing moisturising oil blended to relax tired muscles and ease the mind with the deeply warming effect of clove bud and Indian bay.  
As a city spa it works brilliantly, because Lisbon is a bohemian and green, with tree lined cobbled avenues, extraordinary sunsets and sunrises.   Despite the hills, it’s a very easy city to walk around, (although it only costs 2 euros to take the city tram) to find unusual, unexpected and unique bars, cafés and shops.   In the Chiado district, which has shops like Causto Porto, a pharmacy with soaps too good to unwrap, which celebrates its 150thanniversary this year. There’s a barbers shop in their basement - indeed there’s a strong barber shop theme present throughout the city.  Many of the cafes and bars section out areas where men are able to get their hair cut (the women can but they don’t).  I suppose a lot of the men have beards and as beards are on trend at the moment, any self-respecting bearded person should head there straight away. Even David Beckham flies down regularly in his private jet to Figaro’s Barbershop de Lisboa Address: R. do Alecrim 39, 1200-014 Lisboa for short back and sides. Other barber shop/cafes to check out are shops 
O Purista – Barbière located in Chiado (https://pt-pt.facebook.com/O-Purista-Barbi%C3%A8re-1512557088958683/)
and the Barbearia O Corvo – The Crow Barber shop (https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/585514131618637/barbearia-o-corvo-the-crow-barbershop/)   
If you are more into words and pictures than hair cuts, mingle with the writers and local artists in Café A Brasileira (http://www.lojascomhistoria.pt/shops/a-brasileira?lang=en.  
There’s A VIDA PORTUGUESA (http://www.avidaportuguesa.com/which was started by a local journalist, who wanted to bring together all the Portuguese goodies which would be lost forever.  So you’ve got the hand-stitched hankerchiefs, the wooden toys, the filigree jewellery, the cork of course, the original porcelain. Much more variety and much cheaper than you will find at the airport – at least twenty percent cheaper so buy here.     
The hand painted tiles in Fábrica de Sant’anna (http://www.santanna.com.pt/en)the smallest glove shop Luvaria Ulisses (http://www.luvariaulisses.com/uk/pagina/2/historia/).
Food and wine are superb and excellent value.   Some restaurants you are able to book Bairro do Avillez from Chef José Avillez https://www.joseavillez.pt/pt/bairro-do-avillez ).  The dish I recommend is the giant red shrimp and the aged beef loin steakand others you can’t. 
Zero Zero (http://www.pizzeriazerozero.pt/#/principereal). 
I recommend the Couscous di Gamberi e Legumi  and the Quinoa salad with Tuna and Melograno with shallot and pumpkin seeds.
Most in Lisbon eat late – think past nine. So book for seven.  Or arrive at seven. 
“ESCAPE & REJUVENATE”
DESIGNED FOR THOSE SEEKING A VITALITY BOOST OR JUST INTERESTED IN AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ELEMENTS OF WELLNESS.

Check-in to a world of elegance at Corinthian Hotel Lisbon then check-out into the relaxation zone with a sublime Total Relax massage Aromatherapy massage. Fully recharge your batteries with an overnight stay in utter luxury before a delicious buffet breakfast the following morning.

PRICE: 160€
PACKAGE PRICE INCLUDES
•Accommodation with full buffet breakfast;
•One Aromatherapy massage, per person;
•Unlimited access to the heated indoor swimming pool and Fitness room

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NUN-MUST-STAY



People are increasingly treating travel like medicine – expecting a holiday to fix them – or their relationship. But travel is geography and ultimately you still end up with yourself.   Travel industry has reacted to the demand. Spas have morphed into retreats, a place you can cloister yourself from the world and get your mind, body and spirit back in alignment.  Many retreats are enclosed - away from the urban, usually within a rural setting, with a manufactured sense of calm (incense, candles, calming music) rather than an authentic one. Culture is an immense part of the authenticity. Some cultures are naturally embracing, others cooler and this will always come across in the staff however tightly they have been trained.  And dare you venture out, you will see what the real world is like –aggressive, judgemental and unfair. But there is a country where even the cities are retreats in themselves.  I visited the city of Quebec in eastern Canada to take in the progressive vibe. 


When I was young I wanted to be a nun.  I watched the film The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn and was fascinated by the discipline and serenity of living in a monastic world, where I would also travel, and save on all the heart-ache and hassle in getting into a relationship with a realman. The fact I wasn’t Catholic was a minor inconvenience, but as yoga is on trend and the world seems to be in need of a global Omm, I was intrigued by the idea of retreating into a monastery, where nuns still live, and where the alternative practice of yoga, tai chi, qi gong and a collection of alternative practices are offered to guests who are in seek of a retreat.  Le Monastere des Augustines is situated in the heart of Old Quebec City, and is part of one of the oldest heritage sites in Canada. Dating from the 17thcentury, old by North American standards, two and a half years ago, the monastery was transformed into a sixty-five bedroom contemporary retreat, offering value for money one to seven day packages. 
            There’s a fascinating museum telling you about the history of the place, as well as showing over 40,000 exhibits including the 13 layers the nuns use to dress in (all dolls to show them how they should look at the end of it).  Sort of instruction nuns. 
The yoga and meditation classes, which are included in all of the one to seven day packages, are excellent and for all levels. Held daily at 7am, midday and 5.30pm, breakfast is at eight, and you eat in silence. With most of the packages breakfast is included but check first as the different packages offer different meals inclusive of price.  The instructors speak English and French and use yoga, mediation, tai chi and qi gong as well as other relaxation techniques, which are highly effective.  Classes are held in the vaults which are well lit and create a very good space. As you may imagine, the energy is very calm and the instructors teach from the heart and are very knowledgeable and authentic.  The room is well lit although there are headless angels looking down over you which is slightly disconcerting but I felt there was a benevolent spirit looking down on me rather than a malevolent one. Massage, facials and other therapies are available but the best value packages are those where meals are included as are these thrice-daily sessions.  
Having had the guided tour of the museum, I felt the Augustine nuns were very progressive to the point of being positively cool – if nuns can be cool, these were seriously cool nuns. The Augustines practiced yoga long before it became on trend in the world. There’s still twelve living at the monastery, in a part separated only by a door, and you will see them occasionally. Many of the nuns specialised in certain areas and Augustines specialised in medicine. These nuns were nurses. During the Seven Year War (which the French won), they not only cared for the wounded soldiers, but also trained the doctors. These nuns were the original feminists. They were highly skilled and its fascinating reading about their work, how medicine developed, seeing the equipment they used from the operating table to the ventilator made out of a pig’s stomach. 
They also worked with the First Nation Indians and learnt and used local herbs and roots in their medicines.  I highly recommend having the guided tour although you can go round it by yourself, but you’ll learn some interesting and unusual facts which aren’t in the brochure.  One of them, which I found amusing, was the sewage system was very advanced and shared with the local Ursuline nuns (who were the teachers, and the Jesuits, who all came over on the same boat).  When archeologists were excavating to find out more about the history of the place and about how the nuns lived, they find out a lot about looking through the ‘shit’ (a bit like our tabloids do now), but they found very little in the sewage system of the monastery, claiming that ‘the holy shit was literally clean’.  Now you know. 
The bedrooms are either contemporary or the rooms the nuns would sleep in (simpler but still lovely), and although it is tempting to stay inside all the time – there is a chapel with service each day, I recommend venturing out into Old Quebec, which is literally on your doorstep.  Quebec is a city you should walk around.  Forget the taxis.  Walk up towards the Fairmont Chateau Fontrenac (five to ten minutes walk) and look over the St Laurence River.   This is no estuary.  Quebec is the inuit word for ‘where the river narrows’ and the force with which the water flows through creates a very powerful and positive vibe in the city. Artists flock here from around the world, not just because of the light, which is bright in the summer months, and silver bright in the winter.  Famous for its winter Carnavale, the city is blanketed in snow for five months - and the nurturing spirit rather than the commerciality of Christmas last with it. Travel down on the funicular railway and you’ll see the Old city, with its galleries, restaurants and cobbled squares.
The only time to take a car is when travelling to the Falls. Hire a guide with a car to take you to the Montmorecy Falls, which still flow but not as powerfully as they do in the Spring, and then onto the Island, connected by a bridge now (but use to be connected to the mainland by an ice bridge), and visit the local artists and artisans.  Its agricultural, so if you like food markets, you’ll love this place. There is a blackcurrant farm, where the owner is Picasso meets Gordon Ramsey.  A huge bronze statue of naked man greets you as you enter the farm’s shop which makes you remember the visit, if not buy some of the produce, which ranges from the jams, blueberry honey and coulis to the more unusual blueberry mustard and foie gras.  Its particularly famed for its cassis. My guide, Michelle, who has been living in Quebec all her life, and has two daughters, one a homeopath, the other a yoga instructor, is typical of those you meet.  If you want to eat vegan and vegetarian, as you can in the monastery, it is also possible to do so in restaurants, and unlike in France, I did not see anyone smoking during my stay – either in or out of buildings. Not one person “In the 90s, everyone stopped smoking here,” Michelle tells me. “People just realised it wasn’t doing them or their city any good.”

Fact Box. 

www.hotelgermain.ca
www.destinationcanada.com










YOGA FEST AFTER YOGA FAST IN LA CLUSAZ



With the growth in yoga festivals and the continued success of International Yoga Day, people are travelling further to seek inspiration, challenge and focus from their practice.  Usually following a tried and tested instructor rather than pitching up to a location, when a yoga festival happens there’s a wide choice of instructors to choose from and challenge the new.  It’s good to see what other instructors offer, even if it is only to find out you have found the best instructor for you already.  Most have ventured to California, Ibiza or India, but they are coming closer to home, and the latest in a village in the Aravis area of the 





French Alps has the potential to be the best. 
I recently returned from a yogafest in the mountain village of La Clusaz, about forty minutes drive from Geneva. A three day event, it is in its infancy, but has incredible potential to become one of the leading yoga festivals in the world. There is plenty of accommodation in what is mainly a ski resort, but which has an increasingly popular international mountain bike festival in June.  All the studios are lit with natural light, the main studio with panoramic views over the mountain range. It’s the sort of view one of the clubs in which I teach, has painted on the wall.   The air is clear, and the restaurants, which usually offer meat and dairy, are offering ‘menu equilibre’ with more balanced and vegetarian options.  There was a yogi market, with only about seven stall holders, but this will grow.  
The surrounding countryside and landscape is wonderful.   You are able to paddle board yoga with a view of the valley in the background, as hand gliders fly over head. It is like being in a Martini ad. 
The three days were packed with talks on nutrition, tantric, rhythmic dance, energy healing, acupuncture as well as many master classes from world class instructors. Catering for all levels, there was emphasis on parents and children taking part in many of the classes, although these were kept separate from the main master classes. 
Not all of them were in English – actually very few were, and although I speak French well, and Omm is Omm in any language, it made me realise the importance of not only voice in yoga, but also the importance of what is talked about around the asana. Yes, we are still able to understand the vibration of the voice, but the message is lost and the asana without the mind being able to assimilate the visualisations or identify how and why the poses present a challenge which enables us to grow, that things happen for us, not to us, are important messages to hear and understand when you are attempting a hand stand or side balance.  
I know this to be the case, as when I was going through the motions, the asana, without fully understanding what was being said, the practice didn’t go deep. When I did it reached far deeper. This is my experience. 
I sit in lotus and close my eyes and allow the instructor’s words to sink into me. Absorbed like water to a sponge. I soak them up and see what happens. 
And thoughts come into my head. I see a little girl in my arms. And then a dark haired boy and another boy, with fair hair.  But only half there. Once faintly etched. But I feel the love of the little girl. And the dark haired boy is staring at me.  And I know. They are the ones I let go. I didn’t have the emotional or financial support to have these children so I let them go. In my mind’s eye I see the little girl in my arms is looking at me the way Tom, my only son, looked at me all those years ago. And the little boy is looking at me, so strong and standing upright. The fair haired boy is not as strong. But I love him anyway.  
See what I mean?   Look beyond the pretentious twaddle of what some of the yoga world has become and see it for what it is. The internal journeys we take are so much more interesting than the outer ones. But the outer ones give us ways to describe the inner. That is the authentic purpose of travel.  A way to find out more about your self and ultimately find peace. 
La Clusaz is a natural haven for yoga – surrounded by mountains, with streams running through it. Walking through the village, La Clusaz teaches you to look up. Mountains teach you to look up and be strong.  The streams running through the village teach you to keep in the flow, to go with the flow, to move on, to not stagnate in body, thought or action. And the calm, teaches you to be centred. The cowbells teach you to live in the moment, like little myan balls reminding you of being in the now. The festival was only four days, but this place is ideal for yoga any day of the year. 
Next year there will be more English speaking instructors who will hold the classes in English.  Bi lingual teachers will also offer the ‘bonjour hi’ element to sessions which I recently experienced while in Quebec at Le Monastere, where the instructors talk in both French and English and dance between the two.  
In its infancy, the festival was free of the pretentious twaddle that often the more established festivals fall prey to.  Authenticity and soul is sacrificed for commercial gain and getting the balance right is as challenging as it often is in the asana. 
The instructor taught me to hand stand on my right then my left hand.  He told the class how before that morning practice he walked in the hills and carried a seed around with him to remind him these mighty trees grew from something so small. La Clusaz yoga festival, though small, is perfectly formed, and has all the right ingredients to establish itself as the best yoga annual festival in the world. I will enjoy watching it grow. 

#annecymoutnains
laclusaz
@laclusazskiresort
For details about the festival contact. http://www.katymisson.com/en/home/
+33 6 67 27 15 82 info@katymisson.com
Yoga Festival prices:
Prices for the festival :
- 20 euros for one session
- 180 euros for 2 days
- 210 euros for 3 days
Hotel les Sapins from 85 euros per room per night 
For further details about the festival check out website