Finding the way out of burn out at Shanti-Som, Spain
So there I am on the bus trying to be mindful, taking in the colours of Camden Town, the multicultural faces of London, the sounds of different languages, when I reach for my phone inside my bag and realise: instead of emptying a little bag of rubbish from my flat into the bin outside, there it is in my shopper bag. I'm carting around my rubbish? On this day I lost my travel card and had to replace it not once, but twice. Wired up unable to sleep (again) in the early hours of the following morning I got up pondering that I needed a break after a difficult few months. Then I crashed into furniture and broke a toe.
I started looking at award-winning travel company Wellbeing Escapes. The name summed up what I needed. Beautiful places with soothing descriptions. I needed to get away from everything and everyone, even loved ones; only the thought of packing, airports, planes, hotels was just tooooooo too much. I just wanted to be somehow dropped into an oasis of calm, somewhere with no choices.
I had a flashback to a pre-internet era, a wonderful travel agent in Soho who listened to your wish list and budget and then made the ideal recommendation. So I emailed. I got some lovely suggestions but I was still full of buts. I was a Difficult Customer. Just call us they said, so I did. I was full of and specific about don’t wants - including don’t needs.
I go to yoga and Pilates classes, don't eat processed food, drink minimal alcohol, have time for hobbies and don't commute, yet I was burnt out. Sometimes, life gets very much in the way. The good habits keep us going but they amount to fuel sustaining a wreck.
Stella and Natalie at Wellbeing Escapes listened - and got me.
And so it was I found that 'somewhere'.
Shanti-Som sounds like it’s a spa in the Far East but in fact it’s a wellbeing retreat a couple of hours and a bit from Gatwick and then a pleasant taxi ride from Malaga, Spain to the unspoiled nature reserve Sierra de las Nieves.
I arrived with my London head not getting the Buddhas and Bali in an Andalucian valley. This was the middle of nowhere. A driven mind will keep going even with a broken toe.
My snap hasty impression was luxury Buddhist monastery meets boutique hotel where you half expect the cast of 'Made in Chelsea' to pop up with their mums. The 14 rooms have names like Knowledge and Kindness. I got Passion. So I was set for a pleasant enough few days of rest.
Many of the guests at Shanti-Som have high powered, stressful jobs and come here to re-charge. There were couples here to do so together, and many solos too. One Belgian consultant who works internationally said this was her second time in a year. A Dutch head of international operations who regularly zips from Africa to America within a week basked in going from yoga to the dining room and his room.
A British woman facing two operations and brain scans came to gather strength. A Dutch singer was dealing with losing her husband. A Belgian wife and mother needed time alone.
There was a group of five glam Dutch sisters on a bonding detox cheering as the days went on and real food got closer. On their last night they super-glammed up and went clubbing in Marbella somewhere not with 'young people, but people our age'.
Groups of three or two or five people looked like close friends yet turned out to have met two or three nights before. To begin with I was reserved and didn’t sit at the table for solos. My mind was too scrambled from the previous months.
I soon got the point of Shanti-Som: forget this is Spain, forget this is anywhere. This is where you come to let go of time and place. For me the luxury of being at the edge of boredom was exhilarating. I did a lot of contemplating the flowers and plants, everyday each time I looked at the same place I noticed something new and every day I was drawn to new parts of the gardens.
The fact that there's no hotel reception but a simple desk in a lobby that's no lobby but a chill-out place with a log fire sets the mood. This might be a five star venue, but there's no formality here, the service is warm stars. Because brown rice takes a good half hour to cook and I liked this side dish for lunch with another side dish of vegetables, I could pre-order and Yana (a Slovakian living in Spain for 20 years) made sure this was ready to suit me when I was done with a treatment.
The spa staff are not bored girls selling products and making small talk. Wellbeing Escapes weren't exaggerating when they said the treatments here are great. I had Sara for my stress relief massage. Her strong magic hands worked through my multi muscle tensions. It turns out her English father runs the European Shiatsu school in Ojen nearby. Naturally I booked a shiatsu massage with her the next day. As we started sitting on the futon and she really looked at me I thought how wise and intuitive she is for her 20 something years.
My body hasn't been the same since a knee ligament reconstruction 5 years ago. Surgery fixed the injury but caused other problems and these, added to wear and tear have resulted in a body that complains to me. 'But it's also emotional tension,' said Sara observing evidence of my anxious nature when I wasn't sure if the session had ended, if I'd fallen asleep, if I was supposed to do something, if something was going to happen next. I didn't say anything but she observed it all in my face.
My next massage was with Javier, an actor turned personal trainer, Pilates teacher and massage therapist. I let him decide what I needed. Well it was like someone sinking their hands right inside my body. 'This is a Pandora's box,' he said as I yelped, laughed, and later cried with relief. I felt lighter afterwards, like I was me again. Through my body my mind was released. A miracle.
And so I became one of those people who looked like I came away here with friends, eating (the food is plentiful and tasty) and drinking organic red wine with them. I spent my last day in Marbella with Leoni and Liliana, shopping, eating and walking on the beach. In the early evening we stopped at a village bar and ran back to the car laughing in the rain.
I was me again.