Archives for category: Health & Wellbeing

One of the best things about traveling is discovering local hidden gems. What do the locals do? Where do they go? Give me something outside the normal tourist experience, please.

May I introduce you to La Huerta Sport Club.

I have a friend who lives in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. I came down for a long overdue visit and to scope the area out as I’m considering a career/life change. My friend has been living here for about a year and a half now and has often spoken about the gym he works out at and the personal trainer he’s working with. Mostly he just likes sending me photos of their outdoor pool when Vancouver’s outdoor pools are closed.

Now that I am here, I wanted to see it all for myself. I love this place. It’s a gym in the middle of farmland and is surrounded by corn fields, mango fields, and every now and again some cows. Another bonus is that it’s about a 4-minute walk from my friend’s place. The club includes a full gym, another workout room used for classes, 4 tennis courts, a soccer field and the previously mentioned pool.

The road to La Huerta is just off one of the main roads. It’s looking a little worse for wear as this was taken 2 days after a tropical storm hit, but it’s always a dirt road.

Take the 2nd dirt road to your right off the main dirt road….


Being a local gym, it’s also nicely affordable. As is Jorge, the personal trainer.  So I signed on pretty quickly upon arriving. I work out in the morning and go back for a swim in the afternoon when I’m not beaching it. Jorge is fantastic. After assessing my fitness level and asking me what my goal is (one must have a goal so he can help you achieve it) my workouts alternate between 20-minute circuit/cardio training one day and strictly cardio the next day. Trust me, that 20-minute circuit is tough. Jorge is very attentive, making sure my form/posture is correct, frequently shouting “you can do it Lise” in my ear and even telling me he can see all the crap in my body leaving. Oh yes, he says that. He also says we need to get all the grease out of my body. I’m assuming by ‘grease’ he means ‘fat’, and I have to admit I prefer ‘grease’. It’s easier to visualize and my immediate reaction is ‘gross, get that crap out of me!’.

Looking back at the gym from the pool.

View from the elliptical machine – makes working out on it much more enjoyable.

Today I told Jorge I have to leave tomorrow because I got the call and need to get back to work. He was genuinely disappointed and said he is going to miss seeing all my faces (I have  tendency to give him a funny/I’m going to die look when he asks me how I’m doing). He also told me that I need to keep doing this and to not ‘cheat myself’. Awesome.

I said goodbye to Jorge today as he leaves tomorrow for Mexico City. You see, Jorge is competing in the Mexican Jiu-Jitsu national championships this weekend. Go get’em!

Tomorrow I will say goodbye to La Huerta after a cardio workout and a last swim in the pool. Muchas gracias Jorge and La Huerta. Until we meet again.

Aaaahhh, the pool.



Day 8 – An end to the retreat. We had one last sit at 6:15, breakfast at 7:00, then back on the banana boats at 8am. At the end of our sitting Julie (the yoga teacher) advised us that some people would feel grief over having to leave and some would be excited about taking what they got out of this retreat back into the world. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might feel sad about leaving. To be honest, I was thinking it was time. But as soon as she said this…I have to admit I got a little teary-eyed. Dominica (from Sydney) said that she thought the grief was about leaving a place where you are completely safe – it doesn’t matter what you say, feel, do – you’re safe and supported by everyone else. And because everyone is ‘mindful’ of what they say and do there’s no friction. Smart lady.

As much as people didn’t want to leave, it was time to go. And why would you want to leave? Everything is taken care of, the food is fabulous and the setting unbelievable.

There are a lot of other things I could say about the retreat, but I’ll end with just a couple of observations:

  • Have to admit my butt was sore by the end of it – not because of exercise, but because of spending so much time sitting on it! I really need to work on ‘being with the discomfort’ and not repositioning myself as often. I’m told the trick is to not move around as an automatic reaction, but to do it out of care for your body and knowing the difference between the two. Something to work on.
  • Day 7,  5:00pm circle. Seated on my mat I look up and see Michelle and Steven. In my little head they paint the perfect picture of balance. Steven:  strong, grounded – the anchor. Michelle:  light, full of smiles and laughter – she just soars. And I smile. “Stay grounded and let yourself fly Lise. Just fly.”

To close off on the retreat, here are some more of my favourite photos. Thanks for reading. The next posts will be about Bali experiences.

clouds reflected on the lake

This is actually the clouds and sky reflected on the lake. Crazy.

view from my hut

Taken from in front of my hut.


Even in the middle of nowhere Thailand...

View from washrooms

The view as you walk down from the washrooms.

the gang

The retreat-ees

Michelle is too cute

And we're off. That's Michelle and Steven. She is too darn cute.


That's Tim. He's 78 years old. He and his wife (not sure how old she is, but approximately the same age as Tim) came from Hawaii. This was no easy trip for them. Still, they were here. I was fortunate enough to witness what was probably the most beautiful kiss I've ever seen. Tim and Caroline kissed while on the boat back to the dock - there was so much love, affection, respect, was phenomenal. Only Silla and I were behind them on the boat. We just looked at each other and new we'd been witness to one of the most wonderful moments. They are so inspiring.

The race is on

And the race is on. Michelle is actually trying to paddle her boat past ours.

Our chauffeur.

Thank you lake retreat. And thank you to everyone and everything that made it possible for me to be there.


Day 5 –  I felt “sad” and “tired” (really, really tired actually). So I let the tears come when they felt like it and I napped during the afternoon break and was back to my peaceful self by evening. This was also the day of my 2nd interview, this time with Steven. I told him I was feeling tired and sad. And I proceeded to explain where I felt the sadness came from. He reminded me to let go of the story around the sadness and just feel it. One of the ‘lessons’ is around being able to simply sit with whatever emotion you’re feeling and not get all caught up in the story that goes with it – just feel the emotion. And then realize that you are not your emotions. Michelle said “not all emotions need to be acted upon, but they do all need to be understood”. Right. Thanks for the reminder Steven. I told him about a quote that popped into my head. In one of his books Paolo Coelho says something to the effect that ‘the more I tell my story, the less my story it is’. And somewhere in my head this was all coming together and making sense. I just couldn’t quite put it into words. It seems I get it on one level, but don’t have the words to explain it. Steven said “don’t try. If you understand it on an intuitive level, there’s no need to explain it.” Right. Part of the vipassana retreat is to get out of your head and understand things on a pre-cognitive/intuitive level. Great, seems like I’m doing this, so no need to try to figure out the words to describe it. Phew.

Day 6 – Irritated. Everything irritated me – and I mean everything…. the rain, the sound of someone breathing, the way someone sat….anything and everything. The thing is, as much as my head was telling me what was irritating me, I just didn’t get completely caught up in the “stories”. I just kind of sat quietly with it. Michelle and Steven who run the retreat are exceptional at letting you know that whatever happens for you in a retreat is exactly what should happen for you, and it is completely different and personal for everyone.  Still, feeling irritated isn’t all that enjoyable. I was happy to be back to my peaceful self by dinner.

Day 7 – We come out of silence. Instead of the 2pm sit, it was a time for questions about how we take whatever we’ve cultivated here and bring it with us to the ‘real world’. Then from 3:00-5:00pm it’s time for ‘mindful talking’. After spending a week with people you’ve never spoken to, you want to talk to them. See if the stories you’ve made up about them are accurate – and they rarely are. Still, some people might not want to talk as much as others, so be mindful of that. Also, don’t formulate your response while people are still talking. I don’t know about you, but I do this a lot…. Don’t be afraid to take some time in silence before  you respond. Got it. But to be honest, it seemed like most people just wanted to talk to each other!

At 5:00pm we come together again, sat in a circle and people were invited to share a ‘snapshot’ or insight of their retreat. It’s not mandatory, you speak if you want to. Here’s my snapshot:

  • In one of his teachings Steven said “any kind of comparing is conceit. It’s never accurate, it’s based on an accumulative assessment of ourselves”. When he said that I thought, Holy Crap! Am I ever conceited! I do this all the time! I sat with that for a bit and then realized that this ‘conceit’ is born out of insecurity, which is born out of the fear of not being loved (or more accurately, not being loveable, or deserving of love). The good news? I went through this without freaking out. I just kind of thought “huh, okay, onwards.” So thanks for that.

Then it was dinner and back to silence for the remainder of the day.

My home

My home for the 8 days.

Favorite View

One of my favourite views - the huts across the lake at night.

huts at night

Zooming in on the huts across the lake.

My ‘little’ brother Jacques arrives from Italy tonight. So time to get up to date with these posts. I’ll try to be as concise as possible re the rest of the retreat. Here goes.
Day 2 – first full day of silence. This is a Vipassana retreat. “Vi” = nature, and “passana” = as things are. This means a vipassana retreat is the practice of seeing things as they are – without acting upon it, doing anything about it, fixing it, obsessing over it, whatever. Just see things as they are without attachment. All in all, a peaceful day as I try to sit without fidgeting.
Day 3 – I break silence for the first time – it came at about 5:10am, in the washrooms when a critter of some sort bit my leg. Wasn’t an all-out scream, more of a wimpy squeak. I knew it was going to be a bug that caused me to break silence…I just knew it. This was also the day of my first ‘interview’. You meet with either Michelle or Steven for 15 minutes. It’s your time to ask them questions and their time to check in with you to ensure you’re doing okay. I interviewed with Michelle. She is a phenomenal lady. Funny, light, smart, laughs a lot. Love her. We chatted and the one thing that I took away with me was Michelle saying “side by side with the thinking mind, concentration happens”. So when concentrating on whichever meditation we’re doing, it’s okay for thoughts to come and go, it’s when we get lost in the thinking that we need to anchor back into our bodies. I explained to Michelle that a while back in either a yoga or meditation class, I started picturing thoughts as ‘cartoon bubbles that float over my head’. She said she loved that, so I figured I’m doing okay.
Day 4 – The Jungle Puts On A Show – and boy was it ever amazing. During our lunch break my neighbour noticed there were monkeys in the trees behind our huts (she whispered….I tried not to, but ended up whispering ‘thank you’ as she leant me her binoculars so I could have a closer look. There was a mum with her baby – she was black with some white on her face, and her baby was orange. It was wonderful seeing them jump around and eat in their natural environment. If you look closely, you’ll see one in the picture below.

Take a close look. He's in the middle...little black spot. Wish I had a camera with more zoom.

Next came the prehistoric looking Hornbill. He was AWESOME! Unfortunately he swooped down as I was eating lunch and I didn’t have my camera with me. You heard him coming before you saw him – his wing span is that large, and his arms/legs are fairly close to his body so part of the noise is the rubbing on the body of the arms/legs. I honestly felt like I was in Jurassic Park and that a T-Rex was going to come next. If I wasn’t already in silence, I would have been speechless.
This was also New Year’s Eve. And we were lucky enough to participate in a Thai tradition. You build ‘floats’ and then once the sun goes down put them in the water and they float away with whatever wishes or ‘letting go’ you send with them. I’m not sure what the base was made from, but we folded large leaves and stuck them to the base with toothpicks. Then we put a candle in the middle, 3 stick of incense and decorated them with flowers. We also had to add a piece of thread from our clothes, a fingernail clipping, and a strand of hair. A strand of hair? I looked at Beth our hostess (she runs Jungle Yoga) and said “a strand of hair”. She was quick to reply “you’ll just have to get it from somewhere else, you have to have a piece of your hair in it”. Enough said. Enough said.
New Year's Eve - float making

I was trying hard not to laugh out loud here. Wish I could remember the Thai name for the 'floats', but apparently when you're busy trying to empty your mind it's difficult to retain anything.

Finished float

I'm all done. Can't possibly add any more flowers.

Floats are set free

And there they go. Happy New Year everyone! Lots of love, laughter, joy, good health and prosperity for 2012.

It was a great day. It was also the first day I had any challenges with the silence. No challenge in keeping silent, or wanting the silence. But when we started working on our floats, people starting talking and laughing and I found myself thinking “no! don’t intrude on my silence!”. Interesting.


I was told by a few people that the ‘norm’ for these retreats is that it takes 2 – 3 days for the voice in your head to quiet, and then “all your shit will hit you in the face”. So, it wasn’t without some trepidation that I set out for my first retreat. What shit was going to hit me in the face? Haven’t I already worked all that out? I know what my shit is, I’ve been dealing with it…what now?

Well….To those of you who were looking forward to stories of my total breakdown and rebuild….there was no major breakdown. Which is not to say there weren’t breakthroughs…there were. If I had to come up with only one word to describe the retreat I’d say “peace”. But one word really isn’t enough. And it is entirely possible that this is my word for the retreat because it’s over and that’s what I feel now. There were some ups and downs, but generally speaking, I really just felt “at peace”. Here are some highlights.

Day 1 – arrival – “Let it be”. Being a planner, arriving to see that the daily schedule wasn’t already figured out and that the times for massages weren’t already sorted and that everything wasn’t as ‘set up and organized as I would have it’ was a bit of a surprise. Good news is, I didn’t immediately take over and ‘fix it’. Really, who am I to do that? I did, however, point out that the massage schedule needed to be fixed or they’d have two people showing up at the same time and considering there was only 1 massage therapist, that wasn’t going to be good. Mind you, having two people who are in silence battle it out for the massage might have been interesting. Other than the massage schedule, I just rolled with it. And you know, it all worked out. Here’s the daily schedule:

  • 5:30am – wake up
  • 5:45am – sit (seated meditation)
  • 6:30am – yoga
  • 7:30am – breakfast
  • 8:30am – sit – guided (by either Michelle or Steven, the two leaders/teachers of the retreat)
  • 9:30am – walking meditation
  • 10:30am – sit
  • 11:30am – walking meditation
  • 12:00 – 2:00pm – lunch and ‘mindful rest’
  • 2:00pm – sit – guided
  • 3:00-4:30pm – yoga
  • 5:00pm – dharma talk – i.e. Buddhist lessons, by either Michelle or Steven
  • 6:00pm – dinner
  • 7:00pm – sit
  • 7:45pm – walking meditation
  • 8:15 – lying down meditation
  • 8:45 – sleep
A very structured day, which started on ‘day 2’, as day 1 was the day we arrived. People volunteer to ring the bell to indicate the sessions that happen after a break. My friend Alex (who sat this retreat before) gave me some very good practical advice before I came. He said: when you pick your hut make sure you test the boards, you don’t want to fall through; if you’re the first person in the washroom in the morning look for spiders; and volunteer to ring the bell to wake people up in the morning at least once. Why? because it’s amazing to be the only person awake, out in the middle of nowhere. Thank you Alex – that was great advice. The way this retreat was structured, if you volunteered to ring the bell at any given time slot, you rang it the entire retreat. And so I volunteered to be up ringing the bell from 5:20-5:30am every day. And as the first person in the washroom, I made sure I looked out for spiders. Happy to report that none were seen, or felt.
Ringing the wake-up bell quickly became one of my favourite things. The huts, dining sala and meditation sala form a u shape. And to ensure everyone woke up, I walked the docks ringing the bell in front of each hut. If I new whose hut it was, I said a silent good morning. I got up at 5:00am, went to the washroom and sat on the main deck looking out to the lake and up at the sky. One morning I was treated to shooting stars. Beautiful. A sky full of stars reflected on the lake, and shooting starts to boot. I felt both incredibly small and alive. And extremely fortunate. Just before I’d head out to ring the bell, Ira, a 72-year old from Florida, would get up to have his coffee. There he was, like clockwork, every morning. It put a smile on my face.
On the second to last day a few more people were up early. Everyone was used to the schedule now. As I finished ringing the bell, Mitch (from Calgary) jokingly whispered he should have paddled me around the lake to ring the bell (they have kayaks). I laughed and said ‘tomorrow’. That’s right – silence was broken a few times by whispers…more on that later. So on our last day, I hopped into a kayak and Mitch paddled me around the lake for the ringing of the morning bells. Fabulous. Later that day (once the silence was over) Silla (born in Quebec City, now living in Hong Kong) said I was like “the lady of the lake”. Mitch remarked that it was too bad we hadn’t been doing that all week – if we had I would surely have been standing at the front of the kayak by day 8. I had visions of standing up, ringing the bell and yelling “I’m the Queen of the World” – and immediately falling over into the lake. Hmmm, maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t do that all week.
Alex – thank you, thank you, thank you. I likely would not have volunteered to ring the wake up bell if you  hadn’t recommended it. You were definitely right.
Need to sign off now, as my computer is almost out of battery. A solution for recharging is being figured out my by lovely hosts (as I can’t use the adapter on my mac..). So hopefully more to come tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of the meditation/yoga room.
The meditation and yoga room

Our meditation and yoga room


View from my mat

The view from my mat - what can I say, I'm a 'back of the class' kind of girl.


I seem to have traded one paradise for another, having just arrived in Bali. But more on that later. First – the 8-day silent meditation retreat. Part 1 – Getting there.

To my pleasant surprise, the 13 1/2 hour flight to Hong Kong ‘flew’ by. With the help of a few movies…

  • Crazy Stupid Love — was wondering how many times I could watch it during the flight, but resisted that temptation and moved onto…
  • Love Actually — hey, it was boxing day, and I consider this to be a Christmas movie
  • Friends with benefits — liked it a lot more than I thought I would (could have been the  wine…)
  • The Help — awesome. Now I really want to read the book.
  • Elf — really, it was still Christmas!
  • 2 episodes of Modern Family. Oh how they make me laugh.

Love flying Cathay Pacific. So friendly, so many flight attendants, and the meals are actually meals. They still give you menus – even in the back of the plane, which I can guarantee you is where I was.

Hong Kong to Bangkok was uneventful (thankfully) and after a short night at the airport hotel I flew from Bangkok to Suratthani, which is where the adventure really begins.

There were a number of us on the flight from Bangkok to Suratthani, but mostly we didn’t know each other. I was the first to find the van driver with his small ‘jungle yoga’ sign – which he wasn’t really all that interested in actually holding up for people to see. Apparently there’s something about me that made people think I was the yoga instructor who’d organized the retreat registration – so slowly people started asking me if I was here for the retreat. I’m putting that down to my shaved head, not so much to exuding a ‘yoga/meditation teacher’ aura. Julie, the actual yoga teacher at the retreat, was also on the same flight and we were soon put into two vans and on our way to Khao Sok National Park. It really is an amazing place. You get to the dock, pay 200 Thai Baht  (about $6.50 Cdn) as an entry fee to the park and then you’re loaded onto big banana boats with even bigger engines at the back. Just look for yourselves…

Banana boat engine

Yup, that’s it alright. Noisy sucker too.

The lake itself is quite incredible. It was made in 1985 when the Thai government built a dam. It’s a reservoir that provides southern Thailand with power. I can’t imagine the lake not being there. Trust me, this is no small lake! And very, very beautiful.

That’s our banana boat driver, and you can start seeing the limestone cliffs and jungle.

It was a little hazy when we got there – it is a rainforest after all. But still so incredibly gorgeous.

Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary

Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary

45 minutes after leaving the dock, we approach our ‘jungle home’. This is where we’re going to spend the next 8 days resting, reflecting, meditating, doing a little yoga, eating some of the most wonderful food I’ve ever eaten – seriously, every mouthful was an explosion of deliciousness. And we never ate the same thing twice! Well, other than the fresh papaya and pineapple, which I just could not get enough of. All the ‘buildings’ are on water, except for the washrooms which are on land. So we’re also on water for the next 8 days. Thankfully it’s a calm lake. As we get closer, we know we’re headed to an incredibly special place.

Our home for the next 8 days comes into view

Our homes for the next 8 days

When the banana boat’s engine cut, we all fell to silence. Partly in awe of this place, partly because we simply did not want to intrude. We were surrounded by the most amazing ‘quiet’ – filled with the sounds of the jungle: birds, gibbons, monkeys, cicadas, etc. Slowly we came out of it and started talking as we unloaded our boat and waited for the second one. Then it was time to pick a hut and get settled. Our first sit (seated meditation) was at 6pm and that’s when the silence officially began.

More on the silent retreat to come…this post is long enough! I thought it important that you see where exactly this retreat takes place – it is incredible, and honestly, part of the reason I decided to do this. So thank you Erin for telling me about your experience here and getting me hooked on the idea of doing it myself. It was awesome.

After almost a year of planning this…the day has come. Today I fly Vancouver-Hong Kong-Bangkok; overnight in Bangkok; Bangkok-Surat Thani. Then it’s an hour’s drive up the mountain to a lake, and an hour on a boat to get to where I will spend the next 8 days. Officially I get there somewhere around 1:30-2:00pm on December 28th – local time. So in other words, it is one heck of  a long trek to get there. But definitely worth it. Have a look, this is where I’ll be staying…   Jungle Yoga.

I think I might actually time how long it takes from door to door. One thing’s for sure, I’m going to have to keep reminding myself that the journey is part of the vacation. Enjoy the 13 1/2 hour flight to Hong Kong. Forget that I’m in a confined environment, some 35,000+ feet above the ground. Seriously, who decided that it was necessary to announce how many feet about the ground we’re going to fly? I do not need to know this. I like my feet firmly planted on the ground and have no desire to know how far away from that I am. Anyhow, I’m prepared. Laptop – check. Movies – check. Ipod – check. Book – check. Journal – check.

Once I get to Thailand, it’s an 8-day silent retreat in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. It’s my first time going to Thailand and I’m really looking forward to it. Why an 8-day silent retreat? Good question. I’m not sure I really have an answer, other than why not? For years I’ve told people I practice yoga not so much for the physical side of things (although my body does love how yoga makes me feel), but to quiet the voices in my head. Admittedly I like to see the look on people’s faces when I say that. I’ve even had a few people say “you hear voices?”. Oh yes, it’s my voice, and it’s constant. I once did two 90-minute hot yoga classes back to back. In that 2nd class – there was no voice. It was awesome.

Recently I’ve heard that human beings have on average 10 conversations going on in their heads at any one time. We’re just not conscious of them all.  So why an 8-day silent retreat? To quiet the voice in my head. And we’ll see what happens then….

For obvious reasons, I can’t blog while in retreat. But journal I will. And as a number of you have asked, I’ll blog about it when I’m out.

Ciao for now. I hope the Holiday Season is wonderful to you and that 2012 brings you much love, joy, prosperity and good health.