Looking for a summer tone-up, the fashion designer and socialite (far right) visited the Light In Mykonos retreat and discovered the stress-busting power of Yin yoga (and a cocktail or two)
Back in May, when summer was approaching, I (like most people) rushed to the gym for a quick tone up. I hot-footed it to the KX gym in Draycott Avenue in Chelsea for one of one of Paola Di Lanzo's PBB Cardio Barre classes. It’s a fast-paced, high intensity routine which fuses HIIT with functional training and ballet-inspired movements. The Italian-Australian Barre specialist is a mother of three (unbelievable if you see her fantastically toned physique) which must have earned her the patience of a saint while teaching. She has gained quite a following with the ‘It Fit’ squad; Millie Macintosh dedicated pages to Paola in her book Made , model Amber Le Bon visits her classes on the regular at her beautiful Fulham studio, Paola’s Bodybarre . Her method is a mix of barre, kickboxing and pilates. I usually see results pretty quickly.
One day after class, Paola mentioned she was teaching on a retreat in Mykonos run by super yogini Danai Kougiouli, who completed the Jivamukti Yoga teacher training in New York. I have always wanted to go on a retreat and what better place than on the epically stunning island of Mykonos.
The next thing I knew I was booking an easyJet and packing my Lycra. It was the first trip I had made where I knew no one. On morning of the flight, I was having second thoughts. As much as I loved fitness, I wasn't sure I could take something as intense as this, especially when I didn’t know a soul.
These concerns were quickly erased when I arrived at a beautiful villa overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Aegean and was greeted by an uber-zen Danai, who was heavily pregnant (not surprisingly, she wasn’t teaching on this retreat). Danai founded the Light in Mykonos yoga retreats in 2012. As part of the Luminous Club (a group of like-minded yoga teachers), she runs retreats and classes around the world. Yoga is something that I am learning to enjoy - it doesn’t come that naturally to me. I take a class from time to time and use it more as a way to unwind mentally. I find it usually helps clear my head.
Danai’s aim is to ensure that guests have a meaningful and even life-changing yoga experience. Whether it’s a yoga and fitness retreat, or a retreat based around a specific style of yoga that she is hosting, she works with only the best instructors, who she is proud to endorse.
Being Greek herself and having spent time on the island growing up, Danai was eager for people to fall in love with Mykonos in the same way that she did. Six years ago began running retreats. The idea was to connect people with a deeply transformative yoga practice combined with fitness, but for it still to feel like a holiday. She told me that guests on the Light in Mykonos retreats always seemed to form new friendships, which extended beyond their time on the island. This was definitely true for me. I made so many wonderful new friends from all over the world (there were around 20 of us in total). Some of Paola's fans had flown over from Australia, America and London. We all ended up hanging out together going to the beach or Mykonos town for sunset cocktails and a delicious dinner.
I was only able to stay for four days of the seven-day retreat, but threw myself into the early morning starts with an 8.30am session with Paola outside in the shade on the terrace overlooking the stunning view of the sea and the Greek landscape. Each morning, the class was different and focused on all areas of the body.
Paola is the most inspiring teacher; she remembers everything about each student and modifies the exercises where needed. Her gentle yet encouraging style and infectious energy are inspiring. She always has a killer playlist too, which helps. Using two-pound weights, resistance bands, pilates balls and circles, she constantly mixes up the routine. Her signature move - the kickboxing ballerina - will set your abs on fire.
After an hour’s class, we would take a ten-minute water break and go straight into yoga with Natasha Kerry . At the group’s request we focused Yin yoga - also known as sleep yoga. Yin involves holding a series of poses for long periods in order to maximise their effect. We requested this after Natasha introduced it, as we all fell in love with the deep relaxation in brought on. We were all also exhausted from Paola’s class so Yin was the perfect follow-on.
Natasha is so passionate about yoga - you can’t not be infected by her enthusiasm. My practice definitely improved under her guidance. I was able to discover some great yoga stretches that loosened up my legs, removing any pain from Paola’s intense workout. I also learned a lot more about the importance of breath - during a slow practice such as Yin, it’s easier to concentrate on getting the breath right. Natasha’s focus is on doing the poses correctly rather than rushing through them. She also allows you a chance to dedicate your practice to something or someone, which I found a really beautiful way of thanking the world as well as connecting the mind and body. We have so much to be thankful and grateful for and we never stop to think about it - so this was a powerful chance for reflection.
Yin is a great way to stretch after an intense workout, not to mention unwind and relax - perfect for people who suffer with any anxiety or stress. On two of my days, Natasha took us for sunset yoga on the beach, which was truly magical. Yin is a new type of class for me and something I am incorporating into my wellbeing routine back home. It helped with my sleep and is good for people who suffer with any sleep issues.
Straight after yoga, we tucked into brunch - a delicious buffet of eggs, avocados, fruits and veggies. The afternoon was ours to do with as we wished, which mainly consisted of relaxing by one of the three pools or having quiet time in our rooms.
Come evening, it was down to us to make our own dinner plans. Many of us went into town where we drank and ate lots and enjoyed ourselves. If you want a retreat where each meal is measured out, this won’t work for you. I preferred this relaxed approach as it gave the feeling of a holiday as well as being a good opportunity to explore the island and all its fantastic restaurants. This is not a retreat where you are made to hike at 6am or are starved, but you do feel the burn and see it a difference just from the two or three classes a day. It was more like a holiday with fitness and had an element of going back to school (in the best possible way).
The accommodation is no-frills but very comfortable – your room is basic with air conditioning, it’s cleaned every day and supplied with fresh towels. You need to book your own flights, rent your own car to travel into town and the beach and organise your daytime and dinner. The vibe was positive and friendly and I have taken away many new friendships. Teachers such as Paola and Natasha are unique – and after all the hard work you know there's a cocktail waiting for you in town later. All in all, the perfect retreat for me.
Five things I took away from the retreat
1. I try to take a barre class with Paola once a week even if it’s just watching one of her videos at home on YouTube. You don’t need very much space or equipment to do them, so perfect for someone whose always traveling or has little space or equipment .
2. I learned to push myself. There were times when the heat and exhaustion almost got the better of me, but thanks to my teachers and classmates, I pushed on and saw the results.
3. I learned to breathe deeply. Yin yoga has helped me to control my breath during exercise or times of stress.
4. I rediscovered the fun of working out. Once you turn something that is a chore into something fun, it becomes much more pleasant. I’ve stopped watching the clock!
5. Gratitude. I feel truly grateful for the experience remind myself of that when I’m in my office knee deep in T-shirts and sorting boxes or stuck in a traffic jam.
PRICES: The seven-night yoga and fitness retreat on Mykonos start from £850/person sharing a triple room, £1100/person sharing a double room, £1600/person private room. It includes daily yoga and fitness, brunch, a welcome dinner, transfers, a week's supply of Plenish cold pressed juices upon your return.