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The best healthy hotels and retreats to head to this year

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

Disclaimer. I have never been a fan of mainstream yoga. There, I said it. Despite trying different teachers, classes and versions, my love affair with yoga has never quite clicked… until that is, I visited the Malabar Yoga Retreat in Zimbabwe. Nestled on the banks of the Zambezi River, at the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, is a truly unique retreat that combines a refined and ancient Asian practice with a rugged and glorious African landscape. The practice I speak of is called Lu Jong and if you haven’t heard of it before, you will now because, after hundreds, if not thousands of years, yoga’s best-kept secret is finally descending from the snowy haze of the Himalayas and into our daily lives. And not a moment too soon because Lu Jong – also known as Tibetan healing yoga – is a gentle yet powerful practice developed by Buddhist monks as a way of balancing the body, mind, and soul through slow, deliberate movements and deep, mindful breathing. If performed correctly and regularly, the 21 Lu Jong movements will promote health and prevent illness, as well as leaving you relaxed yet invigorated after each practice. The sheer fact that the slang phrase “Namaste bitches” is trending, goes to show that mainstream yoga has become somewhat of a trend, and while Indian yoga certainly has it’s merits, it seems that it has slowly become a watered-down version of what was originally intended, resulting in a loss of intention behind the practice. So how did this tiny slice of Asia come to be embedded so deeply in the African bush? Well, Malabar is the brainchild of Lu Jong master Dominique Caubel and entrepreneur and all-round glamorous host (and goddess) extraordinaire Bibi Schofield. They wanted to spread the word of Lu Jong and change the world one person at a time. And I was up for the challenge. After a day getting settled at Bibi and her husband Kenneth’s beautiful home in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, we set out into the wilderness eventually arriving at a humble-yet-beautiful villa situated on a ridge that overlooks the Zambezi River and its picturesque valley. It is no coincidence that the Malabar retreats are immersed in raw, natural locations; including Faro, Seville, and Mozambique. This is to ensure that above all else you can focus on the Lu Jong practice by clearing your mind of the distractions of the Western World. And there is no denying that the world today can seem like a fractured and disconnected place. We rarely needed reminding that we were as close to nature as it gets, particularly on the first evening at the retreat when our alfresco dining under the starry night sky, was interrupted by an additional dinner guest: a grazing hippopotamus at the bottom of the garden less than 50m away, followed the next day by a family of elephants meandering peacefully through the neighboring bushes. Nature at it’s absolute best. The first day began with a 5 am sunrise meditation, because practice is best at sunrise and sunset, followed by an hour of fumbling our way through the 21 Lu Jong movements, which were expertly demonstrated by Dominique. I have to admit that on that first morning, I feared I might have bitten off more than I could chew as a combination of the early start and the seemingly alien movements, left me feeling dizzy with confusion. However, my fears were unfounded and by the end of the week, thanks to the intensive workshops and one-on-one tuition, we were all confidently able to perform the practice with our eyes closed (literally), allowing our bodies to move through the sequences and reap the benefits of this ancient and spiritual practice. With each workshop, we learned a little more about both the correct techniques and also the intentions behind each movement. Similarly, we began to understand the rhythm of our breathing, as the in-breath and the out-breath are specifically coordinated with each move. Although mornings were dedicated to Lu Jong practice and intense but thoroughly enjoyable workshops, the pace changed after lunch as Bibi had conjured up daily surprises, including a safari game drive, speedboat adventures on the Zambezi, and a visit to a local wildlife sanctuary. Bibi left no stone unturned, and every detail was accounted for. The food was exquisite and healthy, and guest workshops such as the 5 elements were included where we contemplated Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Space in a hands-on way, enabling us to channel our inner child and finding peace in the process. If ‘retreat’ means to move back or withdraw, then Malabar is a retreat in every sense of the word. Because here you take a big step back from the sights, sounds, stresses, and sicknesses of everyday life, and instead get to focus on every smile, breath, move and thought. Go if: You want to learn a new lifelong practice, you want to change direction in life, feel rested, have fun, experience nature, make friends and come home happier than when you left.

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