A Wellbeing Retreat in Zanzibar

Single dhow off Zanzibar Coast

“and bounce”. “and change legs”. “and bounce”.
Those were the words going through my head as I was supposed to be concentrating in a meeting yesterday. They were Joash’s words from the wellbeing retreat I attended last week in Zanzibar. I am not sure why these words stuck so steadfast compared to all the other instructions and shouts of encouragement. Perhaps because they were so simple and made so much sense. Whatever the reason, it brought a smile to my face amongst dull PowerPoint.

The wellbeing retreat was my first and so I was apprehensive for a variety of reasons: I have been involved with the company for more than 6 months and so this was the real acid test (which I should have, arguably, committed myself to before getting involved). I was also worried about how I would perform as I assumed the coaches were keen to ‘test’ me and make sure I had what it took, whatever that might be. I also attended the retreat with a good friend of mine, Geraldine, with whom I had climbed Kilimanjaro and last year trekked to Everest Base Camp. She is fit but was worried prior to leaving about whether she would be ‘up to it’. I am sure she will not mind me saying that she is 55 and she was concerned as to whether she would be able to keep up with the rest of the group which, it turned out, were all around 40. White Sand Villas was also a new venue for us which added to my nervousness.

I had read countless testimonials about it being life changing, and spoken to countless past clients who had quit jobs and come on a retreat or come on a retreat and then quit their jobs but it was always at a junction in people’s lives and the wellbeing retreat either pulled them through or pushed them to a better place. But I quite liked the place I was in. I was eating reasonably well and doing one form of exercise or another on a regular basis.

I don’t want to go into the detail of what the retreat involved (and part of the fun is the anticipation of not quite knowing what the next session might hold) but it suffices to say that there was plenty of exercise or, more accurately, movement, in a way that kids would feel totally at home. We played games, we ran, we climbed, crawled, jumped, punched, kicked, lifted, carried and threw (logs, rocks and other people). We also managed to get in two games of water polo, two of volleyball, a cycle ride and a game of frisbee on the beach. We worked hard: most days were a good 6 hours of being active. But we also rested well: we had plenty of time for naps (often two a day) as well as discussions around the philosophy and very early bedtimes.

My nervousness quickly dissipated. The venue is stunning and the Wildfitness team, lead by Anne Laure and supported by Joash and Ivan, were exceptional. They were not soft: complaining of a painful back, neck, arm or leg was met with suggestions of self-massage and working through it.

And they were right. The first lesson for me was that the human body is far more resilient than we suppose. Stiff legs after a ‘lactic lift-off’ session would become less stiff with a good bout of kickboxing. I had been taught that you need rest days and one session a day of exercise. We were doing three sessions a day and had one morning off in the whole week. And yet our bodies dealt with it. Yes, there were some aches and pains for the first few days as my body had simply not crawled like a dragon or hopped like a frog recently but my body bounced back quickly and with (reasonable) agility.

The second lesson was that Wildfitness really is appropriate for a wide range of people with a wide range of backgrounds. There is no competition between the groups (aside from some very dubious tactics during our water polo matches) as it is all about you and how hard you want to push yourself. The games and sessions are brilliantly designed such that this quickly becomes apparent and sets the tone of the retreat. Some in the group were so exhausted from their normal lives that they skipped a few sessions to sleep. They then came back full of energy and ready to move. And that was fine: there was no pressure to attend and Anne Laure spoke of a previous client who slept for the first 4 days of a retreat (which was fortunately 2 weeks long).

The Wildfitness approach is simply that varied movement, healthy eating and plenty of relaxation should be the three pillars of any daily routine. They are not supplements that are added to an otherwise contrary life. They are not an hour in the gym to take away the stress of work and the guilt of chocolate. They are not a slow-pressed juice to make up for the bottle of wine. We ate healthily because it felt right and because the food was fresh and tasty. We moved because it was fun and felt natural, not because we had a stiff neck from sitting in one position for too long. And we rested soundly and without distraction.

I have now been back at work for a week and the usual no time / too much to do paradigm has settled in well. However, I feel more aware of my body and my mind. I have started to notice that I like moving whether from sitting behind my laptop to getting a box to raise it up so I can stand behind it or from sitting on my sofa to lying on the floor. I have had one coffee since I have been back but not because I am on some weird diet or actively avoiding it, but because I don’t really feel I need or want it. I took an old tent pole and cut it to size to use for my ‘structural hygiene’ sessions that are like a daily limbering up; my home workout incorporates some animal crawls and log lifting and carrying. I haven’t yet found the right trees (palm trees don’t hold too many opportunities) but if I do, I will be up them. I spend more time barefoot. I am googling interesting, healthy recipes and thinking a little more about what I eat.

Geraldine also has half a tent pole. She works out barefoot and is surveying her usual walking route to see how little she can stay on the path. And she is glowing. I feel like I have gained some ‘flow’ that a kid would have navigating uneven terrain. There is the combination of improved agility, strength, flexibility and experience to place the feet and hands in the right place as well as the knowledge of my body’s resilience to keep bouncing. And we are back to Joash’s bouncing. My body got pushed, it got stressed and it at times felt tired beyond belief but it bounced back. It just bounced.