Friends and family will know what a cynical person I am.
I tend to write things off before I've even tried them, which is probably testament to both my cynicism and my stubbornness.
And so it was for the above reasons that I decided around the age of 18, that I just wasn't a 'yoga' person.
I'm highly strung, my mind is constantly whirring with ideas and I have a phobia of toe socks.
You know, those strange material creatures that frequent yoga classes (or at least the ones I'd tried) that provide a space for each individual toe to hibernate.
They creeped me out. They still do. I won't lie.
Anyway, with all of the above considered, it may come as a surprise for you to know that last month, I embarked on my first EVER yoga retreat. With Kaliyoga. In the sunny mountains of Spain.
I accepted the invitation because at the time it arrived in my inbox, I was in a flurry of panic (having had three panic attacks in one week) and I was what you'd probably describe (in true millennial manner) 'burnt out'.
With eight other bloggers in tow, we flew to Malaga airport for four days of the kind of relaxation that was previously alien to me.
And upon returning, I think I've been converted.
You won't ever find me wearing toe socks. SOZ. But I learned so much from this special trip that I wanted to share it with you.
So sit, back, grab a cup of tea, take off them bleedin' toe socks and read on...
We all need ME time
And I'm not just talking about a hot bath here and there.
We need proper 'ME' time, long enough to feel comfortable in our own company and in our own mind.
Long enough to gather together what's been on your mind and work through it.
Not just pampering me time, but perhaps slightly uncomfortable - at first - me time, that heals us from the inside, out.
And Kaliyoga's gorgeous surroundings is the perfect place to indulge in a bit of me time.
Nestled away in the gorgeous mountains of Grenada, the nearest town is accessible by car but far enough away that the only sounds in the air are the gentle hum of wildlife and the twinkling chimes of the gorgeous farmhouse's terrace.
Guests stay in beautiful bedrooms in the main house, in casita cabins outdoors (I stayed in a stunning pastel blue one overlooking the pool) or in the summer, in tepe's.
Your day's are occupied by morning and evening sessions at the Yogashala, hikes in the mountains, reading your book by the pool and other added extras such as reflexology, sound healing or thai massage's - that you can add on depending on your preferences.
This sense of freedom and relaxation really helps you adjust your focus and renew your energy.
I found it immensely helpful in having the time to visualise what I REALLY want out of life. And what really matters to me.
This realisation has since instilled me with some innate sense of calm that sweeps over me whenever I sense that I'm starting to panic.
We were taught to visualise our thoughts coming and going in our mind like the tide. The waves sweeping in and out, whispering gently through our body and leaving calmly in the same way they arrived.
This has REALLY helped me to stop, take a breath and calm down whenever I sense I'm starting to fall into panic mode.
In fact, this even helped me to prevent a panic attack last week and while it's early days - I'm so proud of myself!
We need to disconnect
It's 2018 and rightly or wrongly, our smartphones know everything about us. They are pretty much surgically attached to our hands and they contain our memories, organise our daily routines and even track how many steps we take.
They have given us immense amounts of freedom (we can travel anywhere in the world and get around even with a language barrier) and they connect us to the outside world, without us even having to leave our homes.
But while they do have amazing benefits in keeping us connected, we do need to remember that we don't always NEED to be connected to everyone else.
It's healthy to disconnect and detox from the digital world once in awhile and luckily, Kaliyoga gave us the opportunity to do this.
Obviously we did venture online a few times for work purposes, but most of the time - we re-learned to just enjoy being in the moment, chatting with one another face-to-face, rather than behind a screen.
And when you start to rely on your smartphone less, strange things start to happen.
You see the things you don't usually see because you're distracted.
Your mind wanders less and you live a little more presently.
You feel a little less cluttered and a touch more 'free'.
I'd highly recommend it.
The right food fuels the mind
If you've followed my blog for a little while, then you'll know that I've become much more aware of what it is that I'm putting into my body.
I have been plagued by horrible IBS symptoms since the age of 14 and changing up my diet, was the only real way to get a handle on things.
But certain issues still persisted. I was tired all the time, lethargic, low energy and at time - sorry David - very grouchy.
I did wonder whether what I was eating was playing a part, but it wasn't until I spent time at Kaliyoga that I truly realised what big of an impact it was having.
The food at the yoga retreat might sound daunting for some - with no meat, processed sugar, gluten, dairy or alcohol on the menu, and many dishes 'raw'. However for me, I was excited and intrigued to see if it was the answer I'd been looking for.
Because just a day or so in, I was already feeling better within myself. I awoke in the morning without wanting to groan in horror at having to start the day with low energy.
The raw dishes were extremely tasty, wholesome and filling. And there was something really lovely about knowing that everything you were putting into your body was doing good. It was nutritious and delicious!
I was especially impressed by the three-course evening meal, which allowed us to experiment with new flavours and really inspire our own meal plans back home.
And talking of home, if you do miss the food upon arriving back (which invariably, you will - it's incredible - for lack of a better word), then you might want to treat yourself to a Kaliyoga cookbook - featuring recipes that have taken years to tweak and construct by the team in Spain (they wanted to make sure it was perfect), but that you'll want to cook up as soon as you get home.
Affirmations may sound cringeworthy but they are so powerful
I'd never quite appreciated how powerful affirmations can be, until I started saying them daily.
Following a sound healing session with Kim (which you can hear more about in my vlog), she recommended I repeat three individualised affirmations on a daily basis, for forty days straight.
I won't go into detail about what mine were, as they will be different for everyone - but essentially, they are three or so 'I AM's' that aim to conquer something you're feeling or going through.
For example, this could be a mix of 'I am confident', 'I am independent', 'I am a strong', 'I am doing my best', 'I am beautiful'. You get the idea.
Words have immense power in changing your mindset, your goals and your drive.
Try it for a few days, stand in front of the mirror and repeat your chosen affirmations either out loud or in your head. And see what a difference it can make.
At first it feels a bit silly, but the more you say it, the more they start to make an impact.
Innately, I think we have something engrained inside of us that when we look in the mirror, we are drawn to the negatives.
It only takes you changing your mindset, to change this.
Yoga isn't a competition
I know in parts of London and for some yoga classes I've been to previously, there's a certain snobbery around yoga.
If you're a beginner, you stick out like a sore thumb and it can be quite embarrassing.
Especially because in situations where everyone is serious and breathing in time with one another, I just get the urge to giggle.
It happens uncontrollably and this only makes the situation EVEN more embarrassing.
In my past (basic) experience with yoga, it's always felt very competitive and very 'us and them', if you're a novice.
Kaliyoga completely wiped the slate clean when it came to this mentality and proved that yoga isn't a competition.
It's about learning to relax, unwind, restore your mind and connect with yourself.
The yoga they practise is very slow, perfect for all abilities and can be taken at your own pace.
There's no sniggering or sneering looks if you fall on your bum (thank goodness, because it happened to me a lot) and it feels more like a mindfulness session than a sport.
Which I love.
Because I was training my core and my mind.
Owners Jonji and Rosie (who we had the pleasure of meeting on the trip) have a lovely calm, welcoming ethos and this extends all throughout the retreat, not just when it comes to yoga.
The main farmhouse is a restored family home and you're told upon arrival to treat the place as your own home for the week too.
The lounge is filled with chatter in the evenings, with an evening 'mocktail' to wrap up the day and a sense of belonging.
I'm not sure quite how they've created such a warm, friendly and inclusive environment so organically, but they've just got it SO right.
The only validation we need is our own
The digital world has created a new dopamine release that we get from pleasure-seeking or validation-seeking, especially for those who spent a lot of time on social media.
This dopamine release is addictive and when we don't have it - or have too much of it - studies have shown it can actually be anxiety inducing.
This all sounds rather scary and technical but when we think about it, it's true.
We get a small 'high' when someone likes our photo, validates us, our content, our work and our outfit.
But over time, we need more and more of that validation in order to get the same 'high'.
This can in turn make us feel pressure, or even present itself as anxious feelings. I know in my case it has.
It sounds really silly, but when it's something engrained into our everyday lives, we can't help but get affected by it. Especially in bloggers cases, where it's sometimes their full-time jobs.
And so one final thing that the Kaliyoga trip taught me was that the only real validation we need is our own.
We shouldn't be relying upon the validation of others to be happy, because that puts the power of happiness into someone else's hands.
True confidence is knowing that you alone, are enough!