TRY A SLEEP RETREAT Take a restorative trip to beautiful Tuscany.
With a third of us not getting enough sleep, Jane Egginton shows us how specialised retreats can help us to rest easy
Good sleep begins from the moment you wake up. Food, yoga and daily routine are all key to creating peaceful nights,” explains Anandi, a renowned Ayurvedic sleep expert. Although I have never had insomnia, I chose to go on a sleep retreat to learn how better nights mean better days, and vice versa. “We all need our beauty sleep,” Anandi tells our all-women group at Villa Verde, Montegonzi, in Italy’s Tuscan hills. “With good rest, nourishment and a quiet mind we can not only feel better, but also work and look better too.”
Britain is one of the most sleep-deprived nations in the world, with one in three of us not getting enough. All of us in the group have experienced di culty sleeping at some time in our lives and our intentions for the week range from reducing sleeping pill dependency to increasing feelings of calm and concentration and looking younger. “Topping and tailing your day with a mindful practice is one of the things Anandi has taught me,” says Karen, an insomniac, who no specialist in the UK has been able to help.
Anandi, who was given her name by her teacher in India, works around the world o ering practical and personal sleep programmes that combine ancient Indian wisdom with state-of-the-art science. Using Ayurveda, the sister discipline to yoga, she establishes which of three body types we are (a simple test is also available for free on her website). Then we enjoy dreamy yogic sleep and candle-lit breath sessions as part of a holistic approach that advocates lifestyle enhancement as much as stress reduction. “Breath is actually your sleep guru,” Anandi explains.
We learn that we need to create a daily practice to support our system, known as dinacharya, the Ayurvedic daily routine. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time, even at weekends, and creating a ritual of regular meditation and exercise. Anandi advocates retiring at 10pm, when the sleep hormone melatonin is produced, and rising at 6am, when our body has the highest levels of mood-boosting serotonin. There is a clear scienti c basis for living in harmony with these natural rhythms, just as our ancestors did.
Cities, technology and international travel all threaten to interfere, but creating daily sacred space can also support us. By coincidence, Anandi trained with Indian yogi and sleep guru Vishva-ji, who
I also trained with in India when I quali ed as
“It is important to really dial down stimulation several hours before bedtime and make your bedroom a sanctuary”
a yoga teacher. Vishva-ji created a system of yoga called Akhanda, meaning indivisible, or whole.
Anandi recreates many of the rituals and practices of Vishva-ji’s ashram at the retreat. We chant a mantra together before our meals, just as we did in Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga – a city that lies beside the Ganges River in the Himalayan foothills. This practice helps us to develop mindful eating patterns, in which we pause and appreciate our food, as well as creating positive vibrations and a sense of sharing, all of which set us up for a good night’s sleep at the end of the day.
Creating a sense of ritual and quiet around the table can be as important as reducing stimulation before bed. Much has been made recently of clean sleeping, but it seems looking at our night-time routine is only giving us a fraction of the story. “It is important to really dial down stimulation several hours before bedtime and make your bedroom a dark and silent sanctuary,” says Anandi in a workshop after a silent al fresco breakfast. She emphasises that in order to attain deep and sustained rest, we need to take a truly holistic approach and look at our daytime habits too.
Anandi recreates the magic of the Indian ashram re puja, or worship, in the gardens of our beautiful hotel. Making o erings and intentions, we chant around the ames created with sticks collected from the boar- lled woodland. Immensely practical, Anandi tells us we can use candles or incense instead of re to recreate the sacred ceremony and invoke peace, good sleep and even transformation at home. It is just one of a raft of accessible takeaways she provides to support us when we return to our daily lives.
Anandi also shares her knowledge at many of the growing number of shows dedicated to sleep health around the world, including Somnex in London. Here, all number of hightech devices are on display, including a Philip Stein sleep bracelet. Madonna is apparently a fan of the faceless watch, which is said to channel the earth’s natural frequencies to increase melatonin production.
Anandi o ers a melatonin test from her site and prescribes the Bhramari breath, or
‘bee breathing’, technique to stimulate the sleep hormone: “It’s so easy,” she says.
“Close your mouth, inhale through your nose
and exhale by humming as if you were a bumble bee.”
In a one-to-one consultation, Anandi suggests daily meditation, yoga and 15 minutes of
anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) to balance my nervous system. “You may be doing these things as your regular practice, but with what attitude and commitment?” she asks. It is rm, loving advice and feels like the wake-up call I need.
During the retreat, we enjoy talks on Ayurveda and nutrition and are supported in our goals. We have homework – to go out and put our bare feet on the earth – and we’re introduced to diets and healing herbs speci c to our body types. Anandi gives us an inspiring reading and music list, as well as a recipe for a night-time tonic with almond, sa ron and Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic plant that combats stress and boosts creativity.
“Commit to doing 10 things every day that are nourishing and that you enjoy,” Anandi tells us on the last day with a smile. Smiling more may be one of them, she suggests, along with creating sacred space, self-care and living in harmony with the seasons. To keep us on the right track, we each take home Anandi’s book, Breathe Better, Sleep Better and a personalised, integrated wellness programme that is designed to last a lifetime.
As for Karen, by the end of the week she has cut out all sleeping pills, concluding of Anandi: “This woman has literally saved my life.”
Jane Egginton is a quali ed yoga teacher and travel writer. She is the author of over 40 travel and health books published by The Sunday Times,Reader’s Digest and Michelin.JANE EGGINTON
Clockwise from top:a soothing sanctuaryat the Tuscan sleepretreat; Anandi, thesleep guru; mindfuleating is practisedat dinnertime.