Slow swimming and mindful breathing: why you should try meditating on holiday

Advice

I’ve always found it hard to disconnect from technology – especially when I’m travelling. There can be a beautiful view outside my train window when, all of a sudden, something compels me to Google 10 sights I should visit once I reach my destination. Never mind the hours I’ve wasted scrolling through my Instagram feed in my hotel room.

It was during one recent trip to Greece that I decided a change was needed. It was two days into my stay at Sani Resort, a five-star hotel framed by wetlands, pine forests and beaches in the Kassandra Peninsula on mainland Greece and, despite all the glorious nature around me, I had wasted my first day faffing around in my room – curating a Spotify playlist that vibed with my Mediterranean surroundings, snapping Instagram photos of my perfectly made bed, consuming endless Youtube videos and doing god-knows-what on my phone.

As the setting sun slowly disappeared behind the corner of my laptop, it dawned on me: I had been here for more than 24 hours and had barely seen anything beyond the corners of my room. If this is what the rest of my trip was going to be like, my mind needed to learn how to switch off. 

Perhaps I was inspired by the view of the Aegean Sea glistening in the distance, or the faint whiff of pine in the air, but I decided that mediation would be the best way to go about this. I’ve tried meditating during brief periods of high stress and self-doubt, such as after a break-up, but I have never been able to fully commit. But perhaps trading the top of my mattress with a beachside lounger as the setting would make a difference? 

Sani Club

I spent my entire first day in my room, faffing around with my smart devices

Credit:
HEINZ TROLL

Starting small seemed like a good shout for an amateur like me, so I opted to meditate on the beach for 10 minutes after breakfast. There are seven private beaches across the Sani Resort area, shared among its five hotels: Sani Beach, Sani Club, Sani Asterias, Sani Dunes and Porto Sani. The refined Sani Club, with bungalows in soothing white-and-blue palettes, was my base. I picked a sandy ledge below the Club’s artificially made private beach. 

My choice of location immediately proved to be a winner: since the entire area is shaded by trees, I was afforded the luxury of being far-removed from sun-worshipping guests. The setting was remarkably quiet for such a big hotel, save for the rippling waves and the sound of a light breeze rustling the hem of my dress. I normally try to keep my eyes shut during meditation (I’m easily distracted as is), but in this instance, it was near-impossible to keep my eyes away from the sea’s gorgeous gradient of colours – a royal blue near the horizon line, slowly fading to a pale aqua hue near my feet.

Leaving my mind empty – a golden rule when it comes to meditating – has always been a struggle whenever I try to be still. But I was surprisingly calm, allowing thoughts to come and go, such as the sail boat that ambled across my vision span as I practised deep breathing. I’ve never been more aware of the upward and outward movements of my lungs when I breathed in; somehow, they felt rather reassuring – the one thing I will always know how to do. I ended up doubling the time I set out to meditate for.

Sani Club

My mediation spot – far away from sun-tanning crowds and running children

Credit:
Venus Wong

Feeling smug about my success, I headed to the vast infinity pool. Swimming is one of the few forms of exercise I actually enjoy, and I was eager to see if the principles of mindfulness apply here. I’m usually preoccupied with two types of thoughts when I swim: what delicious food I’m going to reward myself with afterwards, or events that have been bothering me recently. 

This experience was completely different. To turn this workout session into a moving meditation, I used each lap to fixate my mind onto a different area of my senses: the feeling of water moving between my fingers as my arms propelled my body up for air, the variety of sounds above and below water, and the cascade of bubbles that came with every movement. With each lap, my breathing became slower and more regulated – and my head was wrapped up in an airy, weightless sensation.

Though I was swimming a great deal slower than normal, paying so much attention towards my motions is a lot more draining than you’d think. Luckily, The Club Spa is just an eight-minute stroll from the pool. Aided by Anne Semonin’s energising sesame massage oil, my therapist used the space between her index finger and thumb to exert pressure on each section of my spine. She then rapidly ran her fist, knuckles and elbow over my upper back, a move that soothed my sore muscles – and released all the tension I’d accumulated from having poor posture while on my phone.

The Club Spa

The Club Spa is a pleasing respite from the sun, offering treatments with Anne Semonin products

Credit:
Heinz Troll

I decided to take it a step further with a dip in the ‘ice plunge bath’. It’s not the most pleasant experience in the world (I lasted all but 30 seconds), but it felt as if someone hit the ‘reset’ button on the circulation all over my body: the mind-numbing coldness – and the relief you’re hit with as you emerge from the ice water – instantly kicked away any sort of remaining muscle pain.

After spending so much energy on learning how to relax, my stomach was panging. My stay coincided with Sani Gourmet, an annual gastronomic festival hosted by Michelin-starred chefs around the world. The evening was kicked off with a marvellous six-course dinner created by Simon Rogan, the chef-of-the-moment behind the critically acclaimed Roganic and L’Enclume. Having him stop by our table and walk us through every course of his meticulously constructed British menu – ranging from an asparagus dish cooked in marrow fat to roasted lamb loin – made the meal all the more special.

The gourmet festival itself, located on a waterfront restaurant the next day, had a dizzying array of food served across eight stalls, each helmed by an acclaimed chef. It was fun, if a bit overwhelming; in the end, I was actually far more drawn to the on-site dining. With a Dine-Around programme, guests can eat out on a half- or full-board basis, choosing from a total of 22 restaurants across the five hotels, including a Japanese restaurant, a range of Greek tavernas and Water, a fine dining institution overlooking the sea. Special mention goes to the setting of my first meal, Ouzerie, a traditional Greek taverna set on a cape, with Sani Club in the background. The excellent grilled octopus with lemon and rakomelo – raki made with pine honey produced on the grounds – was the most authentic Greek welcome one could ask for.

Ouzerie

Ouzerie, a traditional Greek taverna located on a cape, had marvellous views of the Aegean Sea

Credit:
Heinz Troll

I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve now denounced modern technology, as the result of some sort of epiphany I had on this trip. There were times when I hopped on my phone to search for travel information, and I still took photos of my food. But channeling mindfulness during my travels has reminded me to always keep myself in check with how my body feels.

I learned that I can carve out the space to be mindful anytime, anywhere – not just on a private island or medidation retreat (in fact, most of Sani was almost the opposite of that, being a popular resort for families). And my actions were simple and actionable enough that I didn’t mind repeating them in future.

There was no headspace to stress about how much time I spent on my phone and what that says about me as a person. I took the time to do some self-care – and well, that’s more than enough for me.

The essentials

Olympic Holidays (olympicholidays.com; 020 8492 6868) offers seven nights at Sani Club (part of the Gold Collection) from £1,030pp based on two adults and one infant sharing a double room with garden view including flights and transfers, for an October 2019 stay.

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