Open heart, open mind: five things I learned about myself on a yoga retreat




Open heart, open mind

I’ve just come back from a yoga retreat hosted by the remarkable Lizaan Jacobs. if you haven’t tried her classes, then I recommend you do. It’s my prediction that Lizaan, or the Rocket Yogini as we know her, will soon become one of the most sought-after yoga practioners in London because of what she does and the magic she brings to yoga. The retreat was held at a luxurious villa near Ubud, Bali, where we spent a week focusing on our yoga practice, decompressing from London life and partially detoxing from our digital addictions.

The villa is home to a wealthy American businessman, and is set into the hillside. It’s an eclectic mix of old and new, with starkly different architectural styles juxtaposed to each other. The glass-fronted rooms of the new villa face out on the jungle, whereas the rooms set in the old building are darker but have outdoor bathrooms so you can bath or shower under the stars at night. The villa itself is U shaped, with a large eating area and courtyard in the middle, and an infinity pool leading you out into the jungle beyond. It’s stunning. Wonder down the steep, winding steps towards the river and you find a long rectangular space carved into the hillside dedicated to massage tables. Beyond that is the shala where we did our yoga.

Immersing yourself in yoga in a place with so much spiritual connection was an amazing learning experience, as well as deeply relaxing. I gained a lot from this retreat, and returned home with some good practices for managing stress and balancing out my London life. I’ll share those with you at the end of this post, but first, here are the five things I learned that week in Bali about myself and how I live my life.

The way I live my life is reflected in how I practice

I like to live life fully and fast. My philosophy is to muscle into everything, giving it my all and drawing on what I need to, to get where I want to go. I applied this philosophy to yoga as well, wanting to move quickly into poses, getting up into the inversions using my strength, and trying to keep up with the most proficient members of the group. Aside from the fact that many in the group were yoga teachers, I soon realised that I wasn’t going to be able to match the pace of the more experienced members of the group, and that I had to set aside my ego and focus on my own practice.

I also realised that how I practiced yoga was a fitting metaphor for how I live, which is competitively, and sometimes, without a full appreciation of what I’m doing and why. The more time we spent practicing, the more I was able to appreciate the significance of my breathing, of having an intent for my practice, and being fully present. I’ve taken these important ideas back to London with me to work on, and it’s funny that now that those things are in sharp focus, they keep coming up again and again.

Your ego has no place on a yoga mat

One of the things I love about yoga is that it’s called a practice. You’re always working on something, and it’s not a skill you can fully master (perhaps because it’s not a skill but something far more complex and deeper than that). I quickly learned to drop the ego in the first or second practice in Bali. If you’re used to being good at things, accept you might not be so proficient at yoga. You have to work with your body, and if you can’t get there yet, there is no point worrying about what other people can do or what you think you can do. Park your ego, it will only hold you back.

As adults, we often sit in our comfort zone, sticking to what we know and what we’re good at. Learning a new skill requires accepting you’re a child again, having to be patient and starting from the beginning. It’s humbling, and the only way to progress is to learn to accept your current ability, and find a way to align yourself with your body.

I can do more if I work with my body

I find yoga to be deeply rewarding. As I got used to breathing into poses, and being patient, I was able to do more. Deeper twists, longer holds, steadier inversions, longer stretches. I realised that if I relaxed, silenced the little voice inside that says ‘keep up’ or ‘you should be better at this’, and focused only on myself, then I could have a better practice. I also realised that sometimes less is more; yoga is about finding a pose that’s right for you at that moment, and that might be deeper that previously or you might hold back a little. Either way it doesn’t matter.

For someone like me, who was hardwired to challenge themselves and reject notions of easing off, that was an interesting concept but now I get it completely. Focusing on quietening the mind, concentrating on my intent and my breathing enabled me to go further. I feel that can be applied to my personal and business life too, and will make me a much better trainer, businesswoman, partner and friend.

I discovered where I’m holding the tension

We all have tension, areas of the body where we hold and store our stress. In yoga, it tends to become obvious because that’s the area of the body that becomes tight and locked up. In my case, it’s my lower back and shoulders. There are a few poses that I’m working on that I find difficult because anatomically everything’s too tight or the muscles are too short to allow movement. What’s really interesting is just how tense you can be without being aware of it. We all carry a lot of pressure around with us every day, and it can become ‘normal’ to feel tired, tense and pensive. Yoga helps you realise that, and recognise how you’re really feeling.

Of course, tension can also be mental. Most of us have some stressors in our lives, and some more than others. Yoga helps me release mental tension as well, and is a perfect opportunity to clear the mind of monkey-chatter. If I’m worried about something, I’m always less concerned about it after a yoga session. Yoga breathing is something I now do outside of my practice as a way to de-stress and relax.

How connected I am to my emotions

This one is very personal, and I nearly didn’t include it. My week in Bali was like an epiphany in some ways. We didn’t just do yoga, we also had ceremonies for fire and water, and went to see a high priestess called Ida Resi Alit, the youngest high priestess in Bali. We went up in pairs and she performed a cleansing ceremony for us, involving holy water and chanting. Her energy was incredible. I’ve discovered a way to start making deeper emotional connections, and I’ve noticed that yoga has this profound effect on others too. It’s like you’re literally opening up your heart and mind.

Yoga can awaken you to your feelings, irrespective of how deeply they are buried. The practice, the spiritual aspect of yoga and the rituals and ceremonies that accompany it are deeply intense. The practice of yoga encourages a desire to connect body and mind, and to build a deep connection with yourself in a very personal way. I’ve found ways to connect emotionally, and I’ve noticed that it has the same profound effect on others too.

The practices I’ve brought home with me

I arrived home two weeks ago determined to bring some of the positive habits back with me. Here’s what I’m focusing on:

  • Daily meditation – I’m still not sure whether early morning or before bedtime works best for me
  • A home-based yoga practice, even if only for 10-20 minutes
  • Trying to get to a yoga class once a week as well as my 1-1
  • Being present (when alone and with others)
  • Setting an intent for everything I do
  • Working on my breathing exercises
  • Defining what a spiritual program looks like for me – a work in progress

If you’re interested in discovering what yoga can do for you, I urge you to find a class and get started. Throw aside your ego and your expectations, and do not allow preconceptions to prevent you from giving yourself this gift of opportunity. For many years I thought yoga was too soft and gentle for me, but I was very wrong.

As Lizaan says, open heart, open mind. Not a bad mantra for life.

Leanne Spencer is a Fitness Entrepreneur, Author of the Amazon Bestselling book Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best and Founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot specialises in bringing the science of genetics to the world of fitness. Connect with the team @BodyshotPT or Facebook or visit our website at







Share this post with your friends

Scroll to Top