Laveanne Lavender Fields: A Touch of Provence

This summer for me is a time of exploration in my own country’s backyard and to my delight, I didn’t have to venture far to discover something extraordinary. Lavender fields! Laveanne Lavender Fields is about an hour away from Toronto.

My friend Karolina joined me on this adventure one warm sunny July day.

We decided to take the scenic route to get to Laveanne, as opposed to the highway and we were in for a treat. We not only passed by little charming towns, but also saw so many greenery and rolling hills. The further away we were from Toronto, the more surreal it felt that we were travelling somewhere abroad.

When we stepped onto the property of Laveanne, we felt like we were transported into the lavender fields in Provence, France. The view of more than 10, 000 lavender plants was breathtaking and the fragrance of them were definitely in the air.

At Laveanne, July is blossom month. I was glad that I took some time out during July to visit this lovely haven with Karolina.

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We started our early morning at the charming boutique and were in heaven browsing through so many lavender products, mostly made on site. Then we strolled through the plant nursery. Finally we stopped in front of the big maple tree outside and were greeted by our yoga teacher, Elizabeth. She guided us on a 60 minute gentle yoga class outdoors and then a 30 minute meditation walk through the lavender labyrinth. Elizabeth gave her students an option to walk through the labyrinth barefoot or with shoes. I chose barefoot, so I can feel more connected to nature, and at the same time draw energy from earth, which is a practise known as “earthing”. I loved how earthing was combined with the walking meditation here!

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At the end of yoga class, we visited the pop-up restaurant on the terrace, overlooking the lavender fields, and enjoyed a variety of lavender infused food. Everything was so delicious!

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We originally anticipated spending a few hours here and ended up spending the whole day! We took time to stroll through the fields, take photos, and bask in the sun on one of the benches. Time seemed to just slip away quietly in this beautiful and tranquil environment.

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In the words of Karolina, “I felt like I was at a spiritual retreat.” Truer words were never spoken. Laveanne is a sweet haven where one can find peace and beauty away from the hustle bustle of city life, and feel rejuvenated body, mind and spirit at the end of the visit.

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10 Things Yoga Taught Me

In the beginning of 2016 I delved deeper into yoga by completing my 200 hours yoga teacher training in New Zealand and ended the year, and began 2017 with a yoga retreat in the United States.

Aside from practising the asanas, mantra chanting and meditation that are all part of yoga, it is the yoga philosophy which I call “life lessons” that has a profound impact on how I think, act and feel now.

Yoga taught me…

1. The most important time is NOW.

Life is short and nothing stays the same forever. Everything is in constant motion and change is inevitable, so enjoy, be mindful and live in the present moment.

2.The most important person is the person you spend time with NOW.

Whether you are at home with your family, or at work with your coworkers or elsewhere with others, be mindful and present with them.

3.The most important pursuit is making the person you are with NOW happy.

For me this means bringing joy to those around me, so be kind through thoughts, words and actions.

4. To let go!

Whether it is things, people, emotions or situations, letting go is essential to be able to live in the now and enjoy it at the same time. What is done in the past cannot be undone, so it stays in the past, and the future is uncertain, so why not live in the present? Also letting go of things that no longer serves you is important, whether it is a relationship that has run its course or possessions that may be tying you down or you actually no longer need, but you’re still hoarding it.

5.To spend time in nature as it grounds us in the present moment and calms the mind.

6. To trust the universe to provide.

Trust what you’ve done, it is enough.

7. To stay open-minded and open-hearted.

When you do this, you’ll be surprised by what you learn from people and situations and most importantly, about yourself!

8. Self-care is essential.

In order to help others and be there for them 100%, taking care of self first is crucial, so “me time” is not selfish and it’s also a form of meditation.

9. To cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

It has been scientifically proven that grateful people are physically and mentally healthier, experience more joy, have higher self-esteem and are more resilient in difficult life circumstances. Therefore, practising gratitude is a no brainer!

10. To breathe deeply.

On a daily basis we tend to forget to breathe deeply due to our hectic modern lifestyle. Inhaling and exhaling deeply has great benefits for our health such as reducing stress and promoting relaxation, and improving the digestion. In addition, breathing deeply equates to longer life.

 

I hope this post inspires you to live mindfully and joyfully this year.

May your 2017 be filled with wondrous little moments and you enjoy them as they are unfolding! 🙂

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10 Most Beautiful Sunset Spots in the World

They say no two sunsets are ever the same. Through travelling and living abroad, I’ve discovered that I love watching sunsets, whether it’s strolling down the streets in Taipei, biking in New Zealand’s countryside, or making an event out of it by watching it in a famous scenic spot.

I find the waiting period between day and night where I can observe the sky’s changing colours very calming for my body, mind and soul. There is a respite from the busy day to fully relax and to be truly aware of my surroundings using all my senses. It is a time where I can check in with my breath, a gentle reminder to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of nature. To me, the sunset is the moment where magic and peace happens.

I’m excited to share with you 10 sunset moments I’ve captured while in France, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea and Japan. I’ve also included some travel tips of these places if you’ll go there one day to see the sunsets. Enjoy! 🙂

 

1.Paris, France

Walking the 704 steps up the Eiffel Tower, instead of taking the elevator, during late afternoon to catch the view of the whole entire city during sunset is well worth it!

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2. Taipei, Taiwan

In my opinion the best view of the city during sunset is not on top of Taipei 101 but at the top of Elephant Mountain. Don’t be afraid of the daunting steps of the Elephant Mountain hiking trail. A mere 15-20 minutes hike will take you to the serene resting spot of big rocks where you can sit and watch the sunset, or the pavilions where you can stand and watch it.

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3. Tamsui River, New Taipei City, Taiwan

As the sun goes down, it casts a golden hue to the river, therefore it’s also known as the Golden Riverside. Visiting the Tamsui Old Street Night Market, which is right next to the river, will be the perfect end to the night!

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4.Guanshan (Kenting), Taiwan

CNN has chosen this as one of the top twelve most beautiful sunset spots in the world. It is indeed beautiful but be prepared for the large amounts of tourists at the top of the mountain! Wait for the big crowds to disperse after the sunset before heading back down the mountain. It will be dark but I think to be able to hear the sounds of nature (cicadas singing) coming out at night is so soothing to the soul. 🙂

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5. Han River (Seoul), South Korea

I was on the tour bus during traffic jam when I saw this beautiful sunset over the Han River.

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6. Gyeongju, South Korea

I was standing on the rooftop of my hanok (traditional Korean guesthouse) in what was once known as the ancient capital of the Silla dynasty. The sunset was stunning as I could also see the ancient style roofs too!

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7. The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Australia

While driving down The Great Ocean Road, making a stop at this famous place is a must and seeing the sunset is like icing on top of the cake!

This sunset was simply awe-inspiring. Like Guanshan in Taiwan, be prepared for even bigger crowds!

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8. The Outback, Australia

Another name for this area is Red Centre, as the vast land is covered by endless red rocks, soil, sand and mountains. The wild beauty of the Outback has truly captured my heart and anywhere you stop your car to see the sunset is gorgeous, as can be seen in the photos below.

Many people travel to the Red Centre to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), plus the sunrises and sunsets as backdrops. I was lucky to be able to see two sunsets of Uluru at different angles. The first day I saw the silhouette of Uluru against the sunset backdrop and the second day I saw it glowing red as the sun went down.

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9. St Kilda Beach, Melbourne, Australia

This is the perfect spot for watching the sunset on a beach and then seeing the cute little penguins come ashore after the sunset. Cameras are not allowed to take photos of the penguins, because it will scare them.

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10. Miyajima, Japan

Two words to describe the sunset here with the Otorii gate: magical and tranquil. Most people come here for a day trip so by the time it’s sunset they leave. Therefore, it’s extremely peaceful and quiet observing the changing colours of the sky with a small crowd of people. I highly recommend at least an overnight stay on this beautiful island at a traditional Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

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Duli, Taiwan: Yoga Retreat for the Body, Mind & Spirit

Katrina Mayer, author and motivational speaker, once said: “Time spent in nature heals your body, mind and spirit.” I found this quote to be especially true as I enter the last leg of my year-long travel journey. After a few months of nonstop travelling from country to country, and then settling back into life in Taipei as a student learning Mandarin once again, I felt I needed a little getaway to reflect, relax, rejuvenate and reconnect with myself. Call it divine intervention or whatever you will, one night as I’m googling away on my laptop searching for travelling to Taitung, I found out about a yoga retreat taking place there at the end of June.

I’m so happy to have discovered Teacher Joe’s (Joe 老師) 3 days/2 nights yoga retreat in the scenic Eastern tropical region of Taiwan. The sceneries along the way from the train station to our retreat centre in Duli, a small village in Taitung county, was absolutely breathtaking: trees so green and lush, and the ocean has 3 to 4 different shades of blue. After seeing this, I now understand why the Taiwanese always recommend people to go to Taitung. Fewer people come here, so it seems as if it is untouched by the human hand. It’s like nature in its true form.

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I love the secluded area of the retreat centre called Oceantree Yogasurf Ecocamp (https://www.facebook.com/TYTguesthouse/). It is run by a very down to earth and extremely welcoming couple, Mark and Kite, and they have two very cute children, plus two friendly and docile dogs. Mark teaches surfing, while Kite teaches yoga.

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From here, I really felt in tune with nature, from listening to the singing of the cicadas,to the chirping of the birds and sounds of the ocean waves. Seeing the neighbouring pineapple field and the farmers harvesting the pineapples, and then eating the pineapples in our vegetarian meals was an incredible experience. I always thought that pineapples came from trees like coconuts, and never thought to investigate it. When I discovered they actually came from the ground, I was in awe and once again am reminded that in life, we take a lot of things for granted, or it’s based on our own ignorance. At that moment, I made a pact to be genuinely more aware of things around me and not to take things for granted.

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The pineapple field

 

The vegetarian meals in the retreat was a reminder to eat healthy and of the connection between earth and us. I’m inspired to cook healthy homemade vegetarian/vegan meals when I return home to Canada, thanks to this retreat centre’s talented creative chef Jake!

At this retreat, I discovered 4 new things about myself:

1. My Mandarin has improved a lot since last year, despite taking a 4 months’ break from it. I was comfortable being in a full-immersion Mandarin speaking environment. For the most part, I understood what everyone was saying and I could communicate with them. Of course at times I would be confused, and could not find the right vocabulary or grammar pattern to talk. I’m still learning the language. At the same time, I realize that taking a break from a language and then getting back into it truly works!

2. Sometimes you just have to cast your fear aside and not think about anything, and do it. Thanks to Mark’s encouragement and attitude that “surfing is fun and like playing in the water”, that is exactly what I decided to do for my first surfing lesson. I have always been afraid of the water even as a kid even though my parents put me through swimming lessons. In the process of letting go, I learned that I love surfing! It is so fun and it is definitely something I want to continue so that goes hand in hand with relearning swimming as an adult.

3. Another huge fear I have decided to cope with this year throughout my travels is to try to overcome my phobia of dogs. In the past if a dog came near me, I would be freaking out, jumping up and down, and even getting on the table to get away from it. Therefore I cannot be in the same room with it. Two months ago, after meeting a very well-trained dog in Macau, I guess I got some courage to see if I can continue to be closer to dogs. This time even though I’m still apprehensive, I noticed that it is okay for me to be in the same room with them if they are well-behaved like Mark and Kite’s dogs, as long as they don’t pay too much attention to me.

4. I used to think that I’ll never be able to do aerial yoga because it requires a lot of flexibility and doing craziness high up. It is amazing to discover what happens when there is a very good encouraging yoga instructor (thank you Joe 老師!!) and when I let go of my doubts. Aerial yoga is actually not as difficult as I perceived it to be, and it is really fun!!!!

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Aside from making connections with the others, here are two of my other favourite moments on this yoga retreat:

-Waking up early at dawn to do beach yoga as we listened to the sounds of nature (ocean waves, birds and cicadas singing) around us, and seeing the sunrise.

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-Facing the pineapple field and feeling the ocean spray touch my face once in a while as I’m reading about mindfulness in my quiet spot.

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In reflection, this yoga retreat in beautiful and serene nature was indeed perfect healing for my body, mind and spirit. I am filled with gratitude and look forward to living with mindfulness and finding peace within myself each day! 🙂

The Power of Positive Affirmations

This summer I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to get my kids yoga teacher certification. One of my favourite moments during training was a 20 minute drawing and breathing activity where we reflected on who we are in an authentic honest way.

It seems we are constantly surrounded by noises, chaos and the hectic pace and demands of our daily lives whether it is from our family responsibilities, work tasks etc. I find it especially true in the twenty-first century whereby technology or social media plays a really big role in most people’s lives. In the process of meeting the demands of this pace of life where we just live on “autopilot”, we lose ourselves, the core of who we are. There is no time to really think about who we are and what we want to do in our lives to be truly happy. It can be so dire, that some people experience mental, physical and emotional burnout and depression overtime.

This drawing and breathing exercise reminded me once again how important it is to really “pause”, whether it is for a few minutes or one hour out of our daily lives to simply breathe and connect with ourselves and think positive thoughts. Remember: “You are what you think.” These positive thoughts are essentially positive affirmations that help us to realize and actualize our potential and dreams.

One of my dance instructors once shared with us her positive affirmation. She said that every morning when she wakes up, before she does anything, these are the words she utters: “I am happy. I am healthy. I am blessed.” We all thought it was a beautiful way to start the day. As part of her class, we made it into our routine to end the class with these words. I truly felt these words and believed it about myself as I continued my everyday life.

Here are my positive affirmations from my yoga drawing and breathing exercise which I truly see and feel as my true self:

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I have this on my cell phone that I look at as a daily reminder. 🙂

What are yours?

They can be as short and simple as my dance instructor’s or as long as mine or anyway you want them. It only matters that you are finding time to pause, breathe, reflect and believe in the power of these two words: I AM.

Go and try it, and see how powerful your own positive affirmations can have on your life to achieve genuine happiness!

Greetings from Abroad!

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Hello from Taipei!

I know that it has been a long while since I’ve been here and you may be wondering why the complete silence. So, let me explain…

For the past 6 months, I’ve been busy preparing for my year abroad, from researching, getting paper work completed to finally packing! I feel blessed that my profession allows me to take time for myself to rest, reflect, rejuvenate and grow.

I’m really excited that I’ll be combining my love for travelling, meeting new people, and embracing new cultural experiences with my passion for learning during my sabbatical. To be precise, I’ll be learning Mandarin and getting deeper into yoga! In fact, my travel abroad adventure began in The Big Easy (New Orleans) last month already where I completed my Kids Yoga Teacher Training with an amazing Canadian trainer, Aruna Kathy Humphrys of Young Yoga Masters, and a wonderful supportive like-minded group of American classmates. Sightseeing in New Orleans and eating tons of mouth-watering Southern food has always been on my bucket list, and I’m happy I checked that off!

Fast forward to now, I’m currently living in Taipei. I flew here a week ago and am slowly getting over jetlag and settling into my new home. I’ve enrolled in a university program to learn Mandarin for foreigners at the National Taiwan University, and am looking forward to beginning class next week!

While Taipei will be my home base for the next 12 months, I also have some travel plans for New Zealand, Australia, Bali and other places that I’ve yet to decide on.

Quite a few people asked me before I left if I’m afraid to be travelling solo and not know anyone in any places I’ll be going to, and to be honest, there are moments when I doubt myself and get scared. However, for the most part I’m absolutely thrilled to embark on this adventure of a lifetime and to fulfill some of my dreams. I only think of the positives. I had a beautiful memorable time in New Orleans and met friends whom I know I’ll keep in touch for life. The beginning of my travel adventure in New Orleans was definitely a promise of yet more wonderful things to come. 🙂

One of my good friends shared this quote with me: “To travel alone is to get lost on purpose, in order to be found.” I hope this quote will inspire me to find my own true path as I travel physically, mentally and spiritually throughout some parts of the world.

I can’t wait to share my everyday travelling/learning adventures and bucket list with you and thank you for being part of my journey here!

Stay tuned!

XO, Violet

Some very thoughtful items I've received from dear colleagues and friends (THANK YOU!), or I bought on my own for my year abroad that I've packed with me. :)

Some very thoughtful items I’ve received from dear colleagues and friends (THANK YOU!), or I bought on my own for my year abroad that I’ve packed with me. 🙂

 

 

A Neighbourhood Gem: Robson St. Yoga

Vancouver is known as the yoga capital of Canada. According to my wonderful yoga instructors, literally, in every corner you walk to, there’s a yoga studio tucked in somewhere.  True enough, if you’re in the heart of downtown Vancouver, you’ll find a yoga studio somehow and somewhere.

While staying in Vancouver a few months ago, I didn’t want to miss out on trying a yoga class. After all, I was in the yoga capital of Canada! In between my packed itinerary, I managed to squeeze in a little time for some yoga. To my joy, I found one a few steps away from my hotel on Robson Street, west end of Vancouver.

The location of this yoga studio is so discreet that if one passed by it, you wouldn’t notice it. The outside studio sign is mixed with other signs. It is located in a little market/plaza/mall called “Robson Public Market”.

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The yoga sign is on the side of this market, underneath the Canada Post sign

When I entered this building, I had no idea what to expect. I only had a feeling it wouldn’t be like the fancy studios that I’m used to due to its location.

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Robson St. Yoga shares space with an eclectic variety of shops

Robson St. Yoga is on the second floor, above the produce market. Yogis are greeted by this nice entrance with its logo sign plastered at the front, and leave their shoes outside before entering the yoga space.

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To my pleasant surprise the yoga space was simply a basic room with minimal decoration (there are 2 photos of people doing a yoga pose, a buddha statue and a handmade yoga sign on the high back wall). The room was only big enough to fit in 12 people, which was why, I found out when I arrived, students were supposed to sign up online for a space in class. Luckily, I was able to squeeze in as the last student and pay the drop in fee ($15). Our yoga instructor had an iPad to sign all of us in. Another delightful surprise awaiting me was that yoga mats were provided for free and already laid out for every student who signed up. Instead of using my travel yoga mat, I decided to use one of these mats. I really liked this idea and after class, we just had to clean the mat with the studio’s spray and towel.

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Yoga mats already laid out for students

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A view of yoga room from the front

 

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Cleaning towel and spray provided for us to clean our yoga mats after class

I did the one hour “Morning Flow” class with Katy as my instructor. Since this was a morning class, it had an energetic pace to it and the poses were based on Ashtanga. Katy introduced me to a few new poses I’ve never done before and I really liked the way she taught us through her easy to follow instructions. Therefore, I felt even though I’ve never done these poses before I could do it! At the end of class, I felt rejuvenated and calm and could continue my hectic day of sightseeing around Vancouver. 🙂

At the end of class, I had a chance to chat with Katy about this studio, life and the simplicity of it all. I learned that the owner of this studio wanted to offer a quiet sanctuary that is easily accessible and affordable for everyone in the neighbourhood; hence, Robson St. Yoga was created. This is why only the locals know about it.

From my conversation with Katy, and this yoga studio, I learned that”less is more”. You don’t need a lot of fanciness to open a yoga studio or do yoga; all you need is a welcoming space (room) where the students feel safe to participate in an ancient healthy practise that’s good for the body, mind and soul. In the same way, keep life simple by following your heart and do what you love, and then you’ll find happiness and peacefulness: body, mind and soul.

I think Robson St. Yoga is a true reflection of the simplicity of life and the use of a purposeful space for community building.

I highly recommend this gem of a yoga studio to anyone living in or visiting Vancouver! 🙂

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This inviting table is placed in front of the entrance door, and allows anyone in the community to browse through the resources and learn a bit what yoga is all about.

To learn more about this yoga studio, visit http://www.robsonstyoga.ca