How Ashram changed my life

What is the story behind Ashram?

Since 1974, the Ashram has been welcoming guests to a weeklong retreat focused on healthy, mindful eating and invigorating yet restorative exercise in a serene, warm and inviting setting. After a visit, you will be forever transformed in mind, body and spirit.

 

How did you find out about the Ashram?

Our journey started in 2011 in Yeotown, a health retreat in Devon, England.

 

The owners of Yeotown got their inspiration from the Ashram and recommended it to us as the next step. My youngest sister Charlotte grasped the nettle of this challenge, and shortly afterwards I found myself booked on a flight to Los Angeles with no clue as to what I should expect

 

Did you prepare in any way beforehand?

Two weeks before we left, Charlotte suggested that we should start eating healthy and cut out meat, dairy and coffee from our diet. Cutting down the coffee was the hardest thing for me: I had 12 hour work days and I had no idea what work-life balance meant – coffee was my best friend, my soul mate, and a day without coffee seemed impossible to me at the time.

 

What was on your Ashram packing list?

I think – most importantly – what you need to pack is your stamina and strength to pull through over the week ahead.

On a more practical note, layers, layers and more layers! January in Calabasas can be quite cold and chilly, especially in the mornings when you start your journey into the mountains. However, as the day progresses, it gets hotter and hotter, and I was always happy to take off some layers.

What I realized after my 6 Ashram years is that you need good quality staples to rely on – in my case, that meant a good sports bra and compression tights.

I would definitely recommend the KCA-Lab compression tights, which really help with water retention and blood circulation especially on long and enduring hikes. Pack trainers not hiking boots. Hiking shoes are very heavy and – believe me – after 4 or 5 hours of hiking you won’t regret having swapped your boots for trainers. Also, avoid buying new trainers and save yourself the pain and blisters from breaking them in.

Sunglasses, 50-SPF sunscreen and cap or visor help when the sun comes out – our KCA-Lab visor was actually inspired by Ashram hikes.

 

Describe a typical day in the Ashram.

You wake up at 5 a.m., which can feel a little bit traumatising and sometimes like being slapped in the face, especially with the jet lag. You then head to a beautiful yoga dome which is located 50 stairs up towards the hill, which often already feels like the first hike of the day.

The morning yoga session is used to wake up, stretch and prepare the body for the rest of the day. As much as I hate early mornings, I always feel amazing after this kickstart each day.

The breakfast is in line with the very lean and healthy diet. Everything is organic and from the Ashram garden. Portions are on the small side and you really think about every bite you take. It really makes you appreciate each meal so much more.

It’s recommended that you drink an odd-looking Billy Green juice, which tastes awful but apparently makes you fly up these mountains – or so we were told!

After the breakfast, everyone meets at 8 a.m. and gets ready for the hikes. You meet the Ashram coaches – proper Cali Surf boys – and they give you your hiking sticks which are designed to keep your posture upright during those long hikes.

I still remember my first hike at the Ashram back in 2012 where I was thinking to myself, “WTF am I actually doing here – I just want to go back to LA and have a coffee and chill!?”

Somehow I found myself in the middle field and my 2 younger sisters were quite far ahead of me. I then realized it is now or never: I have to make it to the top and cannot be stuck here. So I sucked it up, summoned all my courage and – with a little boost from my Billy Green juice finally kicking in – I managed to catch up with my sisters and get to the top of the mountain. It was one of these moments that showed me that if you really want something, you just need to dig deep in order to achieve it.

The hikes are usually 4-5 hours each day of which 1 hour is downhill. But do not be fooled thinking that walking downhill is easy, as the mountains of Calabasas are steep and full of loose gravel, so you have to concentrate on each and every step down the mountain

During the hikes, you have 2 breaks, which are eagerly anticipated by everyone. The first one normally consists of 3 almonds and a prune which give you the energy to climb uphill for another 2 hours. Hard to imagine and this might sound odd but you will be surprised how little time and fuel your body needs to recover. The second break is on top of the hill and you get cut apples with sea salt sprinkled on top, sliced banana and coconut water to restore your electrolytes.

In the bus on the way back to the Ashram your whole body is screaming, “What the hell have you been doing the last 6 hours?” but you are so high on endorphins that you can’t stop smiling.

A quick shower and then you’re off for lunch, where you usually have some yummy salad or – on Tuesdays – they serve healthy tacos as it’s Taco Tuesday. The Ashram just launched a cookbook, which you can purchase online here. It is simply amazing.

If you are lucky, you have a 1-hour break for a quick nap and then 3 more hours of workouts, which are normally fun classes like water volleyball, TRX and Barre Class with weights. You also get an amazing massage, which is very rewarding after an intense day.

The day usually finishes with a spiritual or restorative yoga session, followed by a delicious dinner which is again organic, fresh and nutritious. By 8 p.m. you are knocked out and ready to sleep.

I remember during the first Ashram years back in 2012 when we were still on our Blackberries, I typed away emails underneath the blanket to not wake up my sisters because I was scared of the backlash of emails hitting once I touched ground in Germany. But I quickly realized that every hour of rest and sleep is so valuable when you are at Ashram that your time in bed is vital. This helped me understand the true meaning of work-life balance.

 

What did you learn in Ashram?

I learned that my role as the eldest of my siblings does not always translate into me being the strongest and that it is ok to take turns and let go sometimes. I can now say that Ashram was the most important experience in my life and that I started eating healthy and realizing that it is important to give back to your body. I would have never thought that I can work out and eat healthily while also actually enjoying it – I now see this time as my me-time.

I have to thank Charlotte for taking initiative and making this happen. It really changed my life and it has now become a tradition as since 2012 we go every year. Going through this amazing journey as sisters really brought us together and showed us that we can count on each other no matter what.

 

Kathrin Freier