By its very meaning, a retreat is to withdraw to a quiet or secluded place. The Re:Qi Retreat by CulturedGen offers you just that and more, by leading you on a journey of mindful, conscious living right in our own backyard—a staycation alternative if you will—and this writer returned home with revelations about life, and a powerful tool in mindful breathing

So there I was sitting cross-legged on my yoga mat, within a semi-circle formation with six other people, all safely distanced. Anita Kapoor, the media personality and founder of audio project, sat facing everyone. She asked this question: “What have you learnt from this experience?”

We were at the tail-end of a two-day conscious and holistic wellness retreat Re:Qi, which was organised by cultural content and live experience creator CulturedGen. And this sharing circle was a safe space for everyone to express themselves and contemplate their lives more deeply, even more so now that we are living in a pandemic.

“I realise that I forget to breathe sometimes,” I blurted out and, before I knew it, got a bit teary-eyed. Who am I? And why was I on the verge of a full-on cry in front of people whom I’d just met the day before? However, I was comforted by the fact that everyone understood what I meant, especially after the displacement that we’ve collectively experienced in the past year.

You know that feeling of holding your breath—this long pause we are currently in—and how we are all waiting to heave that sigh of relief (hopefully soon). This realisation became so much clearer to me for the fact that each activity that we did throughout the retreat required us to inhale and exhale—and I became extremely conscious of this very act that gives us, well, life.

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Truth be told, as much as I’ve adapted to working from home as the default mode—and cannot fathom going back to working in the office (don’t tell my boss!)—I have to admit that I was getting a bit restless going between Zoom meetings and Microsoft Teams “events”, even though I was still going into the office or out for interviews and photo shoots at least two to three times a week.

So this is the objective of the Re:Qi Retreat: for guests to check out from the hustle and bustle of life—along with the many distractions that keep them from being present in the moment—and to simply reconnect with the inner self and taking time for self-care. And you don’t even need to hop on a plane to “get away”.

Fellow guest Adriel Rao, a consultant emergency physician, shares, “If I were to take an intentional trip overseas, I would have to carve time out of my schedule. With the Re:Qi Retreat, I didn’t have to re-adjust my schedule much as I’m just taking a short break.”

Furthermore, the grounds of boutique hotel Villa Samadhi, which is nestled within the lush surrounds of the Labrador Nature Reserve, and the lounge of its in-house Tamarind Hill restaurant, where most of the retreat activities took place, allows for an immersion in nature. You feel as though you are away from the city, even though it’s just a 10-minute drive away.

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First Impressions

The Re:Qi Retreat is created for business leaders and executives, in their 30s and 40s, who are “juggling demanding jobs and looking for the ways to live more holistically”, shares CulturedGen founder Summer Song, who is guided by her own personal journey to emotional wellness and shift towards conscious living.

“From creating new habits and managing stress to improving self-awareness and connecting with others, they are looking for personal and professional growth as they embark on a journey of mindful, conscious living,” she explains, adding that she was determined to share the holistic wellness and conscious lifestyle with more people through a local retreat experience.

In fact, the inaugural edition of the Re:Qi Retreat attracted professionals from diverse backgrounds, including fintech, clean energy and consulting, which ignited broad-ranging and interesting discussions during the sharing circles. Safe-management measures were also in place and the 16 guests were split into two groups with safe distancing between each person throughout the retreat.

Inspired by two of the world’s oldest healing systems: TCM and Ayurveda, all of the activities and meals during the retreat were designed based on the body clock concept, which aligns the energy of our body with that of our natural surroundings.

And then there is the rare collaboration between TCM physician Jun Negoro and homegrown chef Ace Tan, who’s known for his “progressive Asian cuisine”, to integrate TCM herbs and ingredients into different meals throughout the day and nourishing the body and balancing the qi, or vital energy.

Our two days were divided into a day of yin and another day of yang. We started the day of yang by first disconnecting from the daily grind (by surrendering our smartphones), before Tantra and sound healing teacher Christina Nikolovski guided us through the intention setting—for the day or life in general—and think about the action needed to reach our heart’s desire. We were encouraged to write all these down in the journal provided.

Breatheology and meditation expert Jacky Lam then guided us through resetting our breathing patterns. He then shared mindful breathing tips to help us reach its fuller capacity. While got a bit technical at times, this was my greatest takeaway from the retreat: that breath-holding and breath control, which taps on both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, can be utilised for positive results. And mastering these “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” responses, respectively, can be used in various aspects of life, including managing stress and anxiety.

Our body also has the inner power to heal itself and Negoro shared how acupressure massage can activate these self-healing mechanisms simply with the application of manual pressure from our fingertips to specific points on our body. This restores the qi flow and helps us reach an optimal stage of wellbeing. Bai hui, the highest point of the body on our head, keeps harmony between the heart and mind; tai yang, the most common point at the temples address headaches and dizziness; while yin tang at the centre of the forehead calms the mind and spirit.

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Do Not Disturb

When it comes to rejuvenating the mind and spirit, Villa Samadhi is just the place to be. Housed within two heritage buildings on the hill of Labrador Park, the black-and-white 1920s colonial garrison, with 20 rooms in total and an on-site restaurant, is an idyllic hideaway to escape city life, while grounding in nature. The high ceilings and teak furnishings exude an old-world charm, while the chirping birds and greenery make for good company.

If you are looking for activities to do here, there’s honestly nothing much besides forest bathing in the nature reserve, not that you’d want to do anything else. You can extend this slower pace of life at the in-house library, which has an extensive collection of books.

The highlight of the Sarang room, or aptly "nest" in Malay, where I stayed in is the private whirlpool, centrally-controlled and automatically switched on in the evenings, which helped ease the piled up tensions from the long hours of sitting at my desk, and facilitated a good night’s sleep. And this prepared me for the next day of yin, to reconnect with nature, as we embarked on a journey of mindfulness.

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The Retreat Leaders

While the Re:Qi Retreat sounded like a yoga-focused one when I first read about it—with many of the retreat leaders being yoga practitioners—rest assured that it is not. I’m not a big fan of the practice (having only done it once previously, and even the Child’s Pose is hardly relaxing on my knees), but yoga teacher Linda Hao made the one yoga vinyasa class we had so much easier by teaching me how to execute the poses in simpler ways, all while expertly managing the class at the same time.

Hao also led the barefoot meditation and nature walk at Labrador Park on the second day. There is much research on the benefits of barefoot walking on grass but the first-hand experience of this simple and accessible practice—where the heel touches the ground first, before the ball of the foot and toes—has been grounding so to speak.

Movement artist Chloe Chotrani prescribed movement as medicine, helping us expand our spatial awareness, moving our limbs and bodies, and even rolling around on the floor, leaving our inhibitions at the door for the sake of liberating our mind, body and soul. And then there is sound healing practitioner Amanda Ling, whose immersive sound bath of frequencies and vibrations offered a good start to the morning—I was in such a state of relaxation that I dozed off a few times.

Meanwhile, the other sharing circle, this time on mindful conversation, was led by green advocate Stephanie Dickson, who is the founder of the conscious-living community, Green is the New Black, explored how the self is very much interconnected with our environment. Yoga and meditation teacher Damini Yogini wrapped up the retreat proper with special Ayurveda tea blends to ease us back into the outside world.

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Food and Drink

Most people would associate the body clock with sleep and wake cycles, but it is more than that when it comes to TCM, for every function of our body is linked to a specific time window. When qi, or vital energy, moves through our body, it marks the time when that organ is most energised and/or working the hardest.

So Negoro, together with chef Tan, the retreat's culinary adviser, have integrated TCM wisdom into the culinary experiences and paired them with complementary TCM tea blends. Tan explains, “Re:Qi presented a unique opportunity to expand Asian fine dining beyond the pleasure to the senses, but also nourishing and healing by reconnecting with the ancient philosophy of yang sheng, or ‘nourishing life’, and yao shi tong yuan or  ‘food as medicine.’”

For example, lunch utilised ingredients that nourish the heart and thus boosting blood circulation, while dinner focused on kidney nourishing dishes as it is during this time that the body stores nutrients. Meanwhile, breakfast comprises food that nourishes the stomach to help you get ready for the day ahead. I opted for the vegetarian menu throughout my stay, and as an example for breakfast, we had scallion flatbread with edamame hummus and kombu king oyster mushrooms, and an eight-treasures porridge with adzuki bean and myoga golden chives, paired with a tea blend of ginseng, chrysanthemums, astragalus and goji berries.

And as a nightcap treat for those who drink (I don’t), Negoro offered a menu of TCM cocktails, which come with various health benefits such as for vitality, beauty, calming and digestion.

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Tatler Tip

Come with an open mind and be open to trying something new. There were times during the two-day retreat that I wanted to sit out of some of the activities even before I tried. Yoga, for one, and even the nature walk. But I’m glad I didn’t—it’s mind over matter really, because these experiences have helped me become more aware of the changes and shifts of energy flow throughout the day and how to better utilise this for optimal wellbeing.

For a start, I’m trying to be more conscious of my breathing, focusing on slow, deep breaths as a basic concentration practice. This helps me keep focus on what I have to do in my day-to-day, and practise mindfulness while keeping stress and anxiety under control. 

And interestingly, I enjoyed the sharing circles. Some might think that it’s a bit awkward to be sharing their inner thoughts with strangers—you are encouraged to do so only if you want to—but for me, I found it helpful when it comes to practising gratitude and learning to see things from another’s perspective. Sometimes, it might be easier to share certain aspects of our lives with people who don't know us intimately. 

The second edition of the Re:Qi Retreat takes place in September.

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