Time away from my usual routine made me realise what was missing | Katie Cunningham

I’d forgotten holidays aren’t just a chance to relax, but an opportunity to pause, reflect and reassess

I recently returned from my first holiday in four years. As well as being long overdue, it came after an extended period of work cannibalising my nights, weekends and few remaining shreds of sanity, pushing me close to the brink of burnout. Which is to say: I really needed this. It was, predictably, wonderful. I went to Bali for a week and did blissfully little. I swam, read a couple of books, drank cocktails of varying quality and got a massage every day.

I also did a lot of yoga. On day two of the trip, a friend took me to a studio called Radiantly Alive (this is the vibe of Ubud) for a 90-minute hatha class. I had done yoga precisely once before, at a Fitness First inside a Canberra shopping mall. This was a very different experience. I stood in a large room surrounded by beautiful Balinese nature, sunlight and a gentle breeze filtering in through the open windows, some kind of chillout mix on the speakers. I didn’t know my happy babies from my downward dogs, but nonetheless emerged from the class limber and in a state of bliss. I felt … radiantly alive.

I kept going back to yoga, surprised by the discovery that I enjoyed it. At home, my approach to exercise – and just about every area of life – has always been to go as hard as possible. As a textbook Type A personality, every meal, office hour and workout must be optimised for maximum utility. Downtime is not something I have a natural aptitude for. Most days that means F45, those classes swapped out occasionally for runs where I keep counting the laps until I’m about to drop, or at-home weights sessions that obliterate me so much it takes days to recover. I’d always written yoga off as “stretching” – something for lazy people. The realisation that exercise could actually be calming felt transformative. Turns out the thing people have been raving about for centuries is, in fact, good?

That wasn’t the only small revelation I had on holiday. Another travel companion told me she began every day by staying in bed with a coffee to write – a routine that struck me as utterly lovely. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that? Then in the hotel pool, I remembered how instantly calming a swim is. And around the corner from where I was staying was a frozen yoghurt shop, a welcome refresher. Why didn’t I swim all the time? How come I never eat froyo?

Then, all too quickly, the holiday was over. But I came back armed with resolutions.

There may not be a beautiful Balinese yoga studio walking distance from my apartment, but there is a place that looks over the beach not too far from home. I bought a 10 pack of classes, resolving to make room in my life for exercise that was gentler and easier on myself than I was used to. I don’t have a hotel pool, but I could swim in the ocean every day. And there is no frozen yoghurt shop in my suburb (Yogurberry, if you’re reading this, please come to Maroubra) but in search of the next best thing, I put a box of Weiss mango bars in my freezer. I started drinking my coffee in bed, taking an hour every morning to write something that was just for me, not a deadline.

The time away from my usual routine had made me realise what it was missing. It’s a post-holiday clarity I’ve experienced before – in the past, I’ve stepped off the plane at Sydney airport with a new understanding of what I wanted from my career or how a relationship needed to change. After four years without one, I’d forgotten holidays aren’t just a chance to relax but an opportunity to pause, reflect and reassess; to stand back and see what’s working in life and what’s not.

I may not be able to lounge by the pool in Bali forever, but I can squeeze some of the small joys I found on holiday into my everyday life.

  • Katie Cunningham is a freelance writer from Sydney


Katie Cunningham

The GuardianTramp

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