I was flattered to be interviewed by E Jane Dickson for Condé Nast Traveller’s spa supplement in March 2007 just before the publication of my first book, Body & Soul Escapes
Turn your life around with Caroline Sylger Jones
‘So you’ve bought the stretchy headband, practised sitting cross-legged and made the dog sleep on your yoga mat so that it doesn’t look too new. You’re all geared up for the break that will recharge you, mentally and physically, but the specialist travel literature is full of alarming terms, such as ‘Budokan’, ‘healing’ and, well, ‘wellness’. Ayurvedic massage on the beach sounds lovely, but will they let you keep your knickers on? Will you get enough to eat? Are you really up to full-on ‘mindfulness’ when you are on holiday?
These and many other questions are answered in Caroline Sylger Jone’s new book, Body and Soul Escapes (Footprint Books £19.99), a guide for travellers interested in an experience ‘beyond the spa’. Sylger Jones, 35, a travel journalist and Iyengar yoga enthusiast, became aware of the gap in the travel-literature market when she was trawling through books and brochures for a yoga holiday to suit her particular requirements.
‘I found a lot of glamorous, beautiful-looking books that covered luxurious, expensive spas, and I recognise there’s a place for those,’ says Caroline, ‘but I didn’t find enough that got me in the gut and made me feel “ I want to change myself. I’m in a rut or stressed or bored, and I don’t just want to go somewhere and be pampered. I want more than that.”’
Packed with advice that manages to be both sensible and inspirational, Body and Soul Escapes reviews more than 350 establishments, ranging from holistic treatments in Sri Lanka to a swimming trek in Croatia. ‘In many ways, these are working holidays, in as much as the focus is on taking yourself away and working on some specific aspect of your life,’ says Caroline. ‘But they are also holidays that will relax and replenish the individual in ways that lying on a beach with a few glasses of Chardonnay won’t. And if you can do this in beautiful surroundings while experiencing a new culture, so much the better.’
There is a strong intellectual connection for Caroline, who describes herself as a non-religious Buddhist, between the idea of travel and the notion of self-development. ‘It’s basically about searching and connecting and openness to new experience,’ she explains. ‘I’ve written poetry from an early age, so I guess, from that point of view, you could say I’m someone who has always been very interested in questioning and exploring the spiritual side of life, but the real turning point came about 10 years ago when I discovered yoga in my local village hall in Surrey.
‘As a child I’d been very interested in dance and gymnastics, the usual middle-class pursuits, but I didn’t feel that, as an adult, I could continue doing them. I was looking for an activity that would ground me and increase my bodily awareness. It was a real revelation to me how fantastic my body felt after I began to do yoga. Then I discovered meditation while travelling in Thailand and the two sides of my personal experience – the body and soul, if you like – just knitted together, and the wonderful feeling of solace and nurturing they gave me led to where I am now with this book.’
Born and bred in south-east England (she moved to Devon two years ago to be more in tune with her surroundings), Caroline is sensitive to British reticence in regard to all things alternative. ‘The book is aimed at two markets. There are the beginners who think, “Uh oh, ‘healing’, ‘holistics’, this freaks me out,” but are actually quite curious about taking care of their bodies and their minds. At the other end of the scale, there are people who are already into alternative therapies and lifestyles and want to pursue them in a more informed way.
‘You go on your own journey. I’m not interested in thrusting my own enthusiasms down other people’s throats. I’m just saying, “These are the holidays on offer,” and talking about destinations in a realistic way – what the bedrooms are like, what the ambience is like, who else goes there – so that readers can make up their own minds about what they need, whether it’s a full-on spiritual trek in a Bedouin desert or a chateau in France where you can drink Champagne all weekend, do your Pilates and go on walks in gorgeous countryside.’
On the more rigorously practical side, Body and Soul Escapes offers intensively researched information on every part of the alternative holiday experience, from airline food (Caroline’s advice: ‘Don’t eat it. There’s no point turning up for a cleanse feeling like death’) to the etiquette surrounding colonic irrigation and the all-important question of group dynamics.
‘There are places where you could go on your own or with a partner, and not see anyone else, but there are also a lot of places where you are going to be functioning as part of a community and, yes, there are various aspects that need to be negotiated,’ Caroline says. ‘You might go on a life-coaching holiday, for example, where there is one person who’s really irritating, who unloads their own issues on everyone else. But there are ways of coping with that if it happens, and part of what I’m explaining is how to get what you need out of a group situation without being overwhelmed by it.’
Whatever your budget, destination or level of dedication, Caroline believes passionately in the power of body and soul retreats to change your life. ‘This kind of holiday is all about opening yourself up to new ways of looking at your life, new ways of addressing the issues that matter to you. It might be a quick fix or it might be the beginning of a life-long discipline. Either way,’ promises Caroline, ‘the benefits are going to last a whole lot longer than a suntan.’
© Condé Nast Traveller & E J Jane Dickson