Magic in Florence: Reflecting on an Italian wellness retreat

florence italy

An ode to my Italian wellness retreat in Florence…

If you are a frequent reader (and, if you are, grazie tantissimo), you may recall a post I did in 2019 about an Italian wellness retreat I was attending in Tuscany. The program was organized by American expat Shari of Sole Yoga Holidays. She offers similar programs in unique and beautiful places all over the world; the one I attended was the first in her adopted home of Florence.

This Italian wellness retreat launched a whirlwind of changes in my life, but shifts take time.

Many months since, I’ve finally made time to share it. It was a busy year and I needed time to reflect, absorb, and, let the growth come naturally. The latter is something I’ve learned from being a mama, so a big thank you to my sweet boy for this life lesson.

Patience has never come terribly easy to this competitive, type-A gal. But motherhood has taught me that we all deserve the time to learn and grow at our pace, which is why the retreat was not only perfect timing with the activities Shari planned to open me up, but also challenged me to practice patience as my own growth emerged after coming home.

Some thoughts from me…

I do not believe there is a magic pill, activity – not even a dreamy Italian wellness retreat – that alone changes our lives. We have to be open and ready for change, and then the universe can deliver. I say this because I don’t want people to think that I’m suggesting one weekend will alter life drastically or even immediately.

Generally, things just don’t work that way.

We have to put in the work. And, sometimes, that work means falling and getting back up. Sometimes, the resulting change is not what we expect or even thought we wanted…but, what we need.

Sometimes, it’s just being present in a single solitary moment (c’mon, we all know that is hard, particularly in today’s digital world). Sometimes, it’s just being finally open to and ready for change.

These were all me on this weekend — raw and ready.

Please, please, please don’t misunderstand. Shari of Sole Yoga developed a program with the right recipe of people, activities, and time for introspection. What I stated above is more meant to remind us that you and I individually are the captain of our own ship. We steer our own future – our lives.


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About Sole Yoga Holidays

Shari’s focus is on yoga, but her programs are more than that. She offers Italian wellness retreats in Positano, Cinque Terre, Lake Como as well her Florence Manifestation Retreat. She also curates programs in other dreamy locations, like Santorini, Zanzibar, Ireland, Marrakesh, Namibia, and more.

The programs are generally three to six nights with daily yoga instruction and other activities to showcase the unique culture of each location.

It can become quite easy, particularly for women, to get caught up in everyday life – the stresses and the struggles of supporting everyone else…that we forget to take care of our own needs…to the point that we don’t even remember what we need ourselves.

I know I have missed caring for myself plenty since Il ragazzino arrived; add in the growth of my wine tour and travel planning business, more marketing consulting, nursery, dinner, laundry…oh my!

I’ve done retreats and self-reflective getaways before. And, admittedly, I went into it looking for a quick cure for what ailed me…not, taking care of myself and putting other’s needs first.

I’d walk away supercharged from these activities, then I’d fail to reach the proverbial finish line that I had created for myself. I felt defeated, beating myself up for ‘failing’ or not seeing things through as completely as I’d wanted.

Well, I arrived in Florence early on the first day and did something that felt incredibly self-indulgent. I was almost embarrassed about it. I booked a few hours at a spa I’d heard about from local friends. It was so needed: massage, reflexology…just what the doctor ordered.

relax firenze massage
Relax Firenze.

Since the retreat, the benefits continue to reveal themselves.

The thing is, I was supercharged at the end of the program. Of course, I was. I was flying high from the energy and companionship of fellow participants. But, by Saturday, it hit me how very tired I was from real life. It occurred to me that maybe…just maybe, it would be good for me to stay one extra night for a little more mental rest, I listened to my gut and took an extra day to rest.

Since my return, I find it easier to hear my inner voice. I am setting boundaries in ways I never have before.

I’ve been more open to the evolution of what I want in my work life, my home life…as a mother, a businesswoman…as my own advocate and champion. And, things just started happening, new career opportunities, new growth with the tour and travel planning business…yes, it’s been a whirlwind.

Please be gentle with yourself when you embark on a journey of self-awareness and reflection. Don’t expect to go home and suddenly life is transformed. Change always takes time…and, work.

italian wellness retreat
During the program, I stayed at the charming and eclectic SoprArno Suites. It’s fantastic.

I’ll get a little more honest by sharing something I continue to work on…my Italian.

In honor of authenticity, let me share my little secret: my Italian is still not very good. Like really not very good. Even after 6.5 years, I struggle greatly and it has been a source of deep shame for me. I bring it up because I realized at the retreat I need to face my fears with it more and also be honest about it all because we don’t talk about mental health enough.

I used to tell people that I have a physiological reaction when attempting Italian. Before going into situations I rehearse over and over in my head, pressuring myself to get it right and not screw up. Then, oftentimes I freeze, choke on my words, turn red and flush, I get dizzy, my breathing gets labored, a knot rises in my chest, sometimes I shake, a lump forms in my throat, and once in awhile tears tumble out. I can barely focus, everything seems to spin.

Those of you who know, know exactly what I’m talking about and can appreciate the regular terror of going into this state as a stranger in a strange land.

Of course, after many of these episodes, I’d remember what or how I should have said something, making me more upset and angry with myself for being so stupid. Why can’t I get it? I’ve been living here for so long. What is WRONG with me?

After the little one was born, the physiological reactions grew more acute and more frequent over different situations, not only language-related.

Just over a year ago, I came to realize that…maybe I am not stupid and perhaps my talk of a physiological reaction wasn’t actually a cop-out. Wow…what if these are panic attacks?

I visited my general practitioner, then a psychiatric who diagnosed me with panic attacks and anxiety disorder. For a year and a half now I have been taking anxiety medications, which helps tremendously. And, I’m learning to be more gentle with myself.

I’m also starting a panic attack support group in Alba, with the hope of double benefits: support coping with my anxiety as well as working on my Italian.

Shortly after my return from that weekend in Florence, I signed up for another Italian class. And, because I trust myself more, I am doing a better job of trying. I’m proud of the daily progress I’m making with my Italian. And, also being less hard on myself when I get overwhelmed. The terror hasn’t subsided completely, but it’s more manageable. I’m working on it.

And, most importantly, I’m being honest about it. This is my truth. And, so many suffer from mental health issues, like debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. So, let’s get more real about stuff like this.

Okay, okay. A bit about the actual wellness retreat.

I won’t go into too much detail because it’s more exciting to experience it yourself. But, I will share some of the highlights for me.

We kicked off this Italian wellness retreat, called “Manifestations”, with a welcome apertivo. It was a great opportunity to meet one another and learn a bit about the program.

italian wellness retreat
SoprArno Suites – lobby. The hotel just oozes character and vibrant energy.

We began the first full day with a gentle yoga flow, led by our host, Shari. Heart openers, throat work for communication…it had been so long since I’d been on the mat, I immediately knew my body was thirsty for the nourishment.

We did an inspired art history tour, led by my dear friend — and the world’s best art history guide — Alexandra Lawrence of Explore Florence. There is truly nothing like a slow cultural jaunt with Alexandra.

She will transform the way you see and think about art, architecture, and all its historical significance.

Alexandra Lawrence Explore Florence
Alexandra Lawrence of Explore Florence,
pitti palace
Pitti Palace.

italian wellness retreat

Free afternoon and evenings – and, that is very important.

As an American, I remember how hard it was to fit in travel with such limited vacation time. So, we become conditioned to fill every waking moment of our travels, particularly long haul trips.

A large number of the guests we meet via our tour and travel business are Americans who worry about getting bored staying in one place for more than three days. But, experiencing different cultures and particularly a retreat of this nature begs for time to reflect and absorb. We had free time that really made that possible.

I mention this because I really applaud Shari’s itinerary that included downtime. Please resist the urge to over-schedule yourself because you feel you must.

Italian Welness Retreat

We did more yoga during the program and also a lovely creative writing program hosted by the intrepid Betty Soldi. As a writer, it never occurred to me to push my writing with the physical act of text designing.

It was all just what my heart and brain needed. A mental rest to create a soulful awakening.

italian wellness workshop
Betty Soldi.
Italian Wellness Retreat
Betty offers calligraphy and writing workshops.

Italian Wellness Retreat

In the next few weeks, I plan to start introducing the new plans I have for the site, my work, and my amazing team. We’ve got so much planned for 2020 and I want to give a heartfelt thank you to Shari for helping open me up back in early 2019.

I am on the lookout for a 2020 Italian wellness retreat to keep the growth going. If anyone has suggestions, drop me a note in comments or shoot me a note via my Contact page.

Buon anno a tutti! 

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