A glint of warm Thai sunlight wakes me up and I smile. There's nothing better than being so rested the body wakes up before the alarm. I am alone in one of those oversized resort beds with overwhelmingly soft sheets. Normally I would reach for my phone, to video call my partner and show off about the room, then later do my social media morning dance – Facebook, Instagram, and a twirl with Twitter. But this week I've switched off my iPhone, tucked it away in my suitcase.
I am at my first yoga retreat near Hua Hin on the Thai mainland coast, and the silence of being technology-free follows me for the next few hours.
First, through a morning group meditation, then an hour-and-a-half of yoga.
Now famished and ready to chat, the dozen students from Grass Roots Yoga in Melbourne and I, who have travelled here with the school's director Shannon Barry, enjoy a buffet breakfast – the kind of opulent deliciousness that I only ever find in south-east Asia.
This isn't a retreat of deprivation. We're in a luxury resort, the Evason Hua Hin, with more pools and ponds that, in a relaxed state, one can barely be bothered counting. The intention is to slow down our lives, to catch a glimpse of what's really happening moment-to-moment. A lesson in mindfulness, held away from the deafening reality that is daily life back home.
As a working professional with a difficult relationship with anxiety, I know that this might be a challenging week. But what the outcome will be, I have no idea. It's not that I'm a "going on retreat" sceptic, but I have always questioned whether they really work. I mean, I holiday regularly, I practise yoga as often as I can, and meditate as often as I remember. Will combining the journey and practice really make such a difference? I have six days to find out …
It's a crew of well-travelled, smart and diverse women who have invested in a week at the resort without their loved ones, in the hope of becoming stronger for them, and ultimately themselves. Our days are run with a similar schedule of activities that become our "retreat life". Before long, many of us aren't just waking up with the sun, but well before it, making a silent pilgrimage through to the resort at 5.30am to watch the sun rise above the Gulf of Thailand.
The yoga isn't intensive, with one session in the morning and a second slow yin practice on a couple of the nights. We also gather as a group for daily meditation, journalling and sangha – or "learning" – sessions during which we practise mindful speaking exercises called "dyads". In one exercise we pair up, taking turns to complete short phrases such as "people are …" or "I need …" and allowing as many responses as flow.
The one job of the listener is to hear what's being said, but not respond with any judgment. (Must keep this for home …)
Aside from group practices and a couple of tourist activities, we are left to use our free time as we want. For some, that means cocktails; for others, rest and reflection.
I'm not sure at what point I become extremely relaxed – both mentally and physically. But it happens, beyond anything I usually experience on holiday. Small situations that normally would have me frustrated and stressed, instead see me calm.
Our daily morning yoga is on a beautiful deck surrounded by green and flowering lily pads.
On one occasion other tourists stop to take photos of us in the fabulously unattractive "downward dog" pose.
Instead of caring that I'm featuring in a stranger's photo in this position, I just observe what's happening … and go back to concentrating on my pose. As simple as that.
Barry says it's getting away from our regular daily habits that "creates an ease" and gives us the opening to look inward. Plus, the surrounds makes doing yoga and self-reflective work a pleasure.
In the minibus back to Bangkok, the six-day retreat now complete, there's crazy behaviour from the vehicles around us and my pulse quickly rises. I burst out with a string of back seat profanities. Then I catch myself. "Oh no!" I say to my teacher sitting beside me. "The world is already getting to me, that wasn't mindful at all."
"Look how quickly you just recognised your own response," Barry says. "That's a good start at a mindful life right there."
A few weeks on, I'm still meditating daily. Well, almost every day. And, while I already had an interest in mindfulness, the retreat was a perfect way to jumpstart that practice through yoga and meditation. In our lives today that are increasingly plagued by mental health issues, a retreat is an effective form of defence.
Thai, Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and AirAsia all fly between Melbourne and Sydney and Bangkok. Evason Hua Hin is a three-hour drive south of the city.
The next Grass Roots Yoga retreat will be in Sri Lanka 2016. Prices are about $2000 for the week not including flights. See grassrootsyoga.com.
Tessa van der Riet was a guest of Grass Roots Yoga.
SIX OTHER YOGA RETREATS
SATYANANDA YOGA (NSW, Victoria and NZ) Spiritually led yoga and wellbeing retreats in tranquil nature settings.
TOTAL BALANCE WOMEN'S RETREAT (Byron Bay) Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness.
GWINGANNA (Queensland) Luxury centre with a range of wellness activities.
SAMAHITA (Koh Samui, Thailand) Several different yoga retreat packages in a tropical island setting.
YOGA BARN (Bali, Indonesia) Five studios offering different wellness classes in the mountainous region of Ubud.
ASHIYANA (Goa, India) Yoga and wellness retreats of between one-three weeks with teachers from all over the world.