From Gluttony to Abstinence

One day I was on the path of excess, and the next I did a U-turn on to the trail of discipline.

This May, I took a quick girls’ trip to Brussels to browse through antique shops and explore the city.  As we kicked off our adventure, we found ourselves happily toasting with some bubbly as a champagne truck pulled up among the stalls in the local market.

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Brussels is a city to visit briefly as the sites are limited to one Grand Plaza with all the usual suspects: an ornate church, a beautiful palace, and a magnificent mansion.  At every turn, countless medieval churches pop up with spires soaring toward the sky; they look to have been uprooted from deep within the bucolic French countryside.

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But above all, Brussels is the land of beer and chocolate; a calorie fueled binge of a city where it is impossible to avoid chocolate shops and beer gardens. Each offer extensive varieties of their wares, and everything is displayed in excess. Pub shelves sag beneath the weight of endless varieties of local brew. Chocolate shops are crammed with sweet confections and go so far as to feature life size statues carved from gigantic chocolate blocks.

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The main attraction is the Manneken Pis, a bronze statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain basin! Legend states that in the 14th century Brussels was under siege, and the attackers placed explosives at the city walls. A little boy happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and saved the city from ruin.  There are many replicas of this unusual landmark to bring home in white, dark, and milk chocolate varieties!

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Brussels in a nutshell:  Chocolate, Beer, and Pee.  High Cal and Low Brow.

So imagine the shock to my system when exactly 24 hours after a two day escape to Brussels, I returned to the Ashram in Mallorca, Spain. 

This is the spiritual retreat where we are told to “trust the program” of extensive exercise and very little food.  The peeing boy fountain is replaced with a sitting Buddha statue, beer is replaced with herbal tea, and chocolate does not exist on the sugar free menu… Nor does dairy, alcohol, caffeine, meat, or gluten.

The Ashram in a nutshell:  Health, Exercise, and Reflection.  Low Cal and High Brow.

Every regimented day includes multiple yoga sessions, core strengthening classes, and extensive hikes through the beautiful, rugged Mallorcan mountains.  Snacks are limited, and one day we hiked along 12 miles, over 5 hours, gaining 2,500 vertical feet.  All this powered by 1 fig and 3 almonds!

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One person on our trip likened the Ashram to adult summer camp, and in many ways this is an apt comparison.  At meals and along the trails, we get a chance to connect with our companions on this journey; 15 random people brought together by what some might call a masochistic desire to cleanse body, mind, and spirit.  I love the chemistry that develops and the intimacy that is created among the group over the course of the week.  You start as strangers and end as friends.

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I  had a true friend along the trail, someone with whom I have been lucky enough to experience my expat adventures from the very beginning.  Though she is about to return to the US, I have no doubt our paths will cross again…

Will it be along the path to gluttony or the trail to abstinence?
I say, variety is the spice of life!

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