Positive changes resulting from the pandemic include people being more aware of the importance of health and wellness, having realised just how precious it is to be in the pink, be it physical, mental or spiritual. Being cooped up in the house for what seemed like an eternity, restricted from seeing and connecting with loved ones and swarmed with rapidly flowing thoughts of an uncertain future hurt many of us.
Studies have shown that picking up new hobbies or skills can improve productivity and mental health. Some of us became plant parents or learnt to cook or crochet, while others opted for physical activities such as strength training, pilates, cycling and yoga to fill the many hours at home that would have otherwise been spent commuting to the office or meeting friends for dinner.
It is time to reconnect with oneself. Having said that, some of us still struggle with building a meaningful relationship with ourselves. If understanding your body and appreciating yourself more is your goal next year, may we suggest you try yoga?
Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, yoga means “to yoke”. It is a practice that connects mind, body and soul, bringing together the different elements of oneself. It involves physical poses, concentration and deep breathing — activities that scare people away from attempting this ancient spiritual and ascetic discipline, especially urban dwellers and workaholics who are used to a fast-paced environment and having a loud mind.
After a long, stressful week of catching up with deadlines, we were ready to bask in the sun on the beach and to quieten our minds. Suitcase packed with activewear and nightwear, and a short read (our current choice is The Accidental Malay by Karina Robles Bahrin), we dragged our knackered bodies to the East Coast state of Terengganu, in the hopes of returning home feeling rejuvenated.
Over a recent weekend, yoga enthusiasts from around the country gathered at Tanjong Jara Resort in Terengganu for the three-day, two-night Sucimurni Yoga Retreat. We arrived at the property in Dungun after four hours on the road from Kuala Lumpur. If you board a flight, the journey from Kuala Terengganu’s Sultan Mahmud Airport to the resort takes about an hour.
The sunny weather in the coastal district feels like a breath of fresh air after days, if not weeks, of cold and chilly temperatures (for tropical-dwellers, anyway) in the Klang Valley. With the absence of clouds spattering beads of water on earth, nature becomes lively and effervescent, transforming the blue and grey atmosphere into joyful yellow and green. Guests meander along narrow roads flanked by trees on one end and paddy fields on the other to arrive at the resort.
Sucimurni Yoga Retreat is an annual programme organised by Tanjong Jara Resort, promising meditation and movement that relax mind and body and help it heal from pandemic-induced stress. Comprising a variety of workshops, the retreat takes inspiration from the Malay concept of sucimurni, which emphasises purity and wholesomeness.
After freshening up and changing into sportswear, participants made their way to Anjung Garden, a spacious area in the property surrounded by luxe rooms and sheltered from the sun by swaying coconut trees that overlook the South China Sea. With warm sea breeze and calming music in the background, mats were laid out in preparation for the first session — Destress and Detangle Yoga.
Our instructor for the weekend, Upward Yoga founder Ninie Ahmad, welcomes participants with the biggest smile on her face and reminds everyone: “Whatever you do for the next three days, make sure you don’t stress yourself.” The 40-year-old has been practising yoga for more than two decades. A complete novice would be easily reassured and excited to attempt the first pose when the teacher is highly experienced in the field.
For those wondering whether learning yoga is tough, Ninie says, “It can be hard, but it does get easier once you become familiar with it. It may even be too easy for some people. The important thing is to not hurt yourself and not get stressed”. Can you get stressed from doing yoga? “Of course! It is important to get out of your comfort zone while still knowing your limits. Some of the poses look nice on Instagram, but if doing them makes your body feel bad when you wake up in the morning, that’s not yoga anymore.”
Day one ends gracefully with participants lying down with their eyes closed for five minutes, absorbing the energy from the sea, vast skies and nature around them, while Ninie and her confidantes Fitrina Zaini and Joanne Chaw go around to give everyone a quick shoulder massage.
Ninie shares that doing yoga indoors and outdoors exude different vibes and can serve many purposes. The former is ideal for concentrating on yourself, while the latter is great if you want to connect with nature or people.
Our favourite session is without a doubt the Intense Sunrise Yoga held on the beach. Beginning with breathing exercises as we catch the day break, slowly turning the sky from orange to blue, is a moment to remember. We are seated on an uneven sandy surface and the poses lined up that morning are much more intense and challenging than the previous day’s. However, a beginner need not worry, as the sequence of motions for each pose commonly starts easy before gradually moving to a more advanced bearing. Ninie makes sure to encourage everyone to try as much as they can, keeping in mind the importance of not hurting oneself in the process.
The programme includes an optional two-hour class for advanced practitioners who aim to perfect their poses. The Body Origami workshop teaches yogis to explore variations of poses and learn different techniques to achieve them. Sucimurni Yoga Retreat has been an annual affair at the resort for the past five years, but it will be carried out quarterly next year due to the overwhelming response from enthusiasts, who requested for it to be offered more frequently.
Leisure time is scheduled for guests who want to pamper themselves at Spa Village Tanjong Jara. We recommend the Traditional Malay Massage as the treatment utilises local ingredients such as turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, onion and citronella to create a finely textured oil that feels slightly warm on the skin. Dainty hands move simultaneously across your whole body in long kneading strokes, applying pressure on different parts of the body to loosen knots and tight muscles.
Tanjong Jara Resort pitches itself as being “Unmistakably Malay” and this is evident from its unique architecture, services as well as other offerings. Every Saturday evening, the resort organises Kampong Sucimurni Lifestyle to reveal insights into the Malay way of life that strongly reflects a sense of community.
The set-up is put together at the seafront garden, where guests — local and foreign alike — can engage in traditional games such as batu seremban, congkak and sepak takraw. Authentic delicacies and beverages such as keropok lekor, keropok keping, cucur udang and teh tarik are freshly made on-site for patrons to enjoy.
After a hard day of yoga and other outdoor activities at the resort from morning to evening, nothing really beats the feeling of being able to rest in a serene and luxurious space. For those planning to visit with their children, the Serambi Room is cosy enough to accommodate a family of four as it offers king sized and single beds.
Positioned on the ground floor of a double-storey unit, it features traditional decorative elements that evoke a classic Malay house constructed with wooden walls and tiles. Big windows add volume to the room and opening the glass doors generously let in sunlight and sea breeze.
The unit overlooks tropical gardens and you will be sure to wake up to the sound of birds chirping or even a peacock’s shrill call. At night, we suggest keeping your eyes peeled while walking back to your room as encounters with monitor lizards and garden snakes (we understand they are harmless and not venomous) are not uncommon.
If peace of mind and a rejuvenated body are what you seek, we think a trip to Tanjong Jara Resort and yoga by the beach will do the trick.
This article first appeared on Dec 12, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.