It's 5am, my alarm clock is ringing and someone is knocking on my villa door. It's time for my first full day at Chōsen Experiences. My fellow participants join me for coffee, chia pudding and a breakfast smoothie. The bright-orange sunrise is painting palm-tree reflections in the pool and we all admire the quintessential postcard view of paradise. I drink a glass of cold brew as I read over my itinerary for the day. Two words - "cliff jumping" - stand out a little bolder than the rest and I can't tell if the swell of anxiety in the pit of my stomach is from the extra-strong coffee or because I'm terrified of heights.
I am here for a week-long journey that promises to challenge me physically and mentally while helping me to unlock my full potential. Founded by Robin Connelly and John Stanton, each Chōsen Experience includes adventure, fitness, nutrient-dense food, workshops, experiential learning, mindfulness and much more. Participants complete in-depth lifestyle questionnaires at the point of booking before groups of no more than ten meet at luxury properties in breathtaking locations in Bali (where I am now), Iceland, Guatemala, New Zealand and Cape Town.
Four-poster beds, infinity pools and manicured gardens are the norm for the properties in each region, and there's little to no single-use plastic used on site. The programming is designed by leading nutritionists, Olympic athletes and doctors, who ensure guests are perfectly fuelled, rested and challenged. It's essentially an "ideal week" where all the basics are taken care of so you can focus on the physical and mental challenges presented to you.
Like most of the group I learned about the experiences from a friend who is a member of the Chōsen Alumni community, a network of former participants who live in major cities around the world. The Alumni come from all walks of life but have one thing in common: a willingness and desire to continuously improve themselves mentally, physically, professionally and personally. My friend has joined me for the week and in addition to the two of us, the group is made up of a luxury fashion retail director, acclaimed writer and TV presenter, impact investor, freshly graduated tech major, successful bakery-chain entrepreneur, the founders John and Robin, and Chōsen's phenomenal chef, Josh Davies. We have flown in from all corners of the world and are ready for a transformational week.
We make our way in a convoy of cars to some waterfalls for our cliff-jumping and canyoning adventure. A chilled playlist begins, conversation flows and connections are made as John and Robin answer all our questions about the week. Before I know it we're in the water, rappelling down waterfalls and sliding over the river. My cunning plan of keeping my fear of heights a secret is foiled when an extremely high cliff jump emerges. I go pale, pretend I'm being polite by letting everyone go ahead of me and try to delay the inevitable. I then turn to Josh with a million excuses on the tip of my tongue, who, without a second of hesitation, proceeds to give me a "leap of faith" pep talk. It works: I jump. The crowd cheers. So far, so good. Within minutes of hitting the water I'm climbing back up to the highest point and making myself jump over and over again. On my final jump something shifts and the fear that had been holding me back since I was a child is gone. It's the first breakthrough of many during the week. In less than 24 hours two of us have overcome a formerly debilitating fear of heights. I'm impressed.
Back at the luxurious villa we gather around the table for one of many delicious, healthy meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are family-style, wholefood feasts and everyone is encouraged to sit next to new people at every meal. This is not a weight-loss retreat, but guests often look and feel leaner when leaving thanks to the organic, unprocessed food. I have some of the best meals of my life during the week and everyone is impressed at how well their food intolerances, allergies and preferences are catered for. My digestive system has never been happier.
Every day of the week is programmed very carefully and includes different physical and mental activities. The only permanent daily items on the agenda are meal times and sunset yoga every evening before dinner. The instructors are phenomenal and this week include Olympic-gold swimmer Ryk Neethling, yoga and life coach Rachel Fearnley, clinical nutritionist Elisa Haggarty and the best local athletes in Bali. We are pushed to our limits during group workouts and gently nudged to the edge of our comfort zone, encouraged to open up and put in the work. The breakthroughs continue as someone learns how to swim, overcoming a childhood fear of open water.
John and Robin are former clean-tech venture capitalists who originally created Chōsen Experiences to balance their stressful work lives. Their original concept continues to develop and improve, and new aspects are regularly incorporated. This idea of continuous learning is one of my biggest takeaways from the week. Experts take part in activities and workshops alongside us and we have endless opportunities to learn from them. I decide to give up processed food and sugar for 30 days after a chat with Elisa, my freestyle becomes more efficient after a one-on-one, ten-minute lesson with Ryk, and I learn about the power of breath from Rachel. I feel like a child again, absorbing new experiences like a sponge.
I should be exhausted from the workouts, adventures and workshops, but instead I have more energy than I've had in years. Downtime is taken seriously and there are dedicated chill-out times scattered throughout the week. Massages, physiotherapy and chiropractor sessions are all part of the process and the daily yin yoga is purposefully designed to lower cortisol levels. Bedtimes are early and eight hours of sleep are encouraged. We rise with the sun and start winding down at sunset so that by the time we've finished our post-dinner herbal tea the only thing we're craving is a night in our mosquito net-enveloped bed.
My second breakthrough happens during a goal-setting workshop led by John. We're asked to write down some goals, then choose one and break it down into bite-sized, actionable steps that we can take over the next three, six and nine months. My goal is career-orientated and entails quitting my current job, getting a position in the best lifestyle-publishing house in my region and setting up my own business. It seems impossible when I first write it down, but gradually over the hour the impossible begins to seem less so. There's something about writing it down and saying it out loud that makes it much more tangible and less of a dream. I discover I'm brave enough to resign from my job, experienced enough to get the job I desire and determined enough to launch my own wellness retreat booking portal, Compare Retreats. In short, I begin to believe in myself and replace self-doubt with a sense of curiosity.
This combination of physical, mental and spiritual rituals is nothing short of extraordinary. We're all full of energy and raring to get to work on our individual goals. On our last night we gather around a fire on the beach at sunset and burn pieces of paper inscribed with things that we want to let go of. It's cathartic and we all enjoy a moment of collective silence staring into the fire, knowing we can accomplish any challenge we choose.