Govinda Valley: A Place For Optimal Healing and Growth

By Kym Staton
10th Dec, 2016

After descending into a hidden valley, crossing a smooth flowing river and climbing a staircase between lush green trees, I eventually found myself in the gardens of Govinda Valley, with a water drop shaped wind chime resonating in the light breeze that flowed gently between the trees. I’d only been here three minutes and already felt a palpable sense of quietude and calmness. I was greeted with a beaming smile by a lady who introduced herself as Aki, who invited me up to the dining room and offered me tea.

Ghandi said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’. The sanskrit word ‘Seva’ means a service which is performed without any expectation of result or award for performing it. Such services can be performed to benefit other human beings or society. When the Govinda Valley Retreat Centre was established in 2006 the essential vision was to serve. To provide a peaceful, nurturing and nourishing facility to all, regardless of their chosen path of spiritual practice, and a comfortable environment for people of Sydney and beyond to conduct retreats, seminars and conferences. The retreat has hosted hundreds of vibrant and successful groups and events in that time, and established a solid reputation for delicious healthy food, refreshingly helpful and personalised service, excellent facilities and a unique location offering access to ocean and bush.

I was soon greeted by the cheerful and warm Radha – the retreats’ bookings manager – who guided me through the facilities and grounds. The setting of this wonderful establishment is nothing short of sublime. Nestled in a peaceful valley between majestic mountains and amongst the pristine wilderness of Otford Valley, its bordered by a flowing creek and the beautiful Royal National Park and south pacific ocean lies beyond its eastern mountain. The property is surrounded and embraced by nature.

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The location is very practical, just one hour from Sydneys’ CBD or thirty minutes from wollongong by car, and only five minutes walk from Otford train station. There are a myriad of gorgeous spots to explore in the local area, such as the dazzling Bald Hill lookout, and popular surf beach Stanwell Park just a few minutes away by car.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-10-11-40-am
Heading into the building, I was blown-away by the vibe of their event spaces, which comprise of a large ground-floor 135m2 hall (which can fit up to 250 seated guests or 75 yoga mats), a smaller 65m2 hall (sixty seats or 20 yoga mats). These spaces are really gorgeous and inviting, bright, airy and naturally lit with big windows and leafy views. There is a large dining hall that seats 72 people inside and thirty on the balcony. There is also a therapy room which is ideal for one-to-one consultations and treatments such as massage or counselling.

6-main-hallthe main hall, GV’s largest space

It was glorious to stroll through the grounds and check out the facilities, down pathways lined with gumtrees and resplendent with bottle brush flowers in full bloom. The expansive thirty acre property has a volleyball court, half basketball court, bonfire areas, verandas with seating and spacious grassy areas that are great for meditation or outdoor activities. It even has an outdoor wood-fire pizza oven – nothing like the taste of fresh crispy pizza!

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Radha showed me the range of accommodation options which include six twin-share ensuites and ten quad-share dorm rooms. The total combined total accommodation capacity of the centre is fifty people, plus there is space for campers and an additional option to allow more people to attend events. If a retreat planner attracts forty or more people they can have exclusive use of the property.

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The team are clearly experts at hosting retreats and providing personalised services to meet the needs of yoga practitioners, speakers and event planners to plan and run their dream retreat. Their team of enthusiastic volunteers and staff will take care of all the cooking leaving the practitioner to do what they do best. The support for your event can be as little as accommodation and meals, or as much as arranging practitioners to enhance your events where Govinda Valley’s team can book in a therapists or teachers from their extensive local contacts which allows you to add things like massage, yoga, meditation or cooking lessons to your retreat program.

As we concluded the tour, although I’d only been at the centre for an hour, I noticed the Otford Valley – with its nest-like setting amongst hills and mountains had a unique, calming and comforting effect on me. As if reading my mind, a short time later Radha explained that traditionally the Otford Valley area was used as a birthing and healing centre by the Aboriginal natives. I was also told that the centre often gets visited by deer, parrots, kookaburra and kangaroos. Perhaps its the frequent sounds of joyful kirtans, mantra chanting or drumming that attracts them.. or the fact that only vegetarian food is served at the centre, making it seem like an inherently safe place to visit..

I enjoyed my visit and tour and can conclude that GV is truly a magical place. Its a place where spirituality, physical fitness, learning, networking and personal growth is supported by a special peace and serenity. Its a place to reconnect to the nature and life within you and around your. A place to find peace of mind, contentment and discover inner wellness. The volunteers and staff who run this wonderful facility are very evidently putting the art of seva into practice on a daily basis through their passion and commitment, and are working hard to make Govinda Valley Retreat Centre a joyful and spirited place of heart and kindness, and a hub of healing and growth!

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the nearby Kelly’s Falls, Garrawarra State Conservation Area

Check out this promo video tour!




I think I’ll have to get new friends

By Vegan Naturopath Robyn Chuter.

That’s what one of my clients, whom I’ll call Helen, said to me recently, only half-jokingly. We had been discussing the dietary changes that she needs to make in order to overcome an aggressive autoimmune disease. One of the major barriers to change that Helen keeps bumping up against is that her social life revolves around various forms of not-so-healthy eating – meeting up with friends at a restaurant, going out for a pub meal with her husband and so on.

Can you relate? I sure can. When I first decided to become vegetarian, at the age of 15, I suddenly realised how many food-centric activities that I’d previously enjoyed with my friends were now off the menu – quite literally. No more McDonald’s after the movies. No hot dogs at the roller skating rink (yep, I’m that old ;-)). Even sausage sizzles at school resulted in me feeling uncomfortably excluded from the social rituals which function as the glue that binds groups of unrelated humans together, providing us with a feeling of community that’s essential to both our psychological and physical well-being.

Most of my clients who’ve adopted vegetarian or vegan diets report the same kinds of experiences: work functions in which their dietary preferences aren’t catered for, despite having given a ‘heads-up’ to management; friends who choose restaurants for get-togethers that have absolutely nothing on the menu that’s suitable for non-carnivores; and of course, the dreaded family Christmas dinner, in which ‘tradition’ dictates that there’s a dead representative of virtually every species of animal on the table, like some dystopian version of Noah’s Ark.

The social isolation that many people experience when they decide to eat in a non-typical way – whether that’s becoming an ethical vegan, or a health-conscious plant-based eater – can be so intense and demoralising that they end up reverting to their old way of eating. In fact, a survey of over 11 000 Americans found that a startling 84% of vegetarians and vegans end up abandoning their diet, and that “insufficient interaction with other vegetarians/vegans; not being actively involved in a vegetarian/vegan community” and “disliking that their diet made them ‘stick out from the crowd’” were among the most common reasons for reverting to the dietary norm.

I’ve developed a keen interest in the role that social support plays in helping people stick with a healthy plant-based diet, so much so that I’m writing my Honours thesis on this very topic. I’m in the very earliest stages of my social support research project right now, but what I can share with you at this point is that social support matters. A lot. In fact, for Australian men, the number of vegetarian friends that they had was found to be the strongest predictor of how much meat they themselves eat.

Importantly, online communities such as Facebook groups are just as helpful at providing social support as more traditional in-person social groups. (Hint: my research project involves a closed Facebook group which was set up to provide support for people who want to eat a plant-based diet.)

So neither Helen nor anyone else needs to dump their old friends in order to stick to a healthy diet. She (and you) just need extra friends who share your commitment, whom you can connect with online, in person, or both.

By the way, that’s the reason I include a Facebook group (whose privacy setting is Secret, so none of your other FB friends can see you’re in it – a concern expressed by many of my clients, who get ‘stalked’ on social media by family members or friends who disapprove of their dietary choices; I kid you not, this actually happens!!!!!) in my health and nutrition education program, EmpowerEd. It’s just so incredibly helpful to be part of a supportive community of people who share your perspective on diet and health, empathise with your struggles and celebrate your successes with you.




Refusal Skills When Offered Non-Vegan Food

by Jess Ang

A lot of us find it really tough to say “no”, and if we do manage to say it, we sometimes feel ridiculously guilty. We are social creatures and the potential to upset others or face disapproval from those we care about (or even from people who we don’t know very well) can lead us to accept things we would have preferred to decline.

As most people in our society are not vegan, it’s very normal to be offered non-vegan food, particularly if you’ve just started trying out a vegan lifestyle or if you haven’t told many people about it. Before we go into tips about how to effectively say “no” to others, it’s worth considering the need to say “no” to ourselves first.

Learning To Say “No” To Yourself

I remember hearing my mum talk about how horrified she was after being told by a friend that he loved the smell of barbecued cockroaches, as they were considered a delicacy in his culture. I have no doubt that Mum wouldn’t have needed any assertiveness training or additional skills to decline such a “delicacy” if it had been offered to her. It’s when things are still tempting to us that there’s a risk of not being able to refuse them properly.

When I chose to go vegan, I noticed it wasn’t easy at the start to say “no” to foods that I was used to eating and enjoyed the taste of (e.g. cheesy pizza, ice cream). At that time though, saying “no” to meat was not at all challenging like it was when I first gave it up. My ability to refuse meat was strengthened by the fact that I had no desire for it anymore, so I didn’t have to worry about my own temptation leading me astray!

So how can we learn to “no” to ourselves? One way is to write down every single thought that might lead you to accept a non-vegan offering, even after deciding in advance that you don’t want to.

Just for fun, you can try visualising a little cartoon angel on one shoulder and a little cartoon devil on the other shoulder. You’ve probably seen this kind of thing in children’s movies when the main character was experiencing some sort of inner conflict or trying to make a decision. The angel will whisper in your ear (just like your conscience, or Jiminy Cricket if you’ve seen the Disney cartoon Pinocchio) to encourage you to make a “good” choice, while the little devil will want to push you over the edge and give in to temptation. One example of the angel/devil dialogue that a lot of people can relate to could go something like this:

• Little devil: “Go on, sleep in a little longer, you can go the gym another day, or later tonight”.
• Little angel: “You know how hard it is to exercise unless it’s first thing in the morning. You’ve felt so good this week since starting your health kick.”
• Little devil: “Exactly! You’ve done so well, you deserve a break. Just start again tomorrow …”

For every thought that could lead you to say “yes” to non-vegan offers when you would actually prefer to say “no”, come up with a new thought that will allow you to stay strong at times when your willpower is tested. Remember why you decided to go vegan in the first place, whether it was due to feeling compassionate towards animals, caring about the environment, wanting to improve your health, or for any other number of reasons.

Saying “No” To Others

Expressing Gratitude & Letting People Know You’re Vegan:
Offering food can be an expression of love, caring and social bonding, so it’s normally worthwhile to express your gratitude when people offer you food, even if you aren’t going to eat it: “Thanks so much – I don’t actually eat cheese because I’m vegan, but I really appreciate you offering me some”. Better yet, let people know in advance that you’re vegan so they’re much less likely to offer you non-vegan food. Sometimes well-meaning people will forget, or won’t be sure what vegan means.

There’s often an assumption that you have to act a little aggressively when refusing something, or at least offend people in the process, but that isn’t true. Remember that although you can’t control how someone else will act, you can always make sure that you respond in a way that is polite, respectful, and acknowledges the effort another person may have gone to when preparing or buying food for you.

Give Clear Messages – Verbal & Non-verbal:
If you’re sure that you want to refuse something, then communicate that to the other person both verbally and non-verbally. Maintain eye-contact, don’t slouch, and speak clearly. People often send a reinforced message by the tone of their voice, indicating that their word is final and not up for debate. You don’t have to narrow your eyes and hiss through clenched teeth, but avoid showing weakness in your resolve with indistinct mumbling or trailing off in uncertainty, which can give mixed messages.

Answer Quickly Without Long Excuses:
Hesitation increases the risk of being undermined by your own doubts, and gives off the impression that you’re not sure what you want to say. Say “no” straight away and, if you must, give a short reason why. Offering multiple explanations or long excuses can make you sound confused (or even boring), and it gives the other person more material to argue or challenge you on. Give a quick, clear response and avoid leaving the door open for future offers by saying things like “maybe later on”, “not right now” or “let me think about it.”

No Means No:
If others are persistent and continue to pressure you to eat meat or other non-vegan food, you can repeat your answer as many times as it takes for the other person to get the message. Again, there’s no need to resort to aggression. Sound like a broken record if you must, but keep repeating “no thanks” until the other person understands that you’re not going to change your mind. If it gets to the point where you are sick of repeating yourself, then you can politely ask the other person to stop offering: “Thanks, but I’d rather not be asked about it anymore”.

Remembering It’s Ok To Say “No”:
If you ever feel guilty about saying “no” to non-vegan food, then remind yourself of your values, how important veganism may be to you, and always be gentle on yourself. It’s useful to imagine if your roles were reversed and consider, ‘If I asked this person to eat something they didn’t want to, would they do it? Would I want them to feel pressured and uncomfortable? And if not, why should I feel guilty about saying “no”?’

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing saying “no” with a close friend or in front of a mirror might seem silly. However, it’s much better to feel sheepish in an environment under your control rather than feel intensely uncomfortable or end up compromising your values in a real-life social situation that you could have dealt with better, had you practiced. Every relationship is unique, so make a list of all the people who are most likely to offer you non-vegan food, and what you could specifically say to them in order to firmly but respectfully say “no”.

It’s not enough to just write this down. Practice until it feels natural, and you are confident about your ability to decline non-vegan food in any situation. Eventually you will find that refusing non-vegan food is as easy as saying “no” to a plate of barbecued cockroaches!

About Jess:
Jess Ang photo  Jess Ang has enjoyed a vegan lifestyle since January 2010, shortly after surviving a 30-day vegan challenge!
Jess is an intuitive counsellor with over 8 years’ experience as a registered forensic psychologist. She offers
intuitive readings worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com, as well as programs to help people change their
alcohol use.




Using Your Unique Strengths For Vegan Advocacy

By Jess Ang
published mon 11th April 2016

If it weren’t for a couple of very outspoken vegetarians who I crossed paths with in my teenage years, I’m not sure that I would have ever questioned my habit of eating meat on a regular basis back in the 1990s. My decision to explore a plant-based diet was also influenced by a lady I met at an aikido class, who patiently answered several questions I had after finding out she was vegan.

Although I understood how eye-opening and helpful it was to hear the reasons why various people gave up eating animal products, I admit that I’ve had a tendency to struggle to find the right words myself when asked to explain why I’m vegan. I’ve felt a mixture of things when hearing others speak honestly and shamelessly about veganism, including admiration, curiosity and even slight horror when such conversations turned into conflict and arguments! I’ve wondered how these people were able to articulate their opinions so well and to stay calm even when their lifestyle or views were being verbally attacked.

There have been several occasions when I’ve felt bad for staying quiet when I could have spoken up, like when hearing things such as, “well you know fish don’t feel pain, right?” or “I imagine dairy cows quite enjoy being milked”. Even when I’ve made an effort to remember certain facts or statistics so that I could share relevant knowledge when needed, my mind would often go blank whenever an opportunity came up to talk about what I’d learnt.

Accepting What You’re Not-So-Good At

Despite being able to speak more openly about veganism over time, I’ve come to accept that this is definitely not one of my strengths. I’ve also noticed that when friends or family members either adopted a vegan diet or cut down on meat, it was certainly never due to a lengthy conversation or debate we’d had on the subject. More often than not it was due to a book, website, or DVD that had been shared.

Accepting what you’re not-so-good at can allow you to save time and energy that might otherwise be wasted. For example, being a fantastic cook and creating yummy dishes is an effective way to show that vegan food can be delicious. But what if you’ve tried in vain to master this skill in the past, and you still either don’t enjoy cooking or find it to be a constant challenge to prepare edible meals even when following recipes that the average person might consider simple? If you accept that cooking is not your forte, you might consider buying some store-bought treats to share at social events instead, or asking a friend who’s great in the kitchen to assist you. It may not be as impressive as if you had prepared the food yourself, but it can save time and take the stress off while still achieving the goal of sharing tasty vegan food.

The more you shift your focus away from your weaknesses, the more you can concentrate on using and building on your strengths.

Knowing Your Strengths

A couple of years ago I read a book by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton titled ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’. It got me thinking about the importance of focussing on our strengths as much as – if not more than – our weaknesses, because:

‘… to avoid your strengths and to focus on your weaknesses isn’t a sign of diligent humility. It is almost irresponsible. By contrast the most responsible, the most challenging, and, in the sense of being true to yourself, the most honorable thing to do is face up to the strength potential inherent in your talents and then find ways to realize it.’ (page 126). 

The authors explain that the most successful people in all sorts of occupations and walks of life tend to make use of their strengths every day, and to manage around their weaknesses rather than focus all their energy on them.

Funnily enough, many people are unaware of what their strengths actually are because they seem so natural, which can lead to the assumption that everyone can easily do those things as well.

If you’re not sure what your strengths are, you can ask yourself some questions such as:

  • “What activities or tasks are almost effortless for me?”
  • “What can I spend hours doing and not feel bored or tired afterwards?”
  • “What are some skills that I was able to learn very quickly, or to excel at without that much practice?”

All Strengths Are Good

When it comes to strengths, there’s no such thing as right or wrong. For example, the strength of discipline is not superior to the strength of empathy, nor is the drive to achieve better or worse than the strengths of analytical ability, focus or connectedness. No matter what your strengths are, they can come in handy in any area of life, and vegan advocacy is no exception.

Looking back, I realise that it wasn’t just the outspoken vegetarians who led me to explore a vegetarian lifestyle. Those conversations may have planted the seed, but it was also through reading books about healthy diets, non-violence, and vegetarianism that I felt motivated to give up meat. The authors of those books may or may not have been outspoken in their everyday life, but their strengths in other ways were clear in terms of written communication, ability to summarise research, or creative expression of their ideas.

Later on while completing a 30 day vegan challenge organised by Animal Liberation Victoria, I got to read about other people who were vegan, all with different personalities, strengths, and their own unique way of inspiring people to go vegan.

What Are You Awesome At?

What are your strengths, and how can you use them to be a role-model for other aspiring vegans?

Maybe your biggest strength is literally strength – i.e. being physically strong and fit. How you move and your body itself can be an amazing promotion for a vegan lifestyle.

If you know that you’re emotionally resilient and your strength is remaining calm in tough situations, maybe you’re well-suited to rescue work or undercover investigations.

If people often comment on your warmth, compassion and ability to make others feel comfortable around you, you may be drawn to supporting others and listening to their concerns about animal cruelty or the potential challenges of going vegan.

If you find it really rewarding to help people achieve their potential, you could make a wonderful coach or vegan mentor.

If you’re a fun-loving person, you may be able to positively influence people through your laughter and cheerfulness – others will want to be more like you!

If you’re passionate about fashion, beauty and make-up, you may have people admiring the way you look and wanting to know more about the vegan clothing and cruelty-free cosmetics you wear.

If you just love being around animals, don’t mind hard work outdoors, and have enough persistence, determination, and motivation, you could be one of the best people out there to run an animal sanctuary.

If you’re a bookworm, you might like to explore the available literature on veganism, to let others know what you’ve read about, and to even write about certain issues yourself if you are a talented writer as well.

If you enjoy film*, whether by simply watching or actually being involved in the production of it, then it’s good to remember how effective film (and documentaries in particular) can be to inspire others to try a vegan lifestyle. In fact, many strengths come into play when making a film – not only the camera skills and talents required for animation or visual effects, but also sound recording, acting if there are actors involved, musical ability, and the knowledge of experts who may be interviewed.

And if you do happen to be a naturally outspoken vegan advocate who thrives when engaged in conversations, debates or public speaking – don’t take that for granted! The clear and open way that you verbally express yourself is by no means easy for everyone else.

Be Your Extraordinary Self

The point is that you don’t need to change your personality or to feel bad about anything that you’re not naturally good at. Know your strengths and make use of those talents that you already have.

As written in Now, Discover Your Strengths (page 130):

‘The old maxim says that you can’t see the picture when you are inside the frame. Well, you spend your whole life inside the frame of your strengths, so perhaps it is little wonder that after a while you become blind to them … your instinctive reactions to the world around you – those things that “you can’t help but…” – are not mundane, commonplace, obvious. On the contrary, your instinctive reactions are unique. They make you different from everyone else. They make you extraordinary.’ 

Using your strengths will not only allow you to be a more effective vegan advocate if that’s what you want, but also to make any area of your life easier and to be true to your ‘extraordinary’ self.

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You can easily access great films on veganism through streaming or purchasing them online or on netflix / quickflix. If you’re interested, there’s a list of recommended films on the Sydney Vegan Club website: http://www.sydneyveganclub.com.au/recommended-films

About Jess:
Jess Ang photo  Jess Ang has enjoyed a vegan lifestyle since January 2010, shortly after surviving a 30-day vegan challenge!
Jess is an intuitive counsellor with over 8 years’ experience as a registered forensic psychologist. She offers
intuitive readings worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com, as well as programs to help people change their
alcohol use.




Vegan Lollies You Can Buy In Australia

You can help us keep it up to date!
If you have any additions or corrections please contact us

Coles
Jila Chewing gum Mint and Spearmint
Jila Sugar free mints (tin) Peppermint & Spearmint
Chupa Chups Cola
Chup Chups orange
Coles Choc mint crunch
Coles brand Lemon Sherbets
Extra Chewing gum
Mentos Mini
Mentos Fruit
Mentos Spearmint
Mentos Pineapple
Pez Candy
Skittles Fruit
Tic Tacs original flavour
Wizz Fizz original

 Woolworths
Sour Patch Kids
Woolworths Homebrand Black jelly beans
Homebrand Fruit flavoured sweets
Homebrand Barley sugar
Homebrand Aniseed humbugs
Life Savers 5 flavours
Life savers Strawberry sundae
Life Savers Peppermint
Life Savers Musk

Aldi 
Flirt Blitz Mints (tin) Peppermint, Spearmint
Dominion Naturals Sour stilts @Aldi
Flirt Chewing gum
IGA
Black & Gold Spearmints,
Black & Gold Milk bottles
The Jolly Lollie Company Liquorice Allsorts
Kmart
Bols Lemon sherbets
Bols Fruity Sherbet bombs
Bols Hard Jubes
Bols Raspberries
Walker’s After dinner mints
Walker’s Sugared almonds
IKEA
Ekologist Godis Frukt
Specialty/online
Fino Berry Flavoured Jells
Fishermen’s Friends Mint
Go Natural Licorice
Green Grove Organics Licorice
Macro Organic Liquorice
Mike & Jack X-treme sour straps
Morish Peanut Brittle
Darrell Lea Rasberry Licorice Stix
~You can help us keep it up to date! If you have any additions or corrections please contact us