4 Days, 7 Ways: How I De-Stressed In Bintan, And How You Can Do It At Home

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Last week, I visited Club Med Bintan Island for a short getaway and to take part in the annual Club Med ‘Body & Soul’ fitness event. But guess what: you don’t actually have to travel that far! Here are my favourite feel-good exercises that I picked up during the trip, which you can easily try out at home.

I think it would be safe for me to say that city life gets hectic, whether you’ve got a full-time job or a family and kids to take care of. Though I’m very lucky to have a job that takes me to different places every week, there’s no escaping those hours spent surrounded by four walls, slouched at my office desk.

Recently, I’ve been feeling the effects of urban pollution, too much technology, unhealthy eating habits and not enough rest: headaches, fatigue and WORST OF ALL, random pimples popping up all over my skin. So when I got the chance to stay at Club Med Bintan Island and participate in their annual ‘Body & Soul’ fitness and health programme, I was more than happy to take the opportunity- four days of sun, sea and rejuvenation on a secluded island? Sign me up!

Bintan, an island just off the coast of Singapore, can only be reached by ferry. I flew to Singapore on Monday morning, transferred myself via taxi from Changi Airport to the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, hopped on the 2pm ferry and got to Bintan in just under an hour. At the Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal in Bintan, I found the Club Med counter and was taken straight to the hotel. Once I arrived at Club Med Bintan, groggy from going through several modes of transport, I was greeted by the hotel’s friendly staff; in fact, they actually cheered for me when I arrived! Admittedly, I felt a bit like a celebrity!

I was given a glass of refreshing juice right before I settled in, which was tys’ cycle: it starts off with a day dedicated to Yellow, which symbolises Rejuvenate; Red, which symbolises Recharge; Green, which signifies Rebalance; and Purple, which signifies Revitalise, before starting with Yellow again. During meal times, a curated healthy selection of food matching the theme of the day is available. I arrived on a ‘Red’ day, just in time to catch the last event.

Throughout my stay, I was able to explore several activities. Read on to find out my favourite de-stress exercises and tips on how you can try them out too.

Upa Yoga (by the beach)

Right after putting my bags away in my hotel room, I immediately headed to the hotel’s palapa, a wooden platform overlooking the beach where most meditation and gentle stretching exercise classes are held. I was about to join Upa Yoga that evening; I had never heard of it, and the one time I tried any form of yoga (a beginner’s class, no less) I sadly ended up with a pulled muscle. Yet, my itinerary promised that Upa Yoga would simply consist of ‘harmony of breath, movement and balance’, which seemed easy enough!

Upa Yoga is mostly used to harness energy and reactivate your joints. It can be practiced on its own (advisable if you are older, getting over an injury or just starting out with yoga) or as a stepping-stone before transitioning into other types of yoga. The teacher, Fei Yi, gently guided us through a series of very mild poses and stretches. Following the ‘Recharge’ theme of the day, we mostly focused on locating, gathering and transferring around the energy in our bodies. Fei Yi advised us to pay attention to our body’s own capabilities, and we were never pushed to go beyond our abilities.

For me, getting a good stretch whilst listening to the waves of the ocean allowed me to loosen up my tensed muscles after a day of travel. It’s safe to say that I slept like a baby that night! The Upa Yoga exercises were super easy to pick up, and are especially calming when practiced by the beach. Upa Yoga doesn’t actually require a lot of space, so if you’d like to try it out, you can practice in your own home to release tension from sitting down all day. If you prefer the outdoors, even a park or garden space would do just fine. Check out the video below for a pretty straightforward tutorial:

Going on a fitness adventure

One of the hidden paths I discovered during my fitness adventure!

The next morning, following the ‘Green’ Rebalance day programme, I headed for the first class available: Fitness Adventure. Led by esteemed fitness trainer Lisa Westlake, who hails all the way from Australia, Fitness Adventure is a good way to make new friends whilst exploring new areas.

Unfortunately, since it had rained pretty heavily right before the class, the areas we could explore were quite restricted. Nevertheless, I met up with my fellow Adventurers at the hotel’s Panorama Bar, which offered a pretty (albeit slightly grey) view of the beach. We got ourselves pumped up with some stretches against a railing, before heading off for a light jog. Winding up the jog after about ten minutes, we played a couple of fun games that reminded me of primary school sports classes. These activities involved blowing up balloons and trying to keep them all off the ground at once, playing ‘tag’ with ribbons, relay competitions and a whole lot of jumping and running about; it was nice to feel like a kid again!

After a few rounds of games, we headed off into a more secluded jungle area beside the resort. Here, surrounded only by trees and chirping birds, we utilised the steps and elastic resistance bands to work out our arm, thigh and calf muscles before going for one last light jog back to the hotel. I was quite winded, as it was still early for a night owl like me and the activities required lots of energy, but the Fitness Adventure was a nice way to discover surrounding areas and socialise!

Bintan is full of greenery to explore, though it would be better to remain on safe pathways. Luckily for us, Malaysia has even more green areas to explore, such as the TTDI Park in Kuala Lumpur, the Penang Botanic Gardens and Templer Park in Selangor. Why not gather a group of friends and head to a park for a good old step workout- not forgetting your packet of balloons and ribbons! It’s good to get your heart pumping, but even better to have fun and explore new places around you while doing it! Plus, according to a 2016 study done by the University of Aberdeen, working out with buddies provides emotional support, which in turn increases motivation, so you’re likely to want to exercise more!

After a heart-racing morning, I could already start to feel an ache in my muscles, as I’d already done more exercise in two days than I do on a normal week (embarrassing but true). So, I decided to make use of my complimentary spa voucher and book myself a session at the Asmara Spa at Club Med. Upon my arrival at the spa, I was greeted by the smiling receptionist, who presented me with a cool glass of lemongrass juice and a refreshing towel wipe. I was briefed on my treatment, a Traditional Thai Massage, and got to choose my preferred massage oil. I went with the eucalyptus and lavender, which would help me relax and sleep better at night- not that I needed any help with that!

Once I’d made my selection, I was lead down a secluded path and into a scenic room with windows facing the ocean. It’s up to you to draw the curtains, but I much preferred the view! The area is pretty private, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing in. My massage therapist started with a quick warm foot bath, then it was time for my massage. Lying on the massage table, hearing the waves crash gently against the shore while having the tension and knots eased from my shoulders and neck was utter bliss! It also gave me time to close my eyes and not focus on anything, just for an hour.

Though this might be stating the obvious, a massage (and a hot cup of tea right after) works wonders for the body and mind! As reported by The Mayo Clinic, massage therapy is listed as a treatment of stress management, but can also aid with other ailments such as digestive disorders, headaches or certain types of joint pain. There are plenty of massage parlours here, as we all know, and you don’t even have to break the bank to visit one.

Hot cup of ginger tea, surrounded by lush green forest? The perfect way to end a spa treatment.

Boat ride under the stars

After dinner, I decided to join a mangrove tour, which was easy to do as sign-ups are available daily at the hotel lobby and transport can be arranged. About a fifteen-minute drive away from the hotel, Bintan Mangrove Discovery tours offers both day and night boat excursions, costing around IDR500,000 (approx. RM160). During the day, you’re able to see more of the mangrove, including the narrower parts that are dangerous to venture to at night. However, once it gets dark you’re able to witness the most stunning natural display: plenty of stars in the sky, unblocked by light pollution, and fireflies twinkling between the mangrove’s trees! Due to the extremely rainy weather in the mornings and afternoons during my time in Bintan, I decided that the night tour might be more worth checking out.

Around 7:30pm, when the weather had cooled, I set off on my trip. My knowledgeable tour guide Madi, provided tons of interesting facts and information about the area, including the different types of species that inhabited the land and water. Though I would’ve preferred not to know about the five types of snakes that lived in the mangrove until after we had disembarked the boat, it was still relaxing feeling the evening breeze on my cheeks, trying to spot star constellations- I even saw Jupiter, the actual planet!- and feeling awed by the clusters of sparkling fireflies in the bushes. It was a pretty special, but incredibly hard to capture, moment, and made the perfect end to my day.

I’d definitely recommend being at one with nature to ease your mind a li’l. After all, it makes a nice change from busy malls and congested streets! East Malaysia is known to have the best stargazing sites in our region (lucky you if you’re in Sarawak or especially Sabah!). The Malay Mail reported that last year, we were able to see five planets in the sky at once! For firefly boat tours in Malaysia, check out the Kampung Kuantan Firefly Park in Kuala Selangor or the Firefly Valley Leisure Park in Kota Tinggi, just to name a couple.

Rowing out the stress

This was snapped right before the storm came in!

Forgoing the suggested exercise routine laid out for me the next day, which followed the Rebalance theme, I decided to rent out a canoe and explore the waters surrounding our resort. I headed off at around 9:00am; though the sky was a little grey, the weather seemed quite mild and the waves not too choppy, perfect for a somewhat novice canoe-r like me. You can only venture within certain areas, as it can get quite dangerous as you go further out.

At first, when I started paddling, I felt a bit mindless and directionless. But then, instead of focusing on direction, I decided to concentrate on my paddling technique, and allowing the waves to move me around each time I took a short break. Though Bintan does attract tourists, the beach areas aren’t too congested, giving you plenty of time to sit back and relax. As someone who always has things on my mind, being able to focus on just one thing without being interrupted by noise or distraction was a welcome change! Though my canoeing session got cut short by the impending rainstorm, I still managed to slot in enough alone-time getting to practice an activity I’ve always wanted to improve on.

Kayaks or canoes are easily rented from public and private beaches almost anywhere in Malaysia, and I’d definitely recommend trying it, both as a workout and de-stress activity. But even if you don’t have time to travel to the beach or if you’re afraid of water, the rowing machine at the gym works well enough! Besides keeping your heart rate elevated and making you stay focused, rowing works out pretty much all parts of the body, including arms, legs and core. It’s also said to burn two to three times more calories than everyone’s current fave workout, spinning!

Having a laugh

I’d heard of laughter yoga before, but I didn’t know exactly what it was about. As we gathered together, our instructor Kate first explained the backstory behind laughter yoga. The movement was founded by Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian doctor who spent time researching the physical and mental benefits of laughing. Studies have shown that laughter boosts your heart rate even more effectively than exercise, stretches face and body muscles and re-oxygenates our body tissues due to breathing faster. I didn’t make this up- Steve Wilson, an American psychologist and laughter therapist, said so!

Dr Kataria started laughter clubs by gathering a group together. The group would tell jokes and stories to make each other laugh. However, after a week or two, the jokes fell flat and people ran out of stories to tell. Dr Kataria did more research to figure out the situation. He found out that in actual fact, the body can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughter, and will release the same happy chemicals. Hence, he gathered his group back together to practice laughter together, sans cheesy jokes, and laughter yoga was born!

We all stood in a circle and practiced clapping and breathing exercises. Then, Kate had us imagine different wacky scenarios such as greeting each other with laughter instead of words, drinking ‘laughter cocktails’ and reading imaginary funny books. I felt quite ridiculous and self-conscious- admittedly, acting that way made me feel quite idiotic- but everyone else was having loads of fun, and as the saying goes, laughter is contagious! Soon after, our fake laughter turned into real laughter and I spent the rest of the evening buzzing with endorphins!

If you feel like you’ve been way too down in the dumps, make yourself laugh, whether its at your favourite TV show, YouTube clip, movie, book or even at nothing. Yes, you’ll probably feel quite insane, as I did. But it really works to lift your mood! If you don’t want to do it alone, catch the latest comedy flick in cinemas or check out a comedy show at the Crackhouse Comedy Club with your friends or family!