It’s a busy, deadline-looming Friday. Things seem to be cranking up a gear as the world starts to wake up again. The rush of back-to-back Zoom calls and busy weekend plans are creeping through those mindful, weekend thoughts.
I started the day with a sunrise yoga practice on the beach, putting me in a positive mindset, ready for a productive day of list-ticking and deadline hitting. But as time ticks on and the 5 o’clock Friday rush approaches, it’s easy to fall back into the rush of day-to-day life.
I’ve got a 3 o’clock call to squeeze in before a flurry of emails fall in and thoughts turn to how many dinner dates and brunch plans I can squeeze into one weekend. Luckily, for me, the conversation I’m about to have with Lissa Foley-Hughes, founder of Life & Lillies, is one that I can take into the final moments of my working week.
A positive influence and a refreshing look at how you shouldn’t let life run away with you. I fire up the Zoom call and a big beaming smile is waiting on the other side. A bright and buzzy Lissa, fresh off the back of a week with the dogs in the Lake District.
Lockdown restrictions are gradually being lifted and life as we know it is looking up. But as I chat about recent events with Lissa, we both agree that it’s important we continue to give ourselves the time to breathe – time to reflect and understand what it is we want from life.
Like many in lockdown, life looks a lot different for Lissa, but much of what she has achieved in recent months comes down to years of research and realisation. Let’s go back to the beginning…
“Yogalillies was my original baby,” explains Lissa.
“That was 15 years ago now – wow! It was my first outing into the wellness world. We were the first dedicated yoga studio to open in Newcastle,” she adds.
“I guess into about year 10, I started to suffer a lot from burn-out. I didn’t realise that at the time. I didn’t know what it was because nobody talks about that in the wellness industry. There’s this pressure that you should have it all sorted out in your own head – your job is to teach it to others.
“It started my exploration into why I was feeling so… the only way I can describe it is ‘blah’. I’d ticked everything off – success, business, helping people, meaningful life – all of those things that society says you need to feel like you’re living a really good life – but inside, I was very… joyless, shall we say.
“So, I wanted to find out why I was feeling that way. There wasn’t much literature out there, so I did what everybody says you should do and took a trip somewhere. I escaped for a little while to Italy. I went on a creative retreat and whilst I was there something just shifted inside. It felt like I was back to me again.”
It was the lightbulb moment we all hear about. That moment in time when it all ‘just clicks’ into place; right where it should be. But admittedly, for Lissa, she had experienced this moment several times, for many different reasons, but this time it just felt different. A time to really change and listen to that ‘joyful’ voice inside.
“When I came back home after that I started to do a bit of coaching – mind work that I’d never really explored on my spiritual yoga path. It wasn’t really something that was prevalent in the yoga world.
“My previous career was very much about the power of the body and the breath, rather than the power of the mind. So, the more I started researching into this realm of thoughts, I started to discover more and more women of a certain age – starting to get into their 40s – are all going through this very similar thing. They’ve got the children, the house, the husband, the business, the career, and you get to a certain point where society tells you you should be happy now – you’ve got everything. But there’s still something inside that triggers the ‘is this it?’ thoughts.
“I discovered that it’s called a transition. It’s not a change, it’s a transition that we go through. It’s not an external change that we need anymore, it’s an internal change. We need to get back to who we are, what lights us up, and most importantly, what brings us joy.”
The Italy trip helped Lissa change direction, and once she had made that leap of faith, it was time to bring those positive changes into daily life.
“Starting every day with intentional joyful practice is what changed me. I knew what I needed to do, I just needed to put it into practice to help me get my mojo back.
“Joyful practice is all about cutting out the noise. For me, it was time to stop seeking outwards and start going right back within to what it is that brings me joy. Once you know what that is, it’s then allowing it in. We all know what lights us up and we all know the emotions that joy brings, but allowing it is the difficult thing.”
And it isn’t something that ‘just clicks’ – it takes time, research, guidance, mentoring, and sometimes a good bit of ‘being in the right place at the right time’. For Lissa, Italy is a place that makes her feel at home. It makes her feel comfortable and confident in her own skin, and thoughts.
“Italy is a place that really brings out my creative side,” says Lissa.
“And I think that’s why it helped me in my journey to where I am now – that, and spending a lot of time outdoors with my two dogs.
“But also, there was a lot of educating understanding of what it is I was going through. And I think creativity is a great way of building community.
“Through my painting and journaling, what I’ve discovered is that, as human beings, creating is what we’re supposed to be doing. Everything is creation. And it’s not just about the glitter, it’s about having the power to create our lives.”
Life & Lillies is about celebrating the ability to live freely. To seek happiness and to let joy take control of our lives. Whether it’s one-to-one coaching, a creative workshop, or an idyllic retreat in France or Italy, Life & Lillies is based around community and shared experiences.
“Whether you’re a mum, a dog owner, a wife, or a business owner… your identity just gets lost in the rush of day-to-day life,” Lissa explains.
“Life & Lillies is about taking some time to find yourself again.
“What I’ve discovered is that a lot of women don’t know what brings joy to their lives anymore, so it’s about excavating what it is that brings them joy, then putting things into practice.”
Lissa explains that we spend much of our time looking to others and wasting our energy on worrying about what happens next. But in reality, although speaking to friends and family and seeking guidance from mentors is helpful, the wisest person in your path is yourself.
“But the hardest part is listening to yourself,” she says.
“Sitting with who you are for a while and cutting out the noise is the best way. That’s what happened when I was in Italy.
“We are like computers, there are only so many files that can stay open until the computer crashes. It’s the same with the mind, but I think when you start opening up your creative side and enjoying nature, you become more open to what it is you actually need.”
Looking at Lissa’s new business venture, the lockdown period seems like the perfect time to launch, but it wasn’t an intentional move, she tells me. It’s been bubbling for a while.
“I think, because of COVID, we have realised that we can pretty much do whatever it is we want to do.
“I think now, with the online world, we can start our own businesses – we don’t need that much funding now. Values have changed. Reinvention is the word that keeps coming up in my meditations, and I think it’s down to us to do it now. I’m aware it takes a lot of courage, but if you’re passionate about something, it is always possible.”
The response to Life & Lillies has been huge – because of Lissa’s previous Yogalillies community, but also because of the time, research and personal commitment that has gone into this creative new concept.
“When I have started a business or a project, it’s always been at a time when I really needed something. The studio came about because I really needed yoga in my life. I didn’t want to go to the gym anymore, I wanted to create a community.
“And I think it’s exactly the same concept with Life & Lillies. I want to nurture women as we start to move through this change.”
When she’s not painting, journaling or exploring the North East countryside, Lissa has plans in the pipeline for 2021 retreats, with the first set to take her – and her creative community – back to where it all began, in Italy.
“2021 is all about the retreats, but for now, I’m hoping to get back to workshops between the coaching, which is available now. My ‘Joy Ride’ community is proving very popular.”
It’s been quite the learning journey for Lissa, and now it’s all about sharing that experience to help others. Sharing joy…
“I start the day with, ‘how can I feel joy today?’ – if you set that intention in the morning, your brain starts to look for joy. I find my own joy by painting, coming up with new creative ventures that I can get excited about, and getting out in nature with the dogs.
“We have the most beautiful beaches, countryside and woodlands here, so I like to make the most of that. I’m definitely a forest person. It’s that old cliche of ‘tree hugging’ – but honestly, I’m like a madwoman, put me in a forest and everything just becomes more clear.
“We live in Whickham, so we have Chopwell Wood, Slaley Forest and Kielder all nearby – I love going off-piste a little. With two Irish Setters, you’ve got to let them go. We follow the deer tracks, so we go wherever the deers wander off to. We usually end up at the top of a mountain or by the river. We don’t always know where we’re going.
“Everyday you can find something new, and that’s what I love most about being out and about in nature. Life’s a journey after all.”
This 3 o’clock call has quite literally led to an unexpected ‘joy ride’ – a weekend awakening, and a positive light at the end of this very uncertain tunnel we find ourselves in. Time again to slow down, love more, worry less and enjoy the journey.