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ST DAVID'S Day falls on March 1 this year - and is the day where Welsh people celebrate their patron saint.

But who is St David, and how is the special day celebrated?

3Daffodils are a symbol of St DavidCredit: Alamy Who was Saint David?

St David - or Dewi Sant in Welsh - is thought to have been born on the south-west coast of Wales near where St Davids is today.

He is generally considered to have been born some time between 462 and 515AD.

His best-known miracle is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi.

The village of Llanddewi Brefi stands on the spot where the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill.

A white dove, which became his emblem, was seen settling on his shoulder.

3The Welsh flagCredit: Alamy How is St David's celebrated?

There are also numerous country festivals and dances – all with a dragon-theme – which take place across Wales on St David's Day.

Images of red dragons are used to celebrate because the dragon features on the Welsh national flag and is often considered a symbol of the country.

Children in Wales take part in school concerts or eisteddfodau, with recitation and singing being the main activities.

The flag of Saint David often plays a central role in the celebrations and can be seen flying throughout Wales. 

Although many associate St David with leeks or daffodils, his symbol is actually the Dove, which usually rests on his shoulder.

Unlike St Patrick's Day in Ireland, St David's Day is not a national holiday, though there is strong support for it becoming a bank holiday in Wales.

3Welsh people usually eat leek soup on St David's DayCredit: Getty - Contributor What symbols are associated with St David's Day?

There are a few symbols that are associated with St David's Day.

On St David's Day, many people in Wales pin a daffodil or leek to their clothes.

The traditional meal on St David's Day is a soup made of lamb, leeks and other vegetables known as cawl.

The tradition of eating and wearing leeks on St David’s Day supposedly goes back to the 6th century.

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It is said that St David ordered his soldiers to wear leeks in their helmets into battle - and that the leeks won them victory.

Daffodils, which are in bloom around this time of year, became the national symbol for Wales in the 19th Century through a mixture of trends and linguistic confusion.

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I spent a week at a wellness retreat in Thailand this winter to see if it would help me cope with stress and come to terms with change in the middle of the pandemic

I'd decided to visit Kamalaya in December during what would have been, in an ordinary year, the beginning of the resort's busy season. Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

  • Kamalaya is a resort built on the site of a sacred hermit retreat on the island of Samui in Thailand.
  • I'm a wellness newbie who's waved away words like "holistic" and "self care" for their crunchy-granola vagueness.
  • But in December, partially as a response to COVID-era stress, I decided to give the resort a try.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

As soon as I walked into my color therapy session, I was sure I'd made a mistake. 

It was the first day of a week-long stay I'd booked at Kamalaya, a wellness retreat located on an idyllic stretch of beach on Thailand's Samui Island. The resort is sought after for its programs that claim to enhance body and spirit. It's where a certain international set flies in on private jets to drop thousands of dollars a day on treatments, and here I was being asked to pick a pair of colors that would give me new perspective into my personality.

My fellow participants did not share my cynicism. The colors they picked reflected the importance of one of the seven chakras. For my part, once I figured out what chakra was, I struggled to make the connection between radiating energy, parts of the body, and picking a vial from a board that wouldn't have been out of place on a cosmetics counter.

I was, to put it bluntly, not feeling it.

When it was my turn, the therapist clucked with concern. He said I'd made an unusual choice — powder blue over midnight blue — as his partner scrambled to project a slide about the shades I'd chosen.

I asked a few polite questions, said good-bye to a woman who was visiting Kamalaya with her mother and brother, and took my leave. I comforted myself with thoughts of the sea views from my private villa and briefly wondered if I could rebook my return flight.

I'd decided to visit Kamalaya in December during what would have been, in an ordinary year, the beginning of the resort's busy season. I've been reading more and more that especially in these uncertain times, people don't know where to look for support, or realize that they could use a helping hand. Even here in Thailand, where life goes on much as it did before despite the pandemic, we are coping with altered routines, worrying about finances and job security, and coming to terms with being separated from loved ones.

The American Psychological Association points to dozens of studies that say men are on average less in tune with their needs and less likely to seek help. And urban professionals with their fast-lane lives come with their own baggage. I checked a lot of these boxes.

Before my stay, I'd always waved away words like "holistic" and "self care" for their crunchy-granola vagueness. And while that may attitude may have been tinged with a whiff of masculine pride, I also accept that I am a wellness newbie and that I'm coming to terms with change.

I was curious. What did I have to lose?

Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

Spoiled for choice

Things started to look up later in the day after a physical exam called "bioelectrical impedance analysis" and my consultation with a naturopath who crafted my program for the week. I began to understand that I had a lot of choices, and didn't need to embrace them all.

Spread across 4.1 hectares, Kamalaya has 76 rooms, suites, and villas, many with their own pools. The resort is certified by the Thai Safety and Health Administration that enforces COVID-19 prevention protocols, but given the sheer amount of space and the fact that many public areas are in the open air, social distancing was never an issue during my stay. More than once, I soaked in one of the hot tubs scattered around the wellness sanctuary, with nothing but the vast expanse of sea in front of me.

The view from the pool at Kamalaya. Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

When you're ready to socialize, every day at Kamalaya includes group activities from meditation to aqua gym, from tea tastings to Muay Thai. You can take a healthy cooking class or tour the shrines scattered across the property. 

On top of that, you can pick treatments and sessions tailored to your personal needs. Options range from sessions inspired by Ayurvedic to traditional Chinese medicine, from Reiki to one-on-one counseling and, yes, to in-depth color therapy.

I left the consultation with a full schedule, a suggestion to visit the steam room and icy plunge pool, and a reminder that the restaurant menus include balanced, detox, and vegetarian options.

I was concerned that I might find a wellness menu a little boring. I didn't. It's healthy, tasty, and generously served. Pro tip No. 1: If you are a savory breakfast person, look for the heady kedgeree and the millet congee. I'd order a half portion of each. Pro tip No. 2: If you need a cheat day, there is an off-menu chocolate lava cake that can be pre-ordered 24 hours in advance (but you didn't hear it from me). 

The food at Kamalaya is healthy, tasty, and generously served. Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

Finding shelter

With my schedule set, I started to explore the grounds.

Kamalaya is built on a steep slope. An infinity pool sits near the top of the hill, above the hall used for meditation and a second open-air one used for yoga. At the base of the hill is the beach and the expanse of the Gulf of Thailand.

I'd decided to visit Kamalaya in December during what would have been, in an ordinary year, the beginning of the resort's busy season. Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

There's a sense of calm here that some people attribute to the spiritual roots of the site: For hundreds of years, Buddhist hermits came to meditate in a cave halfway up the hill in what was then hard-to-access jungle.

Kamalaya cofounder John Stewart's story is well-known in the resort: He traveled alone to India as a teen and became a monk for 16 years before falling in love with his wife and cofounder Karina and eventually becoming a hotelier with a mission. While I knew the backstory, making my own pilgrimage to the cave wasn't high on my list. The universe was about to decide otherwise.

On my second morning at Kamalaya, I visited the beach. I was walking back up the hill in the sunshine after taking a few seascape pictures. Within minutes the wind was whipping, the sky had clouded over, and I found myself caught in a tropical storm. That's when I looked up and saw the path to the hermits' cave. 

Some people might read something into a skeptic being forced to take shelter from a storm in a spiritual shrine. I wouldn't call it an epiphany, but I did find myself alone at the mouth of the cave, contemplating the outside world, candles flickering beside me. I jabbed at my phone but deep in the rock there was no signal. And so the busy urbanite was forced to commune with nature and his surroundings.

And he liked it.

Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

Embracing a little change

After that, letting go was easier.

I tried meditation and breathing exercises and finally understood why I disliked meditating with someone who instructs you to "let go of your problems," calling to mind exactly the things you are trying to forget. At Kamalaya, I learned a better way: Slowing my breathing to concentrate on nothing but the steady flow of air was enough to make my worldly cares fade into the background.

I found myself more open to others during my stay than I ordinarily would be. Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

I had picked a potluck of treatments, many of which I'd never even heard of. Myofascial release turned out to be a stretchy, pressure-packed workout pretending to be a massage. Kati vasti involves hot aromatic oil being directed onto one part of the body (in my case the lower back) and held in place by a ring of raw dough. My marma point massage, which like kati vasti comes from ancient Ayurvedic traditions, was a whole body acupressure session. And in a mentoring session, I touched on personal subjects from betrayal and anger to a classic look into childhood.

I also found myself more open to others during my stay than I ordinarily would be. I ended up chatting every day with the woman from color therapy. She was concerned that the mentoring session she'd booked would be too upsetting and wanted to cancel it. I assured her she wouldn't be forced to share anything she was uncomfortable with. She went, got emotional anyway, and was grateful that she did. Her brother, who had the very pragmatic goal of losing five kilos, did just that.

Out of the blue while I was at Kamalaya, an acquaintance messaged me asking for some business advice. Within minutes this man — who I'd only ever met in person twice — was telling me about the end of an unhealthy relationship he'd been in. I'd just come from a meditation session that echoed some of the things he already knew but needed to hear. Was that coincidence? Maybe. But in that moment he sensed he could open up to me.

Vincent Vichit-Vadakan / Insider

On the day that I left Kamalaya, I received a print-out of some basic Pranayama breathing exercises that I worked on in a couple of sessions during my stay. They are said to give you energy in the morning, concentration for your work day, and relaxation for bed. I was surprised to see how easy it was to make the exercises part of my daily routine.

I see why people who have stayed at Kamalaya get a twinkle in their eye when they talk about it. There is something special about the place. Whether you call it some mystical, intangible quality or see it as a benefit of digital detox and fresh air, well, that is entirely up to you.

Editor's note: The reporter's stay at Kamalaya was comped by the resort.

Consult the World Health Organization's travel advisory website and regional guidelines or restrictions before undertaking any travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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