The indigo sunrise illuminates the eastern sky heralding its imminent arrival. To the west, a loved-up, rather rowdy, koala couple are ensuring the continuation of their species. Above, the kookaburra cackle kick starts my consciousness, and on the sun-kissed, grassy knoll the Qi Gong practice unfolds as well-fed wallabies scatter in response to human footfall.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day of life at Gwinganna.
Steeped in anticipation, uncertainty, a tablespoon of trepidation and a jolly good dose of trust, the arrival at any destination is sure to dish up an extra dollop of adrenaline. The vertical climb inside the gate of Australia’s premier lifestyle retreat is guaranteed to inject you with enough excitement to get up the mountain and ready for an adventure like no other.
Rest assured, what goes up must come down; like your blood pressure, your blood sugar levels, and perhaps the size of your clothes. What does stay up are the corners of your mouth as your journey unfolds and in just a few days that uncertainty turns into upliftment, joy, connection and a sense of ‘what is possible’. This is why the longer you stay, the greater the outcome.
‘Health retreats have emerged from a history of travel to foreign destinations such as spas, hot springs, sacred sites, and pilgrimage locations that have been used as places of rest and rejuvenation for countless generations. Such locations have given rise to a booming wellness tourism industry that is estimated to have generated US$563.2 billion in revenues in 2015, with growth projections that are nearly 50% faster than for overall global tourism.’ Source
Twelve imperfect strangers
Contrary to literary belief, not all health retreats are full of stressed-out executives or single ladies on the hunt for Mr. Right (like Peter the Peacock above). In fact, at every wellness destination I have ever worked with for over twenty years, there has been a veritable buffet of the human condition, all in-house for a reason, a season or a life change – and not everyone has a secret.
According to this study ‘retreat guests range from people who want to improve their general health and learn positive lifestyle practices, to those facing life-threatening illnesses, and others who seek greater spiritual awareness or body-mind-spirit rejuvenation’
Incredibly, I was one of just twelve guests. We had the unforgettable opportunity to join a retreat that is usually at full capacity of more than sixty guests, year after year. Unpredictable state border closures meant many bookings were rescheduled resulting in a very rare occasion. The twelve of us bonded quickly and soon became family, some had even made Gwinganna their temporary home during the global pandemic. Happily, I was able to surprise my dear Byron Bay friend Jan Smith on the evening of our arrival who had no idea I was coming – oh the fun we had! #Gringanna
Our retreat was the powerful 7 Night Gwinganna Detox, a specialised program that has an added focus on liver function and is designed to provide a safe and healthy way to rest and renew. The science of detoxification is far more complex than a self-reflecting green smoothie Instagram post. Scroll down for more about liver detoxification.
One of Gwinganna’s most successful points of difference is the comprehensive activity program. Each day is tailored to support the guest experience and all guests are encouraged to participate in as many of the daily changing activities. The program incorporates the principles of Chinese cosmology, known as the Yin and Yang, considered to be the most ancient Chinese idea on record.
The Chinese ideogram represents balance and harmony, which dates back to the Taoist period of the sixth century. Taoism is underpinned by the Yin and Yang, which gives rise to the Five Element theory that represents all of the elements in nature. According to the Tao, in everything there must be a balance of the Yin and Yang – where some of the elements that Yin represents are moon, night, cold, dark, feminine, and earth; the Yang reflects their polarity – sun, day, heat, light, masculine, and heaven. Essentially, harmony of the elements is most desirable; yet achieving this balance can be rather elusive. By understanding the basic principles of Yin and Yang, it is then possible to counteract excessive or deficient patterns within the body.
– Excerpt from my book The Healing Feeling
On the Gwinganna program you might be offered an energising Yang exercise in the gym, pool or an extensive walk amongst the magnificent hinterland depending on the weather. Alternately, to nurture your Yin, you might immerse yourself in a restorative yoga, meditation or Pilates class. Whatever your choice, from dawn to dark you can rest assured that the highly qualified, talented, and highly entertaining instructors and presenters will educate you, support you regardless of your level of fitness, and nurture you along the pathway toward optimal wellness. For it is this proven methodology that generates the transformative effect on guests’ lifestyle habits. Many guests return year after year to fill their cup.
Throughout the afternoon guests are free to book a treatment in the globally renowned, multi award-winning spa or free-range around the property along one of the dedicated trails amongst the native Australian animals, walk a silent path in the labyrinth or simply rest within the luxurious spa complex with its majestic steam room, or relax in the comfort of their own room.
Whether you’re face down on the massage table in the midst of a hot stone massage or face up amongst a signature Essentials Vanessa Megan Naturaceuticals™ Time Capsule Facial absorbing the luxurious, efficacious natural cruelty-free skincare, you’re in great hands. The natural organic skincare range uses an array of beautiful Australian botanicals and is a vital asset to enrich the spa experience.
Naturally, you’ll be wondering about the food. Well, I am a little biased as I have been involved in aspects of the structure, menus and formatting over the years. In all honesty, I am happy to report that the food is the best it has ever been, and I will go into more detail in a dedicated post with perhaps a recipe or two – stay tuned!
It is the afternoon where, in my opinion, the healing happens. Because, as you’ll also learn in many of the educational workshops, that the afternoon is when our cortisol levels taper off. In short, excess cortisol causes inflammation and where there’s inflammation, there might be pain, swelling, weight gain and poor sleep patterns – to name just a few symptoms. To help you understand more about the role and effects of cortisol, I have written this post.
Throughout the Gwinganna Detox you will also learn more about the functions of the liver and how an organic diet can dramatically reduce pesticide levels in the body, decreasing toxicity and liver load.
In brief, the primary function of the liver is detoxification. Your liver’s job is to cleanse and filter the blood and promote the elimination of toxins, hormones and to facilitate digestion. The liver governs fat metabolism by releasing lipids and associated toxins into the blood for elimination. Circles under the eyes, headaches, weight gain, nausea, mood swings and bad breath are all signs of an overloaded liver. Did you know that if you love your liver a little bit more, you’d have greater success losing weight? The liver is a pretty smart organ as it is your only organ that can renew its own cells, called hepatocytes. Learn more about the science of detoxification here.
From the Sunday arrival, to what I call ‘Teary Tuesday’ when sugar, caffeine and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be at a peak (Gwinganna strongly advises to wean yourself off stimulants at least seven days prior to arrival for maximum enjoyment while on the mountain) to ‘Transformational Thursday’, where your world can literally come alive. The world class staff – including retreat hosts, spa and wellness therapists, the reception team, the all-important housekeeping staff and of course the fabulous kitchen brigade and the almighty, irrepressible Shelley and her organic gardens – are always on hand to assist and by end of your stay, you will be able to draw a dramatic contrast from arrival to the here and now. A highlight for me was spending time with the horses that live on the property and are a fundamental part of the retreat. You can book in for unique equine experiences where you’ll soon be surprised just how connected we really are to our magnificent beings.
For those of you who have spent much of the year in lockdown, you may have already hurled yourselves at a forest or up a tree, for others it might take a little more coercing. You see, spending time in nature can help to deliver us into the here and now, or what we yogis like to call, the immediate experience. In this state there is no before and after, only the essential energy of the present, also known as The Power of Now according to Eckhardt Tolle. Here in the moment, it is impossible to worry about the future or regret the past, our only concern is what is happening at that very moment. Hopefully, this is a mere reminder rather than a revelation for you, if not, then I encourage you to think about it more – perhaps ‘do’ it more than ‘think’ it.
For more than twelve years I have had the great pleasure of working with the Gwinganna family in a raft of roles from yoga and Pilates instructor to Duty Manager, Clinical Nutritionist and Guest Chef on numerous occasions. Along the way I have made many rich friendships and each visit, whether it be as a guest or host, I never stop listening and learning. On my most recent visit, I was an invited guest in need of a darn good rest. With the global focus on health and reconnection, thankfully wellness is now a mainstream concept rather than an alternative holism practice.
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