My eyes are glued to the screen as I watch my red blood cells slowly meander along. They are not sticky or misshapen, but nice round circles. This is good, but all’s not completely well. “Hmm” the naturopath says, “see these bubbles? You’re a little dehydrated, and these snowflake looking things show that your digestion is a bit sluggish.” I am doing a live blood analysis with Shannon, one of the naturopaths at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Queensland. I have never seen my blood under the microscope and it’s really quite fascinating. Shannon tells me all kinds of things that are going on in my blood right now; some are easily fixed, some are going to take a little more effort.
My visit with the naturopath is just one of the many health insights I get during my weeklong stay at Gwinganna. Located on 500 acres in the Tallebudgera Valley, the retreat feels a million miles away, but is only a 30-minute drive from the Gold Coast airport. I am here for the seven-night Winter Detox and, contrary to what I expected (headaches, fatigue and crankiness), halfway through the week I am feeling energised and excited about incorporating all of this information into my real life.
I have made it to the 5:30am sunrise Qi Gong every morning – a soft knock on the door accompanied by “good morning Kelly” is much more civilised than an alarm. Considering it’s the middle of winter and barely light at 6am this is an accomplishment in itself. There are about 60 of us, men and women of all ages, travelling alone or with a friend or partner and all here for the same basic reason; to de-stress and put some healthy habits and balance back into our lives.
A typical day starts with herbal tea (usually turmeric with lemon) followed by Qi Gong overlooking the valley. The sun rising over the ocean, with the wallabies giving us a curious glance and the kookaburra calling out to greet the new day is really quite spectacular. After this, there is a choice of guided walks on the beautiful property. Be warned – if they mention the driveway, be prepared for some steep terrain! You can also choose the “stay at home” option, which might be yoga or pilates. At 8am you are treated to a beautiful organic breakfast. All of the meals are delicious and you won’t go hungry during the week.
The rest of the morning includes more fitness activities along with healthy snacks and some fantastic seminars. The staff are passionate about good health and I found the daily seminars to be the things I looked forward to the most. Each of the talks included the latest information, whether it was on nutrition, sleep, the brain or, my favorite, the importance of digestion and a healthy colon (tip: practice the Asian squat). I found these discussions were well presented and easy to understand with videos and other materials to keep it interesting.
Lunch was always highly anticipated and would include fresh salads (all harvested from the huge organic garden), roasted vegetables, a beautiful piece of fish, some quinoa and maybe a soup. From 2pm on is referred to as dreamtime. For the first half of the day you have been very active and now it’s time to slow down and nurture yourself. You can relax by the open fire with a book, go for a swim in one of the pools, head over to the crystal steam room, take a nap in the whisper lounge, or (my favorite dreamtime activity) enjoy one of the many spa treatments. Boasting the largest spa in the Southern Hemisphere with 33 treatment rooms, you wont have a problem getting an appointment.
I had a sensational vitamin infused facial and a wonderful Ayurvedic massage, but the most unique treatment was the Spirit of Sound body massage. It takes place in a warm, softly lit room with the therapist rhythmically massaging oil and smooth basalt rocks up and down your body to the beat of African drumming music. The therapist also uses different percussion instruments like chimes, rattles and rain sticks around you. The first half of the massage is on your back and is active (or yang), while the second half is on your front and is quieter (or yin). It’s an unbelievably invigorating but also surprisingly relaxing experience.
Something not to be missed during your stay is a bushwalk with Jonny. Jon Palmer is a legend at Gwinganna, and anyone who has been before will have a soft spot for him. He seems to be in perfect harmony with nature and is passionate about the environment. He has a wealth of knowledge, which he is happy to share. I did a garden walk with Jonny on the last day where he identified over 20 medicinal herbs on the property and gave us some cuttings to plant at home.
On the last day we said goodbye to new friends and encouraged each other to stick with the healthy habits we had learned during the week, hopeful we would all return someday for another great Gwinganna experience.