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HerCanberra CEO Amanda Whitley takes her long-suffering body and mind to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat and asks whether you can really change your life in five days.
I arrived at Gwinganna, the acclaimed health and wellness retreat atop a mountain in the Gold Coast Hinterland, with no voice. Well, barely a whisper.
In the days leading up to my escape, my long-suffering body had finally waved the white flag after a hectic few months of the usual small business wrangling, Magazine deadline, and what seemed like a bazillion Dance Mum commitments. It was begging me to slow down, nourish my body and mind, and just…well…be.
They say the universe works in mysterious ways, and the timing of my Optimal Wellbeing retreat couldn’t have come at a better time. For the next five days, all I had to do was focus on my health—moving my body, eating a balanced wholefoods diet, learning from wellness experts, and enjoying afternoons of rest and spa treatments. Maybe even change my life in a small way. Surely being unable to speak wouldn’t be too much of a hindrance?
And it wasn’t. My body was in the best possible place to recover—not just from a nasty virus, but from a very big year. And what a place it is.
Gwinganna is not a resort, it’s a retreat. Yes, it is beautiful; yes, there are pools; yes, there is amazing food. But you won’t find a swim-up bar here. Hell, you won’t find alcohol here (except for one 200ml glass on your final night). Or caffeine, or gluten, or dairy. Oh, and you won’t find WiFi either.
For those of you whose jaws are now touching your chest, there’s a whole lot you WILL find at Gwinganna. Peace, a sense of calm, beautiful rooms that you can escape to (bath on your private verandah, anyone?), freedom, and the luxury of time to focus on nurturing yourself without the distractions and stresses of modern life.
The program is designed to “help re-evaluate lifestyle habits that do not foster wellness, energy and calmness”, encouraging guests to re-engage with healthy habits, and challenging behaviours that are perhaps not best serving them.
Because, once again, this isn’t a resort. Guests do not check in and out at different times—intakes are on fixed days and everyone follows the same structured program. The people you meet on arrival are the people you will be with for the duration of your stay, and are the people you’ll share what may well be one of the most transformational experiences of your life with.
A day at Gwinganna
So what does a typical day at Gwinganna look like?
Unless you choose to sleep in, you’ll be woken at 5:30 am (don’t freak out, it’s 6:30 am Canberra-time) by a gentle knock on your door. You rise, dress, and head to a grassy area that overlooks the ocean in the distance. As the sun rises, you’ll spend 20 to 30 minutes practicing Qi Gong, a “restorative moving meditation” that’s probably most similar to Tai Chi.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this slow-moving practice—not only was it beautiful to start the day with the sun on my face, but it was a chance to ground myself before the day began in earnest, and to just breathe (something I’ve never been good at).
From there, a choice of hikes and walks—or a stay-at-home option (perhaps Pilates or a ‘roll and release’ class) before breakfast. The property is stunning—200 hectares of bushland and rainforest—and offers 16 different walks, each one offering a different perspective. Some paths are gentle, others more challenging, and you can choose a level to align with your energy on that particular day.
Time for breakfast! You’ll have worked up quite an appetite by now, and breakfast is generous, organic and flavourful. There’s always porridge (a favourite was Pumpkin and Brown Rice—sounds unusual, but delicious!), fruits, and a hot dish on offer. As someone who usually is too busy or forgets to eat breakfast, I surprised myself by just how much I ate.
Your first breakfast sitting is when it hits you that you really need to start letting go of your usual behaviours. Because, fellow control freaks? If you’re one of those people who approaches every vacation like a military operation with an itinerary planned to the minute (ahem), you’re in for a bit of a shock. Because while your mornings are filled with wellness activities, you don’t know how you’ll be spending each afternoon until breakfast that morning.
And while this can be delightful (‘ooh, I’m having my massage this afternoon!’) it can also be challenging if you’re a planner. I had an entirely free afternoon on my second day, and as someone who is almost always doing more than one thing at once (i.e. watching television while scanning social media), I found having five hours with just a book for company—I’d already read two, and had but one teeny tiny bar of service on my phone so no mindless web-surfing—rather challenging.
And then I realised that caffeine, and sugar, and alcohol aren’t the only addictions that Gwinganna gently forces you to face. Addiction to busy-ness is also very powerful. And once I recognised that, I really started to lean into the experience and decided to wring every bit of goodness out of it that I could.
After breakfast there is a variety of activities, which are broken into ‘yin and yang’—guests are encouraged to assess how they feel each day and listen to their body and what it needs.
The yin is the more inwardly focused activities such as yoga, Pilates and dance; yang, the more outwardly focused, increasing heart rate and intensity. As I was still not 100%, I opted for yin activities throughout my stay, and it was the best thing I could have done.
I danced Nia and Tribal (both styles which encourage free movement and expression, which I may have felt self-conscious about in my normal environment, but I felt safe and free of judgement at Gwinganna), rediscovered my love for yoga, and tried Pilates for the first time.
Most mornings then end with a wellness seminar—where Gwinganna experts share their knowledge on everything from nutrition, to epigenetics, stress management and physical activity. Although I like to think I’m pretty well-educated in terms of health and wellbeing, I took something new away from each seminar.
Lunchtime (again, amazing food—I ate so well that I brought the cookbook to try to recreate the experience at home) signals the end of an activity-packed morning and a chance to engage with follower retreaters. Then an afternoon of rest and relaxation begins, in line with the body’s natural rhythms and the need to start winding down (turns out there’s a reason for the well-documented 3 pm slump). If you’re lucky—you’ll have a massage, treatment or wellness appointment booked.
Gwinganna’s spa is something quite special—designed almost like a magical treehouse within a rainforest, with timber paths leading off to pods which house treatment rooms. I was lucky enough to enjoy both a facial and massage at the spa (both blissful), but one of Gwinganna’s “Unique Experiences” quite frankly blew me away.
The award-winning Spirit of Sound is a massage which includes Kahuna bodywork and heated Basalt stones and is “choreographed to a bespoke selection of music featuring live drums and percussion”. Essentially, the room is dark, the music loud, the movements vigorous and lively, and the vibrations from the live percussion are felt throughout the body.
It’s about as far from the typical ‘pan pipe’ relaxation massage as you can get. And I loved it. Is it weird? Yep. Is it amazing? Absolutely. An experience I will never forget.
And that seems to be the case for many of the unique experiences offered at Gwinganna—from Equine Therapy (where horses are used to help guests learn more about themselves and their behaviours) to The Journey (a one-on-one session designed to explore stored emotions and experiences, which seemed very mysterious but which everyone I spoke to raved about).
At dinner, people share their individual experiences from the afternoon’s activities—sometimes that’s as simple as recommending a treatment, other times it’s a deep conversation about something that came up during a session. We bonded quickly with other guests and staff, confided easily, trusted without second-guessing. Perhaps it’s the freedom of sharing with a stranger.
The magic of Gwinganna
For me, the magic of Gwinganna is that it is a cocoon from the pressures of everyday life—a place where people feel safe and free to explore experiences and look deeper into themselves.
For the time that you are there, you can focus solely on yourself, on nurturing yourself and equipping yourself to develop behaviours which will have a positive impact on your life—emotionally and physically—moving forward. It’s a rare chance to recharge, and—if necessary—realign. And we all need that sometimes.
So, is it possible to change your life in five days?
If you treat this experience as a springboard from which to convert temporary behaviours into manifested habits, absolutely. It’s not about being perfect or giving up the things you love (I’m looking at you, caffeine), it’s about setting yourself up to live as healthy and happy life as you possibly can, rather than mindlessly trudging away on the stressmill of modern life.
Find out more at gwinganna.com.
Get a taste of Gwinganna without leaving Canberra
Gwinganna invites you to a new wellness event in Canberra.
This valuable session will explore some of the latest developments in wellness with General Manager Sharon and guest presenter, Dr Karen Coates.
Nutrigenomics is the science of how our genetic makeup is impacted by our lifestyle. In this enlightening interview, Dr Coates will explore the science of epigenetics and how this affects our genetic predisposition.
Happening Monday 2 March from 5.30–7.30 pm at Hotel Realm, 18 National Circuit, Barton.
Find out more and purchase your ticket via StickyTickets.
Bookings close Friday 28 February 2020.
The author stayed courtesy of Gwinganna. All her opinions remain her own.