Today, more than ever, our lives are busy – deadlines, schedules and the demands of technology. It’s so rewarding to escape, inhale the fresh rainforest air and savour the organic, wholesome food. Honestly, my time at the award winning Gwinganna Health Retreat was both invigorating and restorative – and I’m very grateful for the experience. With four days filled with optimum nutrition, lots of exercise, informative seminars and luxurious body treatments (as well as some less luxurious ones – think acupuncture for a nervous first-timer), there was a lot of information to absorb. Several months on, I can safely say there are pearls of wisdom that I’ve taken from Gwinganna and incorporated into my Melbourne lifestyle.
Before I get started, here’s a side note about why it’s important to embrace optimum wellness. A hot topic of current research into cancer and other serious illnesses is called epigenetics – the ability to ‘turn off’ unfavourable genes, which may predispose us to illnesses such as breast cancer, and ‘turn on’ favourable ones. Therefore, the focus on ‘optimum wellness’ is important because it plays a part in adjusting the volume of our genetic markers. The 5 pillars of optimum wellness, in order of important to highly important, are: movement, nourishment, hydration, stress resilience, and sleep. Yes, that’s right, sleep is the most important thing – but more on that later.
Since my Gwinganna women’s retreat, many friends have asked, “What are the main changes you’ve made to your lifestyle since you’ve returned?” So here they are:
1. I have a new respect for meditation
Gwinganna taught me that stress really is harmful – it’s not a badge of honour to feel overly busy and stressed. In the words of the doctor at Gwinganna: “Put it this way, I’ve never diagnosed cancer in a person who’s spent the past two years living at an ashram in India, but I’ve often diagnosed women who have just come out of an extremely stressful period”.
Stress is unavoidable, but the game changer is how you choose to manage stress. Try meditation. I mean, really try. I find it a real struggle to switch off completely, but I actually mastered this at Gwinganna, and I could feel the difference. My mind truly felt empty, in a good way – there was no background humming. And that night, I enjoyed a very deep, restful sleep. But it took some preparation to arrive at this state: the evening meditation session followed three hours of afternoon ‘dream time’ (think: steam room, hot stone massage, snoozing in the whispering lounge)…. difficult to replicate in the real world! Still, it’s worth persevering to achieve that level of relaxation. So now, during shavasana at the end of my regular yoga sessions, I try hard to focus on breathing and relaxing my body parts, instead of planning my grocery list. If you can master this, there are so many rewards. Recently, I read about a study that claimed that individuals who practice meditation actually show increased grey matter in an area of the brain linked to emotional regulation. Amazing stuff.
2. Sleep is a bigger priority
A good night’s sleep is your secret weapon. How often do you compromise your sleep so you can squeeze in yet another exercise session? I’d always thought I was doing myself a favour, but exercising a sleep-deprived body is counter-productive. Gwinganna advises 7-8 hours per night; and interestingly, there is no evidence that any more than 8 hours is beneficial. You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s so important that I’ll repeat it – screen time is not conducive to sleep, so avoid looking at computers, iPads or iPhones a few hours before bed. If you want to lose excess weight, reduce stress and increase your happy hormones, then prioritise your sleep.
3. I now eat sauerkraut every day
I never thought I’d be able to manage this one, but I have – and to be honest, it’s not too bad. In a nutshell, fermented foods restore gut health by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestine, and eliminating toxins from the body. The gut is a hot topic of current health research, and has recently been termed ‘the second brain’ because of the vital role it plays. As the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, once said “all health begins in the gut”.
If you’re new to the world of fermented sauerkraut, visit my local, The Common Good organic grocery store (77 Church Street, Hawthorn) which sells the brand Pat’s Veg: made in Melbourne, this is the best on the market in terms of the quality of the vegetables used, and the fermentation process.
4. My kitchen cupboard looks like a pharmacy shelf
Yes, I now take a cocktail of supplements! Vitamin D, Fish Oil, Zinc and vitamin B are my new additions. Deficiencies in vitamins or minerals can cause biochemical stress, adding to your toxic load; simple tests can easily check for these deficiencies. I know there’s been lots of press about the occurrence of vitamin D deficiencies, but it’s worth taking this seriously – as the doctor cautioned, “You’re more likely to die of every disease if you’re low in vitamin D”. Not to be taken lightly.
5. I’ve learned to incorporate more regular, smaller chunks of exercise into my daily routine
Exercise does not need to be excessive in order to reap the protective health benefits. Simply aim for at least 7 minutes of huff and puff each day; you don’t have to commit to an hour-long class at the gym or an 8km run. Find an activity that you enjoy and incorporate it into your lifestyle – this way, it won’t be such a chore, and you’ll stick to it. Where movement is concerned, the key words are regular, sustainable and functional. You may only have 20 minutes to spare, but this is enough – go for a walk, a jog, or practice yoga.
The Gwinganna directive when it comes to exercise is this: the way you move your body today will determine how effectively you will move at age 80. The aim is to have a strong, flexible and fit body right through until old age. There is nothing to be achieved from pushing yourself to the extent that you cause injury or pain. Core strength is key. When you think about the way humans are required to move in our daily chores, there are 5 activities we undertake: we need to pull, to push, to lift, to squat and to lunge (lunging is the way we should be bending over to pick things up).
So there you have it. There were a few other points that almost made the list, but they were lifestyle improvements that I’ve been working on for a few years, rather than ‘a-ha moments’ from Gwinganna – such as drinking more water and eating organic food. But my time away definitely gave me a new incentive to commit to these lifestyle improvements. If you need to boost your vitality, or understand how you can optimise your health and wellbeing, then book yourself into Gwinganna – a place where you’ll be nourished and refreshed, and where there is always a pot of comforting herbal tea ready and waiting! For more inspiration, check out the link below.
Reviewed by Carmen