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Kickstart healthy habits at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat


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I am starting to panic. Against my better judgement I have agreed to accompany a friend to the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Queensland for a seven-day detox. While the idea of a thorough mind and body cleanse seems just what the doctor ordered, actually going through this ordeal is a sobering thought. I am worried I will starve; I am worried I will have severe coffee withdrawals; I am worried I will crave a cocktail and somehow make my way to the Swell Tavern in nearby Burleigh Heads.

I am definitely “toxed” up, subsisting on several coffees a day, little sleep, several glasses of wine throughout the week and a diet that swings widely between healthily adhering to the food pyramid to Vegemite toast and takeaway Indian. I know I need to re-evaluate my relationship and attitude towards what I put in my body and learn how to nurture it properly.

During my 7am flight from Melbourne I resist the urge to mainline coffee and instead try to fight off fatigue with a green tea (the first of many) to help me cut down on my caffeine intake.

Arriving at Gwinganna via the shuttle bus service somewhat bleary-eyed, I’m shown to my room. I’m in an Orchid Suite and I’m seriously impressed with the timber-beamed ceilings, natural stone bathroom (with a mammoth tub I’ll be enjoying later) and, best of all, sweeping views of the mountains. This is luxury detoxing. There are aromatherapy candles burning and it takes all my willpower to resist falling into the canopied bed with its dozens of fluffy white pillows.

While the first day is a meet-and-greet with the staff and other guests, with a long talk on the philosophy behind Gwinganna and going through individually what our goals are for our stay, the next day begins with a gentle knock on my door. At 5am.

I very rarely see 5am, other than the morning before (to catch my flight) and a recent big night out with the girls and, while a jolt of coffee would get me halfway to functioning, all that’s on offer is herbal tea.

We spend an hour doing qi gong on a hill with views of the mountains while watching the sun come up. It’s quite a spiritual experience and, while my usual pace is go, go, go, it forces me to take in my surroundings. Afterwards, we go for a short bushwalk (set on 160 hectares, Gwinganna has 16 different nature walks) before sitting down to breakfast.

All the food served at Gwinganna is organic; red meat and dairy are off the menu. Each meal is mainly vegetarian based, with a bit of seafood on alternating days, and even too much fruit is frowned upon as it’s full of sugar. I will eat a lot of pumpkin this week.

As for fitness, Gwinganna provides Yin and Yang packages. The Yin option is more “inwardly” focused, with activities such as yoga, kinesis and Pilates, while Yang is more “outwardly” focused (advisable if your goal is to kickstart a weight-loss program) with more energetic activities and optional gym sessions.

I have chosen the Yang option, figuring I want to gain (or is that lose?) all I can from my stay. The days are fairly regimented, though you can opt out of any activity if you choose. Each morning begins with a qi gong session (after the fourth 5am wake-up call I’m a pro), a short hike before breakfast, your chosen Yin or Yang activity, morning tea, a lifestyle seminar, lunch, free time, afternoon tea, dinner and then a very early night.

The lifestyle seminars aim to educate you about your Health and wellbeing and you can also opt to have private sessions, which are more like emotional therapy.

My seven-day package entitles me to two full-body massages and a facial at Gwinganna’s Spa Sanctuary, but I add a few extra treatments as the massages are doing wonders for my insomnia. That, and the fact that I’ve had no coffee.

While some of my earlier fears are realised — I do suffer from caffeine withdrawals and I do get a little hungry — by the time I’m getting ready to leave I feel cleansed and definitely more energetic. I’ve also lost two kilos. When I get home, friends comment on how clear my skin and eyes are.

Three months on, I’ve tried to maintain the philosophies about inner wellbeing that I learnt from my stay — mainly to think hard about everything I put into my body and whether it’s helping or hindering it, and learning to “slow down” instead of going a million miles an hour, trying to do too many tasks at once.

While I’ll never be able to give up my weekly wine with the girls, I’m now drinking organic wine, which may ease my conscience more than anything else, and I do seem to be more alert the morning after a few drinks than I used to be.

I’ve so far gone without coffee (except for a couple of slip-ups) and I’m trying to incorporate as many vegetables into my diet as possible, though I will never be a vegetarian. Learning to adopt healthier habits has been harder than I thought, but a detox such as Gwinganna’s is a great way to kickstart a healthier mindset.

The writer was a guest of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Prices for Gwinganna’s seven-day detox start from $2905. For more information visit www.gwinganna.com.