My seven-day escape to Gwinganna health retreat

After discovering the power of mindfulness last year, I made a conscious commitment to spend more time nurturing both my mind and body. This year I chose to head to the renowned Gwinganna, a serene spa resort in Queensland, which luckily for us Aussies, is right at our back door.

Gwinganna is especially unique in the way that they focus on educating their visitors. Every day there were lectures and workshops run by highly trained professionals on a variety of wellness subjects. No activity was compulsory but I still felt that I wanted to be involved in as much as I possibly could.  I particularly enjoyed the lecture on the importance of gut heath. I did not realise that over 90% of serotonin (our feel good hormone) is produced by bacteria in the gut and not the brain. It really is a case of health gut, healthy mind!

Health at Gwinganna is appreciated holistically as a synergy of nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness. Here’s what I learnt from my experience at this amazing place.

 

 

 

1.       Nutrition

First things first, this retreat is not about deprivation. The team there are not the food police and fortunately there is no calorie counting. All meals are based on the principles of SLOW food (Seasonal, Locally produced, Organic and Whole). Over the seven days, my detox meant no added sugar, alcohol, caffeine or red meat. This was great but I regretted not weaning myself off caffeine the week prior as I suffered a dull headache for the first few days.

The current belief is that certain foods will cause the production of metabolic acids in our bodies which results in inflammation and possible the onset of chronic disease and ageing. There was an emphasis on the importance of vegetables to reduce stress on the liver and improve gut health. This form of nutrition significantly reduces its toll on our liver. Every meal was balanced, satisfying, creative and totally delectable and the morning tea coconut balls were my absolute favourite!

This only reaffirmed my confidence in the 80/20 rule where we aim to eat clean 80% of the time and allow treats for the other 20%. This way we still can enjoy life without fear of missing out. Here is a list of foods that I like to include in my daily diet:

  • Good oils: coconut, olive, walnut, avocado, macadamia, flaxseed, chia seed
    • Use sesame oil for stir fries as this has a high smoke point and won’t break down at high temperatures
    • Fresh vegetables (particularly greens)
    • Fruit (two serves)
    • Whole grains: quinoa, barley, oats, spelt
    • Legumes and sprouts
    • Seeds (Chia, sunflower, flaxseeds, buckwheat)
    • Nuts (particularly activated almonds. walnuts, macadamias and brazil nuts)
    • Apple cider vinegar (one 10ml shot before meals)
    • Kefir for natural probiotics
    • Herbs and spices (ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon)

 

 


2.      
Physical activity

Each morning at Gwinganna starts at sunrise with Qi Gong. This is a traditional Chinese custom of gentle yet structured movements designed to create balance between the body and mind. I really felt a strong connection with the environment and realised how much I take the sounds of the morning for granted.

We were then offered a choice of morning activities that were either Yin (gentle) or Yang (more active). Current research suggests that too much exercise causes elevated cortisol which actually reduces fat burning and increases stress. The key to exercise is interval training of four intense ten minute sessions per week with a 2:1 ratio of recovery time: intense activity time.

I was also intrigued to learn about the dangers of sitting for extended periods of time. Cultures that spend less time sitting have a significantly longer lifespan than more sedentary cultures. Some scientists are calling sitting the new smoking! Cramping the organs leads to internal inflammation and stress on the body.

Once I returned to work after the retreat, I relayed this information to my team and as a result, we have invested in standing desks. This is a fantastic way for my team at Synergie to improve core strength and reduce time spent sitting throughout the day. It is also recommended to squat twice daily for one minute. Squatting increases core strength, gut health, flexibility, immunity and even longevity.

 

 

3.       Mindfulness

At Gwinganna, there is a total ‘Technology Detox’ with minimal interaction with the outside world. Not having 24/7 access to my phone and emails was more challenging to me than giving up caffeine! To my surprise, my world did not disintegrate without hourly email checks.

One of my favourite back-to-nature experiences was the ‘Horse whispering’. This activity explores the effect of our individual temperaments and body language and how others respond to us. Stevie, our teacher (and horse!) along with Sue Spence the horse whisperer, taught me so much about how to relate better to others and understand our personality traits. I left this workshop totally in awe of the equine brain and better equipped to communicate effectively.

Tribal dancing also really unleashed my inner child. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but this activity really enabled us to let go of our inhibitions and feel safe and unified with one another. This experience, which culminated in a unique meditation session, was really quite profound for many of us.

The mind can be a beautiful servant or a dangerous master. There was a major emphasis on managing the intensity of pressures of modern day living. Perhaps the strongest message for me was to take the time to just stop and breathe. It’s not as easy as it sounds and good breathing techniques take practice. Focusing on a longer exhale is crucial to mindful breathing. So often when we really need to slow our breathing, our brains tells us ‘you just don’t have time for this’! That’s the very time we need to stop and take time out.

 

All in all, my seven-day journey really was inspirational soul food and I will definitely return to Gwinganna for a mind and body ‘reset’. I felt totally restored, informed and ready to take on challenges of my daily life. I recommend this retreat to anyone who is serious about soothing the soul, practising mindfulness and total wellness and understanding the synergy of mind and body.

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