We all could use a re-boot from time to time, whether we are decompressing after a stressful period, creating balance or are at a crossroads. For some, wellness may look like a short-term detox in the form of no alcohol, sugar or technology. For others, it may mean kickstarting each day with exercise and finishing with restorative yoga. Or it could be a meditation class, advice from a nutritionist or booking an acupuncture treatment. For me, it includes all of this which is why I booked a trip to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat – a check-point on my all too cluttered life and a way to become more equipped with tools to transform it.
The perfect setting
Every visit to Gwinganna starts with a journey up a long mountainous green carpet of a road stretching inland from Australia’s Gold Coast. The steep slope levels off and a giant gate opens in greeting before shutting out the hectic demands of life so you can start shifting down a few gears. A step into the 200 hectares of native bush, eco-certified Gwinganna – which means ‘lookout’ – immediately unveils some of the best of the natural world as your eyes meander along the plateau that unfolds across the valley and coastline. Its name seems to have a double meaning as the award-winning retreat offers a view into the full landscape of wellness through an immersive physical, mental and emotional holistic approach that includes no gluten, dairy, refined sugar, alcohol and caffeine.
Wellness director and general manager Sharon Kolkka’s welcome outlines what’s in store – first and foremost getting everyone out of their own head. “Often we’re always planning. We plan our day – what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it,” says Kolkka. “Gwinganna’s set up so that you’re able to live in the now, and you can respond – not react – to what your body needs or wants in real time.” So how exactly do we shift our focus?
According to Kolkka, there is an essential base for improving cellular health. “These foundations include functional movement, quality sleep, emotional wellbeing, reducing stress, optimal nutrition and reducing toxic exposure. A busy mind can drive up cortisol – your body’s main stress hormone – which can impact everything from your ability to digest foods to your ability to get an effective sleep.”
Gwinganna’s schedule supports circadian rhythm, our internal body clock. Every day begins with a 5am-ish knock on your door beckoning you to take part in Qigong, where you’re led through a set of fluid movements as the sun rises out of the ocean. A general structure – consistent meal times, optional activities in the morning and rest in the afternoons – allows for details to unfold through the day. Mornings are based on a yin/yang premise: yin includes restorative movements (to soothe the nervous system and lower blood pressure) that involve the body, mind and spirit such as yoga or a joint mobility class; yang is where you’ll certainly sweat while working the aerobic and anaerobic systems. All activities take place in the open-air pavilion, one of the infinity edge chemical-free swimming pools, gymnasium, labyrinth or the great outdoors.
Gwinganna’s commitment to protecting the natural environment means wildlife can thrive – a win for all as it means you can see the wildlife up close on a bush walk, be it the wallabies, giant toads, koalas or goannas. At every turn, dozens of birds fly into focus, some such as the black cockatoo, magpies and rambunctious kookaburra are easy to spot.
To set the stage of where you’re at physically, an InBody analysis reveals details of your body composition, including visceral fat levels. After outlining what the measurements indicate, you’re armed with nutritional and exercise tips to take home.
Gwinganna’s activities are designed for all skill levels, with a myriad options throughout the week that break convention. A highlight is tribal dance, where participants are led through a freeing hour-and-a-half session of no rules, where you’re encouraged to dance outside your comfort zone.
Considering the wealth of insight from the latest research it’s worth attending the retreat seminars too, such as Kolkka’s on stress. Here, Kolkka identifies how many of us spend an increasing amount of time living in what is called the ‘red zone’ – a place of stress where our sympathetic nervous system is in fight or flight. “This is where we feel like we can’t actually stop our busy thoughts and life; we’re on guard and can’t fully recover from stress,” says Kolkka. It’s when we’re tired but wired.
“The ‘blue zone’ is where we want to be 70 per cent of the time. A place of rest and digest, where we can be curious, where our performance is optimal.” The question is – what takes you to the blue zone? “Small changes applied consistently can lead to big improvements in health and wellbeing. To build stress resilience, start with reframing what it is you’re thinking about,” says Kolkka. “Sure, there are things that you can’t control, those things are external pressures. But what are the pressures you’re putting on yourself? Particularly when you’re under pressure, ask yourself ‘How is this thought serving me?’. If you have less internal pressure you can handle more external pressure.”
Nurturing inside and out
Gwinganna’s award-winning spa is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. While traditional treatments are on offer, there is a wide range beyond the norm such as Rockyoupuncture (a combined therapy of acupuncture and hot stone massage) or Integrated Massage – the best of remedial and deep tissue massage techniques with acupressure, reflexology, polarity energy healing, breathing techniques and passive stretching. For something unique, equine therapy gives you the chance to work with Gwinganna’s horses to explore patterns and behaviours that may be running without you consciously aware.
Rest time at Gwinganna continues as the sun sets. The dozens of suites set the scene, decked out with minimal fuss and maximum comfort with reclaimed timbers and wall-to-wall windows that give way to a cascade of natural light. In lieu of a television or stereo there’s a gentle soundtrack of local birdsong. An outdoor deep bathtub beckons mere steps from your door.
Considering the links to wellbeing, it’s no surprise Gwinganna takes nutrition seriously. The array of teas – from detoxifying to calming – encourage hydration, while meals are carefully crafted to support a cleansing of the body and mind, using organic products, vegetables grown on-site and free of refined sugar and caffeine. Each dish features seasonal, local and organic wholefoods designed to balance blood sugar levels, enhance detoxification and improve digestion. “I stand by that adage ‘anything green keeps your body clean’,” says Kolkka.
When you’re in the middle of sweating through one of the active sessions or sipping one of the calming teas during an educational seminar, the message is repeated: We are often ruled by our thoughts. Take the thought and decide if it’s helpful to you, or not. If it’s not, let it go. How you think about something can be more important than what is happening to you. And transformation takes place through a series of consistent, small steps. All it takes is a commitment to making change.
With better lifestyle habits you can integrate into your everyday back at home comes immediate, tangible improvements – a happier, healthier life.
How to get there
Book a Jetstar or Air New Zealand flight to Australia’s Gold Coast airport from which Gwinganna is a 30-minute drive; courtesy transfers are available.