As a busy Dad juggling a family of two kids, two dogs, two businesses, an ongoing property development and whatever else life throws at me, the prospect of switching off my phone for a three-day wellness retreat was both welcoming and unnerving in equal measure...
But that’s one of the things to embrace when you commit to a weekend at the digital-free Gwinganna retreat.
By way of background, a close friend of mine recently suffered a nervous breakdown...
Mounting work stress and family demands coupled with a few too many beers and diminishing self-care proved too much for his body and mind. So, the prospect of a digital, alcohol and caffeine-free weekend in the rainforest hills of Tallebudgera certainly seemed like a step in the right direction for me.
As many people know, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45. While I don’t believe I’m a serious contender for either a breakdown or worse, I do believe it’s ever so important for Dads to carve out time for introspection and relaxation. I’ve learned that the attitude of “toughen up, you’re a bloke, push through it” is outdated to say the very least.
As a friend drove me from the shopping centers, nightclubs and casino strip of the Gold Coast towards the hilltop resort of Gwinganna, we traversed the lush scenery of Tullebudgera which felt more like the Southern Highlands of NSW than the Gold Coast. Even the journey to the resort had a strangely calming effect on me. As we ascended the unimaginably steep incline towards Gwinganna it felt like we were entering some kind of utopia. As it transpires, we were.
The resort is comprised of a mix of traditional Australiana single level buildings, modern function centres and accommodation blocks spread across a few hundred hectares of bushland...
As I settled into my beautifully appointed villa (sans TV) I spotted my own private plunge pool overlooking a jaw-dropping view across the valley and back to the coastal line 20km away. And breath…you’ve arrived. I noticed that my mobile phone had adequate coverage, however I decided to fully embrace the weekend by switching it off and placing it in a drawer.
Prior to arrival, I was curious to know what the weekend had in store for me. Gwinganna appear to deliberately keep the details scarce on their website, presumably to allay any possible preconceptions of the program of activities. “All will be explained during this evening’s orientation session” I was told by the friendly receptionist.
After the thirty-five people from a variety of backgrounds and ages filled the Wellbeing Centre, our program manager Kay kicked off the orientation session. It explained all we needed to know about the weekend of activities, informative talks and relaxation. And the best news…a small amount of organic wine at dinner and coffee at breakfast would be available. Phew.
As we entered the dining room for dinner, I quickly noticed that of the 35 guests only four were men...
Just two of us were under the age of 60. While not surprised, I found this to be saddening for the reasons stated above. Rather than chasing a ‘work hard, play hard’ modern culture, more men should invest in their mental and physical wellbeing because it’s simply the best investment we’ll ever make.
The food at Gwinganna is world renowned and for good reason. The resort’s approach to food is SLOW. By this they mean Seasonal, Organic, Local Wholefood. The food is also gluten and dairy free. Above all, it’s frikkin tasty. During dinner we sat at tables of eight meeting and sharing stories with other guests. We finished dinner at 8pm and I found it very easy to go to sleep by 8.30pm in preparation for our 5.30am start the next morning.
I’m an early riser and was awake at 5am. As we made our way to the 6am Qi Gong (similar to Tai Chi) session it was clear that other guests weren’t so partial to early starts. However, after 45 minutes of slow moving but energising Qi Gong we all felt awake and alert. Next up was a choice between a Joint Mobility class which is exclusive to Gwinganna or a hike. As the weather was looking rather ominous, I opted for the thoroughly fascinating joint mobility class which taught us stretches to release the synovial fluid around our joints to ensure their longevity.
Following a deliciously healthy low carb breakfast the next thing on our schedule was a stretch class which prepared me for my following choices of the Boxing Class and Bosu ball class...
Gwinganna gives guests options of either Ying (gentle) or Yang (challenging) classes to participate in. As it had been a few weeks since strenuous exercise, I opted for the challenging options. A choice that I almost regretted as the sweat poured off my forehead. “It’s good for you, it’s good for you” I kept telling myself.
Feeling virtuous after the workout was done, I looked forward to the latter part of day which was to be focussed around more relaxing activities. During the morning tea, Gwinganna homemade Tahini protein balls were on offer as a snack. They tasted far too good to be healthy…but apparently, they are. To double check, I found myself subtly sloping up to the buffet tray like a shoplifter to eat my fourth ball
As the weekend unfolded we met more and more of our fellow guests. All of whom were lovely. All had different reasons for attending but if I were to pick a recurring reason, it would be to escape the deafening noise of modern day life.
My next choice of activity was the InBody assessment and talk. This comprised of my standing on a plate while a tiny electrical pulse went through my body, followed by a one hour talk to deconstruct our various output scores from the scan. The results were pleasantly surprising. It turns out I’m fairly healthy, though more regular rehydration wouldn’t go amiss.
It was at lunchtime that I realised I hadn’t been near my phone in about seven hours, a new record I suspect. It was a liberating feeling. What I hadn’t expected is how delightful it was not to see everyone else staring at their phones all-the-time! It meant we had to talk to each other, which is a dying art these days.
After lunch I had some quiet time in my room reading, then it was time for my ‘East meets West Massage’ at the incredibly impressive Gwinganna Spa. Unlike any other massage I’ve had, it commenced with the therapist taking my pulse, checking my tongue and making some suggestions regarding my spleen. This was going to be no ordinary massage. Acupuncture and cupping preceded the massage. I floated out the spa feeling rejuvenated.
During a beautiful dinner of grain-fed beef, pumpkin, mushrooms and red wine jus, I savoured my allowance of one small glass of organic red wine. It’s incredible how long you can make a glass of wine last if you put your mind to it. Then it was time for a well-earned sleep after a fantastic day.
I woke up on the third and final day feeling energised and clear minded. Was it the nine hours of sleep? Was it the absence of pesticides in the organic food? Or was it the digital detox? More than likely it was a multitude of factors.
Following a morning stretch class and a TRX resistance class I attended a talk by the resident nutritionist. Some of the learnings I already knew but wasn’t actually implementing. Many of the learnings were new to me, like how we start digesting food in our mouth first and the importance of giving the body the chance to properly absorb the nutrients of our food by chewing effectively.
After the final lunch we bid goodbye to our new friends and thanked the delightful Gwinganna staff, especially our wonderful program manager Kay. As our shuttle bus left the gates of Gwinganna headed towards the airport, I instantly realised why Gwinganna enjoys so many repeat guests. There’s a beautiful and calming simplicity that weaves itself through Gwinganna that on a subconscious level we all crave. It’s a rare antidote to modern day life that allows us to stop and appreciate the importance of wellbeing.
A week on from Gwinganna I’ve noticed a shift. My alcohol consumption has halved, I’m more conscious about my dietary choices and I’m feeling more energised. Hopefully it will have a lasting effect. However if it doesn’t I can always book back into Gwinganna for a second visit and another 4+ Tahini balls.
Visit: Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat