Gwinganna - the ultimate retreat

Even before I went, I was getting to the realisation that my life needed to slow down. Being ‘busy’ was not the badge of honour so many people seem to think it is. And while I know I don't look that 'busy' in the sense of juggling a demanding career as well as kids, life is busy enough running a household consisting of three very active, inquisitive young boys including a climbing toddler, and a husband whose job can be all consuming and demand long hours. Being on constant high alert when the boys are in my presence is not soothing. And like most other mothers, I carry what often feels like a huge mental load in my day to day role. Unless I actively clear it and avoid overanalysing daily minutiae, the result is a cluttered, exhausted mind.

So now that I’m back, smug and glowing from my first ever health retreat, that realisation is now crystal clear - a lifestyle involving strategic rest, nourishing food and mindfulness is almost essential for me right now. Yes, I’ve written about meditation before, but the need has never been quite so confronting as it was during this experience.

I am lucky to have just returned from ‘Gwinganna’ – a lifestyle retreat in the Queensland hinterland. Its mantra - and recipe for wellness - hinges on the four pillars of nourishment, movement, stress resilience and reducing your toxic load. I sent my husband there in the summer for a ‘stress, sugar and sleep’ retreat and he himself acknowledges the wonders it did for him, a sceptic at heart. The beauty of the place is that it is a bit like a buffet – you can take from it what you want. Total immersion in every activity, seminar or treatment on offer or you could just sleep and eat (gluten-free, dairy-free and organically) your way through the retreat.

View from Gwinganna swimming pool. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

But at its essence is the concept of retreating from the world and nurturing yourself in this beautiful place to restore a sense of vitality, energy and resilience. On arrival, we were asked about the last time you woke up like a box of birds, sailed through the day deflecting minor stressors with ease, and then to come home with energy to talk to your partner or family and enjoy a dinner, and then get a good sleep without any assistance. I couldn’t actually remember the last time I felt like that – but I think it was probably after I quit my last private practice law job, when I was happily unemployed, enjoying life with my fiancé and before kids came along.

Having arrived to hear this question feeling exhausted, stressed and worried how the kids would cope without me for 3 days, this was a confronting thing to ponder. But over my time there, my body and mind slowly unwound and recharged themselves. We turned our phones off, left them in our rooms and started to digitally detox. There were a range of physical activities including yoga, spin classes, bush walks, relaxation sessions and an array of treatments at the spa. I went all out in terms of restorative treatments and managed to fit in several massages, acupuncture, kinesiology and an invaluable session with a naturopath. It was an utter luxury to be able to go to Gwinganna - both to experience such a place and also take the time out from life.

The highlight was being fortunate to listen to hours of seminars by the guru-like Dr Karen Coates on a variety of women’s health topics from hormones, to gut health to menopause. As an integrative medical doctor, her knowledge of medicine, nutrition and natural therapies was astounding. Being a medicine nerd I found it fascinating the way she could describe the links between so many aspects of our bodies that we women often leave to the wayside. Stress, cortisol, serotonin, gut health, allergies, epigenetics…the list goes on.

While it was confronting to acknowledge that I needed to lift my game in some areas, the entire retreat gave me the ammunition to come home and chart a new path. Nothing too fanatical or extreme, but acknowledging that things like my digestive system needs help. My children have been my focus for many years, but now it’s time to ensure Mother Hen is operating at full capacity. Because if I can’t, what use am I to my gorgeous boys?

View from Gwinganna towards the coast. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

I was a hell of a lot calmer leaving, but admittedly a bit uncertain about how I was going to implement the lifestyle changes I needed to make. Day 2 post-retreat looked a bit like this – my pre-schooler was desperate for a ‘rest day’ from school, so I indulged him. After a quiet morning of play and a bit of chill time, we sat down and watched ‘The Smurfs’ movie. I think I checked my phone once or twice, but otherwise relished in the constant hugs I had for over an hour and the calm cocoon we both sat in on the couch. For me, Gwinganna was about stopping and being present in the moment – who’s to say we can't watch a daytime kid’s movie with our children to reconnect?

It’s a very introspective and personal journey going on retreat and on leaving I felt like I’d been put back together again. More than a 'service', I could breathe again. But it’s also the beginning of making some small but significant changes at home and within myself to see if this sense of togetherness can be sustained.

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