January 28, 2013

Through The Golden Door

Waiting for the Golden Door Glow . . . (head in the clouds already on Day One though)
When John asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year, I couldn’t really think of a single material thing I needed, apart from some new moisturizer (and a villa in Tuscany, but that goes without saying!)

But when he pressed me to think of an idea of something I might really like, it suddenly came to me. The thing I really wanted was time. Time to think, time to write, time to be alone. To go to bed when I felt like it (which still seems to be 9pm despite physically holding my eyelids open and telling my brain to channel its inner naughty, midnight-feast-eating Enid Blyton schoolgirl) and get up when I felt like it (which happens to still be the crack of dawn, despite scrunching my eyes closed and telling my brain to channel a 16 year old and sleep till noon!)

With a house full of people, including two adult kids living at home, there is rarely a shortage of someone to chat to, someone to help with the kidlets and a totem tennis partner is always at hand. However, getting extended periods of bona fide, toddler-free time alone is hard to come by. As much as I adore my little Cesca-Belle, she is, like most 2 year olds, a high maintenance rock star diva who believes the people surrounding her have been provided simply to entertain her and cater to her every demand. Mostly John and I. But of course she is non-discriminatory; if you enter her orbit for more than five minutes, you too will be put to work in the manner of court jester, lady-in-waiting or lackey.

To be honest, I would have been happy to jump on the bus and head into town for a weekend of gallery hopping, scribbling blog notes over a latte in some trendy cafe and lolling about in a giant hotel bed with a bag of Maltesers and a good novel.

But my husband took my request for a little me-time and super-sized it into a 3 day retreat at the Golden Door Elysia in the Hunter Valley. Cue happy dance.

It was booked for January 6th and of course I spent some of the time between Christmas and January 6th worrying about leaving Francesca overnight for the first time in her life. And by ‘some of the time’ I mean AT LEAST thirty seconds. I am in the fortunate position of having a husband who is both willing and able to share the parenting load with me, as well as the two grown-up siblings, so separation anxiety is something Francesca has rarely experienced. She is surrounded by brainwashed adults falling over themselves to create a big love net for her to safely fall on.

So with kisses and squeezy hugs to all, I hopped in the Golf and set out for my big adventure in the Hunter Valley.

Two hours and a loud, long overdue reunion with Shania Twain later (let's go girls), I entered The Golden Door through . . . you’ll never guess what . . . . a GOLDEN DOOR!

The door itself, apart from being gold, is tall and thick and heavy. As it closes with a sigh behind you and you step into a cool stone atrium, you really do feel that you’re entering a sanctuary, encouraged, as you are at the gate, to leave your real life behind for a few days.

I don’t mind admitting that the first thing I did upon entering my villa was to check for a mini bar. Purely out of curiosity. I thought it might be full of cardboard tasting kale bars and cardboard crisps. And there is a mini bar. Sort of. It contains two kinds of loose leaf herbal tea and a tea pot. Perfect, if the only kind of party you’re after is a tea party, and a healthy one at that. Not a scone or sugar cube in sight.

My post-exercise spot in the villa - on the couch with Kindle & a cuppa

The good folk at Elysia tell you what to eat and when. Real tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar and alcohol are all banned, and mobile phone use is restricted to your villa only. But that’s where their preachiness ends. Everything else is optional and very un-preachy. The staff are beautiful, nurturing and funny and, while they encourage you to try new things and go outside your comfort zone, they also tell you to listen to your body; that this is your time and to do what you feel like.

There are a staggering number of activities available, from tai chi, yoga and pilates, to deep water running, bush walking and indoor hockey. If exercise doesn't float your boat, you can go get your eye bags attended to in the day spa with algae, minerals and all manner of goop. There are seminars on everything from nutrition to habit-breaking to art therapy. Or if you feel like lying by the pool wearing dark glasses and staggering from meal to villa in a fluffy robe you are more than welcome. But why would you want to do that when you can sweat, swim and spin and really feel that you’ve earned a bit of pool lounging.

The outdoor pool at Elysia
There is a risk of becoming what is known at the Door as a FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. That was me on the first day. I did everything on the list. The poor white child from the boondocks wanted to get her money’s worth dammit. And if I wanted to workshop that with the Life Guidance Counsellor, then that was on the list too. And no, it wasn’t at all surprising that I fell into an established acronym category on Day One. I’m FOMO and proud!

But that was Day One. Day One is when you’re body is still operating on all that residual coffee, tea and sugar. Everything is just dandy on Day One. Then you wake up and it’s Day Two. Day Two is bad. Very, very bad.

You think because you only have one coffee, one tea and a smidge of sugar in your diet each day that you can easily live without them. Fine, you think. I don’t need any of those things, you proclaim. But then you spend 24 hours without those daily stimulants in your body and BAM, it’s like a hangover, only foggier. A real pea-souper. I spent Monday in a fug of sugar withdrawal. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, a headache thudding dully at the base of my skull.

This was it. Detox. They warned us it would come and come it did. In spades. But if you’re going to spontaneously detox, this is the place to do it, surrounded by fifty other poor sods in equal or worse degrees of pain. They also told us that by the end of our stay we would have come through detox and achieved the Golden Door Glow. That seemed about as likely as Lindsay Lohan keeping her driver's licence.

Part of me was standing outside of myself that day, simply observing what was happening to my body, shaking my head incredulously. I don’t consider myself to be a sugar, alcohol or caffeine addict. However, my intake of those substances, whilst moderate, is regular. Without them in my diet for 24 hours, the effect on my body was truly interesting. Apart from the headache, lack of energy and inability to string a sentence together, I looked like a kid who’d got a hold of mum’s mascara with enormous black rings under my eyes, and when I closed my eyes for 5 minutes after the 9am stretch class, I woke up two hours later. (A nana nap! During the day!! Unheard of. Do pigs now fly? Are John and George back with the Beatles?!?)

It made me realise how much of a starring role sugar actually plays in my diet, mainly all that incidental sugar one isn’t aware one is ingesting. I have half a sugar in my tea and one sugar in my coffee each day. Doesn’t sound like much. But then, reading a few labels since I’ve been back reveals that so many of the other ‘healthy’ things in my diet actually contain sugar too. Muesli, yoghurt, even the humble lunch time cracker upon which I pile avocado and tomato.

Since I’ve returned from Elysia, l am flirting with the idea of quitting sugar for awhile. But flirting is one thing. I'm not sure if I'm ready to put a ring on it! Stay tuned.

By Tuesday I was back to feeling less like old, dying, wrinkly Episode 6 Yoda (“sugar addict you are”) and more like myself. I realized that in my delirium I had been confining myself to sleeping on “my” side of the bed. That night I threw off all the pillows and covers and made like a starfish across the full luxurious king size width! I also took full advantage of all the wonderful activities and treatments on offer, as well as spending lots of lovely quiet time in my villa reading, writing, watching movies and catching up on Richard Fiedler Conversations podcasts. It was heaven.

Elysia sits high on a hill with valleys and mountains surrounding it on all sides. It has been designed along curvy feng shui lines, with the main buildings and villas creating a skirt for Meditation Hill, a circular mount in the centre of the complex, covered in lavender with a stone plateau and running water feature at the top for meditation, tai chi or perfect, as I discovered, for sunset watching and daydreaming.

Every evening at around 8.30pm just as the sun was setting, I wandered up Meditation Hill to watch the twilight deepen and the stars blink on one by one.

I thought I would go into my cave a little and not feel like interacting with other people, but actually, come meal times, I looked forward to sitting down with the others and comparing notes. Some had been to Elysia before, others were newbies like me, but everyone was lovely and I had some stimulating, amusing conversations with people who’d come from all over Australia to be a part of the program.

Apart from the buckwheat pancakes served on Day Two for breakfast (I challenge the chefs of Australia to make buckwheat taste like anything other than tree bark) the food was, on the whole, very good. I also learned that the addition of beetroot to many dishes & drinks equals more regularity than one might normally be used to.

But it was always so bloody lovely to get back to my villa after dinner, to find the bed turned down, a candle lit next to the bath and the teapot set out with a calming herbal tea. There were so many little touches like this that made the experience a little bit spesh.

Was three days enough? At this time in my life, probably. I could easily have pushed it to five days, although I think I would have missed the family too much if I stayed for the seven day program. Did I leave with the Golden Door Glow? Definitely. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to start the year and hit 2013 with everything I’ve got.

My take-aways from the experience? Eat less sugar. Meditate. Kiss my husband in gratitude more often. Be grateful for my family's health every day. Belt out a Shania Twain number at least once every ten years. And never eat another buckwheat pancake.

The Golden Door Glow - I got there in the end (with thanks to the sunset on top of Meditation Hill!)

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