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Breathe New Life


Posted on May 29


 Need to get a grip? Rejuvenate yourself at one of these soothing retreats.  by Alan Humason  Maybe it’s hard to admit, or hard to recognize, but just about everyone needs rejuvenation from time to time. Our daily routines can lead to deadening ruts that make us clamor for more structured escapes: for silence and meditation, say, not just another chocolate sundae or Rusty Nail.

At another level, our needs can be profound, even life-altering: Think about the serious health risks of being overweight (no thanks to the sundaes or Nails) or, worse, the immediate darkness of suddenly having to deal with life-threatening illness. Whether you long for a luxury spa resort to restore your sense of well-being or crave a special program to address a particular concern, take comfort in this: You do have options. Here, we explore a few places where you can feel better.

Find Splendor and Wellness in June Lake

It isn’t enough that the Double Eagle Resort and Spa in the town of June Lake has top-notch facilities and service. Just the sheer physical beauty of the eastern Sierra setting—at the base of 10,909-foot Carson Peak, with the crisp waters of Reversed Creek rushing by—is invigorating. The resort blends in perfectly, with indoor spaces crafted to provide views of the impressive natural surroundings. Come here to breathe deeply (at 7,500-foot elevation, you’ll need to), relax and recharge your personal batteries in any number of ways.

For example, the resort's Creekside Spa has treatment rooms with fireplaces, eucalyptus steam rooms, indoor and outdoor whirlpools and swimming pools, and an outdoor deck under the pines. Spa treatments run from a $40 Swedish massage to “daily package” specials such as “She Really Deserves This,” (a 20-minute “Vichy Shower,” 80-minute “Classic Comfort Massage,” 50-minute “Intense Exfoliating Facial,” and a full pedicure; $335). You also can indulge yourself with manicures, waxing and other salon services. New to the resort is the Lifetime Wellness Program, primarily for people needing help with weight management while addressing lifestyle factors such as stress. The program includes accommodations, meals, physical exam, analysis and profile, nutrition, and stress-management workshops, physical training sessions, and more. The fitness center features a free-weight area, circuit training stations and other equipment. You can take classes in Pilates, yoga, aqua aerobics and strength training. Personal training and personal fitness assessments are available by appointment. For recreation, the resort has a fly-fishing shop, where you can sign up for lessons; on the property is a private pond stocked with Alpers rainbow trout (catch and release only). Elsewhere in the area, you can go hiking, horseback riding, boating, fishing and rock climbing. Fall is beautiful, with the aspens turning color.  Tasteful, private two-bedroom cabins have fireplaces or wood stoves, kitchens, queen or king beds, decks and great alpine views all around. Rates run about $300 per night, depending on the season; call for details. For dining, the Eagle's Landing Restaurant serves meals all day. Opt for meticulously prepared spa cuisine or go robust—crab cakes, steaks, seafood, pasta, and desserts are on the dinner menu. Double Eagle Resort and Spa, 5587 Highway 158, June Lake; (760) 648-7004; .doubleeagleresort.com

Experience Openness on the Mendocino Coast 

To combine yoga with adventure and relaxation is the goal of Annalisa Cunningham of Opening Heart Journeys. The author of four books on yoga and travel, and a yoga instructor at California State University, Chico, the effervescent Cunningham offers vacations in her home base of Gualala, Calif., as well as in Mexico, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Arizona.

The coastal Gualala setting, about 165 miles northwest of Sacramento, couldn’t be any more enticing, with its tall redwoods, sunny hillsides, fresh ocean air and sandy beaches. “This is a great place—especially for people living inland—to rest and regain energy through yoga and other activities we have here,” says Cunningham. A bed-and-breakfast inn for just one or two people, her Gualala retreat includes three nights and four days at her ocean-view home near Anchor Bay Beach (a popular spot for abalone divers), with daily yoga and meditation. Guests stay in a private room downstairs, equipped with one queen bed and one single bed. Daily vegetarian breakfast is included. Additional meals can be arranged or you can enjoy casual dining at local restaurants. She can work with larger groups at other locations. Cunningham emphasizes “gentle yoga,” as she puts it. “I like to combine yoga postures, breathing awareness and techniques, healing visualization, massage, relaxation and meditation to bring people a sense of opening up and renewal,” she explains.  The area offers numerous hiking trails, fishing, canoeing or kayaking down the Gualala River.

 The nearby town of Gualala offers shopping, dining and just sheer small-town charm. In September, you can take in the regular Saturday farmers market as well as the 13th Annual Studio Discovery Tour (Sept. 3–4 and 11–12; click studio-tours.com for more details about participating artists).  At Gualala, Cunningham’s nightly rate is $195 per person, with dates available in September and November 2005 and March, July and August 2006. If you’re interested in other destinations she visits, call her for scheduling and rates. Opening Heart Journeys, 35501 South Highway 1, #25, Gualala; (530) 343-9944 or (707) 884-9535; openingheartjourneys.com.

Travel Far Away To Lose That Excess Baggage

For some people, being overweight isn’t a choice, but for many of us it is. We choose to be extra-plump and out of shape through bad eating habits, sloth, overburdened work schedules or inability to discipline ourselves. It’s a condition that can become deadly serious, or might take getting far away from home to truly overcome.

High in the magnificent Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa offers FitPlan PlusWeight Loss programs as part of a total vacation package. Lasting from one to four weeks, a highly structured daily regimen is designed to help you safely lose as much weight as you can while giving you the tools to reach and maintain your weight and fitness goals. Single travelers as well as couples are welcome; minimum age is 18 years old. Mountain Trek combines physical activity—chiefly hiking and fit-walking, with snowshoeing in winter, circuit training, core strength training, yoga and Pilates-type classes—with a very strict, healthful eating routine. And strict means strict: 900 or 1,200 calories per day. You need to be motivated—serious about wanting to lose weight and willing to discover keys to changing your lifestyle—to come here. But if you do, you’ll be richly rewarded. You stay in a spacious rustic lodge on 34 forested acres overlooking Kootenay Lake. At 2,000-feet elevation—with hikes reaching as high as 7,500 feet—the fresh alpine air will cheer your lungs and clear your head. The lodge has a dozen bedrooms (“retreat philosophy” here means no phones or televisions), fireplace lounge, and an outdoor whirlpool and sauna. In a separate building, there's an exercise/yoga studio and fully stocked weight and exercise equipment room. An initial total body composition reading (involving measures and ratios for your weight, body fat, and mass and metabolic rate) can place you in a beginner (less fit), intermediate or more advanced group. The resort is staffed to provide cardio, flexibility and strength training, nutritional advice, and relaxation through Swedish massage, soaks in the nearby hot springs and a selection of beauty treatments.  The package program includes private bedroom with bath, all meals and activities, plus daily personal laundry service and use of clothing such as sweat suits, bathrobes and backpacks. Cost: roughly $3,000 per week, depending on the program and prevailing exchange rate; reservations are required.

 Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa, Box 1352, Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada; toll-free (800) 661-5161 or (250) 229-5636; hiking.com.

Down South To Camp

For younger people, and especially women, Camp La Jolla offers fitness and weight-loss summer-camp vacations tailored to different age groups: preteen girls and boys (ages 8–12), teen girls and boys (13–18), young women (19–29) and mature women 30 and up.

The program is run by founder and executive director Nancy Lenhart, a certified camp director according to the standards set by the American Camping Association, and a member of the Adolescence Obesity Center and the California Parenting Institute. Camp sessions run from four to nine weeks, June through August.

 “This is not a weekend fat farm,” Lenhart says. “We don’t put people on a diet here. We offer individually designed strategies for fitness, nutrition and behavior modification, targeting the needs of each person who comes to us. We emphasize achieving a balanced, complete healthy lifestyle, building self-esteem and instilling a strong sense of well being and inner confidence.”  Guests stay and do most of their planned activities at the University of California, San Diego, campus in La Jolla, minutes away from the beach.

 Camp includes classes and workshops, sports and physical training in a noncompetitive spirit, meals and lodging.  It’s not all about weight loss, however. Planned outside activities and day trips are part of the program—to such places as the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Big Bear Lake and Universal Studios. The two-year follow-up program includes three-day weekend retreats, monthly e-mails and newsletters, telephone support, fitness videos and “camper-to-camper” conference calls. All-inclusive cost: $1,800 to $9,000.  “We realize coming here is a big commitment, but sometimes that’s what it takes for people to turn their lives around,” says Lenhart. “In the end, we hope our guests leave with a renewed spirit and positive values, coupled with better habits that they can carry for the rest of their lives.” While camps only run in summer, they are popular—it’s not too soon to inquire about next year. If you need more immediate help, Lenhart can suggest other options you can explore. Camp La Jolla, 176 C Ave., Coronado, CA 92118; toll-free (800) 825-8746 or (619) 435-7990; camplajolla.com.

At Mount Madonna It’s All About You

Perched between Santa Cruz and Monterey on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the sprawling Mount Madonna Center occupies 355 acres of redwood forest and grassland overlooking Monterey Bay. The center offers a variety of workshops, seminars and retreats in yoga (chiefly in Ashtanga Yoga, which emphasizes personal growth and spiritual goals), as well as art, psychology and general health. Come here to get out of town, strip away the excesses of daily life, meet some new people and say hello to yourself again.

The center’s staff and guest instructors lead individuals or groups in some 85 different programs, lasting two or three days to a week or longer. (Some of these programs are accredited for yoga instructors only.) With lodging and vegetarian meals included, short programs typically cost $100 to $300. You can opt stay here without enrolling in a specific program; the center allows people to join ongoing programs for a class or session for a separate fee if you’re staying overnight. If you’ve never done yoga before, take advantage of free beginner classes every Saturday morning.  The Kaya Kalpa Wellness Center is the hub for massages, acupuncture (the hour-long “sound and color tuning fork” is utterly unique as color light wheels, Dinshah filters, ancient healing sounds and tuning forks "create a whirlpool of energy that integrates healing") and herbal steam bath treatments. For recreation, tennis, volleyball, basketball, weight training and hiking trails beckon—and the beach isn’t too far away. Guest rooms in rather simple buildings offer private or shared baths, and none has a phone or television. Set in wooded grove, cabins are nicer except for the lack of indoor plumbing. (You can step into a clean communal shower house.) All beds are twin size. You also can rent tents (with two foam mattresses, no bedding) or campsites for your own tent, van or camper, with access to showers and privies. Rates run from $23 to $110 per person per day. Mount Madonna Center, 445 Summit Road, Watsonville; (408) 847-0406; mountmadonna.org.

Soothe With Silence Outside Nevada City

You only have to retreat as far as the wooded foothills outside of Nevada City to find not one but two lovely options for a true chance at true rejuvenation. Expanding Light is an 800-acre facility offering programs in yoga and meditation, and self-discovery workshops. The nearby Ananda Meditation Retreat (operated by former Expanding Light employees) goes a step further, providing opportunities for deeper experience and something hard to come by anymore: moments of pure silence in a pristine setting.

The Expanding Light offers various programs in Ananda Yoga, “a spiritual practice, not just an exercise regime,” emphasizing ways to release stress, relax your body and rejuvenate your mind, and billed as being suitable for people of all ages and body types. For yoga beginners, the two-day “Weekend Retreat” introduces essentials of safe yoga technique while exploring the spiritual dimensions of yoga and connections to meditation. The three-day Extra-Gentle Yoga is meant for guests who feel they are overweight, not flexible or too old for a conventional class. More advanced or specialty programs (such as “Higher Awareness” and “Yoga for Menopause”) run five to seven days. Meditation programs run two days or five days and cover everything from the basics to making significant lifestyle changes that can integrate meditation into your daily life. Other workshops delve into “building faith and courage,” vegetarian cooking, building energy, and the healing power of sound (exploring chanting, music, and nature). Two-day programs range from as low as $25 (non-weekends with tent or RV accommodations) to several hundred dollars (extremely nice, private rooms with vegetarian meals included). The retreat has “standard” and “deluxe” lodging, with Harmony House providing the best level of comfort and privacy. Massage and mountain meadows with gorgeous views add to the attractions here. The Expanding Light, 14618 Tyler Foote Road, Nevada City; (530) 478-7518 or toll-free (800) 346-5350;expandinglight.org

 To escape—and recover—from the madding noise of urban life, consider the golden silence of Ananda Meditation Retreat, six miles from Expanding Light. Ananda offers a variety of personalized meditation and silence programs (as in no talking), designed for you after advanced consultation. Here you can address your specific needs through personal meditation training, “guided” seclusions, massage and alternative healing programs. Simply call ahead to discuss your desires and create your vacation. In addition, special Retreat Programs are scheduled occasionally throughout the year. For example, the Kriya Yoga Preparation Silent Retreat (this year, Sept. 2-4) is designed to “energize, magnetize and get you spiritually charged on the path of Kriya Yoga,” through sadhanas (essentially, prayers and rituals rooted in yoga and Buddhism), silence, and guided meditations. The central Meditation Temple is open throughout the day and for meditation each morning and evening; also, a small underground meditation room is nearby, about as remote and silent as it can be when the doors are closed. Walking trails wind through graceful flower and water gardens; find a bench here in nature, be still, and listen, only listen. Spare but comfortable lodge rooms, tent bungalows and cottages, spread throughout 60 acres, all offer views of the arresting Gold Country terrain. Happiness Lodge has four private bedrooms with single beds, and a double room with two twin beds; common space includes a small lounge with sofa and chairs, hot plate, refrigerator, a full bath and shower, and a deck. Canvas bungalows are well suited for one or two persons. Cottages have kitchens, dining and living areas; some have separate meditation rooms. Prices range from $40 to $80 per night per person; the large Devotion Cottage costs $160 per night, double occupancy. Meals cost extra; the retreat offers three buffet-style vegetarian meals for $18.00 per day. You can buy meals separately with advanced notice. On occasion, the retreat will have “ceremony weekends” where the whole place is in complete silence except for a few whispers here and there just to get work done. It’s an intriguing, rewarding experience—allow yourself to become enveloped in this gentle passivity and you may just find a kind of peace. Ananda Meditation Retreat, 14618 Tyler Foote Road, #114, Nevada City; (530) 292-3024; meditationretreat.org

 Cope With Cancer at Commonweal

Nothing can be more stressful than a life-threatening illness. That certainly holds true for the sufferer, but it also can apply to their loved ones. Besides the obvious need for medical care, cancer patients can benefit from other forms of support, through health information, physical therapies and emotional guidance. Such is the mission of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, a weeklong retreat for people with cancer and their significant others.

Commonweal is located on a pristine 60-acre site in Bolinas, Calif., at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in the Point Reyes National Seashore. A nonprofit health and environmental research institute founded in 1976, Commonweal conducts a number of programs to promote human and ecosystem health. The setting is wonderfully conducive to the purpose. “We offer an educational program here, not a treatment program,” says Program Coordinator Waz Thomas. “We try to provide information on choices in healing, both mainstream and complementary therapies. We explore the emotional and vitally important spiritual dimensions of cancer. Everyone has an opportunity to lead a rich and rewarding life, however long it lasts, while contending with illness.” The days involve group support sessions led by a psychotherapist, massage, yoga and meditation. Sessions also include poetry, spiritual guidance (addressing fear, loneliness, hope and doubt), supplemented by a gourmet vegetarian diet. Evening sessions led by Commonweal co-founder Michael Lerner explore choices in healing, mainstream therapies, integrative therapies, pain and suffering, and death and dying. The retreats are limited to eight or nine participants, helped by a team of well-credentialed teachers and medical professionals. Participants must already have a treating physician and be able to care for themselves and take part in the daily activities. Commonweal has three guest houses.

 Pacific House is a handsome, 11-bedroom structure on a bluff overlooking the ocean, with a large living room, stone fireplace and fully equipped kitchen. Amid Monterey pine and cypress trees, Bothin House has two bedrooms (each with two single beds), a bath, kitchen, living and dining rooms, plus a woodburning stove and fireplace. Kohler House has one bathroom and three bedrooms, each with two single beds, plus living spaces and a smaller kitchen. Room rates vary widely depending upon the number of people; call ahead for reservation details. Now in its 20th year, the program is offered just six times a year in Bolinas (three in the fall, three in spring), but also is available through collaborating facilities in a half-dozen other locations in the United States and Canada. The fee ($1,880 per person for the week) covers everything: housing, meals and program materials. Commonweal, P. O. Box 316, Bolinas; (415) 868-0970;  commonweal.org.

Heart of Gold—The Lodge at CordeValle

CordeValle translates roughly to “heart of the valley,” and this heart beats strongly of service and quality. Just outside of San Martin, in the rolling foothills between Morgan Hill and Gilroy (about 125 miles from Sacramento), this picturesque luxury resort spares no effort to make you feel completely at ease.

Unique in several respects, CordeValle encompasses 1,700 quiet, tranquil acres studded with graceful, mature oaks and sycamores, with only 45 guest quarters spread among three locations separate from the main services lodge. Miles away from any traffic, it’s peaceful here, the air filled with birdsong.

The lodge houses a fine restaurant, a large bar opening to a dining patio, meeting rooms, a reading/lending library with collections of books on golf and DVDs to borrow. The resort’s high-ceilinged, open Craftsman-style architecture emphasizes rich, clear pine and redwood. Furnishings are comfortable, augmented by fireplaces and fire pits indoors and out. The spa has private men’s and women’s locker rooms, steam, sauna, whirlpool, huge “rainwater” overhead showers and an outdoor swimming pool. Spa treatments (some specifically for men or women) include a long list of wraps, facials, pedicures and massages, making creative use of grape seed, eucalyptus, mint and other of the area’s native ingredients. Near the lodge you’ll find the golf course pro shop, a grill and a trellised patio overlooking a small pond—a perfect place to watch the sun set. The challenging 18-hole golf course (designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.) plays longer than its 7,114 yards as it meanders up and down the slopes. Choose to stay in a bungalow suite, guest villa or fairway home loaded with creature comforts and handsome design: ceiling fans, fireplaces, king beds with Italian linens, private patios, satellite TVs, whirlpool tubs, large glass showers, even small wall safes for valuables. Rates start at $525. Seven miles of hiking trails snake around the foothills, with nicely designed stops including a yoga platform and a couple of inviting hammocks. As part of the permitting for the development, the resort had to incorporate viticulture (historically significant here) into the plan. Thus the presence of Clos LaChance winery, a gorgeous facility with a tasting room, bocce court, beautifully landscaped picnic and event grounds, and a wide selection of increasingly estate-grown reds and whites. All in all, you won’t want to leave, but when you do you should have your spirits lifted, your energy restored by this charming oasis. The Lodge at CordeValle, One CordeValle Club Dr., San Martin; (408) 695-4500 or toll-free (877) 255-2626; cordevalle.com.

Ojai Valley Inn and Spa

Near Santa Barbara, Spanish Colonial-style architecture and decor pay tribute to the area’s rich heritage. The Spa, designed in the style of a Spanish Revival village with pale walls and terra-cotta accents, has 28 treatment rooms (six with fireplaces), and offers a full range of body and facial treatments, including aromatherapy, massage (also offered for couples) and hydrotherapy (try the hydrating Elderberry Wrap and the Ojai Honey Scrub). It has a 60-foot lap pool, Turkish bath, Swiss showers (with nine showerheads for massage) and an outdoor cafe serving organic wrap sandwiches and freshly blended fruit smoothies. Guests may take classes in aerobics, stretching, tai chi, and strengthening and toning. Ask about special packages for brides, girlfriends and birthdays. Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, 905 Country Club Road, Ojai; toll-free (888) 697-8780 or (805) 646-5511; ojairesort.com.  Mii Amo—Cradled in Sedona, Ariz., this red-rock haven combines contemporary architecture and spa techniques with Native American history and tradition. Five "journey" programs are offered: Spiritual Exploration; Healthy Lifestyle; De-Stress Mind & Body; Rejuvenation of Mind & Body, an Anti-Aging Approach; and Ayurvedic Balance. A typical morning: Wake up in one of the 16 casitas; greet the day with a Hatha yoga class; enjoy the outdoor whirlpool, a watsu water massage or time alone in the meditation room. The Crystal Grotto, a round, domed room for meditation modeled after the Native American kiva, is capped with a skylight to let light bounce off the crystals inside. Amenities include 19 indoor and five outdoor treatment rooms, seven pools (indoors and out), exercise equipment, saunas, steam rooms and a full class schedule. A dazzling array of spa treatments for individuals and couples integrates elements of traditional Native American culture. (Example: Blue Corn Vichy treatment, using a blend of blue corn with mineral salt crystals and oil to make a vigorous scrub.) Unique cappers: ayurvedic services, astrology readings, hypnosis, past-life regression therapy and Aura Soma Therapy (in-depth color reading based on your choice of four "equilibrium oils"). Private nutrition counseling can help you deal with a variety of issues ranging from losing weight to slowing down the aging process by eating the right type of foods. Mii Amo, 525 Boynton Canyon Road, Sedona; toll-free (888) 749-2137; miiamo.com. 

The Golden Door

Nestled in a valley near San Diego, this sanctuary for women offers weeklong mind-body fitness programs in a Japanese country inn setting. Only 40 guests per week stay in rooms with private patios surrounded by landscaped courtyards of camellia bushes, koi ponds and antique Japanese art. Gourmet spa cuisine is enhanced with produce from the organic gardens. The staff-to-guest ratio runs about 4-to-1; you are assigned a fitness guide who helps you during your stay and remains available to you after you leave. Come here for fitness, meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong. The Golden Door, P. O. Box 463077, Escondido; (760) 744-5777; goldendoor.com.

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