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My Amazing Time at Gwinganna Health Retreat, Queensland, Australia 

When I first heard the word health retreat, I visualized juice cleanses, limited food and lots of yoga and chanting. Not  delicious organic cuisine, fun exercise classes, rainforest hikes, interesting lectures and luxurious spa treatments.

Gwinganna completely changed my opinion on health retreats.

It is a beautiful and magical retreat…quiet and serene…a place to escape to…. somewhere to learn and think. They believe optimal wellbeing is achieved by paying equal attention to nourishment, functional movement, emotional wellbeing and effective management of lifestyle stress.  Arriving at Gwinganna immediately makes you feel welcome and accepted no matter what your reason for being there. You can feel the stress disappear as soon as you settle in.

I was lucky enough to go with my beautiful mum, who had visited once before. We stayed for 4 nights and took part in the Sleep, Stress and Sugar program.

Now people come to this retreat for all sorts of reasons. These range from weight loss, addiction/ detox, bereavement, relationship issues to needing time to relax, unwind and to have down time. I myself went for the experience, to spend time with my mum and to of course unwind, learn and broaden my knowledge. We both got so much out of our four-night stay and left feeling rested, calm and totally in tune with our minds bodies and souls.

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Day 1

We arrived mid afternoon on the Sunday and after check-in and unpacking we had time to explore the retreat before orientation and dinner.

I have to admit I was slightly nervous not knowing fully the type of food that I was going to be offered, since lets face it I’m a control freak when it comes to my food. But after the first bite of my amazing vegan curry served to me on the first night  I was in food heaven!

We went to bed that night happy to be there and excited to start our health journey. It all began the next morning with a 5.30am wake up call! At that time of the morning it is pitch black and cold, a hard time of the morning to put training gear on and to be civil.  We slowly walked to the dining room in the dark where the tea station offered detox tea or energizing tea. Out on the grass area we then were taught Qi Gong whilst watching the sunrise….always being encouraged to center on our breathing. To say it was breathtaking would be an under statement.  It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. We followed this with a piece of organic fruit some warm tea while offered 3-4 different exercise options. Each morning mum and I decided on the bush walk, which let me tell you got progressively more challenging each day.

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8am was breakfast time…the only downside was that you had to down an apple cider vinegar shot that was waiting at the entrance to the dining room.  I can still feel the burn as it traveled down my throat. Something I’m definitely not going to miss.

Our reward each morning for our long one-hour bush walk was breakfast. This consisted of fresh fruit, porridge or cereal followed with a delicious cooked meal of eggs, beans avocado and  different cooked vegetables. One morning I had an amazing breakfast of sweet potato wedges served on top of corn mash with a side of avocado. I was drooling.

We were given the schedule for the day. Generally this consisted of a stretch class and some kind of yin or yang exercise option. Yang being macular and meaning boxing, weight training or some form of intense invigorating exercise or ying which is feminine and consists of yoga, Pilates or meditation. We tried a mixture depending on how sore or not we were.

Mid morning was a healthy snack and fruit together with copious amounts of tea. The daily seminars started at 11.15am and went through to 1pm. Lunch was served at 1pm and was always a delicious warm meal with a range of different salads vegetables and protein. Each meal was varied and plentiful. Mealtime was definitely my favorite part of the retreat.  I so wished I could have taken photos and Instagram my mouthwatering meals. #foodheaven #jelousmuch

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Now came dream-time, which basically meant we were free to do whatever until 7pm dinner. Generally we would have a spa treatment booked  which took up some time and then the rest of our free time was spent reading in our rooms, relaxing or going for a stroll.  Dinner was served at 7pm and then we all crawled into bed for an early night, exhausted but happy after such a full day.

Day 2

This was the day that we started to notice a bit of pain being experienced among the group. Many had headaches, many had nausea and an upset stomach and a lot were restless and couldn’t sleep. Thankfully my body is use to their style of food and activity and I managed to skip any detox symptoms….  others weren’t so lucky. Detoxing, as they suggest to do before you arrive at the retreat is critical if you do not want to spend days adjusting to no caffeine, alcohol, wheat or sugar.

It was interesting to watch the on-site nurse walk around at lunch and dinner checking if guests needed magnesium for muscle cramps and headaches or sleepy time drops to help sleep. If only we all thought this way when we had muscle tension or insomnia and not turn to nurofen/panadol.

On day 2 Mum and I decided to take part in the yang exercise option offered that morning. Apparently we had a lot of energy left after the earlier rainforest walk, or perhaps it was the super healthy, super fit Greek God who was taking a boot camp style class.  We had absolutely no idea what we were in for.

I think it was one of the hardest workouts I’ve done, many crying out “when will this stop” followed by a lot of laughs and a lot of squats. So many squats!! Definitely not what I would of expected  at a health retreat, but so much fun. There are 3 different levels of fitness exercise offered each day that cater to all ages and abilities so if you are reading this and not very fit do not be put off.

Day 3

I would have happily stayed in bed a little bit longer this morning as 5.30am is pitch black  and today it is wet and cold. Todays lecture was part one on stress and was my favorite topic of the three ‘S’s’.

We learnt about how our thoughts turn into feelings that turn into behavior and ends up going full circle around again. This was such an eye opener. It made me realize your thoughts are not who you are, they are just thoughts passing through. They can so easily be changed. So start becoming the master of your own thoughts.

I spent the afternoon relaxing at the spa with a body works massage that was the most incredible massage I have had. The therapist put my body into many different positions that exposed my muscles such as, lying on my front with one arm positioned under and across my body. This exposed my scapula that she then massaged. It was definitely an intense experience and I was thankful that I could practice my new deep breathing techniques we were learning in Qi Gong. I came out of the massage wobbly legged and in a daze but 100% relaxed!

Day 4

The program finished with lunch and we then drove to Brisbane that afternoon. We still managed to fit in a grueling bush walk called the The Caroda Trail. It is only 6 kilometers in length but 3 kilometers are a steep and continuous uphill journey. Definitely not for the faint hearted!  Breakfast was well deserved this day.

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The final lecture was part two on stress. This brought on a lot of interesting debate about how we  use various coping methods when we are stressed.  These included avoidance and the silent treatment.

I am definitely going to write an article on this subject as I learnt a lot of interesting information that I think would benefit you, so stay posted.

Our time at Gwinganna came to an end after sharing another delicious lunch with all the wonderful new friends and people we met during our stay. We were sad to leave but also ready to get back to the real world.

My top 10 things I learnt during my time at Gwinganna:

  • You can fit in so much when you wake at 5.30 a.m. (Qi gong, bush walks, aerobic exercise, yoga/meditation and lectures).  All this before lunch!
  • It’s good to push and test our bodies and minds as often as possible. We did this daily with intense bush walks, yoga, pilates, gym aerobic classes, eating many different foods and stimulating seminars.
  • Apple cider vinegar burns and tastes awful but is so good for your digestion.  We should all start the day with 1 tsp before we have breakfast.
  • Don’t drink while you eat. During our stay we were encouraged to not drink with our food. This allows the body time to process the food and for the stomach acid to properly break down the food without being diluted by fluid.
  • We all need a little bit of yin and yang in our life for optimal balance. Think of adding in some stretching, Pilates, yoga and meditation along with cardio, walks and resistance training.
  • Nourishment from organic food is the way to go.  Optimal health and wellbeing come from optimal nourishment.
  • We all need a little daily dream-time. Maybe it’s reading a book, going for a walk, meditating or just sitting quietly.
  • We should try and fast for 12 hours. Think, no food after 8pm and none before 8am. This will give your body time to digest its last meal and restore and heal the body before the next.
  • Sleep is crucial for the body. When we don’t sleep well everything, I mean everything is out of sync. Try and go to bed before 10pm and ideally create a night-time routine that should help ease you into sleep.
  • And last but not least start cooking at home. Get to know your food and what goes in it. Try new recipes, get creative, push your comfort zone and start switching all the processed junk foods… white flour and sugar for whole foods.

Gwinganna was the most amazing place to visit and was perfect for a little down time. We got to focus on ourselves …it captured my desire to live a better life. I loved not having to think and had complete trust I would be well looked after. I have come home  refreshed and full of ideas. I can’t wait to share them all with you.

I hope you got something out of this post and maybe, just maybe you’ll think about making a small change in your life . I would love to know if you do, so please email me at hi@reneesexton.co.nz

Have a great week everyone xx


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