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Healing in the Hinterland

With its tranquil forest setting, organic home-grown produce and therapeutic treatments, a stay at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat sets the benchmark for wellness.

It was while tucked away in Australia’s Gold Coast Hinterland that my life changed. A twisting mountain road and a steep eucalyptus-lined track led to where mindful wellbeing began. Stepping out of the vehicle was like stepping into another era, with charming heritage buildings peering from the foliage.

My Aboriginal-inspired Mulberry Suite came decked out with reclaimed timbers and louvred windows breathing the outside in. With no TV or mobile reception, I began the 7-day detox program.

Gwinganna days began on a grassy hillside with a 6.00am Qi Gong class. A form of tai chi, the movements, postures, and deep, meaningful breaths created peace and balance in the mind and body. Just the sight of Tallebudgera Valley rolling towards the Gold Coast at first light was a therapy in itself, connecting me not only to my own body, but also to the natural environment around me.

After breakfast, there were yin (gentle) and yang (energetic) activities to enjoy. We practised yoga and meditation in an open pavilion, heard our cores groan during Pilates, and got breathy during aqua classes. Or we simply enjoyed the two infinity pools overlooking the hinterland beyond. Devoid of harsh chemicals, they are filtered naturally through an ionised purifying system, keeping the skin hydrated.

Most cleansing was the dynamic tribal dance class devised by Stephen McInnes. Through self-expression, we danced freeform to the beat of his drum, clearing our energy pathways as we celebrated our liberated selves. The session culminated in a group meditation session when some participants shed tears of release. They reported this as being able to finally ‘let go’ of something they had been holding onto in life.

At the core of the Gwinganna retreats is the philosophy of food as medicine. In collaboration with the head chef, a nutritionist designs Gwinganna’s local, seasonal, organic and wholefood menus. And as this was a detox week, there was no red meat, dairy foods, gluten, coffee or alcohol.Breakfasts featured nutrient-packed dishes, including: brown rice porridge, poached eggs with creamed corn, and mushroom crepes. For lunch and dinner, we savoured inventive wholefoods from the sea and soil. Plated up were: cauliflower and brazil nut soup, walnut-crusted barramundi, grilled snapper with quinoa and macadamia cream, turmeric chicken with coconut cream, and mango-based salads with produce cut fresh from the organic orchard and vegetable garden outside. And enjoying amaranth nut bread and tahini balls for morning and afternoon tea left us satiated as well as nourished.

The diet strategically aimed to reduce inflammation in the gut, balance blood sugar levels, improve digestion and optimise liver function.

With Shelley Prior, Gwinganna’s organic gardener, we explored the property’s bountiful allotments. Shelley pointed out some of her favourite recipe ingredients.

“I use this rose-scented geranium in coconut milk to make pannacotta,” she said. “And these red flowers and leaves on the pineapple sage bush, I put in ice blocks.” Shelley also likes to use society garlic with red onions on goat’s feta with lime juice and fresh mint.

“The leaf of herb-Robert can be used for medicinal purposes, and as a secondary herb in peppermint tea,” recommended Shelley. “It alkalises your system, is anti-cancerous, and oxygenates every cell in your body.” She then pulled out the green calyx of a snapdragon, and ate its flower.

We saw the pink flowers of the holy basil/tulsi plant—an adaptogenic herb that absorbs cortisol. When Shelley snapped off some asparagus for us to taste, it burst with flavour and crunch.

“Just the sight of Tallebudgera Valley rolling towards the Gold Coast at first light was a therapy in itself”

“One of the aims of coming to Gwinganna, is returning your body back to its natural circadian rhythm”

Throughout our detox week, we also attended daily seminars led by resident and visiting health and wellness presenters. Senior naturopath, Shannon McNeill, led an empowering talk on detoxification with a strong focus on epigenetics: gene expression.

“We have 25,000 genes, and while we can’t change our genetic makeup, we can control how our genes behave; through diet, exercise, stress-management and sleep,” said Shannon. “Food is nutrigenomic, so through our diet, we have the ability to switch on beneficial genes, and switch off genes that may predispose us to illness.”

Our bodies are clever machines, designed to heal and regenerate, and detoxification is encoded in our DNA. But how we nourish ourselves today is how we feel tomorrow. So Shannon questioned whether we are thriving or surviving.

Our liver never clocks off. And at night, it works extra hard to mop up toxins, otherwise they are reabsorbed into the bloodstream and fat cells. Green vegetables are the best gift we can give our liver to keep it clean.

“For a cleansing breakfast juice, blend an orange, half a lemon, aloe vera, turmeric, ginger and a cup of water,” suggested Shannon.

In another seminar, Sharon Kolkka, Gwinganna’s wellness director, reminded us of the importance of sleep.

“One of the aims of coming to Gwinganna, is returning your body back to its natural circadian rhythm,” she said. When the sun rises, we wake up. During the day, our gut creates serotonin, which in turn produces melatonin.

“If the gut is sick, it doesn’t produce serotonin, so you won’t produce melatonin—then you don’t sleep.” Serotonin is lowered by sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

On another day, dietician and nutritionist, Carolina Rossi, talked about optimum nutrition. “We are prehistoric bodies living in modern times. Today, inflammation is the starting point of most—if not all—chronic conditions,” she said. “Our bodies are highly adaptive, but too much inflammation for too long invites illness.”

Acidity causes inflammation, so we must alkalise our bodies with fruits and vegetables. Legumes, grains, nuts and seeds are also alkalising foods. And turmeric is the most powerful anti-inflammatory herb.

Sugar and caffeine also cause inflammation. When we crave sugary foods, it means that our blood sugar is imbalanced. And if we ‘need’ a coffee to perk us up, we are probably addicted to caffeine. These stimulants interfere with our insulin levels.

When we are temporarily stressed, we produce adrenalin for a fight or flight reaction. Similarly, when we drink coffee, the pick-me-up we experience is our adrenal glands producing adrenaline, telling our bodies to run. Of course, we don’t run, but we still produce cortisol. Continued raised cortisol levels deplete hormones essential for health, such as: serotonin, dopamine, GABA, thyroxine and insulin. Managing stress, avoiding sugar, caffeine and alcohol, and balancing our hormones should be a way of life. It’s about retraining the taste buds.

Afternoons at Gwinganna brought Dreamtime: a period where we retreated to the Spa Sanctuary. Around 200 treatments aimed at ‘strategic rest’ were available, which took place in rooms set around a central tropical palm grove and giant eucalypts. Massage therapists, acupuncturists, aromatherapists and kinesiologists addressed our personal needs, from emotional stress and adrenal exhaustion to weight issues and auto-immune disease.

First, I experienced Integrated Massage Therapy.  My therapist’s intuitive hands read my muscles like braille. He used deep tissue massage and passive stretching techniques to restore functional movement. Reflexology then unblocked my congested pathways, and acupressure and breathing exercises enabled my neck and shoulders to unlock.

On another day, I experienced The Dreaming: Gwinganna’s 3-hour signature ritual infused with Australian native plant essential oils and desert salts. A full-body mud wrap, followed by a kodo massage and a hand and foot treatment, led to a snore-inducing scalp massage. So powerful was this therapy, that I slept uninterrupted that night—something I hadn’t done for years.

Then there was the sanctuary’s exquisite steam room. Featuring a giant amethyst crystal, it glittered beneath the changing lights, while head-clearing eucalyptus oil impregnated the circulating steam.

By the end of my week of healing on the mountain, I felt thoroughly detoxed, cleansed, nourished and re-energised. I headed to my bed and deeply inhaled the moist, rainforest air. I’d learned to let go of the past, to not worry about the future, and to live in the now. Healing—it’s a bucket-list destination.

Travel information

Emirates (www.emirates.com) fly from Dubai to Gold Coast Airport via Sydney.

Multi award-winning and ecotourism-certified Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is located half an hour’s drive from the airport. A shuttle transfer is included for guests. Choose between 16 wellness packages from two to seven nights, and from a variety of accommodation categories. The above 7-night Gwinganna Detox program costs US$2,760pp. Visit: www.gwinganna.com

Travellers to Australia require a Visitor Visa.
Apply at: www.border.gov.au

Words & Images by: Marie Barbieri

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