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The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

Fat Mum Slim /

The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

For about the past six months, or probably more, I’ve been feeling a little ‘meh’. I was watching a show last week on TV and it was showing the four stages of stress, and it had the first stage being fine but a little bit frazzled, the second stage was stressed but excited and creative, the third stage was overwhelmed and not really coping and the four stage was a total breakdown.

I’ve been sitting in the third stage on and off for these past six months. There have been points when I’ve felt so paralysed with stress that I couldn’t actually function. I have to-do lists that I couldn’t {and can’t} make my way through because it’s too overwhelming. I knew I had to do something before I got to that fourth stage. I’ve been taking small steps to making life better personally; exercising regularly {which always helps with my mental health}, saying no to work stuff, taking time for myself, and putting my health first.

I know I’m not alone with this struggle though. I think we, as mothers and women, we have so much on our plates. We’re juggling ALL THE THINGS. Working from home is a blessing for me, and but it’s also hard too. I don’t ever leave work, and I always feel like I’m failing at something.

Well, aren’t things sound depressing now?

I’ve been harping on to Hubby, friends and anyone that would listen that I wanted {read: needed} to do something. I dreamed of locking myself in a hotel room for a week and just plowing through my to-do list. Realistically though, I knew that I needed to stop, disconnect from everything and look after myself. So, I decided to make it happen.

There’s a popular retreat near home {only 20 minutes} that I’d heard lots about and decided to try. I dragged my sister along with me {and by dragged I mean she jumped at the chance}. Even though I’d heard lots about Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, I didn’t really know what it involved. I decided not to over-research and go with the flow. All I knew going in was that I wanted to totally disconnect, and find space to breathe.

Here’s what happened…

DAY ONE

I packed the smallest bag I own and decided to only take active wear and one pair of jeans, because I wanted the weekend to be about simplifying. When I travel I usually take everything but the kitchen sink out of habit, so it felt weird to be able to fit everything I needed into one small bag. There was no laptop, no make-up, and not even a charger for my phone. I was going off the grid. I packed a few magazines and a book in case boredom hit, which I secretly hoped it did.

We drove up the steepest driveway I might have ever experienced, reaching the gates of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. The gates were huge and did make me wonder whether they were to keep us in, or keep the real world out. I pressed the buzzer, and then drove on through.

We were welcomed by a member of the Gwinganna team {Tracy} and given a quick guide of the retreat. It’s a beautiful space on the top of a mountain, with old buildings brought in from nearby towns and restored, which made it feel like stepping back in time a little. We helped ourselves to herbal tea {our first of many} and soup before heading to our room.

My sister, Sarah, and I stayed in the Orchard Suites, which are a five minute walk from the hub of Gwinganna. It was interesting to walk in and not see the usual tech you’d find in a hotel room {like a TV}, which only reminded us that this wasn’t a resort, but a retreat. It was a welcome change. {Guests are encouraged to go completely digital free, with no phones allowed in common areas {only in rooms}. There’s also no smoking, no drinking {except a wine at dinner} and no outside food allowed in.}

The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

If Sarah and I love anything, it’s got to be pampering. With our stay we had one complimentary massage each {each guest has the same, longer stays mean more treatments}, but we bumped up the treatments to a total of three each during to maximise the experience. Our first treatment was a massage so we headed down to the spa to get ready.

The Gwinganna Spa is the biggest spa in the southern hemisphere and is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s a beautiful indoor/outdoor space that you could easily get lost in, making the most of the beautiful greenery and landscape. I had an 80 minute deep tissue massage which was as bliss as it sounds.

The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

It was then time to head to dinner. But first I want to tell you about something we experienced. As we walked around the property we saw people also staying for the weekend. Each time we’d greet them and say hello, and the response was not always the same. Some people ignored us. Some smiled, but few very rarely said hello back. Sarah and I noted that it was odd and decided that maybe the retreat was an experience for people, and they were just settling in. It’s also a pretty, special spiritual place for many, so we didn’t want to impose on their experience so decided to hold back a little.

The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

At dinner there were table settings, so each guest is placed with seven others to chat and eat. At first, I was so blissed out from the massage that I wasn’t sure how I felt about making small talk with strangers. I would have been happy to eat alone, and then head straight back to sleep. I learned over the weekend that the people are part of the experience, and while at first it was a little challenging {especially for this old introvert} it was one of my favourite things. Guests are known only by their first name, and are encouraged not to ask each other about their work or what they do. Each guest wears a name tag {even Hugh Jackman does when he stays – he went for two weeks, and loved it so much that he decided to stay a year and then become a part owner}.

The food was beautiful. It’s focused on a S.L.O.W. food movement {seasonal, local, organic and wholefood}, and is completely gluten and dairy free. Some of it is even sourced from the gardens at Gwinganna. On the Weekend Wellness Retreats guests are even treated to a glass of organic wine, which we had by the fire.

We finished our meal, and then walked up the hill to our rooms to head to bed {the Gwinganna bedtime is 8:30pm} and we fell asleep pretty quickly.

DAY TWO

I want to tell you that I slept like a baby especially after I had a week of the kids waking my numerous times each night, but I didn’t. I kept waking, worrying that I’d sleep through the morning wake-up call. Each morning one of the team at Gwinganna stopped by to tap on the door and wake me with a “Good morning Chantelle” at 5:30am.

I showered, and dressed and headed down to the tea area for a lemon and tumeric tea {how each day begins} and then a Qi Gong class {a form of Tai Chi}. One of things that surprised me was that guests aren’t given access to a schedule, instead plans are given verbally over breakfast. It means there’s no planning or plotting, instead it’s all about being present. At Gwinganna guests are encouraged to choose between Ying and Yang each morning for activities. Ying is a more gentle, slower paced activity, while Yang is a little hard core. They also encourage you to go against what you resist, and since I’d been pushing it pretty hard at the gym and in life at general I was leaning more towards the more Ying activities. My sister though, she encouraged me to choose Yang, so I found myself on a challenging hike with around 20 other guests.

The hike broke me a little, but in a good way. I stayed at the back of the pack with one of the beautiful volunteers, and soon realised that the hike was not just challenging but pretty much required rock climbing and making my way up a practically vertical mountain. I cried. I had a slight panic attack. I wanted to give up. I had a moment. Not only was the mountain a physical challenge, it was also a mental challenge for me. I had a choice half way up that mountain, amidst a panic attack, whether to give up and go back down or keep going. All of me wanted to go back down. Some small part of me wanted to overcome the challenge, so I kept going. Reaching the top, and seeing the beautiful view was worth it all.

The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

After the hour long hike we headed down for a shot of apple cider vinegar {really good for digestion and something I’ve continued since returning} and breakfast. We then had a stretch class, and then another activity for an hour, but I decided to head up to my room for some alone time, because it was something that I was really craving.

As I sat in my room, it felt odd to not be able to switch on the TV or scroll through Facebook and Instagram. I even resisted grabbing for a magazine or book, and decided to just stop and breathe. So often I do three or four things at once. I can be talking on the phone, answering emails, watching TV and eating lunch at the same time. I know it sounds like such a simple thing to just ‘be’ but that moment was almost as pivotal as the hike for me. I needed to relearn how to simplify again.

Another big moment for me was opting in for a seminar and InBody assessment. Only a small group of guests opted in for this one, but it was one of my most favourite things. I stood on a machine that delivered a report on my total body composition. I was half expecting to get some really disappointing results, instead I got ticks for great metabolism, awesome bone mass, great muscle mass and excellent hydration. I learned that my weight is mostly hormonal, and learned how to best manage that. The whole seminar was educational, and delivered in a really fun, positive way that everyone in the group seemed to enjoy.

Each day at Gwinganna is broken up into two parts; the mornings are for activities and the afternoons are for Dreamtime. Dreamtime is pretty much about self care, and restoration. It might be sleeping for some, swimming for others, strolling, or treatments in the spa for people like myself and Sarah.

The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: From Mind Full to Mindful

After lunch {lunches are the biggest meals and amazing!} I spent my whole afternoon in the spa. I tried out the steam room {awesome!} and had an Integrated Massage with Steve {it included chakra healing and more – highly recommend} and a Marma Point Therapy with Lisa {this was my favourite and one I’d get again}. I wish I could describe the spa better, but it’s something you won’t fully grasp the beauty of unless you experience it yourself. It’s just some kind of magic.

After the panic attack in the morning, and not having sugar, I had a cranky headache that just would not budge. I joined a meditation class before dinner, and then headed over to the restaurant to a delicious meal of grain-fed beef, pumpkin, mushrooms and red wine jus. The table also had 3-4 huge platters of vegetable dishes which were almost too much, but very welcomed. There was always enough food {I never felt hungry}. Our host for the weekend was Carmen, and when I mentioned I had a headache, she put together a whole heap of supplements and vitamins to help me through it. I headed straight to bed and had one of the best nights sleep I’ve ever had.

DAY THREE

During our stay at Gwinganna, the weather was really wet with some of the biggest rainfalls the coast has seen all year. I thought I’d be disappointed that there was no sunshine, but instead I felt so happy that it made the stay more beautiful. Due to a little too much rain in the morning, the hikes were called off and instead I made my way to an old restored church for an intimate yoga class, the first yoga class I’ve ever done.

We then enjoyed breakfast, a little downtime back in our room, and then another amazing seminar with a guy called Carl who looked about 27 but was actually 52 {and you bet as soon as I learned that information I sat up and listened about how he lived his life so I could look as good as he did. A girl can dream!}. He shared insights into digestion and well-being, while I feverishly scribbled notes in my diary. We then enjoyed our last lunch, said farewell to our newfound friends, and drove back down that driveway and through the big gates.


When people talked about Gwinganna to me they told me it would be life-changing, but they never really explained just how it would change my life or how it changed theirs. I absolutely agree with them though. As soon as we exited those gates I switched my phone back on, but didn’t look at if for an hour or so after returning home – simply because I didn’t have the desire too. I went in without expectation, only with the hope that I would emerge less stressed and more calm. I did. As I sat with my husband, sipping more tea the afternoon after he told me I was different somehow. I felt different. My body felt like it was no longer existing in flight or fright mode, and had turned itself down a notch into a more peaceful existence. I thought not a lot could change in just two and a half days, but a lot did. Of course, now I want to make that investment to go and stay for a whole week and see what can really happen.


Thank you to the lovely team at Gwinganna for looking after us. I stayed as a guest of Gwinganna. All images are by the Gwinganna team, because I packed my camera away while going digital-free.
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  • Kate McLean

    Oh my goodness Chantelle, I have a new life goal – to stay at Gwinganna and experience it like you have! This sounds like heaven and exactly what all Mums need. I’ve always wondered exactly what went on at these retreats so thank you for sharing. I’m going to make it my goal for 2018 x

  • I’ve heard such amazing things about Gwinganna and have always wanted to go. It sounds just dreamy!

  • This sounds like a lovely experience and something I need in my life ASAP (yesterday if I am being honest with myself). Thank you for sharing this as it is a great reminder that I promised myself that I would put self and mental health care at the top of my list this year. I’m glad you were able to unwind and have this experience. xo

  • Belinda Docwra

    Oh it sounds amazing, expect for the rock climbing bit!!!!
    I’ve been dreaming of a couple of days alone in a hotel room.
    Just me, a big bed, a bath and a couple of books – but then the guilt creeps in because right now we ALL need a break!!

  • Jenni from Styling Curvy

    Ok…this is on my ‘need to do’ list. It sounds incredible.

    I had a friend who stayed there, she booked for a week but freaked out about switching off and did a runner. She hopped on a plane and headed south to me in Adelaide. She ended up getting sick and stayed two weeks…She really needed a Gwinganna intervention.

    My cousin grows produce on his property for the retreat too.

  • This sounds wonderful & terrifying simultaneously. I know I need time to myself but it scares me! And the headache!! I can only imagine xx

  • Jacq

    I love hearing about other people’s experiences at Gwinganna! I did a 5 night stay a number of years ago, after a bad break up, and I absolutely adored my stay. I’m really keen to head back for another stay, as I think I would get so much more out of it second time round!

  • kourtney christopher

    This sounds absolutely beautiful!!!! And a place I need to be at!!! This place would help me sooooo much with my depression & anxiety. Being a single mum of two little ones , working FT is really taking it out of me. 🙁

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