There are two chief categories of human at a health retreat and in my modest experience, one of them is absolutely not me. I’m the sort who has a few cheeky pinots one school night and, after a frank look at my thighs, books the Inner Wisdom package online in a moment of self-loathing. She’s not like that. She’s the sort who planned this well in advance as part of an ongoing program of ‘wellness’ and ‘self-care’.
I’m the sort who can’t say either ‘wellness’ or ‘self-care’ without cracking up. She’s much nicer than me. Her Ayurvedic body type is Vata.
Actually, I refuse to have an Ayurvedic body type. And I refuse to go to swallow the east-meets-west grab-bag of science-lite nonsense purveyed by most wellness retreats. But, what I don’t refuse is handing over the care of myself entirely to a Totalitarian Health Regime. Because, goodness knows I need it more than slender, self-disciplined Vata.
And it is independent Vata and not Baby Razer who may be best suited to the pillowy Polynesian setting of Lord Howe Island for a relatively self-guided health-retreat. While marvellously free of the hippy drivel one must generally bear at dedicated health resorts, it is also free of supervision. And I’m the kind of infant who yearns for discipline.
In recent years, I have taken the standard week-long retreat at Golden Door and Gwinganna. A deep aversion to health hocus pocus notwithstanding, I found great benefit in both experiences. By which I obviously mean, my thighs looked a shit-ton better after five days of kale, bushwalking and sadistic ballet Pilates. I also reduced my caffeine intake and slowed the pace of my light-speed temper. But. Who are we kidding? We of the I-booked-drunk-online wellness cult don’t cough up two grand to become better humans. We do it to become hotter.
But, there are many people who do it to become better. These are the people who exercise regularly and cook healthfully and Just Say No to all of the things to which I am inexorably drawn. (Sugar. Coffee. Booze. Making fun of reiki healing.) They are already super-hot and look great even in Lorna Jane’s most ill-advised lycra blend. They actually go to these places for fun. And these people, whom I genuinely admire, would thrive in the ‘self-care’ atmosphere of the Lord Howe week.
I tend to prosper under discipline. This is because I have all the self-restraint of a young cocker spaniel and I need a grownup to tell me what to do. The staff at Gwinganna in particular are among the nation’s most gently persuasive puppy trainers and I love, love, love that they knock, softly but authoritatively, on one’s door every morning at dawn. They force one to perform a week’s worth of exercise before breakfast every single day and they take bowel motions very seriously. In a single week. I enjoyed three conversations with staff about my poo, one rectal lavage, one bowel massage and one excellent seminar on Advanced Shitting. I very much enjoyed my return to the anal stage and for me, the most efficient route to better habits is being treated again like a child. Gwinganna is like a sandalwood Nanny who wipes your arse, coaxes you out of bed and makes you eat your greens.
The Wellness Week at Lord Island’s Pinetrees is, by contrast, like hanging out with your really together big sister. She doesn’t insist that you do anything but leads by beautiful example.
For a few precious months each year, compact blonde yogi to-the-stars Charlotte Dodson is the centrepiece of a week intended to help you shift gears and achieve hitherto untried bendy-ness. Before breakfast and dinner, her excellent classes in hatha had me attempting the sort of crochet normally better left to human wool. She is a teacher of the sort who tends to hands-on correction which I, being the sort who loves to be babied, really appreciate.
These classes, mercifully short on hocus pocus chit-chat, are appended with bushwalks led by the lodge’s charming hosts. Many of which I did not attend because unless someone talks to me like I am an idiot toddler, I tend not to respond. I need clear guidelines; not serving suggestions. And so I found the relaxed nature of the quite lovely resort prompted me only to sit on my arse and read seven terrible celebrity autobiographies in a row. No one guilt-tripped me and no one stopped me from drinking coffee and cramming the afternoon tea treats intended for non-wellness guests into my filthy facehole.
I may have returned home 1.5 kilograms heavier but on the upside, I do have an improved understanding of Chelsea Handler’s long and dangerous battle with frozen food.
On paper, this health-vacation looks set to deliver promising results and it certainly may do so for someone who is a little bit more grownup than me. (Read: just about everyone north of ten.) And certainly, the presence of a friend or a partner might have shored up my commitment to flexibility and fat-loss. But I was the only guest going stag and even though I am a creditably sociable type, I felt – as one never does at Gwinganna which is packed with other singles – like Nigella No Friends.
There was, it should be said, a large group of late-thirties ladies having a marvellous and productive time. I mean, frankly, it’s kind of difficult not to be impressed by a place that looks much as though the producers from Lost passed it over for unfeasible beauty.
The look of Lord Howe is *total* Polynesia overdrive. Its forested rise, Mount Gower, looks like a green souffle baked for fussy angels and it will blow your eyes out and/or cause you to commune with your volcano goddess. Or, if you are me, it will annoy the heck out of you because WHAT is the point of a wellness retreat on the Pacific’s sweetest rock if you can’t Instagram the bitch?
This place with few phones, no mobile communications that do not require you to say “10-4 Good Buddy” and NO INTERNET missed out on fibre-to-the-beach. I am a very shallow person and so I found it trying to practice my asanas at sunrise knowing that (a) a nude celebrity outrage was gaining steam without me and (b) I couldn’t send my dude pictures of my dinner and advancing yoga abs.
Of course, if you are with pals, the no smartphone thing is probably brilliant. I found it terrifying. Almost as terrifying as the flight to the island.
In the tiny Dash-8, I wept softly into my tray-table for two hours, regretting my life’s choices and certain that they would soon be erased by death. Like Aaliyah. Except much older and with no musical talent of any kind.
I can actually see how all of this otherness might make for an extraordinary retreat, though. Because here on this beautiful rock, you must make a gesture of surrender. You must surrender to the idea of the ocean or to the unblinking network icon on your phone.
But I tend to surrender best to nurses who ask me questions about my poo. I am a baby. Lord Howe Island’s Pinetrees Wellness Week is not for babies. It is for confident people who never make bookings on a whim late at night. It is for impressive grownups.
Helen attended Pinetrees Wellness Weeks with Charlotte Dodson on Lord Howe Island courtesy of ADM communications.