health

Are health retreats worth the hype? My verdict after spending six nights at one in Queensland.

Huddled on armchairs with blankets around an enormous roaring fire, fighting the chill of the winter air, I’m surrounded by 28 people. One week ago they were strangers. Now I not only know them strangely well, but really like them. 

I was just coming to the end of six days at Eden Health Retreat, nestled in the postcard-worthy Gold Coast hinterland of the Currumbin Valley. Carpeted with luscious greenery and blessed with myriad native fauna, the retreat focuses on reconnecting with nature, relinquishing control and surrendering to self-care. (Hard gig, I know!)

Bri, our group coordinator and one of the most grounded women I’ve ever met, asks us to reflect on why we had come and what we had gained.

As we sit there under the stars, on the last hurrah of our six-night stay and breathing in the fresh air, there was a lot to say and share. This had been a week of seeing what we could gain by abstaining from common vices - coffee, alcohol, sugar and technology.

Many people come to the health retreat after illness, loss, burnout, breakdowns and hardships. Others come to simply get away from life’s treadmill.

At 6am before our morning walk. Image: Supplied.  

For some, it was the complete focus on caring for themselves, instead of everyone else, that had been their greatest joy of the week. One woman is teary as she shares how she has abandoned caring for herself for the past few years. This week, she reflects, has taught her how important it is to actually practise self-care. 

For another, it was the connection to people that was such a treasure. With Eden’s dining hall set up for communal mealtimes, days were filled talking to fellow guests. Without the distraction of constant phone notifications, it’s funny how quickly you can come to know a group of people. We talked about careers and kids, stresses and lessons, grief and beliefs. They are the kind of conversations you don’t always have the time to have back in ‘civilisation’. 

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Personally, my biggest takeaway is the digital detox. With no internet connection, I quickly learnt how reliant I have become on using my phone to entertain my brain. Not having my phone meant I tried to retrain my attention span. Again, without the notification distractions, it was funny how much I did. In six days, I read a 500-page book whilst still having days filled with other activities. Me about to do the flying fox. Image: Supplied.  

Another woman talks about the benefits of relinquishing control, even just for a week. With most people living structured lives back home, it was odd to not know what the next day would bring. At Eden, each night you are handed a schedule for the following day. You know you’ve had a good week when the hardest decision you make is whether to sleep in, go for a walk or do a yoga class in the morning.

Whilst everything is optional, the activities at Eden are one of the best parts. From long walks, pottery, pool workouts, visiting glow worms at night, to jumping off a shaky pole, there was always something interesting to do every day, if you felt like it. 

The only thing that is compulsory is mealtimes - and that’s the last thing you’d want to miss. Every day, we were given three delicious, nutritious meals plus morning and afternoon tea. With the menu designed and prepared by Head Chef Georgia Barnes (who was also the 2015 MasterChef Australia runner-up), there was never a meal where I didn’t finish the plate clean. 

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Afternoon tea one day. Image: Supplied.  

As we’re sitting there on that final night, after having just eaten a Mexican feast for our last dinner, I’m not sure if the warmth I feel is from the fire in front of me, or a feeling from inside - a feeling of true connection to the surroundings.

It’s been two weeks since I returned home to the hustle and bustle of normal life. So, what habits did I take home with me?

Before I left, I thought I couldn’t go a day without drinking at least one extra hot, skim cappuccino each morning. But I haven’t had coffee since I returned. Instead, I now have a green juice or a piece of fruit and I’ve genuinely noticed that I feel less tired - no more 3pm slumps at work. It is odd that the thing I always reached for to make me feel more awake, was possibly (nay, probably) making me feel more tired. 

We did mud masks too! Image: Supplied.  

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I’ve also noticed I use my phone less. It’s no longer the first thing I check as soon as I wake up and I consciously try to use it less throughout the day. 

The last thing I’ve incorporated into my everyday life is… stretching! On the last day of the retreat, we did a 60 minute stretch class. It was one of my favourite sessions of the week. I’ve always skipped stretching after a gym class because I thought I didn’t need it. But now, I make sure to stretch every time I go to the gym, plus at random pockets of time throughout the day.  

Oh, and I drink lots more water now too thanks to the handy water bottle they gave us, and I’ve kept. 

It is easy to understand why so many people are returning guests. 

The writer was a guest at Eden Health Retreat courtesy of the retreat.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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