A return to the circadian rhythm. It sounds a bit like a sexual act, doesn’t it? In a way, it is: raw, organic, the way nature intended.
And just as satisfying.
We had arrived at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in the Tallebudgera Hinterland on the Gold Coast for a weekend of rest and relaxation. And to reconnect with our circadian rhythm.
The world we live in has messed it all up with our bright lights, gadgets, and flashing neon enticing us to stay up and play like a nocturnal animal. Our bodies are confused and restless and slowly breaking down.
They’re designed for living in tune with the seasons that surround us and the movement of the sun.
We started our weekend at Gwinganna with a talk from Sharon Kolkka, the Wellness Director of the retreat, who offered a moment to honour the traditional custodians of the land.
A people who’ve decided they’d prefer to be nameless as this area we know as the Gold Coast Hinterland did not belong to one tribe, but many as they walked from mountains to sea to stay in connection with the earth and all their bodies needed from it.
They do not want to be recognised as nomadic people, but seasonal ones. People who were in rhythm with how the earth moved. Who hunted and gathered by day and, at night, sat around a warm red light to connect and slowly ease into sleep – keeping in tune with the circadian rhythm.
What’s circadian rhythm?
It’s the body clock.
The process our body moves through as the sun wakes us up and puts us to bed. We wake up with daylight (blue light), which signals to our brain to start making serotonin – yep the happy drug.
No more sleeping in folks. “Rise and shine,” as my mother would sing to me of a morning as she whipped open the curtains, “The world needs you Caz!”
Time to greet the sun and feel happiness.
As the sun dips below the horizon some hours of busyness later, the light turns to red and signals our bodies to start making melatonin – the sleepy drug. It’s why they recommend a good sleep comes if you close the eyes before 10pm – four hours after the sun has gone down and your body is ready to sleep.
Except we keep feeding it with blue light by way of our screens and artificial lights, so it’s confused and makes less melatonin to help us.
We become insomniacs, reaching for the glass of wine of an evening to help us drift off. Reaching for the cup of coffee in the morning to help us wake up and then the wine again in front of the bright blue glare of the screen of an evening to help us unwind. It’s why our bodies are so messed up when we fly and why earthing is a remedy I often suggest for
It’s why our bodies are so messed up when we fly and why earthing is a remedy I often suggest for overcoming jetlag.
“We’re so screwed up.” It was all I could think listening to that talk. How the hell do we fix this?
How travel helps our natural rhythms
I started to get a little agitated because it’s all well and good to know this and to experience this for a return to our circadian rhythm couple of days, but we have to return back down there – to the life that consumes us.
How do we get back to the circadian rhythm when modern life is doing everything it can to stop us? My thoughts drifted to travel as they always do.
That’s why I feel so good when I travel – I mean in a long-term sense, not those whirlwind two-day city explorations or resort stays where unwinding often means late night dinners and spins of the roulette wheels.
I mean when travel becomes a lifestyle and you move slowly and in rhythm with the earth.
Our road trip around Australia had us almost in connection to the circadian rhythm. The sun goes down and we unwind as we have no TV’s and only a few lights to keep us awake.
Even when Craig and I were backpacking we often went to bed not long after dark, and after a few chapters of a paperback book would fall asleep early. We’d be up early with the sun to run along the beach and enjoy those happy serotonin hormones.
No wonder I’m always longing to return to it.
Nature makes us happy
Then we learned about fractal patterns of nature and how the research shows that it dramatically affects our health and well being.
I took a sharp intake of breath. It’s why I’m addicted to travel and why it’s so good for my health. My gaze is focused for much of the day on the fractal patterns of nature.
A fractal is a never ending pattern, and it’s easy to agree, from trees to rivers and coastlines to mountains, nature has an abundance of them.
Layer on top of that the sounds of nature and the feeling of the warm sun on our skin or the cool breeze through your hair and you have a Zen feel good experience.
Being in nature increases our happiness and modern life is taking us away from it, particularly our children, which is having frightening implications for stress and health.
We’re shutting ourselves away in our offices or lounge rooms and on our TV screens and phones which cause an unhealthy build-up of stress, which increases our blood pressure, depletes our energy, decreases our cognitive ability and reduces our immunity.
Looking at fractal shapes generates a sense of well-being and peace in the observer. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.
It’s why I feel so calm here in my apartment looking out across the road from my balcony to the tree tops and the crashing waves. All I hear is their sound and the birds chirping and I feel at ease and happy.
Gwinganna supports natural and seasonal patterns
At the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, you’re surrounded by the fractal patterns in nature.
From the balcony of our suite, we looked out over the old orchard garden and to the pretty face wallabies and their babies jumping about. You know how much I love macropods and pretty faces are my favourite – is there a more beautiful fractal pattern?
There are no sounds other than kookaburras laughing and trees rustling, there are no strong artificial lights or imposing buildings. There’s a beautiful blend of historic buildings and modern wooden buildings that blend in with nature.
On our first evening, we walked along the sunset track for stunning views over the Tallebudgera Valley.
The clouds covered the setting sun but it was still mesmerizing. You could see each of us slowly let go of the civilized life energy that entraps us and welcome in the earth’s purity.
At Gwinganna, you end the day on the sunset track and start it on sunrise hill looking out over the ocean.
From atop of the hill as I start my morning with a gentle Qui Gong class -a restorative moving meditation – watching the sun rise up from the ocean I see the top of the Burleigh high rises and I’m thinking, “I don’t want to go back there. I don’t know how I can go back there and make it work.”
Just breathe and all will be okay
I was at the retreat to learn simple ways to unplug and integrate that back into my real world.
Our Breathe and Relax wellness weekend was lead by Andy, a guru of breathing and yoga. How funny to have a guru of breathing. But, as Andy said to us over and over gain,
“I’m not teaching you anything new. You all know this. You all did it so beautifully when you were babies. But, then you got older and started holding your breath and forgot to tap into this power that helps remove your problems and brings you back to a sense of power and peace in an instant.”
He lead us through meditation and breathing exercises and with each one it was clear the difference that conscious breathing makes to our psyche.
He had us utilizing the power of the sigh and insisted that if we were to take one thing away from the weekend it would be that. Every time we noticed ourselves holding our breaths, we are to let out a big sigh. I can imagine all the faces of the retreat attendee’s colleagues around Australia now as they suddenly start sighing over and over again in the office.
Sigh out the sickness
A big sigh was what I let out upon arrival at Gwinganna as I started to feel a few aches and pains in my body and a sore throat. We had a phone call from Kalyra’s school only an hour before to say she was not feeling well.
Gwinganna Health Retreat gave us the most comfortable bed in our Orchard Suite, permission to sleep early, and the quietest, darkest environment to help you do that effortlessly and I spent our first evening tossing and turning wide awake alternating between fever and chills and awful body aches.
I was so grateful when the morning wake up call came at 5:30am because it meant I could get up out of that bed and perhaps focus on something else other than my sick body.
There was no better place for me to be than Gwinganna.
The care I received from the staff was exceptional. A nurse was present who put me on bed rest and gave me many supportive lotions and potions (natural of course). They spent the entire weekend making immunity juices for me and doing everything they could to support and nourish my body.
I was impressed. If I was at home, I’d have the kids jumping over me and would not be able to allow my body space to heal.
The yin and yang of Gwinganna Health Retreat
I was pretty devastated though as visiting Gwinganna has been a dream of mine since I first heard of it way back in 2009. Despite being ill, I gained so much from my visit.
I’d spent the two weeks before arriving training so I could participate in the diverse activities like yang classes of boxing, and integrated animal flow classes (super interesting but apparently very challenging), but I was unable to attend them.
They offer more relaxing yin classes as well, so I was able to do a gentle yoga and stretch class.
Craig went all out and attended a creative dance class and surprised himself with his coordination and how much he enjoyed the combination of movement, chants, and stretching.
On the second day, I chose the luxury of sleeping instead of early morning Qui Gong. Everything at Gwinganna is about choosing what your body needs.
There is nothing compulsory, only encouraged and a range of activities to suit your body’s needs. Mine was clearly calling for sleep.
And if you visit when the weather is favourable, Gwinganna have this gorgeous infinity edge custom designed lap pool with views over the Gold Coast.
One thing it was also calling for was a massage
I’m not too sure if it was the best thing for me being sick and having all the toxins moved around my body through a massage. But, I was not going to sacrifice that one.
If I was sick already I might as well get it all out in one gigantic bang. Better out than in right?! Well, I was sick for about 8 days in total so possibly the massage may have extended it. Who knows?
But I do know for that 80-minutes of my Hawaiian bodywork massage I loved it.
I’d not experienced a traditional Lomi Lomi massage before. It was incredible and my therapist was amazing. She had beautiful music soulful music playing and she sang as she danced around me and massaged me. It felt like my entire body and soul was being massaged at once.
Craig chose to go with an integrated massage which combines the best deep tissue massage techniques with acupressure, reflexology, polarity energy healing, breathing techniques and passive stretching.
After my massage, I headed straight for the relaxation class where I allowed my body to slowly sleep into sleep.
Listen and unplug
Learning what your body needs and giving it was one of the biggest take aways for me from my visit. To listen, appreciate and love more.
To learn simple techniques to increase my vitality and reduce my stress.
It all starts somewhere. Unplugging is gradual. An hour here and there turns to a day, turns to a weekend, turns to a lifestyle change.
That’s the benefit of attending a health retreat such as Gwinganna. It’s designed to bring you back to Mother Earth, to your body, to your sense of calm. You switch off your devices, hand over the cigarettes and the alcohol and succumb to earth’s natural rhythms.
It’s designed to bring you back to Mother Earth, to your body, to your sense of calm. You switch off your devices, hand over the alcohol and caffeine and succumb to earth’s natural rhythms.
You wake up with the blue light and sleep with the red. Every meal is carefully designed and created by highly trained nutritionists so it cleanses your body and enriches it with pure energy.
Gluten and dairy free organic cuisine
I was in heaven to know I could eat delicious food without fear of falling sick.
Don’t fear, on weekend retreats a glass of organic wine is allowed at dinner. Should you stay for a longer week long retreat though you’re detoxing.
Of all the guests I spoke to at the retreat (there was 58 of us in total) everyone said how a weekend was not enough and how they want to come back. Many had been before and many were staying on for a week long detox.
They waved us goodbye with a joyful smile as the rest of us trudged onto the bus to return to a world so out of sync with circadian rhythms, seasonal living, and fractal patterns.
The changes I’ve made since visiting Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
You can’t have an experience like Gwinganna without making changes to your lifestyle.
You can’t look into that sacred space of your health, of peace and vitality, and mother nature and go back to how you once were.
It takes time and you can’t flip your world around after one weekend, but you can make a start and implement some changes.
We’ve been home from Gwinganna for three weeks and since then:
- I’ve had very little coffee and alcohol. Definitely not my daily dose. I feel great and in control. I learned how reaching for that glass of wine when your stressed is a lethal combination. The sugar in the wine mixes with the stress levels and together they create more stress and excess weight. Your body feels like it’s under attack and so starts stockpiling the weight to protect you. And the release of stress is short lived.
- I’m getting to bed before 10pm 95% of the time and setting my clock for 8 1/4 hours sleep. Sleep is the number one thing that’s required for maintaining weight and vitality. We learned all of this in a fascination talk with head personal trainer Duncan, who ran a vitality analysis which provides a snapshot on several biomarkers that help determine your vitality, including muscle mass, quality of muscle, cellular health and hydration, body fat percentage, basal metabolic rate and physiological age. A great introduction to wellness therapies. Craig excelled at this, scoring a 90/100, and mine were pretty good except verifying what I knew – my core strength could be better and I could do with losing some excess fat! It’s not a lot but enough to make me move more. I’m finding getting the required amount of sleep each night the most difficult thing to do. It’s not easy when you have kids.
- I’ve set a goal to move for 10,000 steps a day, which equals about 6km a day, and you can accumulate that to 42km a week. I’m walking and running in order to do that. Either will burn the same amount of fat. Running just helps me hit the target quicker. I’m running two times a week and doing yoga at least three times, with a focus on core strength.
- I’ve installed Flux onto my computer so it reduces the blue light to red light once the sun sets. I want to get off the computer of an evening, but I just can’t make it work. We juggle our business around the kids, putting them as a priority, which means night time is when we can get a lot of work done. It will be the same when we are on the road. I can’t be delusional, I just have to do the best I can.
- I immerse myself in fractional patterning even more.
- I’m leading with my heart and talking to Kalyra and Savannah about doing the same. That simple means when walking instead of having your head sticking out leading, have your heart go first. I’ve explained to Kalyra that it’s a way to use our super hero powers without anyone seeing. When you lead with your heart you automatically feel more powerful, kinder and open, and no one sees your heart leading, they just notice that you ooze confidence and strength like a super hero.
- I’m sighing a lot. With a loud clear exhale. It feels good.
- I’m using a few of the meditation breathing techniques Andy taught us to slip into sleep of a night and if I wake up restless. It works a treat.
- I’m spending most mornings gazing at the sun rising. It simply could be the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ll keep you updated with my progress.