Is this the most beautiful health retreat in the world? 7 healthy habits I picked up at Aro-Ha
I’m alive! In every sense of the word.
I have just come back from a week-long sojourn at Aro Hã Wellness Retreat in New Zealand, and I feel wonderfully exhilarated, clean, and healthy.
When Kate Kendall (KK), both a friend and yoga teacher, informed me that she was co-facilitating a retreat there, I immediately read up on everything I could about Aro Hã and was hooked. Her own personal experience cinched it for me.
I am so very glad that she shared it with me. I could rave on and on about it, but as we are all busy people with limited attention spans, here is a snap shot, with which I hope will do it justice.
To begin with, let’s talk about the unparalleled beauty of the place. Aro Hã is situated in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, a quick 45 minute drive from Queenstown. I was unprepared for the scale of change in a short 45 minutes from the bustling vibe of Queenstown to the absolute serenity that greeted us as we reached Aro Hã. Queenstown is lovely, but as the buildings, cars and people fell away on our drive, and the increasing sapphire blue of Lake Wakatipu, dizzying peaks of their alps and rolling green of their countryside filled my eyes, I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. No wonder Peter Jackson chose to make his movie there. Well done, New Zealand. It was gob-smackingly, amazingly, incredibly breath-taking.
The view. Bit hard to look at, right?
Obviously the natural surrounds are beautiful, but the retreat itself is a prime example of excellent eco-design. Everything from the ground up has been carefully considered and constructed with a principle of permaculture and self-sufficiency. I did not understand much of what that meant before, but after Damian Chaparro, one of the founding partners, took us through all the elements of the retreat from conception phase up, I have so much respect for what they are trying to (and actually are) achieving.
The entire week we were to be fed vegan food. I had read so many reviews on how absolutely sensational the food at Aro Hã is that I was not overly concerned, despite being a meat-lover. And I was right not to be. The kitchen team, led by the passionate and skilful Toni, absolutely blew us away with their inventiveness and knack for bringing out the flavours in whatever they served us. It was almost too pretty to eat and a delight to all the senses – especially taste.
A day in the life
Aro Hã’s philosophy is “adventures in wellness”. A typical day consisted of being woken up to the beautiful chimes of a Tibetan bowl, sunrise yoga, breakfast, a three-four hour hike, lunch, spa time (which included a daily massage therapy session), strength/interval training, nutrition session, sunset yoga, dinner, and either free time, or a mindfulness exercise. One of their beliefs is that decision-making causes stress in our daily lives, and so their program is also designed to remove that stress during your retreat – which of course does not mean that everything is compulsory, but everyone is encouraged to do everything. Otherwise, why would you be there?
One of the hiking trails.
I took so much away from this experience and already things are changing up since I’ve been back.
1. Increasing the presence of yoga:
Before I went, I maintained a fairly sporadic yoga practice, despite my love for it. I just let everyday things and laziness get in the way. Well, no more! Getting to practice yoga twice a day, every day for the whole of the retreat led me to such a happy place in mind, body and spirit. My strength and flexibility improved, I learnt to trust myself more, and my mind was quieter. We were of course thoroughly spoilt by having world-respected KK lead most of the sessions and the divine Damian leading the balance. But on the day I returned, I sat down, looked at all the yoga studios around my home, and have planned out my practice every day. I’ve got apps downloaded in case I can’t physically make it to a studio. No excuses.
Alethea doing yoga in her room
2. Giving my body better fuel
Having Toni’s food for a week really showed me how efficient our bodies are when given the purest, most nutritional foods that don’t require your body to work overtime. And how good your body can feel. The energy I had after only a few days was amazing. People commented that I was glowing when I came back. Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t turned into a vegan and my love for meat remains undiminished – but now having had a little inkling of how amazing my body could feel, I find myself incorporating vegan meals into my diet. Processed foods are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. This does take more planning, but it is so much more rewarding.
3. Daily meditation:
We were led through several different types of meditation during the retreat, which is something I have wanted to learn more about for a while. I’m pretty much on the go all the time, with an (over)active social life (my FOMO and an inability to say ‘no’ are legendary), and significant responsibilities at work and home. I’m always rushing off somewhere or talking to someone and often feel scattered and all over the place. Meditation allowed my mind to just focus on me. I’m still just a newbie at it but I am now meditating every day with guides from books and apps.
One of the hiking trails
4. Digital detox:
Everyone who knows me knows that my phone is the fifth appendage to my body. If I take more than an hour to respond to a text, my friends launch a search party. At Aro Hã, we were encouraged not to be connected through it. Screen addiction is a real thing and it often causes us to miss much that happens in real life. So instead of using it as my alarm, I’ve invested in an actual alarm clock (so old-school) and I am weaning myself off the phone first thing and last thing in the day.
5. Being more mindful and present
I am not a patient person and I’m guilty of letting my mind wander merrily away when in a conversation. I’m always in a hurry to arrive, whether it be at a physical destination, the end of a sentence, an action, a piece of work. If you asked me what the big hurry was though, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. And while I may be hearing the words being spoken to me, my mind will be wondering whether that handbag I liked is still available … or whether I’ll make it to my evening yoga class … and what shall I say to my dear mother when I finally return her three missed calls? At the retreat, there were moments where we were encouraged to enjoy the hike in silence, to take in everything around us, listen to the sounds, take in the scents of nature. And when in conversations, I was conscious of really being there with the other person and giving them my undivided attention (as there was nothing else to distract us). Being mindful caused me to become more grateful and appreciative, and being present allowed me to cultivate real connections.
One of the hiking trails
6. Being more adventurous and leave some things to chance:
It is amazing what you can achieve if you just let go and surrender. I am a person who really, really, really likes having control. It is my default position. I have to be in control. These hikes worried me before I went. I’ve never hiked. I can walk all day from suburb to suburb in Sydney. I love doing the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. But they are walks I am familiar with – I know how long they are, where they go, and what my body is like when I do them. I didn’t know anything about these hikes in New Zealand. And I found that very challenging not only physically but mentally. I learnt to let go of that control and go with the flow.
The view from the dining room
7. Live outside my comfort zone more often:
At the end of some of the hikes, we were given the opportunity to jump into the lake which was hovering just above an icy 10 degrees. That is cold, my friends. I am a hot-climate girl. I choose to do hot yoga between 37-42 degrees because I love the heat so much. I find the water at our Sydney beaches too cold! Well, let me tell you – I made myself get into that lake in my bikini and stay (although I do wish I had purchased that one-piece), on multiple occasions. I forced myself be in a place well outside my comfort zone to see what would happen. I mean I was pretty sure my toes would not fall off, and given that could have amounted to one of the worst things to happen to me, I took a chance. I also made myself do contrast hydrotherapy back at the spa everyday – where I plunged alternately between the outdoor hot and cold pools for a cycle of five times. I started off by barely withstanding three seconds in the cold plunge pool, and by the end I could stay in for over ten minutes. I have never felt more exhilarated or alive. It felt like the cells in my body were having a full on party with only the most fun people invited. Improving circulation does so much to your health. Now I do it with the shower by blasting hot and cold down alternately… although I must admit it’s not quite the same as having an outdoor, beautifully tiled hot spa overlooking the pristine sky, lake and hills.
The hot and cold plunge baths
As for physical results, even though there was no weight-loss goal for me going into the retreat, yours truly shed 1.7kg and 18.5cm over all in six days. Far more than that is all the other intangible benefits I will take away with me. We only get to live our life once and I want to do it the best that I can. Like KK, I cannot wait to share this experience with everyone I care about.
In the lake
*All images are the writer’s own and the writer is not in any way financially affiliated with Aro Hã.
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