By Diana Ballon
Looking through my legs in downward dog, I see the world upside down: the wide strip of blue on top is of the water, and the blue strip below is the sky.
That’s what happens in yoga. It helps you change your perspective on things, explains our instructor Karen Verechia. We are practising what she refers to as a “big blue sky mind” to help us calmly focus on the present, in all its expansiveness, and let go of worries about the future and regrets about the past. Mindful breathing through the practice helps us to anchor ourselves in the present moment.
This yoga class is happening on a beautiful beach, located just five minutes by car from Hilton Head Health Resort in South Carolina, where I am on a wellness retreat.
Hilton Head Health has been widely recognized in the U.S. as a respected destination for weight loss, overall health and wellness, and delicious low-calorie cuisine. While most of the 62 guests attending when I visited were focused primarily on losing weight, I am here for their “ReNew” wellness program.
ReNew is all about managing stress, achieving better life balance and practising a combination of meditation, yoga, and fitness while enjoying nutritious food, spa treatments, and time in nature. The cornerstone of this program is its life balance assessment, which each participant gets at the beginning of their stay.
At my assessment, Hilton Head Health life coach Anne Poirier and I cover many topics, from how to manage conflict I am having with a family member to how to better structure my work days as a freelance writer working alone from home. I come out with some new goals for my return home.
The first is to add time intervals to my “extensive” to-do list each morning so that I can schedule in time for breaks and workouts. Another is to do volunteer work to connect with others because of the isolation of working all day on my own. But perhaps most importantly, it is to focus on aspects I can control in my life rather than things that I can’t. What I can control includes not compromising my beliefs and no longer apologizing to others simply as a way to “make peace.”
From speaking with Poirier, I learn that I am not so different from most of the other participants who have gone through the Hilton Head Health ReNew program since it was launched in January. Participants tend to be women between the ages of 50 to 70 who are empty nesters and stressed out managing the needs of their young adult children (who still need us as parents, even when they are not living at home!) and their parents.
“They [these women] are giving and giving and just need to get away from the pressures of home and have a break,” says Poirier.
Stepping out of our lives while spending a week at Hilton Head Health gives us the time we need to reflect on what is not working in their lives so we can make changes and reengage in a more healthy way when they’re home. Positive changes include finding ways to make room for exercise we enjoy, which will likely vary by season, along with healthier ways to eat, and using journaling morning and/or night to find ways to manage stress of the day in ways that are more proactive than reactive.
Over the week, we have the opportunity to try out the many forms of movement the resort offers (there are often three classes at a time to choose from that include cardio workouts, strength training and exercises for flexibility.
While many of the activities I had done before, some were new, like “hydro circuit” and resistance training in their 86 to 88-degree Fahrenheit heated pool, TRX suspension training, and yoga nidra, which involves a guided meditation. I also balanced physical workouts with meditation, 7 a.m. beach walks to watch the sunrise each morning, and almost daily bike rides to the beach for a swim (you can get a bike assigned to you for the week).
As well, there are different excursions to choose from off-property. That included visiting Mitchelville Freedom Park, where enslaved people, mainly from West Africa, settled after being freed from slavery in 1862, becoming the first Freedmen’s community in the country.
Along with fun exercise choices, Hilton Head Health guests also seem to uniformly love the food at the resort while still losing weight! Menus include a calorie amount for each dish and a “minimum” recommended calorie intake per meal. But there is no “maximum” amount: guests can order as much as they want while seeing what a healthy low-calorie portion looks like. (Menus include a guide of “at least” 200 to 250 calories for breakfast, 300 to 350 per lunch, and 400 to 450 for dinner, but no “at most” number of calories are listed.)
While now back at home and out of the “blue zone” (the skies in Toronto are looking decidedly grey), I am really trying to reinstate what I learned at Hilton Head Health. I am exploring the idea of volunteering at an animal shelter, doing daily yoga and workout classes mid-day to break up my work day, and trying to keep a big blue sky mind. So far, it’s working.
Diana is a Toronto-based health and travel writer specializing in mental health communications. Her articles focus on wellness, fitness and outdoor adventures and have been published in The Toronto Star, Zoomer Magazine, Best Health Magazine, AARP’s The Ethel, Broadview Magazine, Azure, CAA Magazine, Canadian Cycling Magazine, Daily Hive, Travel Life Magazine and others.