Spring is a time of jumps starts, fresh growth and self-improvement. It’s the season to slough off old habits and begin anew. For many (including this mother of two), that’s a task best accomplished with a little help.
If the idea – just the very notion – of spring is enough to get you plotting the best way to activate your own SELF 2.0 relaunch, look no further than your own backyard, Orange County, where the weather is balmy and the retreat options are world renowned.
Balance at The Pearl Laguna
Nestled in the scrub-covered hills of Laguna Canyon, the four-year-old Pearl Laguna is a retreat in the truest sense of the word. To write about it without using the word "tranquil" would be a nearly impossible task.
The brainchild of Geo and Katresha Moskios, The Pearl Laguna’s week-long retreats hit the sweet spot between meditative calm and invigorating activity. Its founders exude this same balance – they are at once mindful and jubilant, contemplative and full of verve. “We teach people to teach themselves,” Katresha Moskios explains over a breakfast of organic food lovingly prepared by her hand-picked staff of cooks. “We are just the instrument.”
Each day at this 12-bedroom, 12-bath ashram begins with Geo’s power yoga (and perhaps a little dream therapy), organic foods and juices and vegetable broths, and a hike. It winds down with spa treatments and a second, gentler yoga session, with workshops in tai chi, energy work, massage, quiet time, infrared saunas or one of Katresha’s hand-made masks from her organic skin care line completing the day. Many guests are surprised to discover how much they look forward to the hikes. The Laguna Canyon trails that guests of the Pearl venture into are a severely underrated Orange County gem – visit in April and they look like Oahu’s North Shore, in June the fog settles in smoky tendrils reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.
The afternoons are reserved for relaxation with daily massages and the option for a stroll around the grounds, a dip in the Jacuzzi, or time spent in the infrared sauna. As much as I loved the hikes and the massages, it was the meditation practice that really rejuvenated me. It’s so easy amidst work and family, to feel flooded, overwhelmed, and ultimately drained. When I’m feeling buried, spa treatments help me restore a sense of wellness – but it’s in mindfulness practice where the magic happens. The nice thing about a live-in and relatively compact retreat is that there’s a certain flow to the day. One thing leads to the next without a jolting return to the “real” world. It’s low-impact living – with calming teas, healing broths and magical vegetarian meals for fuel. After the first day, I was sold; the rest of the week just served to elevate my euphoria. I left feeling…yes, there’s that word: tranquil.
“Our guests discover that the spiritual life is a natural process,” Geo explains. “When they’re here, they exercise, rest and eat well. We want them to leave feeling great – physically, mentally and spiritually – and loving themselves more than ever.”
Cleanse at Pacific Ashtanga Yoga Shala and Organic Tree Juice Bar
If you can’t escape home and work duties for a week, the cleanses run by Pacific Ashtanga Yoga Shala and Organic Tree Juice Bar is an excellent option. Though it doesn’t come with the very alluring detach-from-the-world perks, this three-day cleanse is every bit as intensive mentally, physically and spiritually.
The seasonal cleanses are led by Diana Christinson, founder of Pacific Ashtanga Yoga Shala and her philosophy and wit set the tone for the week. Her program mixes Ashtanga yoga instruction with an all-juice and Tulsi tea diet, Agnasari breath work, and massage. The idea of not eating for three days, while still trying to function is scary at first, but Organic Tree’s juices are deceptively hearty and after the first 12 hours the lack of solid food is mostly forgotten. On the first day of the cleanse, Christinson explains the benefits of detoxing: to get rid of free radicals and mucus, rest the digestive tract, purify the blood and break addictions to sugar, alcohol and junk food. Christinson herself exudes peace and calm; which makes it easy to buy in when she waxes poetic about cleansing's spiritual upside.
“I often forget to put on my glasses,” she explains, “and when I finally put them on it forces me to recognize that I had been living my life out of focus. Cleansing has that same effect: After a cleanse everything feels brighter, sharper, crisper – it’s thrilling.”
While Christinson provides the yoga instruction and the philosophical backbone, Organic Tree Juice Bar provides the juice. The juice bar and yoga shala neighbor one another across from the Dana Point Harbor (in April the shala will be moving three minutes away to a location on PCH) and the symbiosis between the two businesses is easy to pick up on. Brian and Rachel Dunn, owners of Organic Tree, are longtime students at the shala; Christinson is their eager ambassador.
The Dunns founded the juice bar in 2011 and quickly built a following. Their entire staff takes part in regular cleanses and are always ready to trade insights.
“If you want to reset your body, a diet of organic juices gives your digestive system a rest, without creating a nutrient famine,” explains Brian Dunn. “Coupled with yoga, the juice cleanse has truly regenerative qualities – a mix of activity and pure, organic nutrients.”
Regenerative is the right word for it. By the end of my three-day cleanse, which included a massage at the shala, my body feels lighter (and not just because of the weight I’ve shed) – there’s an extra spring in my step too. I don’t wear glasses but I know exactly what Christinson means when she talks about seeing things more clearly.
pacificashtanga.com :: organictreejuicebar.com
Surrender at Montage Laguna Beach
Montage Laguna Beach is famous for its perfect stretch of white sand; sprawling, exquisitely manicured grounds and 248 ocean-facing rooms. But it’s the spa that keeps people coming back. Spa Montage’s two-to-eight-day Surrender Retreats combine personal training, skin care and massage treatments into one holistic program, with the aim of leaving guests walking on air. The all-inclusive retreat includes a stay at the hotel and three health-conscious meals daily.
Both relaxing and reparative, Surrender treatments are tailored to meet the specific needs of your body (and weary mind) and include massages, facials, wraps, scrubs, and hydrotherapy. As the spa team grows in their understanding of your needs, the treatment evolves. One day you might combine a thalasso bath with a marine-based facial, yoga with aroma-balancing therapy, or reflexology with manual lymph drainage. The next day, you can meet with a personal trainer or try a Surfset class, featuring a custom kinetic surfboard that delivers the core benefits of surfing while keeping you on dry land. Once you feel confident, head out into the real waves with one of the Montage’s surf instructors.
Between workouts, enjoy The Art of Spa, which employs water therapies to increase heart rate, blood flow and respiration while flushing the internal organs of toxins. The goal is to stabilize the central nervous system, creating an overall sense of well-being. The giddy euphoria that sets in after the third round of leapfrogging between the steam room and the cold plunge pool is a lovely ancillary benefit.
If the cold plunge pool works for you, you'll love the Laguna Beach Kur, which starts with a mustard and eucalyptus hydrotherapy session, then uses indigenous botanicals in an icy-cold wrap to enhance your auto-immune system and combat fatigue. If you take this therapy in the late afternoon, you’ll barely be able to keep your eyes open long enough to eat. Which would be fine, if the food options weren’t quite so delectable. As it is, it would be a shame to miss a single bite.