I’m not someone who would intentionally skip a safety briefing. Call me risk-averse – or something blunter; I prefer to think that I have a strong survival instinct. Whatever, I’ve arrived late for this morning’s activity and missed the rundown on Eden Health Retreat’s flying fox. It’s been billed as a 12-second, 250-metre joyride high above the beauty of the Gold Coast hinterland. And though I’ve convinced myself to have a go, I’m unprepared for how the harness seems to be pulling me towards the abyss before I’m ready to launch.
It’s an illusion, apparently. But a highly unsettling one. And I appreciate the reassurance of Cain, Eden’s fitness and adventure guy. Then I jump. And my reward, of course, is a cocktail of exhilaration and relief.
While for me the flying fox is Eden’s sternest challenge, for most guys it probably wouldn’t be. Most guys’ idea of a holiday doesn’t involve a hefty dose of metaphysical woo-woo. More likely, it involves alcohol, steak, late nights and the freedom to do more or less as you please. And it’s true: you’ll get none of those things at Eden. Nor mobile-phone reception, television, coffee or meal-time privacy. But were you to give Eden a try, you might find it delivers something better.
Set in Currumbin Valley, Australia’s first health retreat is a 20-minute drive from Gold Coast Airport, the welcome sign beckoning entry via a snaking path splitting immaculate grounds. My room is a 10-minute walk uphill from the retreat’s heart. Yep, they want you moving here. Most of the activities happen in the low lands, while the dining room and digs are in the clouds. You’d like to eat? Well, up you go, sunshine. On the first night, Eden manager Chris van Hoof tells the 29 guests (six men) that not every scheduled activity will have universal appeal. Pick and choose, he advises. Eden’s mission is to return you to civilisation revitalised. Chances are everything will help someone – and nothing everyone.
ALL SHOOK UP
The key to Eden, I come to realise, is to switch off the cynical, overly analytical parts of your brain and to receive experiences according to how they make you feel. Having just lost my father to cancer, I’m more open to this approach than I would be normally. Case in point: the dawn Qigong shaking meditation session. Standard meditation – trying to focus on the greenness of a leaf, say – is beyond me. A shaking meditation is different. The name is self-explanatory: you make – or allow – your body to shake. Gently at first. But eventually rapidly, even violently. From head to toe.
“Shake your internal organs,” urges yogi Jonathon Dao, who must be one of the world’s great shakers. Dao doesn’t mess about with gentle trembling. From the first beat of African tribal music he’s gyrating like Peter Garrett after a massive electric shock. While you have to chuckle, you’re simultaneously inspired to let go. Dao says a wealth of research has illuminated shaking’s health benefits. Back home I find more claims in this field than evidence, but who cares? I’m prepared to believe that shaking stimulates the lymphatic system, draining toxins from every cell.
Likewise, getting the most out of a bunch of other activities requires parking your scepticism at reception. After dinner one night we all get comfortable for a session of Crystal Bowl Sound Healing. I know – healing sickness or emotional trauma via sound . . . it’s a stretch. But what if your guide is the Brazilian-born Gabriela, ethereal in white robes and manifestly a lovely soul as well as a beauty, and all you need to do is lie in the candlelight and listen? Beats the heck out of an evening in front of The Block.
Same with Irish songstress Julie Hayes, who takes us on a “Musical Journey into Peace”. This includes a spellbinding rendition of the Adi Shakti meditation, which encourages connection with the creative power of the universe. Between songs, Hayes says she’s been seeking greater honesty in her conversations. Instead of small talk she might say, “You know, I’m feeling a little insecure right now”. Maybe it’s because my critical faculties have faded, but I think that’s nice.
At Eden, you can pay extra for certain therapies. I have an Aloha Healing Session with Rachelle, who invites you to spill about the most emotional experiences of your life while massaging you. When I tell her I have another appointment that same afternoon she says gently, “You’ll be out of here by 3 but I can’t guarantee you’ll be coherent”. The idea we’re all barely holding it together is prevalent at Eden. With Rachelle I have no catharsis. But again, so what? I’ve had a deeper-than-usual chat with a spiritual woman while having my body kneaded by expert hands.
Far from everything you do at Eden is fringey. There’s a range of fitness classes (held in a bright, hangar-like gym), kayaking, a bike ride and two other adrenline-spikers on top of the flying fox. As another extra I undergo a counselling session, confiding in therapist Jill Bayly that my hypochondria feels like a straightjacket. She traces the disorder to a childhood episode and suggests I find a GP who crosses the divide between Eastern and Western medicine. She also gives me tips on conducting hard conversations, arming me with lines such as, “I hear you and I have a different perspective”, which I have to admit sounds better than, “I’m sick of listening to your crap”.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
As a man you may feel famished at Eden. Carbs seem sparse early on before picking up. But I have nothing but praise for the food, which is delicious. Highlights: vegetarian koftas and the healthy pancakes with whipped ricotta dished up for breakfast on the last morning, when the kitchen staff receives a standing ovation.
Every meal is taken at communal tables – hard at first but you get used to it. Those times when I can’t face flapping my jaws I plonk myself beside other guests I’ve identified as introverts.
Eden provided one of my all-time best holidays. I’ve focused on what’s there but what’s missing is equally germane. My God! A week without traffic and texts, social media and shops. A week without news of shootings and Trump. A week without crass TV. Combined with the retreat into nature and all the rubbing and introspection, the effect is a heightened awareness of your corporealness instead of the logjam of anxieties that can trail your every move. Home again, it’s like you’ve returned from another world. A world where less is more and the mystical makes sense.
Eden Health Retreat, Currumbin Valley, Gold Coast Edenhealthretreat.com.au
Seven days, six nights – Sunday to Saturday.
Land at Gold Coast Airport, where transfers to and from Eden are available.
Every evening guests receive a schedule of the next day’s group activities, which begin with a 6:15am yoga/ meditation session. Individual therapies – massage, facials, psychological counselling – can be booked at additional cost above a certain quota. You’ll be back in your room every night by 8:30.
All meals and snacks inclusive, and all allergies and intolerances catered to.
From $3350 per person for double share. Subsequent visits may be discounted.