I’m coming here for that certain “something” that is said to regenerate me, hone my body and straighten my head… They say if you are completely knackered , with no time to think about yourself or get a grip on your long-term perspectives – here you can find yourself and recover, body and soul. And all this through tough physical effort – apparently on the edge of endurance. I do like this from time to time. After work I rush to the gym to work up a sweat and let off steam. I do like lazing about but have already found out that being a couch potato after a long busy day ends up in a headache and lack of strength to do anything.
Let’s see what’s it like in here…Truth or a marketing trick. The trip bears the name of “SweatLodge”. The first comes from an old Red-Indian tradition: sweating away toxins and “bad energy” in a “sweat tent”. Our programme, in turn, promises oodles of sweat and effort, sweating away on the tracks and through workouts. Punish Yourself – that’s about right – we are here to punish our bodies, sweat away tiredness, toxins, and regain vitality and positive energy…Hmm, we’ll see.
Arrival day (Sunday)…wonder who’s going to be here. I’ve come here on my own. I get out of the taxi in front of a gorgeous mountain chalet. I’m being greeted by our guide, Paul. We carry the luggage to the room. I come down to the dining room and am greeted with a fruit bowl. Hmm, that doesn’t exactly fill me up and I direct my attention to the array of herbal teas, and make myself a big mug of something delicious. Those who are willing are being measured: waist, thighs, hips, ankles, even the neck, for the end-of-stay comparison.
It’s midday. We are getting together for the first contact with the mountains. Old hands whisper reassuringly that this is just a warming-up stroll. I’m not so sure…We are trudging for three hours, quite fast and uphill, then even faster downhill. The legs are taking some punishment but so far so good…Now it’s evening and we are arriving back. In the restaurant we encounter a beautifully laid table; the room with a fireplace is lit with candles, there is soft music and the wafting aroma of the food – so far not visible. We all throw ourselves at water and herbal teas, which takes the edge off our hunger. The chef makes a silent appearance. He ladles out fragrant portions of lentil soup with vegetables. In 10 minutes we make short work of it. Could do with some more. But we can survive, especially as tempting rooms await. At long last I’ll get to read he book I’ve been travelling with for months and never had a chance to tackle…
Day 2 (Monday)….Wake-up call at 7 am – aaargh!..Ok, I drag myself out of bed. After all, the birds are beginning to wake up…ha,ha,ha…Yoga at dawn. We’ll see. I come into a candle-lit hall; the aroma of incense makes for an unusual atmosphere. Yoga’s stretching exercises wake me up gently and naturally. Breakfast again at the communal table (scrambled eggs and full-grain toast. Oh, and just a few slices of sweet pear. Tasty, but not quite enough). We are eating in silence; everybody stunned by the early hour and the beauty of the place.
Now we are off to fight the good fight. Walking sticks sine qua non – apparently, they relieve the knee joints. The guides enquire about our propensity to blisters and suggest foot dressings. Hardly anybody takes it seriously. We are off. Light-hearted chats and introductions end after 20 minutes. The tempo set by the first guide (and there are three of them) makes us breathless. We are climbing continually. Luckily, after an hour I get my regular breathing back. The march metamorphoses into a trance, in which muscles and thoughts are at one. After about two and a half hours we pause for a while. The group is a bit spread out: the leaders, the middle and the stragglers – each group c.20 minutes apart. But, thankfully, nobody is trying to gee you up and we motivate ourselves and match our pace to our capabilities.
At the resting place… two figs, a few nuts and five raisins per head. Some sort of joke? Remarkably, it proves enough to get us moving again. Needless to say, we are drinking water continuously. Good job, though, that I had taken seriously the list of indispensable equipment sent to me in advance. In it, there was the so-called “camel-back” (a rucksack with a water container and a drinking tube).
Lunch on the trail (lettuce, olives, vegetables, humous plus a sumptuous dressing); we seem to devour it oblivious of time.
After reaching the mountain chalet, we virtually collapse in the entrance hall. 50-min “flat-stomach” exercises do not, oddly enough, require a warming-up routine. The abdominal muscles are particularly alight after the mountain walk. Now it’s only continuation. The tummy session passes quickly. What is a brief hour compared with 6 hours in the mountains? A shower and an hour-long massage session follow. Words fail to describe the bliss. Yoga at dusk. We thought we’d never survive it but somehow we manage to stretch. Apparently, we’d feel thankful for the experience the following morning. I wonder…They say you could not get up the next morning without it.
Supper – a feast for the senses: ratatouille of courgettes and aubergines with quinoa porridge. I retreat to my room, big mug of a healthy infusion in hand. Luckily, I still have a half-packet of nuts, saved from the hike.
Day 3 (Tuesday). Wake-up call, yoga, mountains. Feels tough this time. We are not being mollycoddled and there’s no special warm-up. We trundle on through the mountains for 6 hours. I needed to leave the group for a moment to swear hideously. Today I just cannot cope. What is it all for, anyway? One of the girls has period pains and truly cannot go on. They lead her back. I summon all my remaining willpower to stop myself from joining her in retreat. But maybe I’m reluctant to waste the money. Also, the curiosity as to where it’s all leading wins the day. Nuts and lettuce with a sensational dressing on the trail and, as if in a trance, we roll on down to the finishing point. I can’t climb the stairs to my room; I haul myself up by the handrail. The “tummy” ritual, massage, yoga, supper and off to bed. I fall asleep at the second page of the book I’m reading.
Day 4 (Wednesday). The rumoured Big Crisis Day. The detox programme gains momentum and one succumbs to the feeling of exhaustion, nausea and such like. Surprisingly, I wake up 5 minutes before the wake-up call. Even though I struggle getting downstairs. I feel rested and can’t wait for our leisurely but invigorating yoga. Everybody slightly sleepy but ready for action. I the mountains it’s heavy-going but my sticks feel comfortable and familiar in my hands and I quickly fall into the marching rhythm. The muscles ache, especially in the morning, but this characteristic muscle tension in the stomach feels very satisfying. The exercise and diet are beginning to work. In the shower I admire the profile of my figure – I don’t even have to pull in my tummy! There’s no time for mobile phones in the rooms, and out on the trail we are reminded – politely but firmly – not to use our phones in the presence of others. It creates an atmosphere of relaxed conversation and communing with nature, so rare these days. But more than anything, it allows your thoughts to drift freely, and soothes the heart and mind. It is said that repetition of simple movements (intensive marching), i.e. activities on which you needn’t concentrate, allow the mind to drift unhindered. The floating thoughts slowly settle down, and the uneasy disturbing ones get filtered away, leaving only the desirable ones, which I want to retain.
Day 5 (Thursday). During the trek I find the strength to chat with the guides and the other participants. I seem to feel real empathy with our group and rituals. The feeling of hunger is not as intense now as in the previous days. Evidently the stomach has shrunk a bit and doesn’t crave the same amounts. The whole secret lies in reducing portions without reducing the meals’ nutritional value. That many vegetables and so much olive oil I definitely do not get at home. Here, each piece of vegetable, egg, or sauce, tastes like a feast. The chef is divine! Oh, and a small “insignificant” point: it rained cats and dogs all day. We were marching along in sheets of water. I even caught myself liking the feeling – the rain was washing the sweat off my face. We got soaked to our knickers but it wasn’t a problem; in the previous days we were equally wet, the only difference being it was from sweating.
Day 6 (Friday) – the last full-time day. Tomorrow midday – departure. Today we are really ready to give it our all. After yoga, breakfast and a change of clothes, we come down proud that everybody’s trousers are looking noticeably looser. Fact: we all look much better. Many of us get to hear long-forgotten compliments, like “you look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!”, “you are looking good today”…Nice feeling. Today I feel I could move mountains, not just walk over them. I’m trekking consciously and deliberately, clenching – even whilst walking – my stomach muscles, to squeeze the very best from them. The others, too, are walking with a spring in their step and it’s obvious that they are keen to get the most from this day. After supper we even find the time and energy to gather around the fireplace. Surprisingly, nobody rushes off to their phones or to look through emails. Conversation subjects are also somewhat different: philosophy, wide-ranging free-flowing thoughts, books, theatre, film, the beauty of life.
Day 7 (Saturday) – before breakfast, those willing are getting measured and weighed. My waist is 7 cm slimmer – this speaks for itself. My hipsters are loosely hanging off my hips. Face smiling, eyes bright. Feeling incredibly calm. Before I came here my mind was muddled. I was prone to making impetuous, radical, almost hysterical decisions. Now I feel free from this nervousness and anxiety about the future. I seem separated from turmoil by some firewall and safe distance.
Two months later: I am not concerned with dieting at all. From the punishing times of the “SweatLodge” I am no longer able to pack in large portions of food. I feel full half way through the meal. Longing for that other cuisine I now tend to eat lots of aromatic vegetables and groats; meat too, but I feel somehow less drawn to it. Fondness for intense physical effort still remains. I pass the elevator without thinking and rush up the stairs. The “SweatLodge” is still lifting my spirits: I am smiling at people and treating many issues with a healthy detachment. I ‘ve got to know myself and other super people. We’re still in touch. In a way, I gained a bunch of friends. We are already planning the next “SweatLodge”….Life “before” and “after” SweatLodge? I’m not exaggerating, you could call it that.