Finding your magic by pushing boundaries: Skylonda Lodge, California

Feeling on top of the world on a hike with Skylonda Lodge.
Feeling on top of the world on a hike with Skylonda Lodge.

How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go? That is the question asked on stones along the pathway that I walked past  every morning and afternoon at Skylonda Lodge in Northern California recently.

The stones line the entrance to Skylonda, where I spent four days on a health and wellness retreat. But Skylonda is much more than that, I discovered. I went with no real expectations except to have a little rejuvenation from the extremely busy work and travel schedule I’ve had the past three months. When I arrived, I quickly found that there was a lot more to it than that. It’s more of a lifestyle reset — testing your limits (both physically and mental/emotional limiting beliefs you place on yourself), and challenging you to find a greater way to happiness and physical wellbeing.

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How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go? This is what I walk past every morning and afternoon here at Skylonda Lodge, and it reminds me to go just that little bit farther; to push just a little bit more than what I think I can do. Venture outside your comfort zone, because that's where your magic is. A lot of people questioned (teasingly or not) why I would put myself through 4 days of total whole foods diet, no alcohol or sugar or caffeine, rising at 5:30 am each morning for yoga, followed by 6 mile hikes, more yoga, fitness tests and obstacle course… But you know what? I decided to EMBRACE it all. To completely engage and just go ALL IN. And I amazed myself. I did things I didn't think I could do. I feel so much better, healthier, happier, and equipped for life than I did 4 days ago. That's saying a lot, too, considering that overall I'm a pretty healthy, active, mindful and adventurous person. I highly recommend everyone to push past their self-limiting boundaries to find your own magic. #skylonda #fitnessweekend #retreat #wellnesstravel #healthyliving #tradingplaces #outsideyourcomfortzone #findyourmagic

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Back in the 90s, Skylonda Lodge hosted many celebs like Barbara Streisand, Robin Williams and Cameron Diaz. Current owner Ray Blatt has transformed the property, and created an immersive experience into fitness, nutrition, mindfulness, relaxation, and the mind-body connection between all of these things, all in the midst of a serene redwoods forest just outside San Francisco, California. I started wondering what I was getting myself into when I scanned the pre-retreat document they sent me…hmm, there was mention of 5:30 am wake-up calls, no alcohol, no caffeine (did that mean no coffee??). Then upon my arrival, after a tour of the property and a short hike through its 16 acres of forest trails, I was sent for a fitness test.

Umm, excuse me…did you say fitness test?

One of several challenging, but beautiful, hikes we did.
One of several challenging, but beautiful, hikes we did.

That’s when I seriously began to question what I was getting into. First I got on a body composition analysis machine and fitness director DeAnn went over the results with me, then on to the gym for a step-up heart rate stress test, curl-ups, a reach test, and push-ups. My most hated and dreaded exercise ever.

After a delicious organic, whole foods dinner prepared by Chef Isabella and getting to know the other 12 guests (victims?), I went to bed in my beautiful treehouse room, looking out at the trees and did fall asleep early. Early enough, in fact, that 5:30 am didn’t feel so bad (I kept telling myself it was actually 7:30 Texas time), and there was coffee after all, and a beautiful easy morning yoga routine on the outside deck. I was starting to really get into this.

One of many stunningly beautiful and delicious dishes we were served at Skylonda.
One of many stunningly beautiful and delicious dishes we were served at Skylonda.

After breakfast came the first of our two long hikes. We could choose between a fast/intense pace or slower, and I opted for the latter. However my smaller group kept catching up with the “fast” hikers, and we pretty much just went as one group. It was beautiful and peaceful, although about an hour or so into it the uphill portions were starting to wear on me. All in all, a 5-1/2 mile hike that left me exhausted, but in a really good way.

There was a little rest time followed by lunch, after which the itinerary was Obstacle Course Training. It sounded a little too much like those boot camp workouts to me, and I’m a yoga/pilates/walking person, not a carry a concrete block around to work out kind of person — so I decided to opt out of the obstacle course and go for a swim instead.

A peaceful spot on the Skylonda property.
A peaceful spot on the Skylonda property.

Late afternoons and evenings were beautiful and extremely peaceful at Skylonda. A workshop on cultivating happiness — who couldn’t use more of that? — followed by an early dinner, restorative yoga and a wonderful hour-long massage. Bliss, and great preparation for an early bedtime, and a second day pretty much just like the first.

I was exhausted, and the work-outs could be challenging (the second day’s 6.2-mile hike was at a faster pace and lots more uphill; I was admittedly hating life the last 20 minutes of it, though I felt terrific — and very accomplished — afterward). But, I was really getting into it. Even though I’m a pretty active person and very conscious of healthy nutrition and intentional about my eating habits, I was learning a lot from the nutrition expert Bob, who mapped his own nutrition lifestyle after being diagnosed with stage four bone cancer and given a year to live (several years of healthy diet and exercise later, Bob is cancer-free).

I was feeling great. I had far more energy than my typical days, in spite of the fact that I was doing so much more physically. I felt completely at peace. Joyful.

The real turning point came for me on the last day, when the time for the obstacle course rolled around yet again. I agreed to go down to the course to cheer the other participants on. As we walked down into the redwoods, I saw the first challenge: climbing a rope up a hill. It looked pretty fun, actually, and I jumped in to give it a try. It was fun, and guess what? I wasn’t half bad at it, either. I ended up going through the entire obstacle course with everyone — scaling walls taller than me, running laps with sandbags on our shoulders, and the last hike/race completely uphill along switchbacks to the top of the ridge.

And do you know what happened? I WON! Okay, okay, nope, I didn’t. In fact, I was DEAD LAST. And I was thrilled. Ecstatic. You know why? Because I DID IT. I FINISHED. I did something I didn’t think I had in me, and I made it. When I got to the top, where everyone else was already done and waiting, I could hear them chanting, “Shelley! Shelley!” and they formed an archway with their arms for me to run through. Later that day in the group wrap-up that we held, DeAnn even gave me a shout-out for doing something that I said I wasn’t going to, or couldn’t, do.

One of several challenging, but beautiful, hikes we did.
Hiking across a ridge to a high vantage point with my Skylonda group.

The whole experience made me really glad that I fully embraced it — even the dreaded “no wine” aspect (a glass with a book under the redwoods would have been the perfect way to end the days there!). By embracing the whole of it, I was reminded to go just that little bit farther, to push just a little bit more than what I think I can do.

Venture outside your comfort zone, because that’s where your magic is. A lot of people questioned (teasingly or not) why I would put myself through 4 days of total whole foods diet, no alcohol or sugar or caffeine, rising at 5:30 am each morning for yoga, followed by 6 mile hikes, more yoga, fitness tests and obstacle course… But you know what? When I decided to completely engage and just go ALL IN, I amazed myself. I did things I didn’t think I could do.

My pretty, light and serene Treehouse room looking out into the redwoods.
My pretty, light and serene Treehouse room looking out into the redwoods.

Two weeks later, I’ve implemented a lot of what I got from the retreat into my daily routine. I bought a bicycle, I’m drinking my 70 ounces of water a day, I added more cardio and strength training to my exercise regimen, I’ve added supplements and superfoods to my already pretty healthy diet, and I’m meditating every day. I feel so much better, healthier, happier, and equipped for life than I did before Skylonda.

I highly recommend to you, to push past any self-limiting boundaries to find your own magic.

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