I Spent Three Days at Golden Door Elysia in the Hunter Valley


The goal? To unwind, undo, renew.

At any given time, while the rest of us are plugging away at our desk jobs, a group of people are journeying to the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, for three to seven days – sometimes more. It’s not for the sémillon, but for the chance to reset their lives against a backdrop of sweeping hilltops.

My visit to Golden Door Elysia came at a time when my self-esteem was shaky, and work had left me seriously overwhelmed. I was quietly hoping the trip might remind me how to take care of myself, emotionally and physically.

Mobile phones aren’t allowed on the property (but you can have a quick squiz when you’re alone in your villa), coffee is off-limits, and you can choose to receive a lively wake-up knock on your door at 6am. On the first morning, I was determined to trial a new schedule, so groggily pulled on my activewear and made my way out the door for 30 minutes of tai chi on ‘Meditation Hill’.

Read More: What Happened When I Used a Meditation App Every Day for a Month

Every night when you return to your villa post-dinner (on Mondays a gorgeous fish curry), a copy of your schedule for the next day is left on your bed. I wanted to do things I’d never done before, so enlisted in ‘Essence of Kung Fu’, ‘Intro to Ayurveda’, and ‘Breathing and Qigong’, which is where I learnt that, when seated at my desk at work, I haven’t been breathing properly.

In the seminar on breath our guide, Brad, ran us through exercises aimed at enhancing our breathing capacity. By the time we’re adults, he explained, we’ve been conditioned to take small, shallow breaths, instead of big, life-charging ones. After 50 minutes, we had halved our respiration rate. The bigger the breath, the less stress is able to take hold.

At mealtimes, I spoke to other women, most who’d come alone as I had. We shared the tales of the hardships we’d gone to Golden Door to heal from: marriages that had recently dissolved, sick parents, tough decisions on business journeys. One entrepreneur decided she would honour herself by coming to Golden Door every year (on average, 40 per cent of guests are return visitors). Personally, I’d lost my father to cancer and was still grieving in my own way. The retreat offers ample time to explore your feelings, shift old mindsets, and fill yourself with nothing but goodness.

Having returned three weeks ago, I’ve stuck with the ‘no coffee’ discipline. Instead, I prep endless cups of herbal teas for myself. Incredibly, I feel great, am sleeping well, and feel greater clarity and energy than before. I’ve also maintained more activity in my day-to-day life, plus am more committed to walking 4.3km to work every day. Here’s hoping these self-care habits stick.

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