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There are a few basic tenets of health that we like to encourage: Go to bed early, eat healthfully, exercise regularly, unplug from your gadgets, cut back on sugar, and spend some time in nature. Last week I did exactly all of these—every day, all day—taking to the mountains of Malibu for what I’m going to call a “fitness retreat” at The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu.
The Ranch, as it’s fondly called by its staff and guests is a kind of vacation hybrid: It’s one part boot camp and one part luxury retreat, with some gourmet vegetarian food (much of which is grown onsite), and daily massages thrown in for good measure. It is as amazing as it is challenging. The exercise—which includes hiking, yoga, and strength training for up to ten hours a day—is extremely rigorous, and there is no caffeine, sugar, meat or alcohol allowed on the premises.
The Ranch is a place to take a complete, cell-phone-free timeout from life. For anyone looking to lose a few pounds, reset their inner clock, reassess their health, their patterns or, you know, their whole damn life, this could very well be the place. Unfortunately, its higher price point means it’s reserved for the wealthier set. If you are among them, wonderful: I highly recommend you explore it as an option if you’re looking to seriously reboot. If you are not, click through the slideshow to read about some of the lessons I gleaned from my week on Ranch time.
Adults should go to camp. When’s the last time you didn’t plan a single activity in your day, were told what to do, where to go, and when and what to eat? At The Ranch the biggest decision you have to make is whether you are going to spend your one-hour naptime actually sleeping or soaking in a saltwater hot tub—just about everything else is mapped out for you. It feels like sleep-away camp or, better yet, early childhood. And while it’s not entirely easy to let go of all control, its cumulative effects are pretty powerful by end of week. Immediately upon arriving you are told to stash your watch in a drawer and surrender. Oh, and your iPhone doesn’t get reception, but…
Unplugging is awesome. Hopefully you do it here and there: turn off your phone and computer an hour before bed, on a Saturday afternoon, during a special date—at least at the movies! But a whole week? Something amazing happens when communication with the outside world isn’t an option. You realize other people can handle things, make the decisions, watch the kids, or water your plants. The office will go on without you and so will Twitter. Many of us don’t account for the toll that having to respond, even to the smallest of requests, takes on us. A week off the grid, with no responsibility to anyone but yourself, is a quick way to recharge those batteries.
A week away can change your life. As stuck as any of us feel in our mental, physical, and lifestyle patterns, taking this trip was a big reminder of how plastic the human experience can be. You cannot underestimate the power of disconnecting from your day-to-day life, meeting an entirely new group of people, testing the limits of your mental and physical endurance, all while getting proper sleep, nourishment, and support. When someone does a trip like this they may decide to quit smoking or to quit the job they hate. They may kickstart a healthier life or file for that divorce or decide to track down their birth mother. The Ranch, and other programs like it, can serve as that necessary pause before a fork in the road, or they can show you a fork where you only saw a knife.
Our bodies can take it. Ten hours of exercise a day is nothing short of hardcore. But here’s the thing: Not only can our bodies handle it, they’ll actually feel amazing from it. The program at The Ranch is designed to keep you moving, steadily burning energy without burning out. The bulk of the exercise is hiking—in a breathtaking setting no less—and twelve people of different ages and at different fitness levels tackled the same trails and all made it through. In a way, the program probably isn’t all that different from the routines of our hunting-gathering ancestors. Was it hard? Extremely. But nobody complained by the second half of the week when their skin began to glow and they felt a new spring in their step.
Dreaming may be half the battle. Little is known about the role that dreams play. Are they an evolutionary training ground, as some theories suggest? Or are they, as Freud believed, a place to fulfill our secret wishes? Whatever you think about dreams, one thing is clear: When you shut out the noise of your life, your dreams will tell you what’s going on below the surface. Not a single person on the retreat last week didn’t report having wild and wildly significant dreams. Almost like going to therapy in your sleep, eliminating daily distractions and focusing on physical fitness seems to come with the added bonus of sleep cleansing too.
There are other options. If the program at The Ranch is something you'd like to do, but you just can't afford the price tag, there are many other options out there. If you're open to a more spiritual (but not religious) bent, you may consider going to an ashram. Or plan a backpacking trip with a group of friends who are also seeking to give their health a jump start. And please, tell us in the comments of places you've been to that helped you change your outlook! Because as we said in the book, your outlook is your look.