Since releasing 180 pounds over the past couple of years, the focus of my life has changed in more ways than one. Surprising observation? No. But always noteworthy. So far none of the newness of my new life feels old. I still get a major kick out of wearing color. My head-to-toe black wardrobe is very past tense…and actually in someone else’s hands thanks to a few carloads taken to the Salvation Army. Would you believe I now own and wear blue plaid pants? Never thought that would happen in this lifetime. Other things I love: climbing stairs or a simple hill without alarming bystanders by sounding like I’m crossing the threshold into cardiac arrest.
The focus of my professional life has changed as well. I still write for a living, but decided it was time to take myself off the gluttony beat I’d generously assigned myself to about a decade ago. Regular HFTT readers know I adore food and always will, but I love it in a different way now: It nurtures me instead of drugging me. And since I’m not sequestering myself in restaurants like I once did, I spend a lot more time at the stove, concocting recipes for HFTT, the Team YRG web site, and my Lotus Love clients. Another new thing: Writing about fitness, activity, motion, and wellness. The cool part is I actually get to do it now – and want to, now that I have the energy.
Case in point – a week-long visit to the New Life Hiking Spa in Vermont last spring. I’ve been to my share of spas (both during and after my dieting years) and some are OK, others are horrendous (as in too impersonal, lousy food, etc.), and others shine like the sun. The wellness immersion I experienced at New Life left me feeling revitalized, accomplished, stronger, and more serene. Another way to phrase my assessment: LOVED IT!
The spa operates out of The Inn of the Six Mountains in Killington, Vt. during summer months, when ski season in Vermont is a distant memory. It’s run by Jimmy LeSage, who founded the spa 32 years ago, the result of his own lifelong quest for better health.
A self-described “hippie into health food and new-age philosophy,” LeSage combined his career as a restaurant chef with emerging trends he saw coming out of health food stores in the late 1970s. “I figured it out the way Nathan Pritikin figured it out,” he said. “I looked at recipes that were appealing and reworked them so they had less salt and fat.”
LeSage makes sure there are cooking demos, and that guests leave home with recipes and other nutritional tools to draw on for lasting change, but what really impressed me is how well he gets the crucial part of the mosaic that most spas overlook: addressing the psycho-spiritual hole that brought the weight in the first place.
“In terms of weight, I feel the real issue is emotional,” said LeSage, who has a counseling degree. “It’s important to address what someone is eating, and also the psychological issues behind it. This isn’t the place to deal with issues with your mom, but the seed is planted.”
And seed-planting is an integral part of New Life’s mission.
“It’s great that clients lose weight while they’re here, but we also give them tools to use when the leave,” he said. “Just the act of buying groceries requires education. We teach people to visit the grocery store as if it were a museum. Explore the choices so you can pick what’s real. Do you want peanut butter made with sugar or without? A whole-grain cracker or one made from white flour?”
As a self-described emotional eater, LeSage says he lives by the advice he gives to his guests. “If I stayed a chef, I’d be dead,” he says. “Now if I graze, I choose an Ak-Mak cracker instead of a Triscuit…or I’ll have an apple. I’ve always been a seeker, and I want people on the path of better health to be seekers, too.”
LeSage has been a certified yoga instructor since 1977, when he studied at the Sivananda Yoga Center in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Yogic principals of stretching, breathing, and quieting the mind are woven throughout the rest of the spa’s fitness regimen.
There are pool classes, Pilates, strength training, dance classes, and cooking demonstrations, but the stretching, yoga, and meditation are a key focal point on New Life’s fitness menu. Mornings begin with stretching and Qi Gong followed by breakfast and a hike. After lunch comes a rotation of exercise classes followed by the pre-dinner ritual yoga and meditation.
“I just believe that when yoga is practiced regularly, very powerful things happen,” said LeSage. “It has changed my life tremendously. I’m a Type A kind of guy and regular yoga has helped me focus and achieve my goals in life. All the stretching and breathing really builds something up. It can’t be quantified, but it’s there.”
Actually, Jimmy, I couldn’t agree more. There was something rather magical about the healing properties of doing early morning stretching and breathing at the foot of a majestic mountain, heading into the dining room for a healthy breakfast of fresh fruit and a vegetable omelet, and then embarking on the crown jewel of New Life’s fitness philosophy: hiking the Green Mountains.
“Hiking is a great cardio workout in a beautiful setting,” he said. “The key is, we make it enjoyable…people eventually forget that they’re exercising and just drink in the experience.”
Forensic evidence that I hiked The Appalachian Trail!
I was a little intimidated by the prospect of scaling a sizeable mountain, but there are beginner, intermediate, and advanced level options. I started the week out with beginner hikes and ended with intermediate, deciding to save the advanced adventure for my next visit.
Karen Dalury, a yoga instructor at New Life, advises guests away from the ‘all or nothing’ philosophy that’s intrinsic to the dieting mentality.
“Some people come here and want fast results so they do every class; I tell them they’re not going to do all that at home,” she said. “In the long run it’s about finding balance. If someone drinks five cups of coffee a day and it’s going to make them sad to cut it out completely, why not cut back to three cups a day? We want you to be able to feel good and know what’s right for you, so you’re not dependent on diets or gimmicks. You want to be able to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling right now, and know how much you want on your plate, or see if it’s time to take a walk or take a nap. That’s a skill that’s going to save you in the long run.”
Dalury said that it’s the practice of yoga and relaxation techniques that are just as crucial to the transformation process as cardio and clean eating.
“That’s why I love yoga, because it lets you get in touch with yourself. Change isn’t going to last if you don’t peel away those coverings that keep you from feeling what’s going on. Weight loss or a new hairdo is meaningless if you don’t have peace of mind to go with it,” she said.
Not that a little external pampering is out of place at New Life. What would a spa experience be without it? For every three nights a guest is at the spa, they receive a free service. Guests booked on the 11-night weight loss retreat receive three services, which range from hot-stone massage and reflexology to cranial sacral therapy.
I’ve been on the yogic path for more than a decade. When I arrived at New Life last June I had already released 150 pounds. I was well-versed in the ways of Health, Happiness, and Inner Balance, but I still learned from being there. There’s always something to learn. And there are always more ways I can Love and Honor who I am. Spending a few days climbing over rocks, sweating, opening my hip sockets further than I thought possible, connecting with strangers who became friends, and relaxing into the bliss of someone else’s healing touch was one of the best ways ever. Note to self: Gotta do this again.
At peace after afternoon yoga and a massage…and owning my Life!
“We’re not fancy-schmancy…you can’t get pedicures here, but during the 18 weeks we’re open, we’re the best, most affordable spa in the country,” said LeSage. “Back in the ‘80s I wasn’t ‘in’ because I wasn’t expensive. Now we get both types of clients; people who can afford the $7,000-a-week spa and those who are looking for something they can afford.”