Three deep breaths are all you need to start every day feeling empowered, according to Breathe to Succeed author Sandy Abrams.
Abrams is a regular featured guest at Canyon Ranch Woodside, the newest location to the Canyon Ranch brand (in addition to locations in Tucson and Lenox, Massachusetts). This retreat property is located in a remote, redwood forest about 16 miles south of San Francisco. Often referred to as an escape from the tech rat race, I consider it nirvana.
Abrams, whose area of expertise is breathwork, appeared as a guest speaker at the ranch, and I was intrigued about her methods.
It sounds absurd to think humans would require a breathing coach, but once you’ve taken a breathing workshop, you’ll understand the variations on inhaling and exhaling, holding one’s breath for a short count in between, or breathing deeply in a rolling manner. Many of us could benefit from a primer on the proper way to breathe: inhale enough to expand the belly, and then release the breath upwards from the bottom of the belly in a l-o-n-g, slow exhale. Modifications include holding your left nostril closed and breathing out of your right nostril for a surge of energy, while the opposite movement can create a calming effect.
Breathing properly is a no-cost prescription for healing ourselves, and the act of mindful breathing can actually become a basic form of meditation. Canyon Ranch Woodside is the ideal place to take that first step even farther.
Gratitude builds awareness
Jennifer Clarke, the Mind-Body Practitioner at Woodside, sums up her take on meditation like this: “It’s narrowing the aperture, letting the mind quiet down enough to pay attention to just one thing, whether sound, sensation, walking, seeing,” with the ultimate goal to become self-aware and grateful. Throughout my visit, Clarke proved her point as she led a series of “forest bathing” meditations to guide us toward the possibilities of healing through immersion in nature, or eco-therapy.
My own immersion began the moment I entered the glass-clad treehouse in the redwoods, which was my guestroom and “place to disconnect to reconnect.” Once unpacked, I headed for a healthy lunch served in front of the fireplace in a dining room with doors open to the great outdoors.
Chef Isabelle Jackson Nunes cooked up a lunch of seasoned prawns with local-sourced squash, and I washed it down with a cup of strong, brewed ginger-turmeric tea before group orientation, the official start of a three or four-day stay here.
We met at the base of Sonoma sculptor Bruce Johnson’s oversized piece made of salvaged redwood, fittingly called The Void (available for a purchase price of $55,000), as we were about to empty our minds to relax. We were ushered down steps to an awe-inspiring hiking path, stopping frequently to be “in the moment.” During those breaks, as instructed, we breathed in the moist green of the forest after a few days of rain… admired the velvety, moss-covered tree trunks… and delighted in the sound of talkative birds overhead. Within this quiet space, we were feeling our bodies and mindfully observing sensations.
An afternoon workshop focused on tools to add gratitude to your life, mainly by journaling or taking a long walk. I was grateful to discuss options among the small group of women gathered in front of the loft fireplace, and even more grateful dinner was next on the itinerary.
Woodside’s locally-sourced dinner menu changes daily, and this evening’s selection included grass-fed beef from the Markegard Family Ranch on nearby Half Moon Bay. My side servings included a healthful lemon and parsley marinated broccolini and basmati rice. Once again, I perched by the dining room’s fireplace, this time with a bottle of Ghostwriter Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz that paired with both the flavorful steak and dessert of crème brulee. At Woodside, an amenity that’s verboten at the other Canyon Ranch properties is allowed here: a menu selection of wine, beer and hard cider.
In the morning, we headed to The Void for a group forest meditation. Down the hiking trail, we stopped at a “fairy ring” of redwood stumps (conveniently social-distanced). We sat, closed our eyes, and let Clarke guide our meditation with instruction to take a few deep breaths and “feel the sun on your skin, feel each inhale from beginning to end, and feel each exhale from beginning to end.”
She continued, “Smell the earth of the forest floor and when you open your eyes, look around you to take in this beautiful path lit by golden sun rays working their way through the branches of the trees high in the canopy.”
Upon opening my eyes, it seemed the uber-vibrant shades of green moss covering nearby boulders, and the shades of brown tree barks surrounding us appeared more vibrant than before the breathwork. Looking up, I better appreciated the beauty of the treetops reaching for a pool of radiant blue sky.