A PATH TO WELLNESS
By Dustin O’Regan
By Dustin O’Regan
After a bustling fall and my daughter’s November 1 deadline for college applications, we ventured to California for a much-needed retreat at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village.
The resort offers four-day/three-night health retreats with a focus of your choice: Sustainable Weight Loss, Optimum Performance, and Spa & Beauty. Hoping to relax and recharge, we selected Spa & Beauty, a retreat designed for self-care and connection that immersed us in meditation, spa therapies, physical activity, and nutritious cuisine to feed body and soul.
Located at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu’s sunny white beaches and Santa Barbara’s wine country, the site seems purposefully curated for a tranquil experience. Our room boasted sumptuous accommodations with gorgeous mountain views and overlooked the property’s immense waterfall.
The hotel’s Center for Health & Wellbeing’s accredited experts provided a tailored approach to our individual needs. We encountered a bevy of one-on-one health consultations, group workshops, and daily classes. Each service is guided by The Wellwest Method ™. This philosophy is based on the guiding principle that well-being is rooted in the five tenets of health: nutrition, life balance, medically-sound data, fitness, and healing spa therapies. Following this method, the Center’s on-site registered dietitians, exercise physiologists, and licensed therapists worked with each of us to define, achieve, and maintain our health goals. We found the team members to be deeply passionate and incredibly knowledgeable. The atmosphere was entirely devoid of judgement and chastising remarks. Instead, heartfelt encouragement created a communal desire to live and feel better.
As the path to a healthy mind and body starts with nutrition, it was no surprise that our first workshop tackled this subject. Held in the living room—a bright space with a horseshoe seating arrangement conducive to conversation—we heard from a registered dietician about how mindful eating habits can create sustainable improvements in overall health. She dispelled several nutrition myths (to my surprise, I learned that coconut oil is not a healthy addition to smoothies) while delivering the information in a very “digestible” manner. We departed each session with helpful handouts on a range of topics from healthy pantry options to proper plate portioning. Guests were also treated to a one-on-one consultation with the dietician and a personalized blood work evaluation.
To further our nutrition lessons, we participated in a cooking class with the Four Seasons chefs using recipes from The Wellness Kitchen: Fresh, Flavorful Recipes for a Healthier You. In a gleaming state-of-the-art kitchen, each of the retreat’s attendees created a dish resulting in a bountiful and delicious buffet. Of the ten gourmet dishes, the chicken with chimichurri sauce (my daughter and Chef Andrew made this dish where Redding learned to butterfly a whole chicken), roasted tomato soup, and berry crisp with dairyfree ice cream received my top marks.
All retreat meals, which feature seasonal and sustainable ingredients, are carefully designed and crafted by a registered dietitian and chef. One morning in the wellness kitchen, the chefs walked us through the preparation of easy flavorful options for breakfast. With busy schedules in mind, they offered tips on how to make meals ahead of time to ease the morning rush. Our final dining experience featured a table crowned by a cornucopia of vegetables from the hotel’s garden. Most meals would have been overshadowed by this elaborate tablescape but not Chef Andrew’s delectable repast. We feasted upon creamy, protein-rich farro with artichokes and tomatoes, scallops served with zucchini noodles, cauliflower, corn, and frisee, followed by the pièce de résistance— an Otta Cotta prepared with oat milk, apples, pears, pomegranate and topped by an oat crisp.
The retreat also emphasized that a balanced lifestyle is the key to well-being. One afternoon, a licensed family and marriage therapist taught us the importance of small habits that can create big differences in our relationships. One of her many helpful suggestions was that when you first see a family member after a long day, engage in pleasantries rather than a long list of to-dos. This small act can foster a needed connection.
Focusing on holistic wellness, we learned the importance of fitness not only for health purposes but also for improving mindset. Our first outdoor yoga class focused on setting intentions to increase mindfulness. As we stretched under a beautiful blue sky beneath an undulating pine tree, the scent of lemon trees and herbs from the Four Seasons’ garden filled the air. Against the backdrop of a rose-covered trellis, our instructor guided our movements and asked us to thank our bodies for allowing movement and carrying us through life. This instruction has stayed with me, and I often find myself now thanking my body—an intention that had never occurred to me. Following this experience, we enjoyed three more yoga classes during our stay, each one focusing on different aspects of healing.
For a little more strenuous activity, we ventured on two guided hikes through the Santa Monica Mountains and along the sparkling Malibu coastline. Expressing passion for flora, fauna, and all things nature, our guide, a certified fitness expert, shared an incredible amount of knowledge about the area. When I inquired about the blackened trees on the hillside, our guide explained that this area was in flames during the Woolsey Fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres of land in 2018. The guide explained that fires are necessary for the ecosystem and have been happening for thousands of years. He also pointed out a shell fossil that revealed the mountains we were hiking had once been underwater. After our final hike, we headed to the beach for an elaborate meal on the sand—we dined on salmon and berries served on a nautical tablescape with the sun on our shoulders and the Pacific Ocean in our ears.
Heading indoors, we met with exercise physiologist Scott Silveira who is currently working on his Ph.D. and might be the most knowledgeable man I have met in his field. In the fitness facility, he took us through a fast-paced (but fun) circuit training followed by a class revealing secrets of metabolism using fascinating medical data. He shared information about exercise, number of repetitions, and accurate form. Many of us confessed we had been approaching our workouts all wrong. One guest observed these lessons should be taught to teens so that they could create a life practice based on proper information.
Relaxation and self-care are at the forefront of the retreat. The resort’s 40,000-square-foot spa offers steam rooms, hot tubs, saunas, serene relaxation areas, and gorgeous outdoor and indoor pools.
Tapping into ultimate tranquility, we had the great pleasure of indulging in multiple massages, facials (using local brand OSEA), and mani/pedis. As a Four Seasons guest, one comes to expect excellent service. This fabled Four Seasons service was readily apparent in the numerous small but thoughtful touches like the toasty warm robes we received post-massage.
One evening, we experienced a “sound bath,” an ancient meditative practice with roots dating back two thousand years. All-encompassing sound creates a “bath” that you can feel in the deepest parts of your body and yields a meditative state where the brain emits healing brainwaves. This was my first sound bath experience and, despite my initial skepticism, I left feeling more at peace than I could have imagined. One of the many things that I loved about this mother/daughter retreat was the exposure to experiences that we would not have sought out on our own. There was such a beautiful connection in discovering and sharing these experiences together.
A recurrent theme throughout the program was that large life overhauls are not encouraged. Rather, the experts suggest pursuing small changes because such changes are sustainable and can have a big impact on overall health. We and our cohorts thought this philosophy made perfect sense and presented a much more manageable approach to the often difficult process of change.
Looking to heal the mind, body, and soul through a weekend of profound serenity? The Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village Center for Health & Wellbeing’s retreats are for you. After all, feeling well and living fully are life’s ultimate luxuries.
For more information, visit fourseasons.com/westlakevillage.