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Ascending To The Next Level

Jul 25, 2018 05:36PM

I’m laying on a pile of blankets and pillows with my eyes closed, surrounded by 30 to 50 others doing the same. My body tingles with anticipation. At any moment, the first vibrational sounds emitted from the quartz bowls would reach my eardrums, followed by a medley of chimes. I keep peeking to see if the couple leading the sound healing session have picked up their instruments. As I attempt to stay focused, trying to block out other irrelevant sounds, I prepare my mind for the magical hour that would ensue.

We’re all here to journey to whatever realm the healing sounds of the singing bowls and chimes would take us to that afternoon. This isn’t my first time at sound healing; I discovered it on my first day at the ranch—Rancho La Puerta, the destination spa in Baja California to be precise—and planned the rest of my days here around the experience.

Known as a destination resort that helped start a modern fitness revolution, the 78-year-old wellness retreat has long championed itself as a place of peace and respite in tranquil surroundings. Consistently listed among the best spas in the world by venerable publications such as Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, the place has earned a global following. The meticulously landscaped property boasts an extensive network of trails throughout the sage scrub and chaparral of the San Ysidro Mountains that act as pathways for a kind of moving meditation. The ranch’s modern philosophy encourages technology cleanses and a healthy, plant-based diet, but the main draw has always been the award-winning spa.

The enduring goal is the indulgence of mindful moments, of getting lost in the present. It can happen anywhere on the ranch: In the spa during a deep tissue massage; on the courts rallying with the tennis pro; in the pool in the arms of the Watsu aquatic bodywork guide; or, like me, on the floor immersed in the sounds produced by 300-year-old Tibetan singing bowls and Nepalese and Paiste gongs.

Founded in 1940 by Edmond and Deborah Szekely, the fitness resort remains family-owned today. Deborah, now in her mid-90s, still comes to the property each week, regaling guests with stories of life at the ranch through the decades.
The enduring goal is the indulgence of mindful moments, of getting lost in the present.
She affectionately refers to her husband as “the professor,” beaming a bit with affection whenever he makes a cameo in one of her tales. The wellness resort they started together decades ago has garnered a cult-like following, growing into one of the world’s leading health and wellness resorts. Located just across the Tecate border, an hour South of San Diego, Rancho La Puerta was designed as a one-week experience. The ranch becomes a digital-free zone, and camaraderie with fellow guests is encouraged.

To visit Rancho La Puerta is to find balance and to incorporate some of those experiences into daily life. The regular lineup of classes varies, with offerings for every fitness level. Beyond basic yoga and circuit training, the schedule features an assortment of unexpected ways for guests to get their heart pumping. Hit the twomile obstacle course, play pickleball, bounce on a trampoline, shake it to some Broadway choreography, or bang out some beats during Cardio Drum Dance, which involves wailing on giant barrels with drumsticks. Even with all that, however, the ranch’s enduring draws are the hiking trails meandering through stunning mountainous scenery. Plus, there are some new, challenging running tracks lined with sage, rosemary, and lemon verbena.

Along with the fitness offerings, the packed schedule features classes for well-being, designed to invigorate the mind and spirit. Along with guided meditations and sound healing, guests can join in the ancient practice of chant, explore the labyrinth, and wander the reflexology pathway. The summer-camp-like experience for adults is best enjoyed with others. It’s not uncommon to see couples, mother-daughter pairs, or friend groups at the ranch—some of which first met at the resort decades ago. That sense of community is part of the draw.
Various pools dot the grounds, which also feature three spas and designated bars for juice, coffee, and wine. There are no rules to how to spend your time. You decide what works best for you. What the ranch does is provide all the tools and options necessary for an enjoyable week.

Accommodations come in the form of 86 garden casitas in seven different sizes and rate categories, each beautifully decorated and many outfitted with wood-burning fireplaces—but no televisions, no Wi-Fi. (If you must stay tethered to the outside world, there are some limited Wi-Fi zones on site.)

The meals are vegetarian-centric, though some include seafood. By day three, I found myself loving the anticipation of discovering what’s on the creative, health-driven menu.
I’ve now been to the ranch twice, and my body and mind long for another return. It’s hard to incorporate all I have learned during the retreats into my daily life, but I’ve been able to sneak in a few disciplines here and there. It’s less about changing my entire routine and more about being mindful of what makes me happy.

Sometimes the mind needs to focus on a beautiful tree while it clears itself during a few moments of much-needed meditation. For me, I like to recall those moments of lying on the ground, soaking in the sounds of the singing bowls. Remembering those euphoric moments helps bring my mind to ease—and knowing that my mind is capable of ascending to that level is also somewhat calming. With time and practice, I can go back there anytime I want.

RANCHO LA PUERTA’s seven-night, eight-day retreats start at around $4,000 per person and include meals and snacks, lodging, transportation from San Diego Airport or the Tecate border crossing, and access to the full lineup of classes and facilities. Spa treatments extra. You’re worth it.

-David Duran 

Lifestyle California Orange County San Diego Los Angeles Southern California

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