A Saturday Retreat In The Donheads Could Improve Your Sense Of Wellbeing

Organisers of a health retreat in The Donheads on Saturday believe that it could change your life, for good.

The ‘Discover Wellness’ day is a collaboration between Semley-based Reiki practitioner Dr Karen Janes and raw food expert Gabriela Lerner.

During this weekend’s event, guests will have a chance to sample a range of healthy raw food options and discover Reiki relaxation techniques. “It’s a day to explore how you can create more wellness activities in your life, how you can live more healthily and to just try out a few things,” said Gabriela.

Dr Karen Janes (right) and raw food expert Gabriela Lerner

Although men are welcome, the majority of attendees are usually women who go along for a variety of reasons. “Sometimes it’s women who think, ‘I’m getting older and I need to do something’,” said Gabriela. And some of her guests want a refresher course on healthy living. “We attract people who like to be reminded that they know all these things because they have done them in the past. Or maybe they have dabbled in raw food, they are vegan or want to go more plant-based.”

The sessions seem popular across all age ranges. “I’ve had guests from 18 years old to 80 years,” said Gabriela, who was keen to convey the message that you shouldn’t wait for health issues to develop before you embrace a healthy lifestyle. “We always think health is something that we add on or we deal with when we’re ill, but if you come along, you’ll hear how to make it a priority,” she said.

Health and wellbeing retreats have become popular holiday options for people keen to improve their diets or find ways to de-stress. These residential courses are often held across an entire weekend or a week. Karen was keen to offer a one-day taster for time-pressured locals. “I think we get so caught up these days with our hectic lifestyle, so it’s a little mini-break, in a day. We’re holding the retreat at Gabriela’s house, so it is a really beautiful environment. It’s lovely and it is surrounded by trees and beautiful gardens,” said Karen.

There is no need to feel apprehensive about visiting Gabriela’s private home for the workshop. She hosts these events there regularly. “People always say that the moment they step into the house, they feel like they are in a safe space. They feel comfortable and welcome. That’s a wonderful compliment,” Gabriella said.

Energy, in its different forms, will be a consistent theme on Saturday. “Reiki is about energy. It creates an energy that people can feel comfortable in,” said Gabriela. Karen, who runs her Natural Healing energy practice from Shaftesbury and Salisbury, will offer guests a chance to relax and rejuvenate with a Reiki session.

“It’s a really gentle treatment that helps people find a deep level of natural relaxation. Lots of people, when I talk to them about relaxation, say ‘I try to relax but I feel like I just can’t switch off or my mind is still going or my body is really tense’. Reiki and energy healing are really great ways of just helping people find that lovely, deep, natural relaxation. And once you’ve reminded the body what that’s like, it’s easier to find it again,” said Karen.

You don’t need to undress for Reiki. “You keep all your clothes on. People sometimes like to take their shoes or a coat off just to be comfortable. That actually makes it really accessible for people who are not comfortable having a massage, in terms of physical touch. If you’re in a lot of pain, a massage can actually be too much for the body,” said Karen.

She says that patients usually sit in a chair or lay on the couch, depending on the situation. “The practitioner will place their hands gently on, or just above, the body. It can be done with no physical contact at all. Many people find it more relaxing than a massage, where there’s that physical touch with the body and you think ‘where will they touch me next?’. With Reiki, you don’t get that,” said Karen.

She explained that Reiki isn’t a spiritual practice and it is not a belief system. “In a way, it’s basic physics. Everything in the world is made of energy. Each human being is like a little ball of energy. Reiki is a way of bringing some energy that we know is helpful to us from the world around us into the person’s body to help them relax. It helps the body’s own natural healing capacity be maximised. If your body is dealing with the stresses of daily life, it can’t use all its resources for you to be as healthy as you could be.”

Gabriella often attends the Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce networking events, which Karen arranges. During those monthly meetings, Gabriela has been keen to debunk the myths and misunderstandings about raw food. “It’s not just a salad with some cucumbers on. It’s much more intricate and interesting,” said Gabriela. “It’s delicious foods made from plants, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, seaweed and mushrooms that haven’t been heated more than 46 degrees Celsius, which is lukewarm. It doesn’t always have to be cold.

“When we heat food above that temperature, we destroy the enzymes that help us to digest the food. Proteins get destroyed. Vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are the nutrients that we only find in plants, like your antioxidants,” said Gabriela.

Gabriela says that sauerkraut and the trendy dish of kimchi is considered raw food because it is not cooked to a high temperature. “We’re going to have some kimchi that I’ve made, that’s nice and spicy. Kimchi and sauerkraut are fermented foods, and they’re very much in the public awareness at the moment because they give us good bacteria, so-called probiotics, things that the gut needs to be healthy.”

Whilst many dishes are associated with nations – kimchi and sauerkraut relate to Korea and Germany for instance – raw food has gained prominence in the last decade following earlier work by an American food writer. “Leslie Kenton was probably somebody who first brought raw food to public awareness. But in those days, it really was just salads. That was probably the 1960s and 1970s,” said Gabriela.

“Since then a lot of chefs have embraced it. They have looked to simulate foods that we’re used to. So there are raw food enchiladas or taco shells, burgers or risotto or lasagne. Raw cakes are usually the one thing that convinces everybody that raw food is really amazing.”

Gabriela gave an example of some of Saturday’s menu items. “I have planned a taco shell with salsa and a meatball replacement made from nuts and seeds with cashew sour cream and guacamole. It’s going to be a Mexican theme on Saturday, which I’m very excited about.”

Some of Gabriela’s food

Usually, it’s the least healthy food options that people crave. Not so with Gabriella. She is clearly a raw food fan. “We enjoy the food. I’m already looking forward to dinner,” Gabriella laughed.

In Gabriela’s case, a little of what she fancies, is doing her good. She has overcome a painful condition since changing her diet to raw food. “I had actually suffered for over 18 years from a condition called fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain and fatigue syndrome. Doctors don’t think it can be healed, it can only be managed. Within six months, I found myself symptom-free. That was so amazing that I just thought ‘I need to study this’. I became a health coach and raw nutrition coach and started sharing it with other people,” she said.

Everyone wants to be healthy, whichever gender they are. It was interesting to hear Karen’s thoughts on why men are currently less likely to embrace wellbeing events like this. “I think we live in a culture where women are perhaps more used to thinking and talking about health. I am a bit afraid to say this,” Karen said, “but traditionally, women have taken care of the food side of the family home, although that’s often not the case these days. There is that history of women looking after the health, food and the wellbeing of the family.

“Maybe there’s still progress to be made in men feeling like it’s okay to look after their own health. I think we also still live in a world where women are more used to talk to each other about health issues. A man may still not quite be at ease in terms of health-related issues,” said Karen.

Saturday’s retreat starts at 9.30am and finishes at 5pm. The event costs £85 per person. You can book on Gabriela’s website.

Gabriela says you won’t go home hungry and you should develop an appetite to learn more about raw food. “The food is pretty amazing at our house,” Gabriela promised.