My recent trip to Rancho Valencia’s Serenity & Sunshine Luxury Yoga Retreat marked a series of “firsts” for me. It was my first time in California, my first time doing yoga, and the first time I’ve ever traveled for the sole purpose of coming home healthier (what a thought, amiright?). Fast forward to the first night at dinner, one of the yoga instructors leading the retreat asked what we all hoped to take away from this experience. As she went around the table the other women in the retreat all set out their goals for the week, and I found myself getting sweaty palms and racking my brain: What was my goal? Had I ever gone on a “vacation” with a goal in mind other than having a blast and a half? Do I admit I’ve never tried yoga and that I was ultimately terrified and incredibly anxious about the next morning, and the mornings that followed, because I was scared I’d “fail” at it and majorly humiliate myself? Or do I pull up some generic cookie-cutter response? I went with unbridled honesty. “I’ve never done yoga before,” I announced turning red and avoiding eye contact. “I’m kind of worried I’ll embarrass myself but my goal is to really try my best because I want to go home wanting to continue it.” So that was that, I had a goal, inherently to give it my all and not to be embarrassed if I couldn’t do a pose that required me to contort my body in a way it just did not want to go—my goal was to actually try.
Getting to Rancho Valencia in itself was amazing, I thought SoCal was beautiful as I was driving through it, and then it was taken up a notch as I pulled onto Rancho Valencia Drive. The grounds are lush and give you a sense of exclusivity and intimacy, and as I walked into the reception area, I was immediately greeted with so much warmth and a sense of familiarity; I was quickly made aware that that’s the case for each and every guest of the resort. After a short golf cart ride I walked through the rustic wooden door of my casita and my jaw dropped. High ceilings, light fixtures that I wished I could smuggle home in my luggage, an indoor and an outdoor fireplace, private patio with a Jacuzzi, a bathroom bigger than my bedroom at home, a heated toilet seat, and a hairdryer that rivaled my own—yes ladies and gents, the hair dryer was even above par. I can say with full disclosure I’ve never, in my life, stayed in such beautiful accommodations. If you’re looking for private luxury this is your place.
I washed up and got ready for the aforementioned dinner at one of the resort’s two restaurants, Veladora—where Chef Eric Bauer’s farm-to-table Coastal Ranch cuisine made it incredibly easy to make healthy and delicious decisions that left me salivating for more as I took in views of the valley all around us. On the first night I enjoyed the Slow Poached Lobster Salad that I am still thinking about nearly a month later, and the Diver Scallops a la Plancha. I met the other ladies on the retreat and our yoga instructors, Katie Brauer and Emily Potter, as well as the retreat’s clinical nutritionist. I left dinner with a full belly and feeling excited for the next morning—where I would be starting my goal for the week.
The next morning (after receiving my morning delivery of fresh-squeezed OJ, which was SO good!!) Katie led the retreat in the first yoga session, in my first yoga session ever. The yoga pavilion was part of the resort’s semi-recent remodel and renovation, and it is something to see. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m afraid that even if I had two thousand, I couldn’t adequately do it justice. As we listened to the peaceful sounds of the water surrounding us, our first yoga class began. For anyone out there that has never tried yoga before but wants to—do it. Don’t be scared. You might sweat profusely despite the fact no one around you is sweating, keep going. It’s not going to feel as easy as it looks but keep trying. Because you’re going to leave feeling refreshed, inspired, and happy, and frankly—worked out. Katie Brauer is a phenomenal yoga instructor: She invites you into the practice but doesn’t force you to push your body to its breaking point. Later at breakfast she explained that the goal isn’t to necessarily achieve each pose in its perfect form—the goal is to get a good hamstring stretch, or to concentrate on your breath, or to find a sense of peace. I realized then that if I were to continue yoga after this retreat I wanted a teacher that felt the same way: One who was more concerned with me getting something out of it rather than getting it perfect. And speaking of breakfast—breakfast at Rancho Valencia is delish! Of all the goodies I tried I was in love with the Organic Egg White Fritatta Souffle. Between the goat cheese and the red pepper coulis I could have easily eaten it everyday (unfortunately it was my choice on my final morning). The rest of the day was spent hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve where there are eight miles of trails that overlook the Pacific Ocean—but be sure to remember your sunscreen—I will admit I got a tad burnt because I didn’t use a high-enough SPF. We then headed back to Rancho Valencia because it was time to spa.
The Spa at Rancho Valencia is as beautiful and intimate as the rest of the resort and there was a distinct scent in the air that was both inviting and relaxing. Thalia at the front desk checked me in and was so friendly that I immediately felt at ease—I quickly toured the spa, which features 10 treatment rooms, two couple’s rooms, a pool, hydrotherapy circuit, lush gardens, and state-of-the-art fitness center that is complimentary to all guests. I settled into my robe and was greeted by my therapist, Lori, and thus started The Sixth Sense Signature Ritual with a soothing 30-minute soak. A massage followed, which was wonderful after a day of yoga and hiking, and the Harmonizing Scalp Massage with organic Mediterranean myrtle, juniper, and organic jojoba, avocado, and olive oils left my hair looking and feeling like silk for a very long time after washing it. The experience ended after a hand and foot paraffin treatment and I was given a cold-pressed green juice, the same delicious ending to each of the resort’s services and yoga classes. While at Rancho Valencia I additionally enjoyed a facial using Amala’s Rejuvenate line. It happens to be the line I use at home mostly because I am obsessed with the cocoa bean scent—I don’t tend to leave a spa after a facial without putting on a little makeup but I felt incredibly radiant after my Rancho Valencia facial from Marla, so I skipped the foundation all together and received many compliments that night at dinner about my glowing skin (aka, go see Marla!).
The Rancho Valencia Yoga Retreat also includes yoga classes and nutritional counseling from Emily Potter, who left me so enlightened after a one-on-one session that I’ve since done my best to stop consuming dairy and gluten, and in the last month I’ve not only lost weight, but I’ve lost my dark circles and dull skin, as well as gained a new-found energy because my stomach isn’t always fighting me. Should you attend the yoga retreat I truly recommend having a one-on-one session with Emily, plus, if you’re in the San Diego area, check out NourishMint Wellness, where Emily provides personalized nutrition counseling, group counseling, private yoga, grocery store tours, and much more!
The retreat taught me a very important lesson that it’s okay not to be the best at something as long as you try; that you can genuinely enjoy something even if you aren’t amazing at it; that I do want to continue going to yoga; and I want to continue to try so that maybe eventually I can actually be decent at it. I left for Rancho Valencia terrified that I was going to totally humiliate myself in front of a bunch of people that were masters at yoga, and while they were moving from pose to pose with the poise and grace of a prima-ballerina-meets-Cirque-du-Soleil-contortionist, I’d be huffing and puffing while I tried to touch my toes…and ya know what, yeah that’s kind of what happened in a way, but what I learned is that’s okay.
I know many of you reading might think how you’d love to do this but maybe you feel out of shape, or haven’t ever tried yoga, either—to that I say, do it anyway because you’ll leave feeling healthier, feeling good, and feeling happy, even if you can’t do a handstand. Rancho Valencia is hosting another retreat from October 6-10 led by Katie and Emily, and I really suggest looking into going, especially because I hear SoCal in the fall is really pretty! The retreat includes:
- Morning yoga
- Oceanside hikes
- Health and wellness lectures
- Harmony Massage (1) at the spa
- Individual nutritional consultation, yoga session, or personal training session(1)
- Optional daily spin, yoga, Pilates, and TRX classes
- Signature restorative juices and superfood smoothies
- Daily breakfasts, lunches, and two dinners
- 4-nights/3-days luxury accommodations in a 950-square-foot casita
- $2,999 single / $4,200 double
If you have any questions about the experience please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments, and we’ll be sure to answer them all!
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