Vacationing at a Holistic Health Resort

A new variety of spa, not for weight reduction, not for stress reduction, but for "wellness"

By , Tuesday, May 10, 2005, 12:00 AM

"Machines receive preventive maintenance; why not people? Why should we wait until illness strikes us down before we attend to our health?"

With those words, a wise old doctor once explained to me why he had turned at the end of his career to the practice of "holistic" medicine. An eminently sensible approach to life, with which almost no one can disagree, holistic methods of strengthening the body to fend off future illness have attracted the attention of millions of Americans, and created a thriving vacation industry of "holistic health farms" and "holistic health resorts."

None of these institutions, to my knowledge, disavows traditional approaches to medicine. "Holistic physicians" will readily prescribe an antibiotic for infection, or even perform surgery if it is needed.

But the same physicians believe in supplementing the standard therapies with alternative ones: better nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and relaxation. People, they claim, should actively pursue "wellness" before they become sick, a process -- essentially -- of self-education and modifying lifestyles. The decision to vacation at a "wellness spa" -- holistic centers where guests receive "preventive health workups" and seek to adapt to a healthier mode -- is an obvious first step.

Heartwood Institute

On 200 acres in the mountains of northern California, five hours by car north of San Francisco, this is the classic "holistic retreat," and astonishingly cheap: it charges $100 a day in single rooms, $85 a day per person in doubles, $75 on a campsite, including three organic vegetarian meals a day and use of sauna, hot tub, and pool.

Accommodations are mainly bunkhouses with small, simple rooms, not far from a "community center" and restaurant in a picturesque log lodge with outside dining deck.

When guests arrive to pursue a one-week or two-week "wellness retreat," trained counselors aid them to choose from a variety of therapies in massage and bodywork, nutrition and exercise, at nominal extra costs. The institute's credo? That illness results from imbalances in the body's normal state; that balance can be restored, as it often is in Asian medicine, by alternative therapies such as acupressure or Ayurveda, lifestyle changes, modified nutrition, herbal preparations, Polarity therapy, and still other treatments. Throughout the year, more intensive workshops are then scheduled at Heartwood in the full range of therapies under study by holistic practitioners: massage and yoga, "bodywork" and neuro-muscular therapy, "energy balancing" and hydrotherapy -- all, of course, for tuition charges (though fairly reasonable ones) not imposed upon people participating in a simple retreat. For information, contact Heartwood Institute, 220 Harmony Lane, Garberville, CA 95542 (phone 707/923-5000, fax 707/923-5010, e-mail hello@heartwoodinstitute.com, also see their Web site at heartwoodinstitute.com).

Harbin Hot Springs

On 1,700 wooded acres in a valley of northern California, 2 1/2 hours by car from San Francisco, Harbin Hot Springs is a basic (rooms without private bath but comfortable) retreat and workshop center. Guests enjoy daily dips in natural, warm mineral-water pools (one of 112 degrees Fahrenheit, open all night and all year), staying in dormitories, unpretentious private lodgings, or even on campsites. In addition to soaking (without speaking, a requirement) in the celebrated hot springs, hiking, sunbathing, and enjoying -- according to one staff member -- a "meditative atmosphere," guests sign up for one of numerous courses in exotic massage -- Swedish, shiatsu, acupressure, watsu (water shiatsu) -- at rates as low as $25 per bout of instruction. Room rates per person are $170 a week on campsites, $245 a week in dorms, $385 a week in rooms ($385 a week for two persons), to which you add $20 a day for two vegetarian meals. For information, contact Harbin Hot Springs, P.O. Box 782, Middletown, CA 95461 (phone 707/987-2477 or 800/622-2477, fax 707/987-0616, e-mail reception@harbin.org and see their Web site at harbin.org).

The Hippocrates Health Institute

Rarely do vacations offer the opportunity for total body renewal. But spending a week at the Hippocrates Health Institute located in West Palm Beach, Florida that is what you'll leave with: a new sense of your self and your well-being.

Depending on what type of accommodation you opt for, the total cost of the program is between $1,800 and $3,900. Accommodations vary greatly: hacienda luxury suites, including marble roman baths and Jacuzzis to southwestern-styled stucco cottages to basic rooms are all available. You can chose from a single, double or quad.

Included in the price tag is lodging, meals, juices, a 24-hour wheat grass bar, blood test and evaluation, live cell microscope evaluation, diapulse electromagnetic therapy, health and nutritional counseling with a physician, group therapy with a psychoanalyst, weekly massage, colonic therapy, lectures, food demos, exercise classes and equipment, full use of the sauna, ozonated swimming pool and cold plunge pool as well as the Jacuzzi, and a complete health manual that includes an explanation of the Hippocrates program.

The center of the Institute is the Life-Change Program devoted to healing the body through a change in diet: adopting a vegetarian diet made up of primarily raw foods. All meals at the Institute are vegan, organic and enzyme-rich, keeping true to their slogan of "let food be our medicine."

For more details, contact The Hippocrates Health Institute at 1443 Palmdale Court, West Palm Beach, FL 33411 (phone 561/471/8876 or 800/842/2125 for reservations only, fax 561/471/9464, e-mail info@hippocratesinst.com or log onto hippocratesinst.com).

Hawaiian Wellness Holiday

There are few locations more dreamlike to take a holistic holiday than Poipu Beach on the garden island of Kauai in Hawaii. Programs are tailored to fit your interests and fitness level, and include yoga, "energy vortex, cooking classes, excursions to sacred sites, among many more. Prices range from $2,135-$2,605 for a single room in a condominium per week, and $3,280-$3,775 per person in a double room (depending on the accommodations and preferred view), with healthy, nutritious meals included. To request more information and a free brochure, write Hawaiian Wellness Holiday/ Hawaiian Metaphysical Vacation, P.O. Box 279, Koloa, Kauai, HI 96756 (phone 808/332-9244, fax 808/332-9374, e-mail drgradydeal@verizon.net).

Royal Court Hotel and Natural Health Resort

And finally, on a hillside high overlooking Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Royal Court Hotel is an unusually pleasant, sunny and blissfully quiet health resort of about twenty rooms, of which I've inspected each one. Its owners, Dr. and Mrs. Anthony and Dorothy Vendryes, are both dedicated to the holistic health approach, although Dr. Vendryes also practices traditional medicine at a nearby hospital. Meals are low-fat vegetarian; exercise equipment is abundant; activities include daily yoga and other exercises, as well as trips to the beach, hikes and health workshops. Royal Court packages run $1100 for a week in off-season (late-April through mid-September), otherwise $2,080, for seven nights' accommodations, all meals, classes, and complimentary massage. For more information call 876/952-4531.

For reasons of space, I have obviously compressed the theories of "holistic health" into almost absurdly simple form. For a more complete exposition, log on to ahha.org.