Monday, June 26, 2006

Weekend at The Heartland Spa

I had the good fortune to appear as a speaker/lecturer at The Heartland Spa this past weekend. This desination spa is located about an hour and half south of Chicago in Gilman, Ill. After the spa's heart healthy dinner of asparagus and leek soup, salmon with avocado salsa, brown rice, and three-berry whole grain crepe on Saturday night, I spoke to a roomful of guests about the various forms of journal writing, including Japanese haibun and naikan.

If you want to get away from it all, The Heartland Spa is an excellent choice. Tucked deeply into the back roads of Illinois cornfields, the spa is a hidden gem of Midwestern hospitality. Its myriad massage therapists and program leaders possess solid work-ethic honed skills bolstered by great openness and humor.

There are no televisions, telephones, Internet or alcohol at The Heartland Spa. I could receive messages on my cellphone, and was able to retrieve an important one from my son, who simultaneously was getting away from it all by camping in Wisconsin at an alternative energy fair, to let me know he made it to the camp O.K. in spite of car troubles. But I could not get an outbound signal to call him, or anyone, back. Of course, in an emergency, the office phones are available.

I was able to spend two nights at the spa and woke every morning at 6:30 a.m. to bolster myself awake, freshen up and dress for the 7:15 a.m. two-mile wake-up walk. Saw a lot of corn, soybeans, ponds, oak trees and local birds, not only cardinals, swallows and meadowlarks, but also turkey vultures and hawks soaring overhead. One empty crossroads reminded me of the country path Dorothy walked with Toto to reach her Kansas farm. But we weren't in Kansas, but part of an Illinois melding of the rural with The Heartland Spa's Oz-like beauty treatments in its posh multi-story barn at end of the gray gravel road.

Gayle, former local farmer and county assessor turned massage therapist and reflexologist (with a securities license waiting in the wings) gave me an alternately deep tissue and relaxing massage, concentrating on my shoulders and back, just like I'd asked. She later presented a hands-on lecture on reflexology (demonstrating on the feet of a guest volunteer) in the cozy, booklined, wood-paneled lecture room where I staged my journal writing talk a few hours later.

Over the course of my stay, I never felt hungry. The spa serves three healthy square meals a day with lots of variety, in addition to fruit smoothies, berry cups, strawberries dipped in chocolate sauce, and air-popped popcorn snacks at strategic times of the day, with ubiquitous fresh fruit, bottled water and gatorade on hand around the clock.

By the end of the weekend I had logged four miles of hiking, several trips to the separate women's steam bath and co-ed jacuzzi and participated in physical activity classes: Qi-Gong, Pilates, a Mini-Boot Camp of aerobics, fitball and punching bag, Dynabands and Xeribands, and Yoga.

I enjoyed sitting at different tables at breakfast, lunch and dinner and actually became acquainted with nearly all of the 25 weekend guests. I heard some great stories. For example, two sisters at the spa hoped to lose some weight because a certain brand of sleeping pill had turned both not only into sleepwalkers, but also "sleep-eaters" who had slapped on pounds without remembering eating anything come morning, yet finding their beds full of empty pretzel bags and cookie crumbs. We discussed natural alternatives to sleeping pills like Valerian herb, but not before each person at the table related his or her own sleepwalker (son, daughter, husband, cousin) story. One woman's husband, who served in the Vietnam War, needed to be tied to a bush by his fellow soldiers during the night so he wouldn't sleep-wander from camp and get shot. Little did he know he could have been given a 4-F deferment if the army knew he was a sleepwalker when he was drafted, she said.


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