By today's standards, my life is just moderately wired. I don't leave my cell phone on, so please don't ask me for the number. Furthermore, I grew up a veritable poster child for the mind-body disconnect. Forced to play softball in PE class, I concealed a paperback in the bodice of my gym suit, strolled to the distant outfield, plopped down in those high Louisiana weeds, and happily read until the bell rang. So even if I were a stressed-out wreck, it would take me a long time to notice.
But for better or worse I belong to my generation, the notoriously
self-absorbed Boomers. Through sheer demographic bulk we have always
gotten what we wanted and, as God is our witness, we are not going
to fall apart, sag, pucker, or atrophy. Plastic surgery is practically
a Constitutional right. Gym memberships flourish (even if attendance
fluctuates), and there have never been so many magazines devoted to
every square millimeter of the human body.
So edging into my forties, I find myself attempting (despite an almost total lack of gross motor skills - those do atrophy) to reconnect the disconnect. I try to take care of the machine that houses my brain. And, if I can say this in a family magazine, I seek pleasure. I go to spas.
Enter the Heartland. Last year, in search of a weekend refuge from uncomplicated but persistent job pressures, I remembered a long-ago recommendation from a Michigan friend who couldn't believe my ignorance of this Eden. "Oprah goes there," she said reprovingly, "and you should, too." It took more than a decade to act on her wisdom, driven though it was by daytime TV.
At www.heartlandspa.com I learned that the Heartland Spa operates on a 32-acre estate just east of Gilman, Illinois. In the $440 bring-a-friend weekend package, they provide lodging for two nights, low-fat gourmet nourishment, access to all classes and facilities, and one massage. Also included are practically all toiletries except your toothbrush, as well as shorts, sweats, and T-shirts-which in some version of a college student's fantasy are washed and returned by the "clothes fairy" if you drop them outside your door. You may purchase other spa services à la Carte, from additional massages to facials to body treatments. And if you need more than a weekend to detoxify your life, choose the five-day or seven-day packages.
Their brochure is full of words such as "nestled," "warm," "tranquil," "indulgent," "restorative," "soothing," and "unpretentious." It's all true. Most spas are set in the mountains, near the ocean, in the desert. The Heartland is probably the only health resort where morning walkers stride past cornfields and encounter the occasional cow. It seems that every window has a view guaranteed to make you breathe more deeply.
Nothing is glitzy. Everything is comfortable. This extends to the staff, who must have been hired expressly for their sincere interest in guests' well-being (and as good Boomers, we can't resist anyone who cares about us). Susan Witz, the Heartland's nutrition director and yoga instructor, is the first person we meet on Friday afternoon, and right away the timbre of her voice encourages a meditative state. We gather around her in a circle of deep cushioned chairs. She persuades us to introduce ourselves, and the little stories people tell about their lives and their reasons for coming prove that the Heartland generally attracts smart, interesting, articulate folk. On this particular weekend, two large and exuberant groups of old friends are reuniting. A daughter has given her mother a hedonistic birthday gift. And there seem to be an inordinate number of English teachers in the crowd. The rest of us resolve to watch our grammar.
After this brief exercise in bonding, it's down to the serious business of scheduling à la Carte treatments. In the only high-tension moment of the weekend, we jockey for position in line to sign up for massages. Craning my maladjusted neck, I spot a familiar face from the last visit: it's Charles Segard, master of Japanese restorative massage, foot reflexology, Reiki, and craniosacral therapy. I manage to secure two sessions with Chuck, late on Friday evening and early Sunday morning.
A certified massagaholic, I long ago left behind the plain vanilla world of the Swedish massage to explore more exotic (or at least exotic-sounding) modalities. I especially crave extremes, from the deep-tissue accupressure and vigorous rocking motions of Japanese restorative massage to the light floating touch characteristic of reiki. On Friday night Chuck and I decide that two consecutive sessions of craniosacral therapy are just the ticket for my shoulder tension and scoliosis. He goes to work on my spine from top (the tiny bones in the skull) to bottom (the notorious coccyx), monitoring the cerebrospinal fluid with gentle pressure and almost imperceptible motion. My body quickly reveals what ails it; the best part of craniosacral therapy is that it helps you heal yourself. After the Sunday session there is noticeable improvement, and I feel so centered and calm that I'm reluctant to re-enter the warm social life of the spa. I take a book to the pool, abandoned on this autumn morning, and soak up the solitude.
Finally, it's a standing joke among friends and family that I structure most of my travel around food. Restaurants are to me more compelling and culturally revealing than monuments and it's unlikely that I would have returned to the Heartland had the fare not met my standards. Susan works with Chef Robert to plan three squares a day plus snacks, all fresh, imaginative, and beautifully prepared. If you're counting, this bounty adds up to only 1500 calories a day for women on weekends is low in fat and high in fiber. This satisfies most people, and like Oliver Twist you can always ask for more. In the name of truth in journalism, however, I must report that Jenny Lambdin, my traveling companion for the weekend, found 1500 calories not quite sufficient. Jenny is CO-owner of Gold's Gym in Decatur; she teaches aerobics and cycling classes and trains people like me to pick up heavy things. This means her metabolism runs about 300% higher than most people's. Jenny turned out to be the ringleader of a near-revolt, which peaked on Saturday evening. "Butter" was their password, but they were so relaxed that nothing came of it.
Who should go to the Heartland Spa? Anyone who needs to feel welcomed, anyone who, like Garbo, wants to be alone. Anyone who needs healing touch, anyone who craves vigorous motion. Anyone who needs to stop and think for a minute, anyone who needs to stop and not think for a minute. In my case, I had been taking care of the outside but not the inside, and the whole package was starting to fray. Needless to say, I'll be back, in search of peace and pleasure.
article originally appeared in the April/May 2000 issue of Decatur
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