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Wellness & Health Retreat: Juice Fasting

Destination: Nosara

An earthy aroma enveloped my senses as the holy wood -- palo santo -- smoldered around us. I was lying prone in Shavasana pose as Jerelea lightly massaged my neck and shoulders, her fingers laced with soothing lavender oil. This comforting "yogassage" is how we concluded our hour of restorative Hatha each morning. The throaty bellows of howler monkeys occurred as if on cue, enhancing our immersion in the surrounding rainforest. Limbs supple and mind free of any clutter, I focused on my intent for the week at Hacienda del Sol.

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This was my second pilgrimage to the wellness retreat, part of my annual quest for balance and clarity in life. For years I harbored a general wariness of so-called "health retreats" -- they just seemed too new-agey to me. My opinion changed eight years ago after my first juice fast and colon cleanse on one of Thailand's sultry islands. Seven days of nutritional juices complemented by massage, yoga, herbal steam baths, and the all-important colemas changed my whole paradigm of thinking.

After last year's juice fast at Hacienda del Sol, I left empowered with knowledge of living foods and the body's innate ability to heal itself with proper nutrition. I had cleansed the toxins from my body, boosted my immune system to super-human proportions and dropped the unfortunate muffin top I had recently been sporting. For eight solid months I was a rock star -- riding the wave of lightness that comes from rapid weight loss and a mostly raw diet.

But somewhere after the holidays, I not only fell off the "raw wagon," I did a spectacular face plant. You know how it goes: those pesky cravings for refined carbs return, one glass of wine turns into three, and any desire to exercise suddenly plummets. I have a notorious -- and arguably inherited -- addiction to all foods in the cream family, and my cream to green ratio was way off kilter. I was counting down the weeks and days until my return to Hacienda del Sol, a holistic retreat near Nosara on Costa Rica's North Pacific coast.

As soon as I set foot on the property, I entered a peaceful realm of healing and support; the stress and temptations of everyday life an alternative universe. Our seven-day program included juice fasting, yoga, meditation, twice-daily colemas (a self-administered colonic), and optional therapies like massage, acupuncture and re-balancing bodywork. As owner Menlha Bruneau was away on travels, our cleanse was led by an effervescent pixie named Jerelea.

An old soul at 25, Jerelea was a new ray of sunshine at the retreat. A ten-year practitioner of yoga, she had recently completed a 21-day cleanse and absolutely glowed with good health. A bout of wild laughter led me to Amy and Gina, two outgoing girls from Manhattan who were joining me for the weeklong fast. Turns out, they knew me from last year's blog on cleansing at Hacienda del Sol. "So, you're the one who wrote 'For the Love of Broth,' I remember your descriptions so well!"

I knew I had found my tribe in Amy and Gina when they mentioned their battle with an irritating toddler on the plane ride over. "Did you give it the evil eye?" I asked. " Of course! But when that failed I..." Not only had they actually read and enjoyed my articles, these down-to-earth ladies were my age, very independent, and what I would classify as "low-maintenance girls." When you're in such an isolated environment, bonding with your fellow fasters is key, and I took an immediate shine to both.

Like me, Amy and Gina craved a jumpstart to cleaner living, and we all yearned for that magic number on the scale. The night before beginning our fast, Jerelea lovingly prepared a four-course bonanza of raw foods. We dined on delicate rice paper crepes stuffed with luscious sunflower seed cheese, vegetable maki rolls, a seaweed and cabbage salad, and ended our feast with a coconut, banana and chocolate cream pie that would've made Martha Stewart proud. The flavorful and, most importantly, satisfying dishes motivated me to re-join the raw revolution.

It was July, which falls during Costa Rica's rainy season. The weather this time of year is a deterrent to many, but I love it. Beautiful mornings gave way to afternoon thunderstorms; the plants and flowers were an explosion of color, and a fresh breeze continually cooled the grounds. I was secretly happy we were an all-female posse, (lots of men do retreats at Hacienda del Sol), as too much testosterone can dramatically alter the vibe. We could let loose, laugh about some of life's more private moments (i.e. colemas), and just relax.

The onsite manager, an amiable fellow named Josh, subtly remained behind-the-scenes, giving us rides to the beach, setting up the video projector, and making sure our colema water was warmed to perfection. Over the next six days, we would be flushing nearly 70 gallons of coffee or lemon-infused water through our large intestines. Let the laughter and cleansing begin!

Wellness & Health Retreat: Juice Fasting in Pictures

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