Juliette Sivertsen discovers mindful moments on a weekend wellness retreat and is inspired to make them last
It's a mad idea, in the middle of a bitterly cold May. But the cold plunge pool is there for a reason. There has to be some benefit to it.
After three days of bathing in the glorious thermal waters at Rotorua's Polynesian Spa, I decide to haul myself out of the cocoon of a 40-degree hot pool to immerse myself in the icy water.
Shock. Scream. Pain. Tingles. Life.
In fact, I feel so alive that, beyond all belief, after I warm up I go back for another round.
Halfway through the spa's Mindful Moments weekend retreat, clearly, something is shifting in my brain. Madness or bravery?
Before I arrive at the retreat I have visions of being out of place among a group of eager participants, experts at downing green smoothies and yogis with their handstand progress documented on Instagram reels.
But I'm not out of place at all - we're all regular women living busy lives wanting to take steps to enhance our wellbeing and manage anxiety and stress. No fancy diet required - and most importantly, it's a caffeine-friendly environment where tea and coffee sit next to the freshly squeezed juice.
Polynesian Spa is built on the same site as the city's first-ever bathhouse, established in the 1800s. Drawing from the region's geothermal resource, the spa's 28 hot mineral pools are fed from two natural springs; the alkaline Rachel Spring, and the more acidic Priest Spring, known for relieving muscle aches and pains. It's the perfect setting for a mindfulness retreat.
With just six participants, it's easy to relax and connect with the others over a soak in the hot pools before a yoga session and wellness workshop with journalist-turned-health coach Rachel Grunwell.
Rachel is so full of joy that it's hard not to feel relaxed around her. She encourages us to find our "flow".
"Finding flow is when you do something you love doing or have a high skill set and you enjoy it so much that you literally get lost in the moment," she explains to me. "You feel so damned good. It's a state in between boredom and anxiety. If something is too easy you feel bored. If something is too hard it can make you feel anxious. So the in-between is flow."
I realise that's what's missing in my life - my flow. It's always been dancing or figure skating, but a long-term injury has halted my flow. Running is Rachel's flow. It wasn't always, but now she gets lost in the moment. I have some work to do back home to rediscover mine.
The second and final day includes more hot-pool soaking, a relaxing massage, a healthy lunch and a gentle walk around the lake before concluding with some mindfulness. Retreat manager Helena Keenan guides us through some breathing exercises designed to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body relax.
By the end of the retreat, my mind is significantly less cluttered. But the retreat itself isn't what will be life-changing and healing. It's about what I put into action when I return to my everyday life. Rachel encourages us to find just one thing we can do differently to help kick things off back home.
The next morning, I take a shower and finish off by blasting out cold water to relive the invigorating feel of the cold plunge pool. I feel alive. I do it again the next morning, tolerating the cold longer, feeling more energised each second.
I ask Rachel why it feels so good.
"It assists recovery and has an effect on things like blood circulation, eases pain relief and you feel incredibly revitalised and alive. It also trains your mindset.
"There are 28 hot pools on site and I joke that you can be like Goldilocks and keep searching for the best temperature. I like the hottest pool on site. I emerge from this - and cold therapy combo - feeling incredibly relaxed and I sleep like sleeping beauty afterwards. It's bliss."
A weekend of bathing, massage, yoga, gentle walks and meditation, and my mind is less foggy, clearing the way for the true healing to take place - that is, through my habits in day-to-day life, recognising what the "drainers" are back home and whether I can find that elusive flow.
Three techniques to calm a busy mind
Exhale and hold
Breath in through your nose for four counts, breathe out through the mouth for four counts, then hold for four counts at the bottom of your exhale. Repeat five times.
Inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, hold for four counts. Repeat.
Try this one only if you're prepared to drift into deep relaxation or sleep.
Inhale for four counts, hold for seven counts, then exhale for eight counts. Repeat at least four times. You might feel a little dizzy if you're not used to this type of breathing.
The next Mindful Moments Retreats at Rotorua's Polynesian Spa will take place from August 14-15 and November 13-14, with prices from $599pp. polynesianspa.co.nz
Questions on keeping good mental health when travelling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @j_sivertsen