Fifteen miles of hiking, four hours of daily exercise class, 1400-calorie-a-day vegetarian diet and not to mention a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call – The Ashram is a glorified boot camp celebrities and average Joe’s alike pay thousands of dollars to attend.
Nestled in the scenic confines of Calabasas, Calif., The Ashram is a place to push your mind and body further than it believes it can go. It is a place where mobile phones and watches are shunned and uniforms are strongly recommended. Started in the 1970s by two Swedish women, The Ashram has reached mythic status among those trying to lose weight fast, gain back some good habits or those looking to escape society for a week.
You arrive on a Sunday afternoon, where you check in to your Spartan bedroom. The Ritz Carlton it is not – the house has seven bedrooms and four bathrooms for 12 people. Sitting on the living room table is a plethora of vegetables and a balsamic-miso dipping sauce. It is the last time you will have free rein over how much you eat.
Monday morning you are aroused with a knock on the door hours before sunrise. Everyone assembles around the dining table to eat breakfast together, as they will for every meal. Breakfast today consists of a small bowl of Ezekiel cereal (mainly sprouted grains like wheat, barley and spelt), with a cup of freshly made hemp milk.
To drink you have a smoothie made with half a banana, water and a tablespoon of green powder. The powder is a combination of different algae, probiotics, plants and enzymes. To say the drink makes people queasy does not give it justice. Think of it as wheatgrass on steroids.
By 7 a.m. you are out on the trail. You will hike mountains in Santa Monica, Calabasas and Malibu by the week’s end. Today, you only have to go 11 miles, but that number grows and by Friday, you will be hiking 15. If the trek is especially hard, they will give you a meager treat of 2 almonds and 2 raisins.
The hike gives visitors a chance to really get to know each other. The Ashram attracts a very diverse group of people from all over the world. As you hike up the mountain with your Camelbak full of water, the trainers incessantly remind you to “Sip, sip, sip!” The goal is to flush your body of all the toxins you might have accumulated in your everyday life from smoking, eating poorly, not exercising and general pollution.
After the hike you enjoy a session of yoga that helps to ease your soreness tomorrow. Lunch is a wonderful sunflower seed pâté salad. The chef and nutritionist have worked hard to develop a menu that is at once light, healthy and delicious. Lunch is followed by a one-hour break and then the afternoon activities. That means water aerobics, weights, abs and yoga again. The afternoon does have one guilty pleasure: massage. Everybody gets a daily rubdown from world-class masseurs.
Toxic Tuesday hits hard for most people. This is the day when you feel the diet soda or cigarette addictions. Two to three people get very sick and are unable to handle the entire hike. Others endure searing headaches and nausea. The staff attributes it to the body’s attempt to suddenly purge itself of all its toxins. Everything you do, eat and drink on Sunday and Monday is geared towards relieving your body of the toxins that you have accumulated.
By the end of the week, people are noticeably thinner, happier and sprightlier. The once awkward atmosphere among strangers has become convivial. People are making promises that they will adhere to the lessons of The Ashram in their everyday lives.
I have come to believe that spending one week away from society each year is essential for anybody’s wellbeing. Unlike normal vacations that can still be stress inducing, the wonderful trainers make sure you do not have to worry about anything, from when to wake up to what to eat.
The Ashram makes you feel like you are operating at maximum potential by combining an ideal diet, tremendous amounts of exercise and just the right amount of recovery. Over half their business are returnees – so they must be doing something right.