A scrub jay chirps as it soars overhead while I sit comfortably upright, immersed in the ancient practice of mindful meditation. “Notice the bird as it passes by,” offers instructor Linda Cammarata, careful to point out in a soothing voice that meditation is about “falling awake,” not emptying the mind. “It’s about being aware without projecting thought into it,” explains the nurse and alternative health care practitioner, adding that “too much thinking decreases circulation to the heart.”
Falling awake is an apt way to describe the experience at Salus Heart and Wellness, an educational retreat and spa alternative aimed at improving the health and welfare of the heart and rejuvenating the body. Salus, which is Latin for health and well-being, was cofounded by cardiologist Dr. Neil Treister and Rosemary Pfuhl, a therapist specializing in stress management. The program includes yoga classes, nature walks, wine tastings, and heart-healthy meals. However, the overall goal of the two-, three-, and four-day sessions, which take place at the Rancho Bernardo Inn near San Diego, is to instill a healthier long-term lifestyle rather than offer the immediate gratification of a standard fluff-and-buff spa experience.
Nearly one-third of the time at a Salus retreat can be spent discussing how the heart and mind function collectively, studying stress triggers—such as anger—and how to control them, and learning how to make healthy diet choices. Plenty of time is also set aside for golf, tennis, swimming, and, in my case, a two-hour massage.
Treister—an alternative therapy advocate despite his Western medical credentials—and Pfuhl believe that visitors will welcome a weekend of well-being that does not necessarily involve working up a sweat; the most taxing element of a Salus stay is the time spent calculating blood pressure, flexibility, weight, and cholesterol levels so that program directors can tailor the regimen to each individual. To counter my own high cholesterol levels, Treister recommended that I walk 30 minutes a day and eliminate from my diet foods containing hydrogenated oils, which cause the body to produce more cholesterol.
Indeed, nutrition is a major focus of the program, says Treister, because 80 percent of heart disease cases are caused by a build-up of endothelium, or arterial plaque, in the arteries, a condition aggravated by smoking and high-cholesterol diets. “Giving a 5-year-old a McDonald’s Happy Meal is the equivalent of giving him two cigarettes in terms of endothelium,” he explains.
Another benefit of the program, which is priced from $1,500 to $2,800 per person, is the ability to consult with medical professionals in a relaxing environment. “Good medical care accounts for only 10 percent of health outcomes,” says Treister. “The other 90 percent is a combination of heredity [20 percent according to Treister], environment [20 percent], and lifestyle [50 percent].” He describes Salus as “an oasis in a stressful world,” designed to improve those factors that can be controlled. Once free from the confines of the Rancho Bernardo Inn, however, it becomes much more difficult to prevent the stress of daily life from invading the oasis that I call home.
Salus Heart and Wellness, 888.55.SALUS, www.salusheart.com