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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Retreat Into Wellness

I immersed myself in the newly introduced wellness retreat at the AAA Five Diamond Four Seasons Westlake Village and its on-site Center for Health & Wellbeing and left feeling nourished and reenergized in mind, body, and soul.

 

By Beth Weitzman 

 

In need of a wellness reset, I headed to the Four Seasons Westlake Village, a AAA Five Diamond hotel located just off Highway 101, about 50 minutes north of Los Angeles Airport. The 12-acre property, nestled at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, underwent a $50 million renovation in 2020 that included modernizing guest rooms, meeting spaces, and food and beverage concepts. The hotel’s Coastal California meets old-Hollywood glam aesthetic blends luxury with a relaxed vibe, creating a comfortable environment that complements its wellness and mindfulness offerings. It’s no surprise that the hotel was recognized in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2022 as one of the top Southern California hotels.

I’m warmly greeted back to this special place as I return to take part in the resort’s new four-day, three-night wellness retreat, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Upon handing my car keys to the valet and checking in, my everyday life comes to a temporary pause, and a sense of calm takes over.

My Waterfall View room is luxurious and cozy, spanning 450 square feet and decorated in natural hues of cream, gold, gray, and touches of blue. The large picture window looks out onto a majestic 12-foot waterfall, well-manicured grounds, and the serene Santa Monica Mountains—it truly feels like I’m worlds away. The chaise lounge in front of the window is perfect for relaxing, reading, and taking in the views, while the legendary Four Seasons signature mattress, dressed in luxurious 100% cotton linens, sets the stage for a sound slumber. The stylish marble bathroom creates a spa-like experience, featuring a large tub, glass-enclosed shower, plush terry robes, and Natura Bissé amenities. A small round table with chairs provides a convenient dining area or workspace. Although my plan is to limit digital distractions during my stay, it’s still nice to have complimentary Wi-Fi included with the room.

Since opening in 2006, the Four Seasons Westlake Village and its on-site Center for Health & Wellbeing (formerly known as California Health and Longevity Institute) has catered to a diverse group of guests, including business executives, celebrities, socialites, and those who are passionate about wellness and travel. The hotel even has a production studio where none other than Oprah filmed her show.

The newly relaunched Center for Health & Wellbeing takes a holistic approach to wellness, combining five key pillars of health: nutrition, life balance, medically sound data, fitness, and healing spa therapies. The property also prioritizes sustainability and has implemented various environmental initiatives. These include electric vehicle charging stations, low-flow shower heads, energy-efficient building systems, and a recycling program that uses 100% recycled water for landscape irrigation and laundry. Additionally, the property has an organic waste diversion program and donates recycled toiletries to Clean the World. Sustainable food and beverage options are available on all menus, and a food waste reduction program is also in place.

After booking the retreat, I completed an online intake questionnaire that covered my health goals, nutrition and exercise habits, stress management, and preferred focus for my stay:  Sustainable Weight Loss, Optimum Performance, or Spa & Beauty. A member of the Wellness team called me a few days thereafter to discuss my responses and what I hoped to achieve through the retreat. Prior to my departure, I received a personalized program and packing tips, which I found very helpful.

Upon my arrival, I was excited to begin my customized Optimum Performance program, which involved a VO2 and Target Heart Rate Assessment, as well as a fitness consultation. Along with these individualized services, the retreat also included (for all retreat participants) body composition analysis; daily yoga; workshops and consultations on nutrition, fitness, health, and mindfulness; Wellness Kitchen cooking classes; hiking; sound bath meditation; spa treatment(s); and meals and snacks. The program’s approach is inspired by the Japanese practice of kaizen, a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of making small, incremental changes in order to achieve lasting results. The retreat is not a boot camp nor an overly strenuous fitness program; rather it serves to equip guests with the necessary tools to make lasting changes in their lifestyle to promote long-term health and wellbeing.

Once I settled in and unpacked, I headed to the Living Room where our small group and Wellness team hosts were gathering for a Welcome Circle and refreshments. Retreat groups are kept relatively small, typically ranging in size from 6 to 24 participants. After our warm welcome, we headed into the adjacent yoga studio for an intention-setting and restorative yoga practice led by Jenny Mosely, CPT, RYT. Afterward, Emmaline Rasmussen, M.S., RD, RYT led the group’s first nutrition talk. As someone who considers themselves pretty savvy when it comes to nutrition, I found Rasmussen’s talk engaging and informative. She provided a helpful refresher on topics like the hidden sources of sugar, the importance of increasing fiber while reducing sodium, and the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Additionally, I gained new insights into optimal fasting times (at least 12 hours) and the significance of dietary diversity in promoting good gut health. She recommends 7 – 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day and 4 – 5 plant-based, vegetarian meals per week. When it comes to animal protein, her advice: limit red meat to 1 – 2 times a week, eat fish 2 – 4 times, choose clean proteins such as plants and pasture-raised and/or organic poultry, and eliminate processed meats. The ideal, she says, is to aim for 30 different plants per week. Rasmussen also shared some eye-opening statistics on the impact of disease prevention. Proper nutrition, exercise, and weight management can reduce the risk of cancer by 65%, type 2 diabetes by 90%, heart disease by 80%, and Alzheimer’s/dementia by 75%.

After feeling mentally nourished and getting hungry with all the talk about food, we joined Rasmussen and Chefs Nhia Yang and Andrew Yeh at the adjacent Wellness Kitchen for our first cooking class and demonstration. The menu included an array of nutritious and delicious dishes such as roasted tomato soup, white bean and bruschetta crostini, Thai grilled shrimp. and pan roasted halibut with snap peas and mushrooms. We each selected a cooking station based on our preferred recipe; I opted for the chicken with chimichurri sauce and was elated to learn new cooking techniques. The modern demo kitchen and “Feel Good Dining Room” (which opens on to the patio), enhanced the experience. The dishes were easy to make and incredibly tasty, including a berry crisp with dairy-free ice cream for dessert. We each received a copy of The Wellness Kitchen cookbook as a gift, which is already a staple in my kitchen.

The group usually eats together at set times, with menus predetermined to accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies. Communal dining is a great way to connect with others over shared experiences and stories. The supportive environment and camaraderie among guests and the intuitive, super friendly Wellness team make the retreat at Four Seasons Westlake Village a truly special experience.

Capping off a wonderful first day and providing the perfect segue to retiring for the night, we experienced a memorable Sound Bath Meditation led by sound healer Stephanie Lekkos. We started by selecting a couple of crystals and setting an intention. Lekkos and her partner Robert Bruce used therapeutic singing bowls and tuning forks to create specific tones and vibrations, which she likened to an inner massage that helps settle the central nervous system and release blocked energy channels. The relaxation I felt afterward undoubtedly helped me sleep blissfully that night.

The following morning began with an invigorating yoga and meditation session on the Wellness Patio, led by Camille Coss, RYT, who adapted the poses and flow to suit everyone’s skill level. After class, Erika Wong, M.N.S, RD, and Chefs Yang and Yeh hosted a “Healthy Habits Breakfast” in the “Feel Good Dining Room,” where we discussed the significance of a balanced morning meal and learned how to make delicious and nutritious dishes like oatmeal pancakes and egg frittatas.

After a satisfying breakfast, we joined trainer Jesse Nelson M.S, B.S from the Four Seasons Wellness team and naturalist Andrew Bearer for a guided hike in the nearby Charmlee Wilderness Park. As we trekked through the park, stunning views and insightful information about the ecological and cultural history of the area kept us intrigued and inspired.

Following the hike, we enjoyed a refreshing poolside lunch in a luxurious cabana enjoying the relaxing atmosphere. We shared hummus, guacamole, pico de gallo, and salsa with veggies and chips. For my main course, I enjoyed the fresh and flavorful Farmers Salad with gem lettuce, red cabbage, asparagus, carrots, edamame, radish, avocado, and salmon, dressed with a zesty Citrus Ginger Vinaigrette.

From lunch, I headed to the fitness center to meet with Lead Exercise Physiologist Jake Miller at the fitness center for a body composition analysis, VO2 and target heart rate assessment, and fitness consultation. Through the collected data, we discovered that my cardio fitness was strong, but I needed to focus on increasing my lean body mass to improve my strength and metabolism. Jake was extremely knowledgeable and provided me with a detailed workout plan to follow at home. The wellness team and fitness instructors are exceptional here, taking the time to understand each guest’s distinct goals.

During some free time in the afternoon, I took a meditative stroll through the stunningly landscaped grounds, appreciating the vibrant colors and fragrances of the native plants, flowers, and herbs. I also admired the Hotel’s Art Gallery, which houses a diverse collection of contemporary art including captivating canvas and sculpture works by the visiting artist MegZany in her bold signature style.

As evening approached, I looked forward to dining at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Coin & Candor. The name pays homage to the hotel’s owner, Mr. David Murdock, and his inspiring journey from a homeless veteran with just a nickel and a penny to his name, to an extremely successful entrepreneur. Having dined here before, I knew we were in for a treat thanks to Executive Chef Jesus Medina, Executive Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy, and their talented teams. 

The California brasserie-style restaurant and bar is very popular among guests and locals alike. A “come as you are” attitude prevails, encouraging guests to dress as they please. Expansive vistas from the spacious outdoor patio and the bustling bar area add to its allure.

Chef Jesus’s global culinary experiences, passion, and upbringing are reflected in the menu at Coin & Candor, with wood-fire-grilled seafood, meat, poultry, and vegetables comprising about 80% of his offerings. Seasonal produce and ingredients are sourced from within a 100-mile radius, while Swiss chard, a variety of herbs, butternut squash, tomatoes, corn, and carrots are harvested from the hotel’s on-site garden and greenhouse. Signature dishes include the Baja Red Snapper with adobo and chimichurri (which was my choice and absolutely sublime). Chef Patrick, who honed his skills at The French Laundry, oversees the pastry program and creates extraordinary house-milled red-fife sourdough bread and gluten-free Pan De Bono with Oaxaca and Queso fresco (the best gluten-free bread I have tasted), among other indulgences.

Additional culinary options at the hotel include ONYX Restaurant (modern Japanese and sushi, reopening soon), Prosperous Penny (serving up artisanal cocktails and small bites in a speakeasy atmosphere that’s open late), The Stir lobby coffee bar (a great grab and go spot featuring Stumptown coffee), and in-room dining.

On Saturday, I started the day with a group circuit training session led by Exercise Physiologists Jesse Nelson and Scott Silveira in the updated fitness center. The 16,000 sq ft facility is equipped with state-of-the-art Hoist strength training, Keiser resistance training, Woodway treadmills, Peloton bikes, and more. Designated studios for spin and yoga/Pilates, an indoor pool, and various group fitness classes round out the offerings, which also include personal training services. Later, during breakfast in the “Feel Good Dining Room,” Silveira presented his “Secrets to Metabolism” talk, highlighting the importance of resistance training. He shared his recommended workout plan, called “F.I.T.T.,” which involves targeting each muscle group 1-2 times a week with 8-15 repetitions, 3-4 sets, and 1-4 exercises per group, and using eccentric loading for a minimum of 3 seconds.

The afternoon included a revitalizing yoga session guided by Mosely, followed by another nutrient packed, flavor forward lunch at the Wellness Kitchen, which we had the opportunity to enjoy in the garden, surrounded by fresh air and aromas. We then reconvened in the Living Room to join Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Julie Frumin’s “Life Balance Workshop,” which seemed to strike a chord with all of us. One of the core principles was prioritizing the things that truly matter to us and limiting activities that drain our time and energy without adding value.

After the workshop, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rasmussen for a one-on-one nutrition consultation. We delved into my current eating habits and explored ways to improve them in relation to my goals. We also went deeper into some of the topics covered with the group that particularly piqued my interest. She’s very approachable with vast knowledge and on point advice, which I appreciated.

After a busy few days, it was time to unwind and relax. I made my way to the 40,000-square- foot spa for a well-deserved massage. Designed with relaxation and tranquility in mind, the spa boasts a beautifully renovated environment and an array of amenities such as relaxation rooms, eucalyptus steam room, a dry sauna, whirlpool, and outdoor heated pool—all of which makes it easy to lose track of time. Self-care experiences on offer include a variety of massages, body treatments, facials, and nail services, all by highly skilled and experienced therapists. I was impressed by my massage therapist’s ability to listen to my areas of concern and effectively target them and send me into a state of Zen.

To conclude another fulfilling day, dinner was hosted in the Tasting Room by the Wellness Team, including Executive Wellness Director Akram Alkawasmeh. The meal was an unforgettable experience with scrumptious cuisine (I’m still dreaming about the Scallops and the Otta Cotta dessert) and engaging conversation that left a lasting impression.

Sunday arrived too soon, as the retreat would officially come to a close after lunch. In-room dining was a great choice before embarking on another trail adventure with Miller and Bearer, this time through the stunning Sycamore Canyon. The hike offered breathtaking views and fascinating insights into the incredible nature surrounding the mountain range. A picturesque beach picnic lunch on the sand was the perfect finale. I departed from retreat feeling reinvigorated, with my batteries recharged and goals refocused.

Rates start at $3,900 per person for the four day, three night retreat. In addition to the retreats, guests can book flexible stays, day passes, a wide array of à la carte experiences, memberships, or as a corporate retreat. For retreat dates, what’s included, rates, and more, visit https://www.fourseasons.com/westlakevillage/landing-pages/property/center-for-health-and-wellbeing/

 

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