Four Steps To Your Fitness Reboot

How Charmaine Gooden got her health groove back. Follow these rules of engagement and you, too, can get your mojo moving again.

I chose a four-day getaway to Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico – a renowned fitness resort, luxury spa and spiritual retreat – with three goals. First, I needed to detach from email, deadlines and endless commuting. I was also aware that though I wasn’t technically out of shape, my discipline had slipped, my progress had plateaued and I hadn’t tried a new workout trend in years – and that’s saying something, considering my long career as a health writer. So, my second goal was to reinvigorate my desire to work out and challenge myself to try something new. And third, I desperately needed to kick-start some healthy habits like sleeping and eating at regular hours and reducing stress.

Fitness Becomes Fun Again

When the wake-up call comes at 5:15 a.m., I’m tempted to choose sleep over exercise. The ranch day begins at 6 a.m. with guided nature hikes to the mythic Mount Kuchumaa along paths, through gardens and past the resort’s six-acre organic farm. I take the gentle two-mile Quail One Hike. The scenery takes away what little breath the steep terrain doesn’t, but I enjoy it so much I decide to hike the extended 2.5-mile Quail Two Hike every day thereafter. One doesn’t need a scientific study – though there are many – to know that just being in nature has a positive effect on human nature.

Finished hiking, I stroll to the expansive dining room for a buffet-style breakfast – the cuisine is lacto-ovo-vegetarian – which includes organic oatmeal cereal with agave nectar, fresh fruit and juice, low-fat homemade muffins and organically grown coffee. By 9 a.m., I’m ready to jump right into as many of the 60-plus classes offered each week as possible, including those at the ranch’s four outdoor pools.

I go from one strenuous workout to another – Sculpt and Strengthen, Bar Method Aerobics, Fitball – before slowing down and making the choice to focus on gentler, more meditative workouts like dance and tai chi. I’ve never heard of my first dance class before: NIA (neuromuscular integrative action) is a low-impact aerobic workout that combines jazz, modern and Eastern dance forms. I’m channelling Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp, working on co-ordination, flexibility and balance, all important fitness aspects, especially for the aging body I tend to ignore.

After exercising for five hours, getting into bed with a book at 8 p.m. is all I’m good for, plus there’s no TV or Internet in the guest rooms to distract me. I sleep eight refreshing hours for the first time in a long time.


For something entirely different, it’s a short stroll over to the Oak Tree Pavilion where Tai Chi Chuan Master Kevin M. Sullivan, owner of Wu Wei Martial Arts, demonstrates how to breathe rhythmically and move with focus and fluidity through a combination of tai chi movements, called forms, which flow continuously into one another. This is my first tai chi class, and it takes a few minutes to settle my naturally nervous energy into the slow-motion rhythm of arms moving in and out, one leg bending, the other stretching. The motion switches to the other side of the body. Then it all kicks in, and tensions drain; my mind feels quiet, and my body relaxes. Of all the activities at the ranch, tai chi has renewed my desire to exercise, and I’m inspired to continue learning back home.

Getting fit isn’t just about exercising. The body needs massages and simple rest and relaxation to also help build muscle tissue. It’s nearly 3 p.m. when I wander into the Villas Health and Skin Care Center for the Inner Force body scrub treatment. Taking the time to enjoy a spa treatment gives me the sense of renewal that I’m so desperately seeking. Pampering may be the point of a spa treatment but here, there are many types of massage, body wraps, masks, polishes and showers, facials and full salon services offered at the ranch’s three health centres. For me, it’s really about some quality downtime.

Eat More Healthful Cuisine

Lunch today is a private hands-on cooking class with executive chef Denise Roa at La Cocina Que Canta, the ranch’s cooking school and culinary centre. We learn how to steam seafood in parchment using fresh, organic herbs and vegetables from the resort’s own orchards, vineyards and gardens for salads.

Back at the ranch, dinner is served, and with an emphasis on Mexican and Mediterranean cooking and ingredients. Many of us are familiar with the health benefits of Mediterranean food, but less commonly known are the benefits of a Mexican diet: beans, rich in antioxidants and dietary fibre, are a staple ingredient; fresh tomatoes are the backbone of many Mexican salsas and, mixed with chilies, they’re used in everything from soups and salads to sauces, meat and seafood dishes. Avocados are also plentiful and an excellent source of the healthy monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, which helps lower cholesterol. Fresh and dried chili peppers give Mexican dishes their characteristic spice – capsaicin, the spicy compound found in chili peppers has been known to fight inflammation. The herb cilantro is high in vitamin C.

Relax the Mind

The Crystal Bowl Sound Healing Class is among the more esoteric classes. For 20 minutes, I’m lying on my back, eyes closed, completely relaxed as an instructor rubs the sides and rim of large crystal bowls so they vibrate to produce sounds. It’s soothing, hypnotic and pretty soon, there are sounds of people falling asleep. The idea here is to promote a mind-body connection that increases health by reducing stress on both physical and mental levels.
It’s working.

As I walk back to my room, I take notice of all the creatures like brush rabbits and ground squirrels playing on the lawns, California quail birds in the lush vegetation, as well as the artwork of top Mexican artists strewn over the property. I realize that, for the first time in a very long time, I don’t have to force myself to slow down and appreciate my surroundings – I’m totally relaxed and able to take it all in.

Four days of daily exercising, eating healthy, getting massages and good old-fashioned rest and relaxation has calmed frayed nerves and inspired my workouts. Goals achieved. Mission accomplished.



Rates for a four-day stay range from $1,720 to $2,570 a person, double occupancy, including all meals and access to all facilities and programs. Massages and other treatments cost extra. For reservations, call 1-800-443-7565 or 858-764-5500 or go to