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Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires

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The first day home from Canyon Ranch Lenox, I racked up a $104 bill at the health food store on flaxseed oil, cashew butter, green tea and vitamins. There’s been some backsliding – a few hot fudge sundaes - but overall I got what I went for: healthier eating habits and an exercise program that suits me.

Not that I knew that’s why I was going But a 4-page health & lifestyle questionnaire that came in the mail (along with a 54-page guide to services) closed with the question, “What life changes would you like to address while at Canyon Ranch?” Hmm, now that you mention it, I've been fifteen pounds overweight for three years, and my energy flags in the afternoon.

Consistently rated one of the country’s finest destination spas, Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires outside Lenox, Ma. is a sprawling complex constructed around an 1890 Italianate mansion. Like its sister spa in Tucson, its mission is to help people change their lives through good nutrition, consistent exercise, and conscious relaxation (otherwise known as meditation or prayer).

“You don’t need to come to Canyon Ranch for a pedicure,” asserts Sue Cowan, hotel director. “What really makes up special is our health and healing services.”

Many people go there to address a specific health issue – chronic pain or heart disease, for instance. With five M.D.s as well as behaviorial health therapists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, physical therapists, etc., health problems are addressed in a holistic manner.

Potential problems are identified and corrected before you actually get sick. If you’re already healthy, it’s a great place to reinforce your good habits and make some improvements. I exercise regularly, but in a private session I confessed to the exercise physiologist that I hated my strength-training program. He designed a program using a physio-ball that works three muscle groups at once, so I can get it over with in fifteen minutes.

At Canyon Ranch, there is a staggering number of ways to spend your time. Some people head out in the morning for long hikes or canoeing, but I kept to the complex, trying tai chi, Argentine tango, and Thai massage. I had my aura photographed, learned meditation techniques and went to as many lectures as I could on subjects like preventing bone loss, healthy snacking, homeopathic medicine and stress reduction.

After three days of eating beautifully prepared, healthy food without drinking any alcohol, I felt terrific and had lost two pounds. That was my Canyon Ranch, but while I was running from room to room, notebook in hand, absorbing as much information as possible, others were parked out on the lawn, faces turned to the sun, doing absolutely nothing. You couldn’t drag them to a lecture.

In the dining room you learn ways to incorporate some of the suggestions you hear about in the lectures. The salad bar has bowls of sunflower and ground flax seeds for tossing over your greens, and signs ask that you be mindful of portion size. All the menu listings have calories, fiber grams, and protein grams. And there are so many appetizing choices, including desserts, that you realize you don’t have to be deprived to eat well.

No alcohol is served, something I found very annoying the first night. By the third night, when I realized what three days of clean living could feel like, I was grateful. Canyon Ranch’s outstanding service, staff and programming is expensive to provide and it will cost you.

All you want to do is relax by a pool and get a massage, there are less expensive ways to do it. But if you want activities and programming, no one does it better, and for extensive health and healing services, it’s one of a kind.

To maximize the experience, sleep in Lenox the night before check-in, and arrive at 8 a.m. in the morning. Just stash your luggage with the bellman and live out of a spa locker til check-in. The same goes at the other end of the trip. It also takes a half-day just to get oriented – to take the tour, study the weekly newsletter and meet with your program coordinator and nurse to develop a strategy and focus for your stay.

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