Last week I had the utmost treat of spending several days at the long standing institute known to its regulars as “The Ranch”. Founded by the legendary Deborah Szekely and her husband in 1940, the fitness spa has attracted thousands of people to its beautiful, sprawling campus through the years. Indeed, many of these guests have gone on to visit the Ranch on a yearly basis.
While the magic of the ranch is hard to quantify it is easily felt. The campus, which includes 4,000 acres of land, is lush with vegetation. The winding brick cobbled paths twist in and around the buildings creating a high desert wonderland for its guests. Most first time guests come for the programming — a wide range of classes, activities and lectures aimed at physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing which run from 6:15 in the morning to 9 o’clock each night — but what makes them come back again and again is the community.
From the moment you board the bus to the Ranch (which leaves three times a day every Saturday) from the San Diego International Airport you can feel the energy. There’s a buzz among the seat mates perusing the material handed to them when they checked in — a lush brown folder stuffed with information on the other guests joining you this week, bios of all the special presenters, a detailed list of every spa treatment available to you and the daily schedule. That schedule is filled with activities for any taste, overflowing each hour with three or more classes and teeming with possibility. Looking at the schedule, you feel overwhelmed with the possibilities of what you can do and thus who you can be at the ranch.
On my very first day at The Ranch I attended a class called “Set Your Ranch Intention, Tips for A Magical Week” taught by Jill Thiry — in which she urged us to take the schedule in full, highlight, star, circle and dream about all of the possible activities you could attend at any given moment at the ranch and then to let the person you are in the moment decide where you go. She argued that the “you” sitting looking at the schedule now would not be the you of tomorrow at 2 or the you of Friday at 9. That one of the keys to having a magical week at the Ranch was to embrace the Zen philosophy of expanding and reclaiming the present moment. The you of this moment, not the last moment or the next moment. Just this moment.
And that’s what I did, at least tried to over the course of my stay noting all the things I was interested in and attending only that which sparked interest in the me of the moment when it came time to attend class.
There are daily hikes offered at The Ranch, on 6 different trails — mostly in the mornings before breakfast ranging in distance difficulty from a rolling 2 miles to steep vertical climbs on 4 to 5 mile hikes. These hikes take you up into the foothills & basin of the sacred Mount Kuchumaa known by the Kumeyaay tribes people as “exalted high place.” The mountain itself is filled with quartz which, for those who believe, vibrates a a unique energetic frequency, and on those early morning hikes it is easy to believe. There is something spectacular about the sunrises over the valley & under the shadow of the mountain. Something special about the people young and old walking the same path you are, some of them for the 100th time.
On these walks there’s a tradition, a ritual that many hikers perform. Picking up a small stick from the ground and breaking it into three pieces. While you walk, the question then becomes “what am I carrying?”. What am I carrying with me on this hike, in this moment that I can set down? Even if only for this hike. When you know, when it bubbles to the surface as you walk whisper it to a stick and then set down, chuck it away or toss if off the mountain. Just let it go.
Give each stick with the worry you need not carry back to the mountain in turn. Look up take in the view & hike on. Added bonus? The start of each hike is perfectly timed to get you back to The Ranch just in time for breakfast.
Physical & Mental Wellbeing
At any given hour guests at The Ranch can choose to attend classes that range from Deep Water Fitness to Sound Healing with singing bowls. Days at The Ranch are filled with moving from one class to another. Think summer camp for adults — the classes sprinkled through out the campus, meeting friends and family on your walk from class to class. Taking so many classes wellness classes in a day, perception and importance of well being being to shift. Indeed The Ranch is filled with men and women in their 60s to 70s that are fit as a fiddle, taking part in classes along side you.
They embody a principal that The Ranch seeks to show- that rewards of physical and mental fitness are far more reaching than just fitting into that skinny pair of jeans or looking good. They allow you to live with vitality long into the later stages of life. Debrah herself, at 99, a shining example.
A Final Word
The Ranch’s magic has entranced me. Integration back into the real world was hard the first few days back, and since I left I’ve been thinking about when I’ll head back. This was year one, of hopefully many to come.
By no means does this blog cover the details or day to day of a visit to The Ranch. Instead my hope was to capture moments of magic I felt during my stay and to say to anyone thinking about booking a trip — it’s well worth it. Your trip will be unique, your journey will be yours. Enjoy it.