A Challenging Spa Day - at Travaasa Austin July 31, 2012

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I recently read in this article from Forbes magazine that 48 percent of mothers surveyed wanted a spa day for Mother's Day - making it the top choice of gifts. I can't say I disagree. What busy-or even not so busy-mother wouldn't jump at the opportunity to relax, retreat and enjoy some much deserved downtime? I know I would. And I did. But not so much because of Mother's Day-because of the generosity and encouragement of my friends at Travaasa Austin.

I've brought quite a few groups to Travaasa over the course of the past several years. Formerly known as The Crossings, it's a spectacular hotel/retreat facility in what feels like the hill country even though it's only a few minutes outside of town. I recently had the opportunity to expereince how completely the new management has transformed the space through a "Total Travaasa Day." And since self-care is such an important part of leading a resilient life, thought it would be fun to share here.

They have a pretty extensive list of activities that go on at Travaasa every day of the week. Everything from outdoor and fitness related options to cooking classes, equine experiences and even some artistic choices as well. And there's a world-class spa to boot. Decisions, decisions! I decided to do the challenge course in the morning-partly because I was curious on behalf of the groups I facilitate, and partly because I was curious if I could actually do it myself! I also took a "knife skills" cooking class and enjoyed two amazing spa treatments. Here are the highlights:

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The challenge course is small but mighty. I've been with several groups through ropes courses in the past, but am usually the one on the ground cheering everybody else on. I was excited to experience it for myself and ended up with an eclectic group of visitors from all points. The facilitators are the most important piece of any outdoor initiative-and Travaasa has chosen well. The youthful, energetic staff did a great job setting a lighthearted tone and yet still put safety and clarity above all else. Once we were geared up, the course-a series of high-ropes elements-was laid out for us. It consisted like most do of some climbing, and mostly "putting myself out there." I stepped out on rickety bridges high above the ground and suspended only by pretty thin but very sturdy cable. I walked across telephone poles, one foot in front of the other, and and was most challenged by the wire bridge that spanned what seems 25 feet or more. Last but not least was the zip line-the grand finale!

What I experienced was such a wonderful reminder of why these initiatives work in teambuilding and personal development. It became quickly clear to me that the entire thing was not about strength, but about courage. Standing up on that platform high above the hill country scrub took me a minute. I had to steel up, tell myself I could do it, and then make it happen. Even though it was just a small group we were still on a timeline and I found myself compelled to hurry, but unable to do so in order to complete the course. Instead, expediency was sacrificed for focus: the metaphor for me was obvious - focus deliberately on your very next step. And once that lesson was clear, I reached the end of the line ... the 250 foot zip line ... where I had to let go both literally and figuratively in order to experience the exhilarating rewards. It was a fun and thought-provoking start to the day.

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I didn't reach any major epiphanies during the knife still skills class, but it was very instructive and quite delicious. I wish they had told me when I booked it not to eat lunch first because in addition to learning how to slice, dice and julienne I created three very healthy and very tasty menus under the expert instruction of Chef Tricia. I've always wanted to take a class like that, and it was worth the additional charge. It was a good reminder that good food doesn't have to be complex and with all my healthy eating nonsense I do feel more comfortable chopping dicing and slicing now. Those things always felt like a chore before but it's really not that hard with the right tools and skills.

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The balance of my time was spent at the spa. There was the olive stone, juniper and cypress body scrub followed by a super massage by a therapist named Velvet. Velvet was really an expert body worker. The massage was not traditional, but just what I needed. She actually paid attention to what I put on the form I filled out in advance and addressed some very specific postural deviations and other needs I have. She showed me stretches and gave me advice on how to make the effects of the session last. My Vitamin C anti-aging facial was lovingly performed by Tracey, and the foot treatment she gave me was my favorite part of the whole day. She clearly knew her stuff as she explained the various benefits of the products and remedies she used. And while she was looking through her giant magnifying glass at the intricacies of my pores she politely gasped in surprise when I told her I'm 45 years old. I liked her, and that's not the only reason why.

Relaxing in the quiet environment, under absolutely no time pressure at all, was another gentle reminder of how prominent the clock and the calendar are in my day to day life. I was reminded of that scene in that Tom Hanks Castaway movie when he says: "Time rules over us without mercy. ... It's like a fire, it could either destroy us or it could keep us warm." That was the second reminder for me during the day that time can be my ally, if I respect it and treat it like a friend.

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Because they are my friends and colleagues, I know the folks at Travaasa are very open to constructive criticism and feedback. Tim, their savvy and charming Manager, is always asking for ways to improve. But I can tell you that this time around, I've got nothing but praise for the day. Travaasa caters to an upscale crowd, and a weekend away there I'm certain is well worth the cost. The fact that they offer affordable day packages like this, that provide such a tremendous array of experiences, is an extra bonus for nonprofit professionals like myself and others on a budget. Thank you to Travaasa for spectacular experience which led to some important personal insight as well. Looking forward to the next time.

About Heather McKissick

Heather McKissick is a self-proclaimed fitness wannabe and a true novice at being "intentional" about her health and well being. She is particularly interested in the idea of resilience … how to bounce back from difficult circumstances or just plain keep going during her busy working life. She is 45, a non-profit CEO, a community leader, happily married for 15 years, and mother to two small and very energetic children, ages 5 and 10. "I just want to be the best I can be in all areas of my life," said McKissick. "The older I get, the more I realize that energy is everything, and I want more!"

Heather can be reached via Leadership Austin at www.leadershipaustin.org.

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