Five almonds, three sisters, one mother and I are in the desert hills of California’s Laguna Canyon. Well, four almonds, actually. I ate one on the minibus ride from the nearby health compound known around these parts simply as The Pearl.
The three sisters are hills. Scratch that. They’re mountains – three soaring mountains that rise one after the other with barely a descent in between – and I’m climbing my way skyward towards the pièce de résistance known as “Mother”, one giant ascent designed to break all who dare to climb her.
Consider me broken. Me and my bag of almonds that I covet like gold. I don’t even like almonds. Yet here I am. I’m on one of the daily hikes that form part of the week-long health retreat at The Pearl Laguna in Laguna Beach, about a 90-minute drive south-east of Los Angeles. Alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, additives and animal products are left at the door as 12 health-conscious guests – New York bankers and Hollywood celebrities often among them – seek weight loss and inner enlightenment from Sunday to Saturday. Almonds, rationed out for morning tea, quickly become akin to Godiva chocolates.
The premise is simple: remove all toxins; haul your tired, detoxing bum out of bed before dawn; stretch, pummel and pound your body with yoga; push it up hills; feed it some locally grown organic food; throw it onto a massage bed; wash it in the sea; douse it with herbal tea; tell it how beautiful it is; send it back to bed. Repeat.
The founders of The Pearl – Geo Takoma and his Australian wife, Katresha Moskios – make it all look rather easy. Both exude health and timeless beauty and have the ability to bend their bodies like pretzels, despite their bodies having been on this Earth for decades longer than mine.
They’ve been soulmates for 40-plus years, having met while studying yoga under Indra Devi, a Russian yoga teacher and disciple of Indian yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Takoma went on to establish Power Yoga, combining endurance, flexibility and strength in a 90-minute class that had devotees lining up around the block the way I do for doughnuts.
After leading many transformative global yoga retreats, Takoma and Moskios (a former model who created her own line of organic facial oil) decided to settle down in Laguna Beach in 2009. They purchased an old mansion and began the process of creating their ashram-style oasis featuring succulent-lined courtyards, gold buddhas, yoga rooms and massage dens.
The guestrooms are calming and comfy, filled with sunlight and fresh flowers. But don’t expect televisions or digital devices. You are, of course, free to use your phone in the privacy of your room if you feel the need to call for pizza or a lift back to Los Angeles International Airport – though both will be refused, nicely, at the front door in favour of herbal tea and an energy ball.
When I arrived, I surrendered my laptop and phone and gave strict instructions that neither was to be released to me until I had dropped two dress sizes and found my inner Eckhart Tolle. Or at least until the week was over.
The true beauty of The Pearl is found in Moskios’s maternal care, Takoma’s impish humour and Southern California’s weather – the temperate coastal climate ensures you won’t be dripping in humidity-induced sweat before your first downward dog each morning. Breakfast is a mix of avocados and luscious local fruit with fresh herbs plucked from nearby gardens – after which guests spend about three hours each day trekking the coastal canyons, clutching their almonds. Fresh-faced guides with man buns and pearly whites offer kind encouragement and skip up the same vertical climbs that drop others to their knees and leave them crying for mummy. The reward? Lunch, a menu of healing broths and salads from a kitchen that acts as the retreat’s communal hub.
It takes a couple of days to reach reset. On day three, I turn a corner thanks to the daily Power Yoga, healthy cuisine, litres of alkaline water, afternoon massage, evening meditation and laughter over shared meals three times a day. By day four, most guests are lighting up the night sky with their healthy glow while doing their evening tai chi.
Surprisingly, it’s those punishing walks that become the best part of the day. Each trek provides a mix of cardio and recovery in climbing intervals interspersed with morning tea. You can walk with fellow guests, hang back on your own, run to the front, listen to music, talk to the guides or meditate with each step to the soundtrack of crashing ocean waves.
Yes, you might find yourself hiking with famous faces (Takoma has worked with Oprah Winfrey) but you’re just as likely to be sharing the path with captains of industry, creatives and entrepreneurs. By day seven, you’ll be firm friends and you’ll be lighter in kilos and cash – the retreat costs $US5500 (about $7718).
Me? I lost 4.5 kilograms in that week. I credit the almonds – or lack thereof. It was either that or Mother.