Monday, December 14, 2009

Canyon Ranch: Day 1

With two little kids, time-consuming jobs and a host of other day-to-day responsibilities, it can be challenging for M and me to find time for ourselves (other than the hour or so we spend exercising every day). That's why it feels so good to run away to another state and do nothing but focus on ourselves.

Our first day back at Canyon Ranch has been fantastic. In some ways, it's even better this time around because we're familiar with the layout of the place, the schedule, the trainers, the classes, and the food; instead of trying to figure out what we're supposed to be doing, we're just soaking up the whole experience and focusing on exercising, eating right, and relaxing.

After the jump, a rundown the things we did today, along with scoop about the Hollywood film actor who's been sweating next to us in our exercise classes.

We stayed at the Arizona Inn last night -- a boutique hotel that we're told is "cute!" though we didn't get a good look at it, given that we arrived late and departed before the sun was up. Canyon Ranch sent a driver to pick us up at 7 a.m., and by the time we got here, we were more than ready to get started.

We left our bags at the bell desk, picked up our Canyon Ranch bags, schedules, water bottles, T-shirts and breakfast-in-a-box, snagged lockers at the spa, and went to our first class.

8 a.m. - ABS EXPRESS: As described in the weekly schedule of classes, this session consists of "20 minutes focusing on strengthening your abs and lower back."

Led by a trainer, this brief class consists of a series of deep core exercises (not dissimilar to P90X's Ab Ripper X or Insanity's Cardio Abs), including one move that I think I'm going to continue doing at home:

Lay on your back with your left leg bent and foot on the floor, and with your right leg extended out. Your right arm reaches out to the side at a 90 degree angle and rests on the floor. Your left arm is extended up over your head, but also rests on the floor, holding a small rubber ball. You then reach your left arm up to the ceiling while slowly raising up your right leg (which remains straight), and you touch the ball to your right foot. Slowly move your arm and leg back down to the starting position. That's one rep. Repeat this move for a minute, and then alternate legs.


We'd neglected to schedule any spa treatments before arriving, so Canyon Ranch had us meet with an incredibly tall and pushy "Lifestyle Concierge" who booked appointments for us this week. Without having looked at the description of services, I hastily signed up for a Thai Massage (tonight) and something called "Rejuvenating Waters" (tomorrow night). M booked a facial (tonight) and a Hydrotherapy Massage (tomorrow night). We also scheduled two couples' treatments: a water massage called "Watsu" (Wednesday night) and the oh-so-girly-sounding "Ultra-Moisturizing Treatment for Two" (Thursday night). I'm kind of skeptical about the latter (how moist do I need to be, anyway?), but will reserve judgment for now.

Canyon Ranch slyly omits the pricing information from its "Guide to Services" that we were given to review. And before we knew it, we'd spent our kids' college funds on a bunch of massages.

10 a.m. - BARS, BALLS & BUNGEES: "High-intensity cardio, strength and endurance workout using the CorePole, body bar and medicine ball. Designed for those without injury or limitations."

This is described as an "advanced" (Level 3) session, and rightly so. It reminded me of Insanity: Lots of heart-pumping plyometric jumps, resistance and cardio moves, including sprints, squat jumps, push-up variations, suicides, various elastic band push-pull exercises, and obstacle course-running. By the end of the hour, sheets of sweat were pouring off of all nine of us in the class.

Before it began, M was concerned that this course was too advanced for her, but she kicked ass and  completed all the moves (modifying only a couple of the medicine-ball balance push-ups and tricep-dips).

11 a.m. - GET ON THE BALL: "Use a stability ball to improve muscle tone, balance, posture and coordination."

This class was exactly what you'd expect from a stability ball class -- lots of classic balance moves, mixed with a few resistance exercises (like ball push-ups and ball bridges) -- but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was a great reminder that stability balls are an awesome home fitness tool.

Noon - YAMUNA FOOT FITNESS: "Twenty minutes dedicated to the health of your feet. Learn the importance of alignment and foot strength and increase function and flexibility utilizing Yamuna's Foot Wakers and Foot Savers."

This is basically a live infomercial for Yamuna Body Rolling's foot-health equipment: Little rubber half-spheres (some nubbly, some smooth) that are used to stimulate nerves and elongate muscles in your feet. This class is like a self-administered foot massage -- it felt good, and definitely got my feet more relaxed and sensitive. My only quibble: The instructor's recommendation is to heel-strike with the foot, which is at odds with what we've learned from barefoot running afficionados. I pointed this out to him at the break, but he kind of dodged the question by saying that "if [your foot mechanics] work for you and you're not getting injured, don't try to fix what isn't broken." Uh, okay.

12:30 p.m. - LUNCH 

At the Canyon Ranch dining room, M ordered fava bean soup, hummus with lavash and a veggie burger. I had gazpacho and a crab, corn, cheese and chile quesadilla. We also hit the salad bar, and finished up our meal with some  sorbet and chocolate chip cookies. (Yes, you can have desserts at Canyon Ranch. The food here is healthy and balanced -- the point is to eat mindfully without depriving yourself altogether of flavorful foods -- including stuff with sugar and fat.)

The way it works here is that everything (except for the spa treatments and some of the specialty classes) is covered by the exorbitant price you've already paid for staying at Canyon Ranch. So technically, you can order as much as you want at the restaurants on the property, and treat the restaurants on property as all-you-can-eat buffets. But because nutritional information (including calories, carbs, fat, fiber, etc.) is printed next to each item on the menu, and because everyone around you is trying to get and/or stay healthy, you're nudged not-so-subtly towards making healthy menu selections.

The food ain't five-star, but for healthy fare, it's pretty damn good.

2 p.m. - BOXER'S WORKOUT: "Punch, jab and hook your way through this aerobic workout."

I figured that since Kenpo X is a (relative) piece of cake, I'd make it through this workout with no problem. I was wrong. Boxer's Workout is what Tony should have included in P90X instead of Wesley Idol's lame-ass waste of DVD space.

The eight of us in this class started with some shadowboxing before doing tons of jumproping (at which I am horrible). And by tons, I mean two sets of 3 minutes each. This doesn't sound like much, but after hopping on my toes for that long, my already-sore Achilles tendons were screaming. Afterwards, we put on boxing gloves and started in on the heavy bags. Occasionally, we were instructed to mix it up with sprints and walking lunges -- none of which made my calves feel any better. By the time the hour was up, I was totally depleted.

Interesting note: Jason Patric (who, in my worthless opinion, hasn't been in a good movie since "The Lost Boys" "Narc") is also staying at Canyon Ranch, and was in our boxing class. I decided almost immediately that he's a bit of a tool, because when we were shadowboxing, he was the only one who stuck his thumbs and pinkies out of his fists, Muhammed Ali-style, and did this weird, pouty thing with his mouth. [UPDATE: I stand corrected. A reader has informed me that Jason Patric is a perfect gentleman and a fine human being, whereas I am (sadly) a vain, ignorant, gossipy, petty little man who likes to pose shirtless.]

3 p.m. - YAMUNA BODYROLLING: "Elongate muscles and improve alignment."

We used little rubber balls of different sizes, colors and firmness to roll out and stretch our (by now) sore and depleted muscles. It's similar to using a foam roller, but more precise because each ball can target pressure points more precisely and deeply. This class was pretty full -- about 15 people showed up, including Jason Patric and his posse. My first impression of him was reinforced by the fact that he kept loudly joking about the black-colored balls used for calf-stretches. "Hey," he repeatedly prodded his buddies and girlfriend. "Grabbed those BLACK BALLS yet?" Ha, ha. [UPDATE: See above. I'm sure the "black balls" comment was just part of his "steely determination and focus."]

4 p.m. - STRETCH & RELAXATION: "Promotes flexibility, breathing and relaxation."

And boy, did we need it. We both fell asleep by the end of this session, sprawled out on the floor of the studio. I think I started snoring.

5 p.m. - CHECK-IN

Did I mention that we did all the above before we even checked into our accommodations here at Canyon Ranch?

We're staying in a nice, big cottage just a few steps from the main building and spa/gym. Like everything else here, the room is decorated in a homey Southwestern theme, with lots of warm browns, reds, and other earth tones. It's not exactly my style, but it fits the place nicely.

6 p.m. - THAI MASSAGE (100 minutes): "Thai massage, sometimes called 'yoga massage,' originate in Buddhist monasteries as preventive healthcare for the monks. Using slow, gentle rocking movement, the therapist applies compression with thumbs, palms, knees and feet to stretch soft tissues and harmonize vital energies. This graceful therapy, which is given on a floor mat, leaves you relaxed, energized and more flexible."

Earlier, I felt snookered into signing up for this massage, but I ended up really digging it. I loved that I didn't have to change out of my street clothes (I just wore a T-shirt and long pants), nor did I have to lie still on an uncomfortable massage table. Instead, I just relaxed on a thin futon in a dark room while the super-strong therapist (seriously, she had Popeye forearms) focused on deeply kneading various pressure points on my body and twisting me into numerous poses. I heard my joints and spine pop a few times, but it was incredibly relaxing and therapeutic. The experience was akin to deep tissue or Shiatsu massage combined with yoga and acupressure. My left Achilles tendon was on fire before the massage began, but by the end, it felt completely and miraculously fine.

8 p.m. - DINNER

Back at the main dining room, M ordered lasagna and I had grilled salmon with Swiss chard, green beans and mashed cauliflower. Dessert consisted of orange sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and peanut butter gelato. We slammed it all down in record time, owing to the fact that we'd burned more than a few calories during the day.

So that's about it. We not just survived Day 1, we enjoyed the hell out of it. More tomorrow...