Health & Grooming | Chronicles of a Spa Junkie

Spa Junkie at… The Ashram

The hunger is growing, the hikes are getting longer – but does all this effort yield results?

Spa Junkie at… The Ashram

May 13 2011
Spa Junkie

Part: 1 | 2

Spa Junkie is on a six-night “boot camp” programme at the notoriously gruelling Ashram in Calabasas, California.


This morning, we tackle The Ashram toughie, an 18-mile stretch of desert with three challenging trails: Bulldog, the Loop and Tapia. This was by far the most attractive of all the hikes but the views that many call breathtaking are, I feel, exaggerated. Calabasas may be close to LA and the weather lovely but the hikes have nothing on those in Europe, especially the boot camps in Austria and Valencia. Here, I am on a dirt track most of the time with very little to look at.

At the two-hour point, which you count down by the second, they serve your daily ration of a prune and five almonds. The hunger is now so acute I have started trading with the girls and am hoarding a handful of prunes for an after-dinner treat.

Mealtime is always a highlight, though conversation is at a record low: “I’ll trade you some goji berries for some spinach sauce” or “Do you think the extra side of seeds will stop me losing weight?”

But I can finally start seeing a difference. My body is now changing shape before my very eyes. For the first time in months, my eyes aren’t bloodshot and I can see my cheekbones. I’m tired but I actually feel great.

We all get to meet the owner today, a Suzanne Somers lookalike, she reads bodies and tells me that my left knee bends in, which means I have an overbearing mother. She has a steely glare and I lose the courage to raise the subject of The Ashram’s poor upkeep. My main concern is that she will ask if I am happy with the results as I would undeniably have to say “Yes”, and I imagine that that would be the conversation closed right there.


I’m feeling lighter physically, but mentally there has also been a shift. With no options, no decisions, no deadlines, I have had to relinquish all control and allow myself to be herded up and down dale with the only thought being what and when I will be grazing next. It’s allowed me to really switch off – a rare luxury. Full of energy, we blitz through our last hike and celebrate with a cold gazpacho picnic on the beach. Some of us even venture in for a swim.


Looking back, it was a great week, challenging physically and mentally, but with impressive results. I lost 4kg in seven days, my limbs are incredibly toned and my fitness level at an all-time high. An unexpected bonus is the friendships that even months later have not waned. But I would not choose to go back. The Ashram is resting on its reputation. Sport and fitness programmes, like all businesses, need to innovate. This model feels dated, the equipment and facilities are unacceptable and with newer retreats offering many more treatments and better accommodation The Ashram will need to step up a notch or be left behind.

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, accommodation and treatments.