Alberta Adventures In Wellness: Evolve Retreat Co. (Part Two)

To put it quite simply, 2018 has been a draining year personally and professionally. Don’t get me wrong — I have plenty of things on my gratitude list, but, by the end of a busy summer, I was in serious need of a recharge. So when Travel Alberta mentioned a wellness tour through the Canadian Rockies, I jumped on the chance.


Morning dawned and off we went towards those big beautiful mountains. Our driver laughed at us snapping pics through the front windshield of distant snowy peaks. “Just wait another day and you’ll be in those mountains,” he kept assuring us. Forty-five minutes later traveling southwest from Calgary, we turned off the highway and snaked up the drive towards Azuridge Estate Hotel. Once a private home, the hotel includes the main “house” featuring an enormous kitchen and dining area with views of the woods and Rocky Mountains. Guest rooms are plush, well-appointed suites. A huge tower offers 360-degree views to those willing to climb the spiral stairs to the top.

As lovely as the hotel was, we were there for another purpose. Evolve Retreat Co. partners with various locations offering comprehensive wellness experiences. The retreats span several days, treating guests to a wide range of healthful activities including hikes, horseback riding, water activities, group and personalized workouts with trainer Tommy Europe, mindfulness workshops, yoga sessions, meals with accompanying cooking lessons, and sleep consultations.

We were told to arrive in workout gear and got straight to it while the butler whisked our belongings to our rooms. Fitness Trainer Tommy Europe (former professional football player, actor, stuntman, and host of “The Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp” and “Bulging Brides”), looking every inch the workout taskmaster, pointed towards the tower and let us know the warmup is an Evolve-Azuridge tradition. Run up the stairs to the top, perform five burpees, run down, and repeat until the time is up. The first round up felt great, almost easy. But, as the rounds ticked by, our quads were feeling the burn. The timer finally beeped and we capped it off with some squat holds at the bottom. Sufficiently warmed up, we headed indoors (it had snowed recently, a surprise storm) for the actual workout which included ladder drills, partner exercises, pushups, and more sweaty fun. I filed away a few moves to take home to my workout group.

We took a short break before lunch to clean up and then enjoyed the culinary skills of Chef Chris Murphy. He and his wife Michelle were the retreat’s first guests back in 2017. The experience transformed their health journey — Michelle has since shed 50 pounds and works with her husband to provide nourishing, delicious gluten- and dairy-free meals to guests. That day, we ate a perfectly seasoned, juicy almond-crusted chicken supreme with rice vermicelli and shaved autumn vegetable slaw with miso vinaigrette. It was packed with flavor, a variety of great texture, and was highly satisfying. Post-lunch, Chef gave us an interactive demo of how to recreate the meal as well as some nutrition insights by the staff dietician.

In the afternoon we made our way down to the creek on the back of the property, slipping and sliding a bit down the slushy hillside thanks to a freak early October snowstorm two weeks earlier. At the creek, we spent a few minutes silently considering something in our life that was no longer serving us — a habit, thought pattern, process, memory, label, identity, etc. I had a whole list:

Never going to succeed. Not smart enough. Waste of talent.

Never going to be able to take care of myself financially. Hack.

When we were ready, we chose a stone to represent that thought, feeling, negative message, or habit and tossed it in the creek. Plop, splash, clink. One by one we hurled away that which no longer served us, discarding, shedding, removing. The body can convince the mind just as the mind can convince the body. The mental act of naming “it” combined with the physical act of casting “it” aside is a powerful way to reset negative thought patterns.

Back up the hill, we reconvened for a seminar on sleep led by Evolve co-founder Dr. Inge Gerber. As she listed off the general side effects of poor or too little sleep, a light bulb began to glow in my brain. Difficulty concentrating or remembering. Check. Digestive diseases like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (like Colitis or Crohn’s). Check. Headaches. Check. Cold symptoms. Check. We all know stress is death to a good night’s sleep. So are blue-light electronic devices like our smart phones, laptops, and tablets as they affect melatonin production. Eating too much or too close to bedtime can affect sleep (which is the usual routine in my line of work, especially during press trips). Sleeping quarters need to be as dark as possible and not too warm. And what about the negative effects of sleep apnea? I left the session with a big checklist of things to research and discuss with my doctor back home.

After a fantastic dinner featuring local Alberta beef and colorful produce, we got ready for what would turn out to be one of the most amazing experiences of the retreat. Evolve yoga and adventure guide Sarah Harvie led us through a restorative hour of yoga nidra — sleep yoga. She partners with local cellist Erin Beach, whose soothing music ensures deep relaxation. First Harvie took us through some stretches to work out the kinks from the day. After about 10 minutes we got out the last of our wiggles, scratches, and adjustments, settling onto our backs for the next 45 minutes. The idea is to put the body to sleep and let the mind hover just above sleep. Harvie helped us locate our physical place in space while the cello’s human-voice-timbre sounds gently nudged us into deep relaxation. We examined our thoughts and feelings from an objective viewpoint, recognizing things that were holding us back, little lies we tell ourselves, untrue commentary and unkind voices in our mental narratives. When the session ended, we felt like we had slept for several hours though it was not difficult to fall asleep that night.

I would join a full Evolve retreat in a heartbeat. Sarah Harvie also leads yoga retreats in off-the-grid locations throughout the Alberta region. It’s a great way to experience the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, feeding the body and the soul.