Geoff Dalglish visits a holistic health centre in South Africa’s Eastern Cape that is an oasis of healing and rejuvenation, a restorative tonic for body and soul and the inspiration to pursue a vegan lifestyle.
Conduct a random survey at the St Francis Health Centre, overlooking the beautiful Kleinemonde Valley, near Port Alfred and you’ll discover it attracts people from all walks from throughout the world – and for vastly differing reasons.
Some are there simply to unwind in a relaxing environment, choosing a holiday that doesn’t leave them more exhausted than when they started. Others need to learn to eat properly, stop smoking or binge eating, recuperate from an illness or simply take time out to rediscover and reinvent themselves.
The regulars passionately endorse the St Francis philosophy that “health isn’t just an absence of disease, it’s an embracing of life.”
This was my 12th week-long visit and my first in six years. Admittedly I arrived with some slight misgivings. I was feeling creaky with low energy levels, experiencing pains in my hips and knees, and harbouring a nagging fear that this was the way it would be now that I had passed the 70-year mark. Having celebrated my three score and 10 years, had I now reached my sell-by date? Was I consigned to a life of enduring pain and discomfort?
I also questioned whether St Francis would still be a remarkable centre of healing and rejuvenation now that Anneliese Cowley, its visionary and intuitive Austrian-born founder, had passed from this earthly life.
What I was very excited about was the fact that my daughter Bonnie was accompanying me on this health journey, choosing to spend quality time with her Dad while enjoying a detox of body, mind and soul.
The invitation is to discover the real you and to make a life, rather than a living, the cornerstones including a healthy, nutritious vegetarian diet, exercise and daily relaxation.
“Healthy living is a way of life,” I was assured on my first visit back in 2003. “By learning how to incorporate a healthy and balanced diet with exercise and relaxation each day, our lives become much less stressful, our relationships improve and we gain a greater sense of control over our life and health. We function more effectively in our individual environments.”
It is also obvious that we are what we digest and the detoxification diet allows the gastro-intestinal system to have a rest, rejuvenate and start functioning better while producing the right enzymes for digestion.
We all joke about how incredibly modest the portions are, although surprisingly I don’t feel hungry. The first day is a liquids-only day, but it isn’t a starvation day. I’m asured that most people get more nutrition out of the vegetable broths, herbal teas and diluted fruit juices, than from a traditional three-course meal that takes considerable energy to digest.
My taste buds come alive and a lingering cough, which I associate with the sulphides in wine, soon disappears.
Bonnie and I are also thriving on the pampering that includes full-body massages, aromatherapy oils, reflexology, a daily steam bath, aqua aerobics in an indoor pool and machines that gently assist with the detox. I feel great!
My daily ritual also includes walking the ‘Labyrinth’, the circuitous path having been likened to our journey through life and to the deepest parts of ourselves. Unlike a maze, which can be frustrating with its barriers and dead-ends, a labyrinth is an ancient tool of prayer and meditation. It has no tricks and a single path guides you to its centre and out into the world again.
At the start of the week each participant has a personal consultation with a health professional. My friend Mrs Cowley is no longer physically present, although her legacy lives on and manager and resident doctor, Simon Knight, brings his own special gifts as a doctor of alternative medicine. He’s also a hypnotherapist, ethnopsychologist, pastor, herbalist and sangoma.
Like many others I take an instant liking to him and sign up for a hypnotherapy session to assist me with motivation for the writing of my next book, as well as dealing with some issues around asthma. His vision is to help modernise St Francis while remaining true to Anneliese Cowley’s vision.
My latest six-night stay has coincided with a decision to quit alcohol and chocolate for 100 days and my resolve has been reaffirmed recently by independently watching two powerful wellness documentaries: What the Health and The Game Changers. Both provide incontrovertible evidence of the benefits of a plant-based diet, while spotlighting the dangers of ingesting meat and dairy.
I gave up my carnivorous ways 20 years ago and now feel ready to take the next step by fully embracing veganism – so goodbye to cheese, dairy chocolate and fish. And that’s motivated by a deep desire to be kinder to the Earth, its animals and other creatures and to myself.
I leave the health centre with fresh resolve and a spring in my step: My energy levels have improved dramatically, I’m kilogrammes lighter, my suppleness has improved and all those aches and pains have disappeared.
Yes, health is so much more than an absence of disease and discomfort. It’s an embracing of life and a knowing that now is the right time to do what I now know to be right.
St Francis Health Centre
St Francis is midway between Port Elizabeth and East London and reached by air and road. 11km from Port Alfred.