You who are familiar with Rancho La Puerta today know it as a 21st-Century fitness-spa showcase. We house guests in over 80 handsome casitas (little homes in the Mexican Colonial style with fireplaces and flower-bedecked patios). Almost 3,000 acres of valley and mountainsides surround us, and 50 acres are beautifully landscaped. Our full resort facilities are a great source of pride. But we felt just as much pride back in the early days when guest tents multiplied, and one by one we added wood –and later brick– buildings.
As the camp increased in size and amenities, and extended to year-round, we found it attracted another type of guest. Word got out that pounds could be shed on our well-balanced vegetarian diet which was, even then, low in calories, fat, salt, and cholesterol, and totally eschewed refined white sugar and flour. By 1950, ten years after we welcomed our first guests who paid $17.50 per week, our rates escalated to the vast sum of $25. From Day One I was secretary, chef, housekeeper, and Activities/Exercise Director. At its most primitive early-1940s level, my day consisted of trying to cope with 35 guests who interrupted my other work. That's when I first began to make up guest schedules: the original ones being such basic directives as, Sunbathe briefly at 10 a.m. Work in the garden for one hour before the midday sun. I inadvertently established the pattern of today's spa schedule, in which an active class period invariably follows one of passive exercise or rest.
The origins of aerobics and the idea that workouts should be fun
My husband's lectures were always the highlight of every guest's day. Nevertheless I found that guests who might miss a lecture would turn up in time for calisthenics. Realizing their needs, I turned more and more to refining our exercise program. Since the lectures ventured into profundity, I resolved to Lighten up exercise periods and increase them. Reviewing the calisthenics common at that time, I saw that they were often boring. I inserted games into exercise, or silly rhymes and, most of all, music. Neighbor children thought it was great fun to hand-crank a portable phonograph accompaniment for a few cents an hour and the opportunity to learn English from our guests. I had not yet started a family of my own, and the Ranch and its guests (including residents we hired to assist us) became, in a sense, my surrogate children. I fretted over guests especially as I tried to analyze what they wanted and what they thought they needed, as opposed to what they probably should have.
Other innovations, from solar power to the early days of yoga in North America
While I restructured our exercise program, my husband experimented with some very old but still valid health theories principally the hydrotherapy recommendations of Father Sebastian Kneipp. Our adaptation of Kneipp's herbal wrap became a regular Ranch treatment because it eased soreness in muscles unaccustomed to exercise. During that experimental period Edmond became intrigued with solar heating (then very new), and he used it successfully in our first bathhouse dedicated with proud fanfare in the early 1950s. We also cooked with solar power, often employing his complex contraption of highly polished sheets of stainless steel.
Our replica temezcal (an Aztec version of the sauna), which we heated with a wood fire during winter, could be converted to solar heat in summer. Eventually we learned that most novelties which made a difference in the lives of our new guests were those that supplied what they had been most lacking adequate movement and proper nutrition. Of course my husband's gift for carrying in his head an elaborate panorama of both the modern and ancient worlds influenced our total approach to the Ranch's Health Day.
We soon added Hatha Yoga to calisthenics at a time when the West tended to regard all 16 Yoga disciplines as bizarrely transcendental and linked to Eastern religion. Hatha Yoga, the yoga of physical activity, interested us because of its enormous variety. It relaxed the tense Americans who were replacing our early pilgrims. The days of guests hauling water, stacking firewood, chasing after goats, baking bread in a Mexican outdoor oven, lending a hand in our first makeshift office, and hoeing weeds in the vineyard were coming to a close.
The genesis of the 'health day'
Soon I hired instructors with backgrounds in modern dance. For many years we trained these teachers and they formed a cadre and method from which all of today's fitness-spa instruction springs. Now universities augment phys-ed courses with this sort of training, and we are able to hire staff members with fitness degrees and credentials. Assembling as many activities as possible (this is now called cross-training and is still in vogue) and continuing to alternate each active class with a passive one, we offered our guests myriad choices: special hikes each morning up mystic Mount Kuchumaa, exercising in water, relaxing in Yoga stretch classes, playing volleyball on land and in water, and walking or dancing to rousing music with a strong beat. Exercise to jazz was voted the most popular class of the day.
All this was the genesis of our Health Day, the basis of present-day spa programs everywhere. We monitored and faithfully charted our guests' progress. Before they left, we suggested a home program which they could adjust to daily living. Little by little we 'graduated' guests who took full advantage of all the opportunities implicit in a Rancho La Puerta vacation: they adhered to their take-home guidelines, returned annually for refresher courses, and followed the lead of the Ranch, as we in turn closely followed all that was most current, promising, and appropriate in the diet-exercise, mind-body, fitness-health field. These new pioneers were the torchbearers of a Fitness Revolution gestated, nurtured, and introduced to the world by Rancho La Puerta.