Investing in a stay at the Optimum Health Institute of San Diego has proved one of the best gifts and investments I’ve ever treated myself to. (Photos courtesy of the Optimum Health Institute of San Diego.)
Some things are just too special to keep a secret. My spending three weeks at the Optimum Health Institute just east of San Diego was one of those life-changing experiences.
I had just finished my first morning of exercises and several hours of classroom study. As the lecturer with her PhD in nutrition was finishing, from seemingly out of nowhere a flutist began playing a soft melodic tune in the back of the room. “How unusual!” I immediately thought. Turning around, I found it to be no less than the multi-talented entertainer and self-proclaimed “Spiritual Enforcer” Ben Vereen gently ambling about in the back of the room producing the music. The next three weeks, I experienced a personal transformation and witnessed more than a handful of what have to be described as miracles in one stage or another. Sound exciting?
I first heard of the Optimum Health Institute (OHI) from a very bright, accomplished, studied woman who looked and acted at least fifteen years younger than her age. She mentioned this fantastic place in Lemon Grove, CA just a half dozen miles or so east of San Diego. She described an experience that transformed her health and vitality, and that she would return every year or so. I mentally filed this all away back in the recesses of my mind, but didn’t give it much more thought as I already considered me and my lifestyle pretty darn healthy. More recently I met another woman of the same ilk and we were chatting about health and vitality. Wouldn’t you know it; she mentioned the same darn place – OHI. Yes, I verified that this was, indeed, the same place. Within a week, I booked not only a week, but the Full Monty of three weeks there to investigate the magic they had both experienced. (Their educational component features three weeks of on-site courses, but one can also stay longer or shorter.)
Back to Mr. Ben Vereen. He went there originally to clean out some “60’s junk.” As he shared with me, his manager initially booked him for three weeks (one week is the minimum stay), but Vereen almost didn’t last the first day – this was not the spa-country club setting he was expecting. Long story short, Ben stayed the full three weeks and then purchased an apartment adjacent to the property and stayed for the next three full years. This particular visit was his 18th since then and he was introducing the experience to a producer-friend who had suffered a mini-stroke just a couple of months earlier and was on lots of medication. I got to spend time with Ben and will say, if there is a more kind, giving, loving human being on the planet than Ben Vereen, I have yet to meet them.
So what’s this all about you ask? Well, the first thing people usually talk about is the raw vegan diet that centers on wheatgrass juice, and its several applications. It would take volumes to begin to explain that, but I also learned there that a vegan or raw vegan diet can also be very harmful to one’s health, so it’s not quite as simple as many proponents suggest. Actually, the OHI experience is much more than about a diet, it’s learning about emotional, mental, and physical care, time management, and exercise. Parts of the curriculum were almost verbatim with what I coach, but it was so much more than that. Add to that lymphatic exercises, walks, yoga, breathing, food pairing and preparation, colonics, massages, enemas, skin care, proper stretching, sleep, hydration, and most of all love. If you go on the organization’s website, you’ll see that it is organized as a non-denominational Christian church, but it is also a place where an atheist, agnostic, and devout practitioner of any persuasion would feel at home. Infused with humor and care from everyone on the staff, OHI is a vortex of love and compassion.
Both the women who referred me to OHI told me to expect that by Wednesday evening, everyone would look pale and feel down and grouchy, but by Friday night, those same folks would have more color and energy than ever, and feel fabulous. They were right on target. While I was fortunate not to experience much of a detox effect myself, I was told by a fellow guest early in the week that the whites of my eyes looked gray. A few days later, he was proclaiming how bright and white they were – and I felt strong, light, and fabulous.
What you get during the week is not only a detoxification, but also an extensive education. How much you carry back into your life is up to you, and while the OHI staff is consistent in their orientation, they are far from dogmatic and won’t hit you across the side of the head with guilt if you disagree or have difficulty assimilating this all into your life. Healthy discussions and every imaginable question is encouraged and addressed. When an answer is not known, it is researched.
OHI opened in 1976 and despite no advertising and only a web presence, has never been closed a day since, having serviced more than 200,000 guests. No one gets referral fees and I was told that 80% of their business comes from repeat customers. I participated alongside the very healthy and some perhaps experiencing their last few weeks. The “health opportunities” as they call them at OHI ran the gamut from cancers, alzheimers, trauma, diabetes, Parkinsons, etc. You name it. The ages I encountered ranged from healthy teenagers to nearly ninety, and some had visited OHI forty or more times. Yes, while there are many, many amazing stories of recovery, some do not recover, but what an amazing opportunity!
Yes, OHI has its competitors. For the three week’s room, board, and tuition, I spent less than $4,500 while that might be the tariff others charge for just a couple of day’s stay. If you’re looking for a spa, four-star, or a religious experience, you will be disappointed. And forget television, radios, music and the like, this is a quiet place. Cell phones are only allowed in designated areas for this is a quiet place so be prepared to unwind and relax, and escape your usual responsibilities. The accommodations are clean, but rather Spartan with the chief complaints being that some of the renovated rooms are better than those that have not been addressed, and the incandescent lights that dominate the main eating and meeting areas are inconsistent with OHI’s message of fashioning a healthy environment. There is a single large hot tub that I visited almost daily, but the meager outdoor pool was less than inviting during my winter visit. One thing for sure is that you will learn to prepare and consume wheatgrass juice in more ways than one.
And yes, Ben Vereen was not the only celebrity there. The compound is totally fenced in as this was necessary when Mohammed Ali visited there a number of years back and all of a sudden neighborhood youngsters were storming the place seeking autographs. Suffice it to say, no one really cares about celebrity here – everyone became my heroes for the efforts they were putting forth for themselves. And meeting and interacting with the interesting array of other guests (135 is full capacity at the San Diego Campus) can be as rewarding as anything.
OHI is a “safe environment.” No one cares about makeup or dressing up except possibly for those performing in the Friday Night “No Talent Show.” (Ok, one Friday Ben Vereen treated us a 40-minute presentation and some of the “celebrities” and others wowed us with their talents while others simply captured our admiration for their courage to perform.) You see, there’s a lot of sharing, a lot of hugging, some tears, some professional counseling by staff or informal caring by a concerned fellow guest, a lot of fun, and absolutely no judgment at OHI. It is, indeed, that safe quiet, gentle vortex of love and compassion that when you put it all together really makes for a magically healing environment.
Oh and yes, as I earlier stated, I did, in fact, witness well more a half dozen miracles right then and there, as well as started some beautiful lifelong friendships. I found the first two weeks to be extremely busy with learning, while the the third week was a bit less hectic, as I learned more about how to prepare my food and in general how to transition back once I would return to the “real world.”
For those who wonder, I paid the full fees and got no compensation, discount, or financial assistance of any sort for either attending or writing about this — and I have subsequently returned. Making my visits now a periodical practice, I can say that my stay at OHI was one of the most important three weeks of my life and the best gift I could have ever given myself. Now I am on a quiet crusade to get my loved ones to OHI and let them form their own opinions, but I know they will thank me!
Check OHI out at www.optimumhealth.org and they have another, smaller more rural campus outside of Austin, Texas that features the same curriculum.
P.S. Be sure to reserve time in your Saturday night schedule to go off-site about a mile and a half away to observe/participate in the amazing food preparation presentation by Ms. Joan Jackson. (Reservations are required.) Though not affiliated with OHI, Joan is an OHI graduate and practicing attorney who has also made a living showing people how easy it is to prepare raw vegan foods in the most delicious, quickest, and easiest manner. This is a really fun, dynamic, and delicious presentation absolutely not to be missed… nothing short of amazing!
Check Joan out at: www.rawkitchenmagician.com.