The Berkshires Blog

A Checklist for Wellness

By Todd Fiorentino

Wellness… most people know what it means: Getting enough sleep, exercise, eating the right foods, having fulfilling relationships and engaging in restorative activities.  It’s just, time and money often get in the way.  So I decided to string together three activities in the Berkshires that didn’t cost much money, took limited time and helped with at least three of these five categories.  (You’re on your own for relationships and sleep though I will say that chamomile, hops and any tea with valerian is a nice way to nod off at night!)

When I was in massage school, one of my teachers used to say, “My cells are tired,” rather than, “I’m tired.”  I always found this interesting and it got me thinking, what do my cells need to feel energized?  Well, oxygen for one, so I began my wellness expedition with a few deep breaths.  And water for two—so I took a long drink of just water.  No carbonation.  No sugar; just water.

It was a foggy day, about an hour before twilight, and I cut out of work to head for Pittsfield State Forest.  At the entrance, I veered left at the fork and parked in the first lot.  Across from the lot, I found a mailbox with trail maps—a fortuitous find.  The woods were misting and shimmering.  Oddly, I never encountered one person on my hike, which made it seem even more remote and peaceful.

Don’t be fooled by Pittsfield State Forest.  It may look like a small outdoors zone in a semi-urban area on a map, but it’s quite vast.  I went mountain biking there once and ended up on an epic excursion, not by choice mind you.  (Let’s just say I have a history of doing foolish things.)  So I mapped out my route this time though I did neglect to review one small detail—the scale in miles on the map.

Heading up Hawthorne Trail, I reached some good elevation within the first hour.  Nightfall was closing in and I considered just doing an ‘up and back’ hike instead of wrapping around as initially planned.  Rather than turning back though, I decided to do some trail running to pick up the pace.  However, given the wet leaves and challenging inclines, I’d say hiking was more the order of the day.  Plus, I knew that one turned ankle and I’d be stranded.

You see, I’m at a stage in life where most of my friends work long hours and have kids.  As a result, I tend to take lots of solo adventures, but I’m not complaining.  It’s a great way to decompress and work on my own personal and physical development.  Still, I’ve been in enough sticky situations to know that I was ill prepared for this trip.  No coat; no water; no food; no survival kit (iodine tabs, emergency blanket, etc.) and no one knew where I was.  Luckily, there was a good sliver of moon, which kept me from being stuck on an unfamiliar trail in the dark miles from my car.  Of course, the ranger might not be too happy when I returned.

I saw a body of water on the map, a pond, and so decided to follow it down to the road.  I had seen enough Cody and Joe adventures on “Dual Survival” to know this was a standard part of their play book.  (I had stopped watching Bear Grylls after watching him eat the face off a raw frog in a tunnel).  My map was not an exact match for the trails that I had snaked onto so I was hoping this new plan would work.

Eventually, I saw a house with its outdoor lights on and then a paved road.  I knew I had made it back to civilization.  Fitness—check.

I got some z’s and woke up the next morning determined to find restoration and sustenance.  Soul Spa in Lee was just the place.  Elizabeth Masiero, the owner, has rates that are below the major resorts of the Berkshires and you can get a fantastic deep tissue massage at Soul, just the thing after a rigorous hike.  Elizabeth told me that massage is the cure for ‘burn out.’  Soul differentiates itself by offering wet services including organic sea salt or brown sugar scrubs.  With a water-proof table and drain in the floor, Elizabeth utilizes special hoses to create a kind of waterfall effect.  You can take some steam before receiving a mud service or try out myotherapy for those deep muscle pains.  Elizabeth has one of the most extensive spa menus out there.  Restorative activities—check.

Now for some healthy food to charge up my cells; I wandered down to Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington.  I bulked up on fruits and vegetables then spoke with Art Ames, General Manager, about the kale craze, consumers’ love for soy, ‘to GMO or not to GMO’ and how tastes have changed.  Art told me that shoppers are really into flavorful rich foods.  They want free range and antibiotic free, but they still want their meats.  They would rather have smaller portions of full flavor items than a big dish of a substitute.  Perhaps the margarine-butter debate and other conflicting theories of what’s healthy have caused shoppers to throw up their hands and go back to the basics.  It is true that simply buying low calories or low fat isn’t enough because some people simply eat more of that product to compensate.  Maybe one full fat cookie is better than three low fat ones.

Art told me that the Co-op sells shares.  Shareholders may vote, go to owner appreciation days, come in for tours and events, buy in bulk and they have other power/perks.  The Co-op helps support the local economy.  Co-op staff visit farms and artisan operations to make sure suppliers are meeting standards.  In a highly regulated world, this is critical.  Whereas major supermarket chains deal with huge distributors, the Co-op works directly with dozens of local farms and artisans.  The Co-op even helps suppliers with packaging choices, size and cost decisions.  There is a consultative role in addition to being a buyer.

Kombucha, quinoa, maybe a little seaweed, you know, foods come in and out of vogue.  The Co-op tries to bring in the latest and greatest.  Gluten-free continues to show high demand; less processed; less refined sugar; wheat gluten based (Seitan) fake meat products; it’s all out there!  NPR did a story on kale and its important phytochemicals picking up on the new rise of kale fans.  And the NY Times did a piece about arsenic in chicken that led to a rush on the Co-op’s fresh chicken products.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, but I do have this to say—eating the right foods, check.

To create your own adventure, simply substitute any of these great wellness destinations: Elle Day Spa, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Tsubo, Lenox Fitness Center & Spa, Berkshire Breathworks, Body & Soul Day Spa, Michele’s Salon & Day Spa, Seven Salon & Spa or see our full list here.
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Todd Fiorentino is a freelance writer for the Berkshire Visitor’s Bureau and a grant writing consultant. He holds a degree in professional writing from UMASS, Boston and has written extensively on health and wellness topics. Todd also runs Energy Rising Massage Therapy on North Street in Pittsfield.