By Mary Gulivindala

I am a broken down, exhausted, injured and drained woman. Lackluster, to say the least. I just got home from my bi-annual retreat. I have a great gig, I am a servant, I pay for my stay by working. I am the youngest member of a team of old age “New Agers.” I’m 45 years old. I am the grunt, heavy lifter and soldier in the group. I accept this job with great pride but this go around, my shoulder didn’t.

I love the word “retreat.” The word gives you permission to run away from life and ignore responsibilities. “Honey, I’m going on a retreat; I need to get centered.” Throw mental health in there, and it’s a ticket to quiets-ville. Don’t worry, men, you have retreats also. They are called “18 holes of golf.”

Mary proudly shows off “Big Mama,” which unfortunately has run out of juice.

Twice a year I run away to the Kripalu Center in Lennox, MA. At Kripalu they have a healing arts center for massages, facials, energy work and “someone please manipulate my muscles and let me lie here on the table” services.

It is a health and wellness center that offers top-notch yoga, spirituality, nutritional and holistic programs throughout the year. If you practice yoga, you probably know the name Kripalu. For pilgrims like me, it is Nirvana. I love it!

I am an assistant faculty staff member there who helps facilitate the “Radiant Cleanse” program. Alison Shore Gaines is the master/guru/leader and all-around awesome person. “Radiant Cleanse” is an educational experiential nutritional juicing workshop.

Some might call it fasting, but that sounds like starvation. That’s not what we do. We educate, support the guest’s detox and fill their bodies with fruit and vegetable juices, all the healthy stuff Americans don’t eat.

This had made me into a “juicer!” Imagine working in a kitchen that is trying to serve thousands of meals a day. It’s organized insanity. Every morning at 8 a.m. — 6 a.m. if I wanted to take a yoga class — I go to the kitchen with another staff member. Olga is my juicing cohort this go-round. She is from Russia, in her 70s and as spry as a 50-year-old. We suit up with apron, hair net and gloves, and then it’s hello “Big Mama” time. Big Mama is what I call the industrial-sized, galvanized steel juice machine.

She is very heavy and loyal (she has been with the program for over 15 years), and her juice is delicious! This is of course THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB besides Alison’s. It’s the guests’ reason for coming! I have mastered the “don’t think about it; just juice it” method of mind control.

Now the work begins, the chaos behind serenity. Rolling carts need to be pillaged. It can get vicious trying to snatch one when no one is looking. Nobody makes eye contact when they have a cart. I hide one nightly with Big Mama on it for the next day, hoping that no one will want to lift her.

It usually works, Olga taught me, and she’s a veteran. Utensils, buckets and mass quantities of produce are hoisted onto the stolen cart by me and rolled out from the apartment-sized walk-in fridge. The coolest place in a very hot kitchen.

After set-up, the juicing process starts. It usually runs like a well-oiled machine but not this time. On day five, Big Mama reached Nirvana. She died. Never having to annihilate another carrot or apple again. She kicked the juice bucket, went kaput and said adios. The mechanical chainsaw sound that kept us in our meditative state croaked.

She was the ONE AND ONLY juicer on the property. Well, this was a catastrophe, a disaster of epic proportions. Beads of sweat similar to Niagara Falls began to fall from our dumbstruck faces. We needed to deliver the sacred liquid elixir to a group of 23 lip-licking, thirsting, craving guests.

Frantically we sent word to our leader. News came back: “Switch the juice menu!” An “all hands on deck” siren in my head started to blow. Off to the chef we ran like retired Olympians. A plan was hatched. We would make a tomato, cucumber, kale and parsley juice. Lots of water in those veggies; easy juicing.

The “I Love Lucy” TV show’s (season 5, episode 3) memorable grape fight came to mind. During this episode Lucy finds herself stomping barefoot in a big vat of grapes with Italian peasant women. They get into a raucous grape-throwing fight wrestling the grapes into liquid. This would be our solution, too, except that I would be wrestling a Russian!

Just as Olga and I begin to take off our shoes and warm up, in walks the chef with a jackhammer weed-whacker-like machine with blades on the end of it. Modern technology prevails over feet stomping. This would become our juicer. With 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes, squash, strainers, towels and lots of chanting, I plugged in the powerful instrument and started weed-whacking the veggies into mush while Olga was slicing and dicing like a Ginsu knife salesman.

Blending, straining both body and juice, pouring the elixir between buckets over and over again and endless taste tests, we finally produced a liquid that would be drinkable. It was hard physical labor, and my middle-aged body felt it. I now feel qualified to apply to the city of Philadelphia as a concrete worker.

My shoulder is maimed temporarily, but fortunately for me, my chiropractor is a old hippie who likes juicing. I hope to barter in juice. Next March I will meet the “new/younger” juicing machine. Meanwhile, don’t forget to drink your veggies.

Cheers, or as they say in Russian, “Nasdarovie!”

“Life coach” Mary Gulivindala is the founder of Blue Print Life & Wellness Coaching in Chestnut Hill.