March 9, 2022

Like a phoenix from the ashes

In her fasting courses, Gini Czernin shows you how to cast away your deadweight.

A truly spiritual site

Pernegg Abbey is a place of tranquility, contemplation and reflection. Located 10 kilometers north of Horn, people have long sought comfort and answers at the retreat, among them Gini Czernin, who has been drawn to Pernegg time and again to experience some time away from the busyness of everyday life. About 10 years ago, she returned here, this time to replenish her strength after a difficult personal situation, and to write her thesis on the topic of resilience in children and adolescents. But what began with a week of fasting evolved into a new way of life. Since her first visit, Gini Czernin has been intimately connected to Kloster Pernegg: "Fasting has always been a real help to me with facing my challenges in life."

When one door closes, another opens

These days, Gini Czernin sees every emerging problem as an opportunity. Namely, an opportunity to do something differently. To embark on something new. But the proud mother of two adult daughters hasn’t always had such a relaxed approach to life. Her experience over the years has taught her that accepting problems and striving for solutions always allows you to grow as a person. "My biggest personal crisis ultimately led me to decide, after the fasting course, to combine my training as a life coach and social worker with the activity of fasting. Fasting as a healing purification for the body, and the psychological counselling accompanying it as a fresh start for a freer mind." Which is why the next training course to become a fasting guide followed. Since completing the course, she now hosts fasting and counselling courses at the picturesque abbey grounds in Pernegg, as well as at Gambrium in St. Gabriel’s Mission House in Maria Enzersdorf.

„People just want to get back to basics.“

A phoenix from the ashes

Gini's key psychological points are encapsulated in one word: resilience. Resilience refers to a person's inherent power of resistance, which he or she activates when it becomes necessary to master difficult situations and solve problems. "This is where it is revealed whether I will break down as a result of a difficult personal situation or whether I will be able to rise to the challenge and ultimately grow from it like a 'phoenix from the ashes,'" explains Gini. Fasting and resilience are the perfect combination for her – both have to do with focusing on the basics, on what's really important. And getting rid of excess baggage, freeing yourself from behavioural patterns, lightening your load. Add to that plenty of exercise in the fresh air during her course – and you're right in the middle of one of her abbey fasting courses.

What happens when you fast?

"At the beginning of a fasting week, sufficient time should be allowed for you to arrive. A couple of days before starting the journey, you should start getting yourself into the right mood – eating a little more consciously and giving up coffee and alcohol. You can choose between autophagy fasting and the somewhat stricter Buchinger fasting. While in autophagy fasting you limit yourself to alkaline food and a 16-hour daily interval between meals, Buchinger fasting involves taking nothing but liquid meals: tea, juice and soup. In addition, you can complement the rigorous fasting days with a bowel cleanse." Apart from meals and intestinal cleansing, however, there is of course ample space for self-reflection in Gini Czernin's courses. During exercises in one of the lovingly renovated rooms of the abbey, for example, course participants can engage in conversations, exercise, etc. – or not, depending on the type of person and their mood that day. And there is plenty of fresh air in the form of hikes and walks to clear your head and give you newfound strength by the end of the week. "There’s a real 'fasting high' that kicks in at the course’s close. Fasting is, after all, the oldest natural healing method for freeing the body, mind and soul from old ballast and activating your body's own self-healing powers."

„Pernegg is beautiful in every season: foggy and magical in fall, snow-white and frosty in winter, or as it is now, sweetly blooming in spring. It’s simply the perfect place at all times.”

Everyone fasts their own way

There are different fasting variations at Pernegg Abbey, as well as many trainers and fasting guides: you can choose to combine fasting programs with yoga, creativity sessions, resilience training, burn-out prevention, or outdoor activities, depending on what appeals more to you personally. What all courses have in common is the act of abstention. And that doesn't just mean giving up solid food, as Gini knows: "Here at the abbey, WiFi is only available at the reception. The rooms are not equipped with Internet or TV, allowing for a media-free period. In order to give your mind a rest as well in these fast-moving times." Which is exactly why many come here, rather than checking into detox programmes at luxury resorts." The tranquillity here at Pernegg is extraordinary. Wednesday is always a day of silence at the abbey. People only speak in the most urgent of situations. At first, nobody quite believes how soothing this silence can be."

Some time just for yourself

Fasting is on the rise, which only serves to confirm Gini's beliefs. Everyone from top international executives, lawyers, and bankers, to teachers and shop assistants of all ages are showing up at her courses. "We live in a time of abundance. Even if we don't all have the same bank balance, this runs through all strata of society. We can have anything at any time. This constant availability of everything creates a feeling of abundance, which in turn creates a feeling of being overwhelmed. As a result, people increasingly feel the need to get back to basics – to give the body some time off, to give yourself the opportunity for self-reflection and to find some peace. Part of that is the tradition of silence." Which means no talking during meals. "At first, this usually leads to a bit of discomfort, but people soon begin to enjoy this immensely."

"Fasting is an ancient natural healing method to free the body, mind and spirit of ballast and activate your body's own self-healing powers."

A breath of fresh air for new aspirations

For Gini, fasting is inseparably linked with outdoor exercise. The hilly landscape of the Waldviertel is ideal for this. "It's not too flat, but not too alpine either. The climate allows us to be outside all year round. And the landscape always manages to surprise us with its changing character, at times foggy and magical, at others golden and autumnal, sometimes blossoming brightly, and at others glistening with snowy white. It's the perfect place."

Tranquillity and purpose

Anyone strolling through the lovely old abbey gardens, where herbs for the abbey's own kitchen are grown, will inevitably encounter Viktor Frankl. Several installations imbued with his view of human nature have been erected on the grounds to encourage contemplation and self-reflection. One of the sentences by the world-famous Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist reads: "The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself." For Gini, who has given so many people the tools to help themselves in her courses, this is a crucial insight: "Every person needs some kind of activity with which they can make a difference, which is meaningful to them." Gini Czernin has definitely discovered the realm in which she can practice her joyful activity.

The Waldviertel Fasting Centre encompasses some 50 spacious rooms, all with a view of the garden or forest, and features a sauna area and a gymnasium with cardio equipment.

Gini Czernin works as a psychological counselor as well as providing clinical supervision and re-start programs. Her "Like a Phoenix from the Ashes" fasting seminars are a combination of a fasting week and burnout prevention and stress management.

Gini Czernin’s practice Hausdienergang 63 in Schönbrunn Palace 1130 Vienna

Translated by Theodore Snydal