Choosing the winners was not an easy task. Nearly 50,000 people sent in stories to O, The Oprah Magazine explaining why they wanted to participate in this life-changing journey. "One woman was raped while holding her 2-year-old daughter on her lap. ... Another woman, her mother died on her wedding day," Gayle says. "We had a woman who had quadruplets and already had two children."
Watch as Oprah welcomes the winners to Miraval.
For many of the selected women, the trip to Miraval is about more than manicures and massages. The week with Oprah and Gayle is full of challenging activities that put them to the test mentally and physically—not to mention a few much-needed laughs!
"I'd been there many times, but I'd never done any of this before. I was usually going for the pampering ... and the Thai massage," Oprah says. "But this time, because I was with all of these other women who were really pushing themselves to the limit, I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to stretch out a little bit.'"
Before they get started, Miraval challenge facilitator Molly sets the tone. "When I ask you, 'What is your intention?' Really all I want to know is how do you want to experience this today?" she says.
Each member of the group shares her goals for the day's exercise—including Oprah. "I just want more joy. I'm already pretty joyful, so I'd like to take some more of that. More joy," she says.
As Oprah dangles high above the ground, she asks Molly what will happen. "I haven't seen anybody else do it. So which way am I going?" Oprah asks. "And then how do I let you know when I'm done? ... What do I hold onto while I'm swinging?" But as Oprah tries to find her bearings, Gayle gets a little impatient. "I'm surprised you're asking all these questions. Just let go!" she shouts.
Finally, Oprah releases the rope—and soars! "Fun! More joy!" Oprah says when she's back on solid ground.
"The Miraval folks were wonderful because they really coach you in doing it with intention," Oprah says. "Otherwise, you're just up there swinging from a rope."
When it's Gayle's turn to strap into the harness, she gets a little nervous. "I just don't want to look like a fool," she says. "I'm not interested in good TV, where you look like the fool!" As she finally reaches the top, Gayle really doesn't want to let go of the rope. "What's preventing you from letting go?" Molly asks. Gayle yells, "Fear!"
As Molly gives helpful advice and prompts her about intentions, it's Oprah's turn to tease Gayle, who dangles high above the ground. "Why are you asking all those questions? It's going to feel like a rollercoaster, that's all!" she says. "I hate roller coasters!" Gayle says.
Finally, with the encouragement of Oprah, Molly and the others, Gayle finally lets go—and takes off flying! "That was very frightening to me, and I will never do it again," Gayle says.
For Shonna, the challenge was about more than just overcoming her fear of heights. She says she was molested by a relative when she was 10 years old. For her, Swing and a Prayer is a chance to put the pain of the past behind her. "I just pictured all the bad things that happened to me—everything. Every single thing," she says. "I'm letting go of the past."
For Judy, this task is also a healing experience. Judy's husband, Brent, died suddenly four months before her Miraval trip, leaving her to raise five young children by herself. By letting go of the rope, she hopes to bring some happiness back into her life. "I'm very afraid of heights, but I love to swing. What I want to do today, I guess, is just find a place of joy, like that childhood joy, because I think that's something I haven't connected with in a while," she says.
Watch as Shonna and Judy face their fears.
Judy says the experience has taught her that she needs to remain focused on the important things in her life. "I always believed in myself, I thought, but now I see that I didn't, and that I can and that I'm going to make my priorities my priority," she says. "Not only will I gain from this, but I think most of all that my kids will because I'm not going to be so scattered. I'll be more living in the moment with them."
But the most relaxing activities take place in Miraval's world-renowned spa. Gayle gets a long awaited pedicure, while Oprah soaks up the bliss of a Thai massage, which combines yoga positions with deep compressions. "In this tranquil candlelit room, I think I finally have some me time," Oprah says.
Watch Oprah and Gayle's session with Mary.
First, Mary checks Oprah's and Gayle's weights. Mary says that while most women get hung up on the number, they should really focus on their amount of lean body mass. Having a high lean body mass means you burn calories faster.
Next, Mary measures the percentage of fat in their bodies. Then, she measures their resting metabolism. This will determine how many calories Oprah and Gayle should eat per day to lose weight. Gayle's resting metabolism allows her to eat 1,800 calories a day, while Oprah's allows for just 1,600.
Are Oprah and Gayle physically fit? "It's a good place to start," Mary says.
Watch as Gayle learns the right way to do ab exercises.
After a warm-up of power walking, step aerobics, skipping and jump rope, Oprah has had enough. "Where are you going?" Gayle says. "I didn't know we were allowed to leave the class!"
Get Oprah's favorite salmon recipe.
When you're making it, keep in mind these healthy eating tips directly from the Miraval Spa kitchen.
- If you don't have a grill at home, you can also pan-sear salmon.
- Use canola oil because it has a neutral flavor and won't burn easily.
- When you're cooking in a pan, listen for a sizzle. That sound means that the food is not absorbing too much oil...and that you're not adding too many calories.
- Precook brown rice to save time in preparation.
- Vegetable stock adds moisture and flavor to dishes without adding a lot of extra calories.
- Salmon is ready to eat when it breaks open very easily.
- Colorful, pretty ingredients make healthy meals more appetizing.