When it comes to taking holidays in a post-pandemic world, busy trips full of sightseeing have taken a back seat. Enter the wellness retreat, taking over travel one yoga class at a time.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a toll on both our mental and physical wellbeing. Weeks and even months under lockdown had us dreaming of far-flung destinations. It also had us focusing on the importance of our health. When we began to emerge, restrictions still in place, but relaxing day by day, travel felt like a novelty. Friends began to venture out on staycations, and then just like birds fly the nest, one by one, airport selfies began to fill our social media feeds. Only this time, the destination? Retreats. Meditation, mindfulness, and other healing practices are becoming part of our day-to-day lives. Propelled by the pandemic, and the awareness and breaking down of the taboo surrounding mental health has opened people’s minds. Lockdown also allowed them the time to put in the practice.
Although benefits like reducing stress and easing anxiety can be felt instantaneously with these practices, long-term effects can be life-changing. Scientifically-proven and the focus of countless medical studies, meditation and mindfulness alongside similar practices can ease and even stop health issues. For example, long-term mediation can improve mental health and, in turn, lower the risk of depression. It can help reduce inflammation, which has been linked to major chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. It also helps to control cravings, boost brain function, fight premature ageing, deal with pain, and the list goes on.
For those that put in the time and inevitably feel the effects, it’s no wonder that they want to further their learnings in their downtime, often with like-minded people. Before the pandemic, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) saw an annual growth rate of 6.5% between 2015 and 2017 of the $639 billion wellness travel market. This was double the growth rate for global tourism overall. By 2022, the wellness institute predicts that the wellness tourism market will reach $919 billion. Once considered a niche, wellness retreats are opening across the globe. Hotels are adapting to the demand with some rebranding themselves, or offering retreats on their properties. Having been on retreats before, Scott Price, the retail and education manager for Tom Ford, Killian and Frederic Malle in the region jetted off to the Amatara Wellness Resort in Thailand when the borders opened. “I stayed at a wellness retreat but created my own programme. I did yoga sessions most days, mediation and had daily massages,” Price says. Due to the pandemic and restrictions on treatments, some retreats aren’t offering complete programmes such as cleansing and more invasive procedures. This isn’t stopping travellers from making the most of their time, however. “It was all about healthy eating, working out and wellbeing. It was a holiday about reconnecting with me, taking time and trying to figure out where I want to go in the next chapter of my life,” explains Price.
For many, retreats offer a stepping stone to traditional travelling. “A retreat presents a protected or even secluded environment, where interactions with the outside world are minimised, while interactions within the group are controlled,” says Dr Vassiliki Simoglou, a PhD in counselling psychology at Thrive Wellbeing Centre in Dubai. The very basis of a retreat offers a structured schedule that takes the pressure off travellers to figure out the rules and restrictions in place with the pandemic. This makes it perfect for those embarking on a solo adventure. “Like everyone else, I was drained after sitting at home and dealing with all of the challenges that came with the pandemic. The chance to escape to a beautiful remote island to focus on myself and my wellbeing on my own sounded so appealing,” says Rohma Theunissen, a content creator based in Dubai. Heading to Ithaca, Greece, for a retreat hosted by her local yoga teacher, this was her first time travelling alone.
Solo travel is on the rise. Retreats offer the ability to alternate between isolation and social connection. “Humans are fundamentally social beings. They thrive in groups and end up seeking human interaction, even when they desire to be alone,” explains Dr Simoglou. For the times when solo travellers are alone, Dr Simoglou adds, “It is an opportunity for a person to unwind, rewind and reconnect with themselves fully. It can fulfil a need for separation from others and distance from one’s routine, or a need for reflection, introspection and personal discovery.” For Theunissen, she says, “I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would love to do this for myself every year. It’s an incredible way to reset my body and soul.” With retreats now catering to every hobby, practice and even medical conditions, it might be time to get booking a stay if you haven’t already.
Aman Amanpuri Phuket, Thailand
Nestled among tropical landscaping, overlooking the Andaman Sea, Amanpuri is primed for paradise seekers. Connecting clients with the ancient healing practises of Thailand, tailored experiences include nutrition planning, mindfulness practises, spa therapies, healing treatments, and classes such as Muay Thai, circuit training, Pilates and yoga. In November, Amanpuri is holding The Laguna Phuket Triathlon Retreat. Created to support those taking part in Asia’s longest-running triathlon, the five-night itinerary includes physical and mental conditioning alongside all required preparation. Following the race, guests are offered a session with a doctor, and an IV energy-boosting drip to help them recover. Book now
Clinique La Prairie, Switzerland
Since 1931, Clinique La Prairie has been pushing the boundaries in preventative medicine. Located in the picturesque town of Montreux, with views over the Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva, it follows four key pillars. These are medical insight and care, nutrition, movement and wellbeing. A team of 50 medical specialists and holistic experts are on hand to guide you on your personalised programme. Continuously engaging in forward-thinking research, Clinique La Prairie also offers a stem-cell programme that dramatically decreases visible signs of ageing. Book now
The Original FX Mayr, Austria
Known as the home of intermittent fasting, the Original FX Mayr clinic in Austria is notorious for its minimum seven-night programme. Doctors and therapists help to cleanse and detoxify your body on a strict schedule of medical examinations, treatments, analysis, massages and checkups. Based on the knowledge that eating is often the root of many health issues, including everything from IBS to insomnia, and high blood pressure to heart disease, the programme is holistic, combining a low-calorie diet with traditional Chinese medicine. Book now
AndBeyond Bateleur Camp, Kenya
Head back in time at Bateleur Camp, where rooms feature elegant touches of the past – think artefacts, antiques, crystal, candlelight and copper bathtubs, alongside your very own private butler. Comforts aside, the camp is ideally located to reconnect with nature. Get up close with the breathtaking year-round concentration of animals on twice-daily safari drives, or from the sky in a hot air balloon. The massage sala waits for your return with tailored treatments, and meals are prepared with food picked from the on-site organic farm. Book now
Castle Hot Springs, Arizona, USA
A secluded canyon founded in the deserts of Arizona and dotted with pools of hot water is at the heart of Castle Hot Springs retreat. For centuries, the natural hot springs have been used for the water’s therapeutic properties. Healing soaks, guided nature walks and signature massages make up the property’s customised retreats. Book now
Pink Spirit Yoga, Jordan
Go on a journey through the deserts of Jordan with retreat leader Sandra Jelly. A yoga teacher and equine-assisted coach, her programmes are filled with yoga, breathwork, reiki, Thai massage, and healing ceremonies, to name but a few. The standout is horse soul sessions, where equine therapy can assist in emotional recovery. Cultural visits are also part of the retreat, including a trip to meet the Bedouins. Book now
Lux* South Ari Atoll, Maldives
The Sea’s Healing Powers are the focus of one of Lux* South Ari Atoll’s most popular retreats. Based on the element of water, activities include aromatherapy, mediation, Tibetan singing-bowl healing and planting coral. Personalised to each guest’s preferences, you can also indulge in award-winning spa treatments and organic dining on one of the Maldives’ most eco-friendly resorts. Book now
The Retreat Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Dive into one of the wonders of the world at The Retreat Blue Lagoon. An Iceland natural treasure, treatments are focused on the geothermal seawater’s powers, including silica, algae and minerals. For those wanting to up their adrenaline, you can also explore the volcanic landscape Iceland is famed for, with hikes into lava tunnels and volcanos, snorkelling in Lake Kleifarvatn and sea kayaking. Book now
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- Words by Alexandra Venison