Destination Transformation: The Best Wellness Retreats To Book This Year

KATE O’BRIEN investigates the growing number of transformational retreats and realises their FINELY-TUNED PROGRAMMES have more LONGTERM BENEFITS than traditional sunshine breaks …

The impressive backdrop to one of The Strategic Space’s transformational retreats in Burgundy, France

“Do you pay regular visits to yourself?” asked the Sufi poet Rumi. This simple question encapsulates what many of us most need in our lives now. And as life gets even faster, the moments for reflection become fewer and fewer, and years can slip by with us barely even noticing.

Not so long ago wellness retreat options were stark, either some far-flung resort or a serious bootcamp in the wild, or a hippie offering in an off-grid hideaway. But a major shift has occurred as the concept of really looking after ourselves, in both body and mind, has gone mainstream. And the growth is staggering: The Global Wellness Institute 2017 benchmark report states that the wellness industry is now worth close to $4 trillion and growing, with “transformational travel” or travel motivated by self-reflection and a deeper communion with nature and culture, cited as the next evolution. The growth in retreats curated exclusively for women is significant.

As distinct from spas, transformational-styled retreats take a more reflective, longer-term approach to wellbeing. Not about coming home deeply bronzed and a few pounds lighter, these all-encompassing programmes are fine-tuned with teams of exceptional therapists, outstanding food and above all, time to embrace change not just in body, but in life too. So profound is the shift that people no longer view a week’s wellness retreat as part of their annual holiday allowance, but more an essential part of their physical and emotional maintenance, with benefits lasting far longer than the tan. And often it’s the most unlikely candidates, the supercharged, results-driven high-fliers who benefit most, as they allow themselves the time to slow, to be still and to work through the hard stuff in cosy, nurturing surroundings.

The Strategic Space venue, Isola Santa Cristina, Venice

Mari Kennedy is a yoga teacher and leadership coach based in Dublin who hosts soul-centred retreats. “As a retreat leader, I see how alchemical the whole experience is,” she says. “Transformation happens. The word retreat implies stepping back and getting away from everyday normality. That is something that can help us get a fresh perspective on our lives and how we are living.” And while the anonymity that comes with heading off alone on a retreat, where nobody knows you, can be liberating, there is an immense power in sharing the experience with a friend or partner. Kennedy’s retreats bring friends, siblings, mothers and daughters or partners together to share time on the yoga mat, as well as self-inquiry and exploration. “We behave differently with each other when we have space and time. There is a sense of safety of having someone you know with you, but there is also a freedom that comes with being away together, outside the normal everyday.” www.cliffsofmoherretreat.com.

London-based psychotherapist and biodynamic psychologist Fiona Arrigo believes it is imperative in these times that we come together to share our stories, our grief and our joy. The Arrigo Programme retreats in Somerset, India and New York are precisely planned, with teams of expert healers helping participants work through grief, addiction, trauma, depression, exhaustion and much more in a nurturing environment. www.thearrigoprogramme.com.

The Strategic Space is the brainchild of US-born, Paris-based strategist and life coach Julie Hosler. Having streamlined the lives of global corporate CEOs and entrepreneurs for years, Hosler now leads life-changing retreats in a beautiful 17th-century chateau in Burgundy. Clients include single people at a crossroads in their lives, couples and an increasing number of all-women groups, who come together to frame the next chapter of their lives. “The Strategic Space is the place to pin down your personal story – your bigger vision for your life and career – and to figure out how to make it a reality,” Hosler clarifies. This she does using a toolkit which includes psychology, neuro-linguistic programming, noteworthy TED talks and case studies. Life is a constant transformation and Hosler argues that in many cases it is fear that holds us back from change. At her retreats, clients work through their innate fears and uncertainty and learn to become less emotionally reactive. www.thestrategicspace.com.

Mykonos island, the backdrop to the Enrich programme

The ENRICH Method is designed by psychologist and relationships coach, Darya Haitoglou. On the Greek island of Mykonos, a team of life, relationship and spiritual coaches use neuro-scientific practices to help clients create healthier relationships, with others and themselves. Over five days of yoga, meditation, conscious coupling workshops, voice coaching, communication skills, soul-nurturing food, Ayurvedic wisdom and more, guests explore their deeper selves and learn effective tools to help them live in the most fulfilling way possible. www.enrich.global/program.

As more and more people reach a tipping point in their lives, the intensive, week-long residential method, The Hoffman Process, is coming into its own. Founded by American Bob Hoffman in 1967, the Hoffman Institute now operates from 17 centres in 14 countries worldwide. Drawing on Eastern mysticism, deep meditation, Gestalt, neuro-linguistic programming, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and bioenergetic and psychodynamic work, Hoffman works on the basis that an intense, condensed experiential programme can speed up someone’s healing journey and is considerably less time-consuming than months or years of traditional one-session-a-week therapy. “Research clearly shows that our behaviours are a result of nurture – we learn our patterns from our parents as children, and they remain automatic,” explains Jeremy Kynaston, Supervising Hoffman Teacher and Hoffman Ireland Coordinator. “The only way forward is to transform deep-seated negative behaviours which keep us feeling unlovable, separate, anxious, joyless and not good enough, through healing the past.” Hoffman seeks to achieve harmony between the four aspects of ourselves: our intellect, our emotional self, our body and our spirit and while the journey is deeply intense and pushes participants well beyond their comfort zones, devotees are adamant it provides the tools needed for personal transformation and emotional freedom. www.hoffmaninstitute.co.uk.

Bovey Castle, Devon, where Ageing Gracefully retreats are organised by Harley Street specialists

Ageing Gracefully is hosted in Bovey Castle in Devon. Designed to help women navigate the menopausal years, the workshops are led by Harley Street hormone specialist Dr Amalia Annaradnam and energetic healer Kalindi Jordan. “This is menopause 360,” says Sophie Benge, curator of Ageing Gracefully retreats. “We get to grips with banishing night sweats and mood swings and boost self compassion and sexual energy.” Retreats such as these are the perfect opportunity for like-minded friends to nourish their female energy for the next chapter in their lives. www.whitecalmretreats.com.

Mari Kennedy is constantly amazed by how people move from being separate individuals to being connected, enlivened and emboldened by their shared experience while on retreat. “When we share the experience of being human, when we question our habits and what limits us, we share common struggles and longings. Being a witness to each other’s “aha moments” is very powerful, while going back into the world with a buddy to support you is a huge upside of sharing the experience.” 

We are all different but we all want the next chapter in our lives to be a riveting read. To this end, wellness experts are in unison that the most important step in creating your best chapter is by making the time to dig deep and really get to the heart of yourself. While we know it’s not always easy, as we juggle the everyday demands of life, it is possible. Now, more than ever before, it is imperative that we do it.

Tried & Tested

”I am fortunate to have experienced Mari Kennedy’s Celtic Calendar retreat, which I attended with a friend. This made the overall experience all the more enjoyable for me, as I could openly discuss how the workshops impacted me and get clarification if, and when, needed. This said, it was a close friend who knows me well, warts-and-all. This is key, as sessions can expose weaknesses. I have also experienced retreats as a solo traveller and have also come away feeling calmer and renewed, with some new friends in the mix too.

What I find so inspiring about Mari Kennedy is her deeply grounded deployment of myriad practices – yoga, Celtic wisdom, body-mind centering, the expressive arts, life coaching and many more. She cleverly intertwines these elements to guide students to live life to its fullest. To quote neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, “to feel more joy you need to experience more joy” and in essence this is what Kennedy strives to achieve. I have attended two of her retreats – the joyful festival of Lughnasa, and more recently, a samhain retreat, with a combination of yoga and meditation, which left us re-energised and relaxed for the transition to winter.”

Kate O’Brien

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