Eight life changing retreats in our own backyard and around the world
Overlooking the Caribbean at the Maya Spa
Looking to spend some significant time detoxing your body, clearing your mind and making serious changes to your life plan? No need to drop $40,000-plus for a cushy month of R&R. Instead, consider heading to one of several retreat spots that can help you make profound personal inroads. From SenSpa, a wellness-focused haven close to home, to Chiva-Som, an exotic Asian oasis in Thailand, a wealth of guidance is available for anything from weight loss and full-body cleansing to complete spiritual makeovers.
Many modern vacationers are no longer willing to just park themselves on a beach and sip cocktails for a week, experts say—we’re looking for profundity and substance while escaping our everyday lives. “People are more aware of wellness than they used to be; they now understand what they want and what they would like to achieve from their getaway,” says Susan Allison, retreat manager of COMO Shambhala at Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos. “People are busy, so taking a vacation and taking care of yourself are happening together,” adds Dr. David Simon, cofounder with Deepak Chopra of the Chopra Center for Well-Being on the grounds of La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California. “I also think certain things that have happened in the world or that have happened for people individually really have them not only reevaluating what is important to them, but also reminding them that they can take an active role in their lives, especially in regard to their health.”
To that end, here are eight creative ways to make a meaningful escape.
San Francisco, CaliforniA
Destination spa-seekers who can’t quite swing a week away from home might consider the 13,000-square-foot SenSpa in San Francisco’s Presidio. Ever since its debut in 2007, this former World War 1 army barrack located across from the new George Lucas Letterman Digital Arts building has been attracting national as well as local attention. Here a “Wellness Coaching Program” includes an evaluation of a client’s physical, mental and spiritual state and formulation of a plan to achieve life goals, along with Chinese medicine and Eastern-inspired therapies like acupuncture, cupping, guided meditation and more. Customized monthlong regimens incorporate coaching sessions, body and skin treatments and other healing services; participants have had success with weight loss, stress management and emotional issues. A life-changing experience “ often occurs when you can get people to change one habit,” says SenSpa president and general manager Randy Schreck, who grew up in Marin. “When it becomes really life-changing is when you can get them to adapt to multiple new habits. That is what people are looking for when they are going to the resort spas, but now they can get it in a day spa format.”
THE CHOPRA CENTER FOR WELL-BEING
La Costa Resort, Carlsbad, CaliforniA
Tyra Banks, Goldie Hawn, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are among the luminaries who have received a dose of dosha healing at this Ayurveda-themed wellness center, which is also open to everyday mortals looking to incorporate this Indian therapeutic system into their lives. The center’s Perfect Health program is a five-day Ayurvedic immersion designed to bring balance to the body and serenity to the mind; the experience, limited to 25 participants, includes an “Introduction to Primordial Sound Meditation” class; personalized mantra instruction; multiple levels of yoga; daily group meditation; customized Ayurvedic massage; nutritional guidance; detoxification and cleansing spa therapies; mind-body medical consultation; and tips for incorporating the lessons learned into a practical daily routine. “Guests feel and see results while they are here, and with the lifestyle changes we teach to balance your doshas, it is easy to imagine the deeper and long-term benefits of meditation, yoga and conscious communication and all the things we teach,” cofounder Simon observes.
Balance through self-awareness and self-acceptance is the aim of this delightful desert destination spa. Along with therapeutic spa offerings and flavorful healthy cuisine, participants will find an array of fitness activities, wellness instruction and nutritional advice. Acclaimed integrative medicine practitioner Andrew Weil, Miraval’s director of integrative health and healing, designed a three-day workshop here based on his book Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being. Other options include equine therapy, wherein guests work with horses to help develop stronger coping skills; “Ageless Radiance,” an intensive four-day empowerment program meant to promote radiant internal health; and “Partners, Pleasure and Passion,” a four-day couples’ retreat.
“At Miraval, the experience is individual, whether that [means] discovering a new way to look at a behavior that you want to change, a good habit you want to incorporate into your life, or having the opportunity to see through your own eyes the little things that mean the most that we often overlook,” general manager Michael Tompkins says. “Sometimes the simplicity of being able to stop and reexamine where we are in life and just do nothing makes for a life-changing spa experience.”
PRITIKIN LONGEVITY CENTER & SPA
Long-term weight loss is the goal of a stint at this spa and wellness retreat at the Turnberry Isle Yacht Club. Guests follow the Pritikin Eating Plan, a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pasta, seafood and moderate servings of lean meats and nonfat dairy foods, and learn ways to stay with it at home. Personal training and other fitness options, spa pampering sessions and mind-body lessons help participants learn to take charge of their thoughts and feelings, manage stress and improve relationships. People who come here are looking for a whole new lease on life—and they’ll find it, according to center president Paul Tager Lehr. “They’re sick and tired of feeling tired,” he says, “and they know they’re getting older, but they don’t want to feel old.”
Research does show the Pritikin program may markedly reduce key risk factors for heart disease and help lower blood pressure, control diabetes, promote healthy long-term weight loss and decrease the odds of developing breast, colon and prostate cancer. “We’ve helped more than 90,000 people make meaningful changes over the past 32 years, so we’ve had plenty of time to figure out what works,” says Lehr. “We stand out from the pack because we are science-based and have a very strong medical presence.”
For a true indigenous experience, treatments at this holistic Enchanting Group wellness center are rooted in Mayan culture. A healing highlight is the traditional temazcal, a ritual group sweat bath incorporating powerful native herbs intended to promote a closer connection to nature. Other options include Mayan crystal therapy, Mayan astrology, and corn reading sessions, which numerologically relate Mayan astrological signs to the sacred calendar known as tzolkin. The spa is also the site for the annual Forum of Healers, an autumn gathering of internationally recognized healers and shamans that celebrates the power of the moon. “Our most important principle is to provide spiritual and physical harmony, bringing it to a universal level,” says Lucy Leguizamón, marketing and media assistant for the Enchanting Group. “We believe in traditions, in roots, in our predecessors and in beauty, but also in wellness and health; therefore, we infuse our treatments with local herbs [and include] body wraps and natural products.”
Aficionados of yoga, Pilates and beautiful beaches will want to jet to this secluded Caribbean hideaway on a 1,000-acre private island in Turks and Caicos. The property hosts multiple yoga and Pilates retreat weeks for practitioners of all levels, led by such esteemed instructors as Bay Area yoga guru Rodney Yee. A big draw here for participants, retreat manager Allison says, is “COMO Shambhala’s Visiting Masters—leading yoga teachers from all over the world with different specialties ranging from Ashtanga to Iyengar as well as individual styles.”
Amenities at the posh resort include a picturesque infinity-edge pool, a yoga pavilion, a Pilates studio, plush spa treatment rooms and an outdoor Jacuzzi garden, as well as healthy organic meals. An Ayurvedic program addresses imbalances in the doshas, and the skin treatments in the “Dr. Perricone package” make use of the New York City dermatologist’s products and techniques.
Hua Hin, Thailand
On the other side of the world, this holistic destination spa caters to those looking to bring about true changes in their lives. “At Chiva-Som, we orchestrate situations that set the stage for wonderful and meaningful experiences to happen,” says director of health and wellness Anthony Perillo. “Many guests are looking to write a new chapter in their lives. They want to, in a sense, wipe the slate clean, if only briefly, and start down a new path. Chiva-Som can facilitate this process because we provide a safe and healthy environment whereby you can explore what being healthy means to you.”
That can entail anything from weight loss to stress management to detoxification to pure and simple pampering. The experience begins with a health and wellness adviser, who directs guests to the appropriate fitness classes, lectures and spa treatments. Most offerings incorporate elements of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and a vigorous fitness series called Taoist Boot Camp. Some guests follow cleansing diets designed to unburden the digestive system and lessen the feeling of excess in their lives.
As Perillo points out, “Most people know what they need to do to stay healthy, but knowing and actually doing are frequently miles apart.” For some, today’s well-rounded spa programs might be just what are needed to close the gap.
EVO SPA RETREAT
Stinson Beach, California
To circle back to Marin, Evo Spa in Mill Valley now offers a four-day, three-night rejuvenation and detoxification retreat in Stinson Beach. “These getaways are for people who want to relax, eat healthy and do something beneficial for their inner and outer well-being,” explains Evo owner Gail Ann. She chose the Stinson location for its proximity, beauty, serenity and abundance of mood-elevating negative ions. The activities and mostly raw, all-vegan organic meals are intended to balance body pH, cleanse the blood, lymph, liver, kidneys and colon and purge away heavy metals and toxins.
Up to 10 guests can stay in the private 4,400-square-foot six-bedroom home. The daily schedule includes two sessions of yoga and meditation, walks on the beach, a detox foot bath and time in the far-infrared sauna, with the added option of a daily massage.
“It is our passion to support people in their well-being and transformation of mind, body and spirit,” says acupuncturist and retreat director Neka Pasquale. “We love to see people shine from the inside out, where true beauty begins.” Retreats, held monthly, are preceded by a weeklong preparation cleanse.
Julie Keller is editor-in-chief of America Spa. She wrote this article for Marin Magazine.
Image 2: Room to relax at SenSpa, San Francisco
Image 3: Meditation time at Maya Spa, Tulum
Image 4: Steam room at Chiva-Som in Thailand