We all know how popular retreats have come in recent years and the options to choose from seem endless. From meditation to yoga and surfing and countless others, retreats are an appealing way to reap the benefits of wellness. But where did they originate and what’s the appeal? We dig a little deeper.
What does it mean go on a retreat?
A retreat can be thought of as the physical place, in the case of purpose built retreat centres, or as the experience itself. Retreats are:
/a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation
/ a period of time used to pray and study quietly, or to think carefully, away from normal activities and duties
The recent swell of yoga and other activity based retreats like surfing may have got you thinking that a retreat is simply some time in a different place focusing on one thing. But it’s the act of getting away and what that entails that truly defines a retreat and also what can yield their greatest rewards.
The Origins of Retreats
Retreats in some format have been practiced for centuries in both spiritual and health contexts. Spiritual retreats are an important part of the long-standing traditions of most religions and exist in some format or other in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam (particularly the Sufi Khwala) and Christianity. Retreats have long been used as a way to find personal and collective growth through reflection. Think of the famous narratives of spiritual leaders going off into seclusion in the desert or mountains for lengths of time.
The modern renaissance of the thermal spa, which had existed thousands of years prior in Ancient Greece and Rome, can also be viewed as perhaps the earliest health retreats. Spa towns became popular in the 18th and 19th century in Europe when people would take a sojourn to the thermal baths. Spa visitors would take in the healing waters to treat health ailments. The trend spread to the US in the mid-19th century in the form of hot spring towns and resorts.
The wellness retreats we know today stem from health retreat centres that started popping up across America in the 1950s. And the industry has kicked off in the last twenty years with an increasing awareness of health and wellbeing and the notion that people need to take control of their own health. More broadly, the wellness industry grew 12.8% in the two years 2015-2017 and that trend is expected to continue.
The Benefits of Wellness Retreats
Wellness retreats have a range of positive impacts on the body and mind and these results can be long-lasting. One study from RMIT University found that a week-long retreat including education, therapeutic and leisure activities lead to substantial improvements to psychological health, weight and blood pressure and that the impact lasted 6 weeks after the retreat. And the results can last even longer but it depends on the purpose and activities of the retreat itself.
Some retreats are focussed on relaxation and creating a unique holiday experience, which is great in itself, but does not always lead to lasting change. Some retreats focus mostly on the physical aspects of wellness – getting fit, losing weight, eating healthily. But without looking at wellbeing in terms of the whole self – body, mental and emotional – and without having some clear goals and changes that you want to enact as a result of the retreat, it can be difficult to sustain lasting results.
So it is important to consider the results you want to get when you choose a wellbeing retreat. Before you book, look at the retreat activities and the facilitators that run them to determine if they are going to be the best people to help you achieve your goals. And when you go on the retreat, consciously define goals that you want to get out of the retreat. This will help you get the most out of it.
High Country Haven retreats help you define and focus on lifestyle goals that you want to achieve and you will leave with a personal lifestyle plan that you can implement with the tools and techniques learnt across the retreat weekend. If you put the work in, you can increase the longevity of the effects of a wellness retreat, so that it becomes more than just a relaxing and energising weekend away. It can kick start good habits that are the basis for a healthy lifestyle.
Participants of our retreats benefit from a sound base of psychology, balanced nutrition (no fad diets!) and exercise that can have a lasting impact on your lifestyle. Find out more about our upcoming retreats here.