'Long-term transformation – not short-term gain – is what people will seek this year' reports Suzanne Duckett
Forget spa trips where you revert to the same old ways just days after returning. Transformational trips that trigger more permanent change are moving higher up the bucket list – and were, even before coronavirus struck (the Mental Health Foundation estimates that one in six people worldwide – that’s more than a billion – were suffering from mental health challenges before the pandemic).
Most people need to travel far in order to journey within, searching for that combination of a change of scene and hand-holding by some remarkable humans who have made healing and transformation their life’s work.
Take Maison Ila in Languedoc-Roussillon, the vision of Denise Leicester, the aromatherapist (among other talents) behind the global organic spa brand Ila. This seven-bedroom vintage maison de maître, at the heart of the Aude countryside in the Pyrenean foothills, is her first permanent retreat.
“the single most significant experience of their lives”
It epitomises the word “retreat” – not the false use bandied about by massive hotels to describe their huge spas. A retreat means a quiet, private place where you can get away from your usual life. Leicester’s holistic knowledge and expertise as a trained nurse, yoga teacher, sound healer and holistic bodyworker takes that further: it’s a place you go to change how you live.
Retreats combine transformative treatments by serious specialists – biodynamic craniosacral therapy, reflexology, therapeutic massages and even shamanic healing rituals – with restorative yoga, swims in sacred springs, walks in nature and organic, seasonal food (intermittent fasting is also catered for). It’s impossible to return unaltered.
Another master plan is Malabar, Lu Jong Retreats. Led by Dominique Caubel, who has more than three decades of experience in Eastern medicine and martial arts, these bountiful breaks are held in Seville, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. One of the life lessons you will take home is Lu Jong, an ancient form of Tibetan yoga. Totally yoga virgin-friendly (not a downward dog in site), it requires as little as 15 minutes of dedication a day to strengthen vital organs, boosting the immune system and improving general health.
Caubel’s body treatments run deep, too, working, he says, on meridians, pressure points, nerves and organs. Expect tears from emotional release as well as the intensity of Caubel’s very strong handiwork.
The most progressive trips of all are from new company Behold Retreats. Intrepid guests are offered the benefits of psychedelic plant medicine, such as ayahuasca, psilocybin and the San Pedro cactus, to treat, alter and reset mind and body.
The scientific evidence for the benefits of plant medicine is compelling. Over the past two decades, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and other leading universities have researched psilocybin and similar psychedelics, but global interest is revving up (the word “psychedelic” gained Google search trend status this year).
The state of Oregon recently legalised the use of psilocybin and, 50 years after political and cultural winds slammed the doors shut on psychedelic research, UC Berkeley is making up for lost time by launching a centre for psychedelic science and education.
Plant medicine is said to be safe and effective in addressing common mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, addictive disorders, PTSD), as well as improving cognition, mood, behaviour and social connectedness. How? They are thought to promote neural connections, enabling greater communication between parts of the brain. It is believed that this facilitates neurological healing and a reset at the root cause. The effect is likened to years of therapy but in just a couple of sessions.
Behold Retreats offers a personal journey in locations such as Costa Rica, Peru and the Netherlands, destinations where this form of medicine is not only legal but revered. You can choose from a more “clinical” centre, a countryside setting, an individual scenario or a retreat as part of a group.
Specialist healers will guide you through dosing, as well as meditation techniques and breathwork. Key to the whole process are education, preparation, post-integration support with a qualified coach or therapist, and follow-up care – essential to ensure that guests realise the full potential of their experience and make sustained improvements to the quality of their lives after they return home.
In a recent plant medicine study, 50 per cent of participants reported a programme like this to be “the single most significant experience of their lives”; some 80 per cent placed it in their top five. The bucket list just went to a whole new dimension.