How To Recover Your Zen This Summer: The Best Mental Health Vacation

I lay on the floor of a 407-year-old French chapel, rebuilt stone by stone on a lavender-covered hillside in Cal-a-Vie, a tonic Southern California spa. Six crystal bowls surrounded me, humming with a soothing sound. Palms up, eyes closed, I was there for a sound bath, a form of meditation that studies say can relieve stress, anxiety and depression (Kendall Jenner and Meghan Markle are fans). As the hour-long session progressed, Kumiko Niwayama, one of Cal-a-Vie’s yoga and meditation instructors, strummed bowls, thundered a Native American drum, and shook a shell-filled rattle that sounded like a wave receding, each note intended to relax the subconscious and activate the body’s natural healing systems. Before long, my mind calmed down and I started falling asleep in a semi-sleep state.

I had come to the spa looking for such an escape, a dedicated hour where I could relieve my throbbing brain. Mothering two children under four during the COVID-19 period did a number on my nervous system. Week-long quarantines, hard-to-find childcare, and looming general uncertainty turned my existing anxiety into excess strength. Pair it with a pandemic puppy and a preschooler who, dear as it is, stopped napping and started doing all Picasso on my walls, and by the time the two-year anniversary came, I was one step away. from closing preschool from attending a # MomScream event. What I needed was some quiet time for myself, a place where I could mentally reset to survive parenting in a pandemic that simply won’t stop.

Guests at Cal-a-Vie, a wellness retreat whose grounds are nestled between vineyard and lavender fields in Southern California, can partake in sound baths, a form of meditation that studies say can relieve anxiety and depression.

Jerry Ward

Maybe you can relate. Women, disproportionately affected by the crisis, are on edge: 29% of women reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in a 2021 University of Chicago medical study, nearly double the pre-pandemic rate. It’s no surprise, then, that we can’t wait to get out of two years of domestic jail, and the journey is back roaring. In the third week of March 2022, hotel occupancy fell only 3.7% compared to the same period in March 2019. But now we are looking for destinations that not only transport us, but transform us. According to a September 2021 survey by American Express, more than two-thirds of travelers plan to base their next vacation on improving their mental well-being. “We are seeing the demand for mental health retreats skyrocket,” says Alex Timmons, co-owner of Mountain Trek, a holistic hiking retreat in Canada, where interest in mental wellness offerings has increased 137% since beginning of the pandemic. “It has taken a long time, but COVID has pushed people over the edge.”

“Guests kept telling us they needed help mentally as well as physically.

—Kyra Oliver, director of wellness at Cal-a-Vie “

The travel industry has responded to our collective distress. Wellness tourism, now a $ 436 billion industry, is booming, and the range of new mental health offerings is just as robust. There is art therapy in a greenhouse surrounded by lush gardens at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, or Reiki with a former Buddhist nun in Bali. At the Mountain Trek, guests can forgo electronic devices, hike three to four hours a day, and bathe in the forest. In Greece, Euphoria Retreat’s Feel Alive Again program promises to “eliminate the effects of the pandemic” with activities such as expressive dance, breath and mood board. In Brazil, you can go for fruit and herbs to make doctor-recommended elixirs to improve mood. And in Northern California, Cavallo Point offers new customizable wellness programs that include Freedom From Anxiety hypnotherapy or, if you want to put yourself in the hands of a shaman, a program that “involves the forces of nature and ancient wisdom to create lasting change. for physical, mental and emotional well-being.

borgo egnazia in puglia, italy, offers a program for guests called happy break

Borgo Egnazia in Puglia, Italy offers a guest program called Happiness Break.


The demand for psychedelic retreats – the ultimate mental recovery – to deal with problems like addiction, anxiety, trauma and depression is also on the rise. From 2021 to 2022, bookings doubled at Soltara, a high-end ayahuasca treatment center in Costa Rica frequented by celebrities, prompting the center to open another location in Costa Rica and one in Peru. (The burgeoning psychedelic tourism industry is often unregulated, so prospective psychonauts should choose retreats that have reputable healers, licensed medical staff, and trauma-informed facilitators on hand.)

Happiness retreats are also experiencing a post-pandemic boom of doom and gloom. “Now more than ever, guests are looking for moments of physical and emotional peace and harmony,” says Alejandra Bustamante, director of wellness at Chablé Maroma, a seaside resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. In January, the hotel debuted its Happiness program, which uses an on-site shaman, centuries-old Mayan traditions, and energetic cleanings to help guests achieve lasting fulfillment. Meanwhile, Happiness Break at Borgo Egnazia in Puglia, Italy takes a lighthearted approach: aromatherapy to boost dopamine production and sessions with a laughter master, who taps into the silly mutual imitations of guests and music and dancing. traditional Apulian to evoke joy.

The Borgo Egnazia happiness break includes sessions with a master of laughter

The Borgo Egnazia Happiness Break includes sessions with a master of laughter.


Some resorts are working with certified mental health professionals to bring relief to guests. In 2021, Miraval Resorts, with offices in Arizona, Austin and the Berkshires, partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to produce a series of recorded meditations. In February, Canyon Ranch launched the Build Resilience Pathway, a course at its Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts locations where guests meet with licensed therapists and spiritual wellness practitioners, such as a former Christian minister, to develop behavioral therapy tools and awareness techniques. And in November, the Auberge Resorts Collection reopened the Hacienda AltaGracia in the highlands of Costa Rica, where guests can end a morning climbing the rainforest canopy with an Integrative Energy Work session, which incorporates the technique of emotional freedom. , or tapping, a method of healing and physical pain.

“Everyone is a little depressed right now. This will tear them away. “

—Kumiko Niwayama, one of Cal-a-Vie’s yoga and meditation instructors

Less therapy, more fun is the name of the game at Tschuggen Hotel Group’s four properties in Switzerland. After seeing an increase in the number of COVID-weary guests seeking relief, the hospitality group worked with wellness experts to develop Moving Mountains, a mind-body-spirit program created, in part, “to help travelers. to regain vitality and joy, and mentally recover from the pandemic “, says Leo Maissen, CEO of the group. Launched in early 2021, Moving Mountains is based on the principles of movement, play, nurturing, rest and giving. So a stay at one of Tschuggen’s properties could involve cheerfully skiing down the slopes of St. Moritz at dawn or paragliding over the medieval town of Ascona, followed by an aromatherapy massage designed to rebalance the nervous system, an ice bath in the lake that releases Obersee endorphins, or a sleep program devised by a sleep specialist trained at the Mayo Clinic.

chable maroma, a seaside resort on the mayan riviera, has started offering its happiness program after seeing covid-fueled demand for such services

Chablé Maroma, a Riviera Maya beach town, began offering its Happiness program after seeing COVID-fueled demand for such services.


A cognitive reboot is what I was looking for when I signed up for Cal-a-Vie’s Refresh & Renew program, which debuted in January. That’s how I found myself in that sound bath, one of several wellness offerings that the spa has introduced since reopening after the first block in June 2020. “Guests kept telling us they needed help mentally as well as physically.” says Kyra Oliver, Cal-a-Vie’s director of wellness, who welcomed Michelle Obama, Shailene Woodley and Gwyneth Paltrow. Since launching new classes in response to the pandemic, such as Anxiety and Nutrition: The Gut-Brain Connection; Make a Meditation Mala Bracelet; and Restore Your Nervous Yoga System, the spa has seen bookings jump 15 to 20 percent. “In the past it was just about fitness; now it’s all about mental form, ”says Oliver. “People want skills and techniques that they can bring back into their lives.”

Back in the former chapel, after an hour of sound bath, I started returning and Niwayama began to explain how the pandemic has destroyed our collective well-being. “We were going on normally. Now there is no longer normal and we don’t know what to expect. Everyone is a little depressed right now. This will tear them out, “he said. And it was true: the sound bath had dimmed the electricity of my anxiety; I felt lighter and more optimistic. Was I cured? No. Was I better? Yes.

now more than ever guests are looking for moments of physical and emotional peace and harmony, says alejandra bustamante, wellness director chablé maroma

“Now more than ever, guests are looking for moments of physical and emotional peace and harmony,” says Alejandra Bustamante, director of wellness at Chablé Maroma.


Later that day, on a patio lined with camellias over a lunch of grilled swordfish with romesco sauce, another Cal-a-Vie guest reflected on the journey back in the days of COVID-19. “We all need a reset right now and a different way of life,” said Robin Ola, certified weight loss and life coach and personal trainer in Austin. In the distance, vineyards flowed down the hill as guests arrived from TRX and spinning classes. “Traveling gives us the time and space to stop, creating opportunities to learn new ways of being that will help us thrive in such an uncertain future.” War in Ukraine, a shaky economy, new variants: yes, the future is wildly uncertain. But leaving Cal-a-Vie, I felt ready for whatever life, and pandemic parenting, comes my way. I won’t need that #MomScream session anymore, but I may need to invest in some sound bowls.

This article appears in the June / July 2022 issue of ELLE.

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