Ever since she enrolled in massage school 15 years ago, Erin Susan Parks has
been regularly taking spiritual retreats to replenish her soul and recharge her
“The most impactful has been the silent retreat,” the Atlanta resident tells
WebMD. “I’m somewhat of an information junkie, so going inside and allowing
myself to turn off the inflow has let things settle, given me time to reflect
and make decisions.”
By Nancy Rones
It only takes a few minutes a day to dramatically improve your health.
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Parks is not alone in her desire to find greater harmony and balance through
periods of structured retreat. As our lives become ever faster, increasingly
complex, and more demanding, reducing stress levels and maintaining a healthy
mind and body is critical for our physical and mental well-being.
Since the beginning of time, humans have used time away from the world and
its distractions as a way to deepen perspective, gain understanding, and revive
spirit. Jews have long reserved the Sabbath for reflection; Trappist monks have
a tradition of reflection and renewal that dates back to the 11th century.
At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga., more than 80,000
visitors a year seek out the pax -- peace -- of its serene grounds. Brother
Callistus says a retreat from the normal course of life is a chance to “unwind,
hit the delete button, and leave behind garbage. Ours is an experience of
solitude and contemplation.”
Parks says when she’s on a retreat, the goal is always the same: “To move
into my own center, slow down, open my attention and, ultimately, go back into
the world having retained something for myself, my clients, my friends, my
family, and others.”
Though many retreat centers are affiliated with religious organizations,
there are also many secular options, such as the Kripalu Center for Yoga &
Health. The largest and most established educational retreat center for yoga
and holistic living in North America, this nonprofit educational center in
Stockbridge, Mass., attracts more than 28,000 people a year to its campus. It
was founded in 1965.
“Kripalu means ‘compassion’ or ‘grace,’” says Cathy Shamir, spokeswoman for
The center offers more than 700 experiential programs. But regardless of the
specific program, the results are similar: rest, reflection, and
“Our mission is to help people produce more balance in their lives, to feel
more alive from the foundation of a yoga practice,” Shamir tells WebMD. “A
retreat is a chance for people to get away from everything, to refresh
spiritually and physically and re-evaluate their lives. Afterward, they are
more relaxed, happy and balanced, and their relationships are better.”
As we’ve become more stressed, a lucrative industry -- ranging from deluxe
spa-based getaways and meditation retreats to yoga vacations and tools for mini
at-home breaks -- has sprung up to show us how to slow down and take stock.