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Retreats Revive Mind, Body, and Spirit

From taking a spiritual retreat to unplugging at home, escaping from everyday distractions can help restore balance to your life.
By Suzanne Wright
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 body.

“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.”

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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 Kripalu.

The center offers more than 700 experiential programs. But regardless of the specific program, the results are similar: rest, reflection, and rejuvenation.

“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.”

(How will you find balance in your life this summer? Talk about it on WebMD's Health Cafe board.)

Communing With Nature

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.

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