This year has caused many of us to experience spikes in anxiety. Divisive politics, social unrest, rising unemployment, and the star of our show—the pandemic—has spurred stress.
Exercise and self-care are smart approaches to mitigating anxiety and depression with or without the added pressures of 2020. But this year, our self-care routines have had to shift. There’s no more lavender-scented yoga studio to escape to for an hour of peace and reflection. Instead, there is Zoom and your own living room floor, where a cobra pose gives you a closer look at hidden dust bunnies and clusters of dog fur. (I fight the urge to stop and sweep!)
Wellness retreats, the ultimate reset button for the emotionally depleted, are also canceled. It’s no longer safe to gather for a weekend of sharing, stretching, and learning with a group of like-minded strangers and leaders in the healing arts. Sure, you could create your own private retreat somewhere like Doe Bay or Leavenworth, but key components such as camaraderie and teachers will be missing.
You Might Forget You’re on Zoom
Some veteran wellness experts have decided to embrace our new reality and host retreats entirely online. I decided to try one of these virtual retreats recently to see if it was as good as the real, in-person thing. It was a rainy Saturday, and the wind was pushing against my windowpanes. Gray hung over Seattle, and I felt unsettled, overwhelmed, and generally blah. I lit a few candles, made some tea, set up my yoga mat and a pillow, and prepared for a half-day workshop.
Seattle local Barbara Badolati is the founder of BeWell Retreats, and has offered wellness, yoga, and self-development retreats throughout the world since 1992. Like many businesses, she had to pivot last spring. “I decided to postpone the in-person retreats and offer an online version. We launched May 2, 2020, with an all-day experiential event with four presenters and 35 people in attendance from 13 states. The response we received was so positive that we decided to provide a retreat each month,” explains Badolati.
When I attended Badolati’s retreat that rainy morning, she and several other teachers led us through yoga, meditation, journaling, and even a sound-bath. I know Zoom-fatigue is a big concern these days, and several hours online in a retreat may make you wary. But really, it was fine. Firstly, it was a half-day program, and there were breaks. Secondly, I was mostly listening and doing the activities, not looking at my computer screen.
Look for Virtual Retreats to Continue
Badolati has found that virtual retreat-goers are able to build relationships with one another, especially in small breakout sessions she calls Sacred Shares. “I’m always surprised at the depth of connection and insight attendees share,” says Badolati, who aims to continue with online retreats even after the pandemic is behind us.
Linden Schaffer founded her wellness travel company, Pravassa, in 2009. “On March 13, 2020, when the business was involuntarily put on hold due to the pandemic, I personally turned toward the well-being practices I had cultivated as a way to cope with the pandemic, lockdown, constant negative news, and overall grief of losing my way of living,” says Schaffer.
Like Badolati, Schaffer pivoted and launched WanderHome, two to three-day experiences her clients enjoy from their own abodes. Her retreats differ from Badolati’s in that they are self-paced and feature upgrades such as gift bags, curated meal delivery, and private Zoom sessions with experts. She offers her retreats at several price-points, so there is something for most budgets.
Schaffer also believes online retreats are here to stay. “Our Wander Home series is a companion piece to traveling, as much as it is a great stand-alone offering. People can use the series to prepare for a well-being vacation, for a monthly tune-up, or as an introduction to various well-being practices, which will help to determine what kind of travel experience they want to create,” she explains.
So, are virtual retreats as great as the “real” in-person experience? No, but they are pretty darn good and absolutely a useful antidote for what we are collectively experiencing at the moment. This fall and winter, as the days grow shorter and holiday stressors are upon you, give yourself a virtual escape. Invite a friend, or give the retreat as a holiday gift. Brew some tea, light a candle, and allow yourself to unwind online.