I'm speeding down a rain-slicked highway, frantically trying to make up for time lost in Friday afternoon traffic and bad weather, when the irony hits me: I'm going to a yoga retreat; for Pete's sake, I've got to slow down. I command myself not to worry about being late for the first class. I take a deep breath, ease up on the gas pedal, and watch the arrow on the speedometer dip to the left.
As it turns out, "slow down" will be my mantra for the weekend: Slow down and breathe. Slow down and admire the lily pads floating in the pond. Slow down and turn the hand-painted Tibetan prayer wheel, designed, the sign tells me, to purify and send healing light to "all sentient beings."
For 48 hours I forget work, e-mail, household responsibilities, even my kids and husband (don't tell them). I am literally on retreat. I spend this drizzly weekend at Land of Medicine Buddha, a shrine–dotted Buddhist center south of Santa Cruz, Calif., with Berkeley yoga teacher Gay White and 17 other world-weary souls. As we stretch and bend, meditate and listen to the pitter-patter of the rain on the skylights above us, thousands of others around the country are seeking refuge in retreats of their own—silent meditation and juice fast, prayer and personal growth, detoxification and spiritual enlightenment.
Retreats can refresh
"Vacations are a lot of fun, but you usually come home more exhausted than when you started," says Brian Spielmann of Shambhala Mountain Center in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. "I think it's a necessity of modern life to do retreats if you want to live long and happily. It's a way to find your own natural health." Spielmann and others say interest in meditation getaways has mushroomed in recent years.
Cathy Husid–Shamir of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires in Massachusetts has seen a similar increase. "I think the days of lounging on the beach for two weeks are over," she says. "People are taking shorter trips, and they want to get something out of them, whether it be ecotourism, volunteer vacations, or coming to a place like this where they can learn something that enhances their lives when they get home."