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Rest and Reflect

I’ve visited Breitenbush Hot Springs during every season: the excitement of spring, when the river is at its highest; the conviviality of summer, when towels damp from soakers hang from the lodge’s banisters like prayer flags; the vibrancy of fall, as the first frost arrives and the air carries a pungent spicy aroma. But it’s quiet winter I love most, when snow covers the ground and snug cabins await deep in the woods.

Any time in winter is worth a visit, but Breitenbush is especially popular during the end of the year. That’s when the center hosts a 12-day celebration observing the winter solstice and holidays, culminating with an adults-only retreat on New Year’s Eve.

Some guests opt to stay for the entire stretch, but most choose one event and come for a multiday escape featuring daily well-being programs — including yoga, crystal divination, and meditation — as well as hearty vegetarian meals, massage, and refreshing soaks in the site’s seven hot springs.

Bethany McCraw, 51, has been visiting the nondenominational retreat center since the ’80s and has attended both events at one time or another. “Winter Solstice was pretty special because it was all about bringing in the light, and there was a nice guided meditation before dinner,” she says.

New Year’s Eve is a more lively affair, but there are no champagne corks popping at this alcohol-free destination. Instead, guests enjoy a feast of international dishes followed by live music and dancing. A midnight peace vigil offers an opportunity for introspection. “New Year’s was my favorite,” recalls McCraw. “The closing of the old and looking forward to the new. I love the sense of hope it brings.”

Margaret Duperly, who has lived and worked at Breitenbush for more than 20 years, explains that, while the event is fun, it’s more than an amusing soiree. “There’s a thoughtful part to exploring our humanity together,” she says.

The Winter Holidays celebration is filled with seasonal workshops and memorable meals, but Santa never stops by and there is no special emphasis on the 24th or 25th. It’s also a popular event for parents with young children. “Christmas at Breitenbush is a chance for people to come away from the materialism of the mainstream and return to simplicity, nature, and relationships, and sharing together,” says Duperly. (For more on Breitenbush, read “Retreat to Simplicity: Restorative Spas“.)

Solstice and holiday retreats
Where: Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Ore.
Individuals and families looking to celebrate the holiday season in a less materialistic fashion
Cost: $162–$256/person

Inner Awakenings

In 2009, Carmen Nadler, 36, was searching online for a place to recover from a health issue and decompress from the stress of new motherhood.

YouTube led her to videos featuring the soft-spoken, kind-eyed guru Acharya Shree Yogeesh. A longtime spiritual leader and activist, Acharya Shree has founded spiritual retreat centers in the United States, Europe, and India. He also opened a secondary school in Haryana, India.

After watching all of Acharya Shree’s videos, Nadler packed up her family and drove from Saskatchewan, Canada, to Siddhayatan — a ranch in Windom, Texas, that Acharya Shree converted into a spiritual retreat center.

Siddhayatan offers no massages or other spa-type wellness services. The digs — located on 260 Internet-free acres of stunning rolling hills, grass fields, and pockets of forest — aren’t fancy, but the private and shared rooms are clean and affordable.

The center has no religious affiliation and welcomes people of all faiths; it also adheres to principles of nonviolence, transformation, compassion, and healthy living.

Retreats focus on a range of topics: meditation, juice fasting, or posttraumatic stress disorder. But Siddhayatan’s monthly Stress Relief Retreat is one of its most popular options.

Acharya Shree leads the three-day escape, which features a blend of guided mantra chanting, small-group workshops (three to 10 participants), homemade vegetarian meals, and tea times.

During classes, students share their stories, develop concentration techniques, and do Purnam yoga, a detoxifying practice that involves 84 breathing combinations.

“During workshops, you get a lot of time with Acharya Shree,” Nadler explains. “He really listens to you — he validates; he shares good wisdom. I’ve felt empowered and inspired by him.”

For many visitors, Siddhayatan becomes like a second home. Since her first visit, Nadler has visited more than 10 times. “It’s not about stress now. I go because I enjoy it and think people need to take time out in their lives and retreat from society and the busyness of work,” she says.

“After a retreat, I feel like a bunch of weight has been lifted off my shoulders. In fact, I feel it the minute I get there.”

What: Stress-relief retreat
Siddhayatan Spiritual Retreat Center, Windom, Texas
Those seeking a no-frills place to unwind and engage with their inner wisdom
Cost: $450–$590/person

Deepening Connections

Here’s the thing about the Playa Viva couples’ yoga retreat: Your partner must be willing to go with you. When I asked my husband if he’d consider it, he raised his eyebrows. “I’m as flexible as a dry stick,” he said. Not a decisive no, but a far cry from an enthusiastic yes.

I should have started by telling him about the retreat’s beautiful location, tucked into the western Mexican coastline, surrounded by the music of a lush tropical forest. Every private casita has a view of the shoreline — front-row seats to sunsets over the Pacific. And then there’s the food: A farm-to-table kitchen turns out dark, leafy greens from the onsite garden, grilled fish from the ocean, heaps of jewel-toned fruit, and myriad salsas to go with the ubiquitous rice, beans, and hot-off-the-griddle corn tortillas. Eco-friendly Playa Viva is secluded, intimate, and deliciously romantic — the ideal setting to relax and reconnect with your partner.

Bay Area yogis Anjuli Mahendra and Alok Rocheleau have been leading yoga escapes at Playa Viva for five years, including this one designed exclusively for couples. During the six-day workshop, they lead participants in partner poses aimed at creating meaningful connection. In butterfly pose (baddha konasana), for example, couples sit back to back feeling each others’ breath rhythms, attempting to inhale and exhale as one.

Rocheleau also teaches massage techniques. “Learning to give and receive with your partner can be very empowering,” he says. “A lot of couples reach out to us because they are missing that intimate connection of touch.”

“Couples sometimes conflate intercourse and touch, an understandable conclusion, but one that is limiting,” explains Mahendra. “Couples really appreciate the oppor-tunity to share touch that is not sexual. This has been a theme and an overarching part of our work — teaching people how to be in contact as a spiritual experience that can support all levels of communication.”

Rocheleau and Mahendra also allocate time for group meditation as well as dyadic conversations in which one partner speaks while the other simply listens.

Nicole Shea, 35, attended last year’s retreat with her partner, Michael Shea, 48, and says the dyadic aspect was a challenge at first, but then it became a rich healing experience. “We quickly saw how speaking to one another about our personal experiences, needs, and desires within our relationship was enlightening,” Nicole recalls. “This served as a platform for us to have deeper conversations on our own later.”

Much of the workshop focuses on spending quality time together. This was a big takeaway for Nicole. “There were many unscheduled times during the retreat when we just got to hang out as a couple instead of always doing something,” she says. “This was invaluable because we don’t often get a lot of time together during the day to just be with one another.”

Playa Viva provides the opportunity to hear and touch each other as well as chill together with a good book and a fresh-basil margarita. There is plenty of free time to beachcomb, rock in a hammock, splash in the waves, or take part in organized activities such as permaculture hikes and a cacao ceremony. Nightly beach bonfires bring guests together for singing and storytelling under countless stars.

What: Couples yoga retreat
Where: Playa Viva, Mexico
For: Yogis of all levels looking for a place to get in touch with their partner
Cost: $1,650–$1,900/person includes lodging and three meals a day

This originally appeared as “Rest and Reflect” in the December 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

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