Best wellness retreats to restore your body and soul

Feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? These health resorts will pamper you inside and out, and have you feeling healthier and happier
By Alanna Glassman,
Miraval resort, hot tub, Tucson, Arizona Miraval Resort
One & Only Palmilla, Mexico, resort One & Only Palmilla, Mexico
iRetreat yoga-surf getaways, Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, Mexico iRetreat yoga-surf getaways

1. Miraval, Tucson, Arizona
Best for: You and your closest girlfriend

Arriving at Miraval resort is like landing on another planet — one where Oprah is in charge. At first you’ll feel out of place with your life-is-one-huge-juggle stress, but by suppertime you’ll be as blissed out as everyone else. This is not a cookie-cutter spa: It is a unique, caring, brilliantly curated experience that will help you (re)connect with yourself. That may sound corny, but here it actually happens thanks to 110 mind-expanding programs.

Whether you’re leaping into space from a platform 35 feet above the desert floor to physically and symbolically let go (Swing and a Prayer ) or going on multiple-hour hikes in the spectacular saguaro-cactus-strewn Sonoran desert, both your body and your brain will be challenged. The joy of it is that you can get only as involved as you want. But the atmosphere’s infectious, and you’ll find yourself signing up for classes with names like Out on a Limb, and shedding a tear or two in front of complete strangers. Don’t miss the Equine Experience created by cowboy psychotherapist Wyatt Webb, who has a reassuringly troubled past. He delivers mantra-like one-liners: “Life is not coming at you, it’s coming from you. You are creating the life you live.” You need your bestie here, as the only thing more fascinating than analyzing yourself is doing it with someone who knows you well, over superb, healthy food and a good bottle of wine. (You’re allowed!) That’s one more reason you’ll vow to return. Rooms from $595 per night, Miraval Resort.

What to pack: Casual-chic workout gear (think Lululemon), a bathing suit, cover-ups and running shoes. It cools down dramatically at night, so don’t forget a wrap or sweaters for the evening.

Closer to home: The Hills Health Ranch, B.C. Interior The gateway to your slimmest, strongest, most serene self is just four hours from the town of Hope, B.C. Escape on a six-, 10- or 30-night spa-cation, where A-list pampering meets the Wild West, and a host of personal trainers, estheticians, nutritionists and world-class chefs are on call to get you glowing from the inside out.

2. One & Only Palmilla, Mexico
Best for: The greatest sleep of your life

In a bid to help insomniacs everywhere, Mexico’s luxurious One & Only Palmilla on Baja’s golden shores has introduced an integrative Wellness Sleep Therapy Program that’s designed to soothe both mind and body into a state of sleep readiness. The first part of the treatment involves lunch with a nutritionist, who starts by going over the familiar don’ts: caffeine, alcohol, big late-night meals and refined sweeteners (which destabilize blood sugar, causing you to wake in the night). She recommends foods that contain sleep-inducing tryptophan, like tuna and warm almond milk.

The next step is transformative breathing. You lie on a futon and breathe rhythmically while the instructor presses down on various parts of your body and says a affirmations like “I learn from the mistakes I have made.” The goal is to bring about a deep meditative state that leaves you with a sense of calm. Watsu massage — shiatsu meets the life aquatic — follows; it involves getting into a warm pool and going limp in the arms of a therapist for a massage that leaves the body begging for sleep. Finally you return to your room, where the lights are already dimmed, pacifying music is playing, and a light dinner awaits. Next to the bed is a sheet with relaxation exercises from ancient Indian meditation practices and a calm-inducing mouth spray.

The treatment reminds you of how integrative the sleep process is: According to One & Only, you should be physically tuckered out, with a quiet mind; all electronic devices in the bedroom should be unplugged and phones, computers and TVs avoided an hour before bed. The key to resetting your circadian rhythm is waking up at the same time each day — the body appreciates a routine. Evening meals need to be light — yet enough to keep you from waking hungry in the night. And alcohol, which dehydrates, should be avoided when sleep won’t come. If you’re not one for meditation, or you think the idea of transformational breathing is hokey, the powder-fine sand, warm sea and chirping birds might just be enough to slow you down. Rooms from $720 per night, One & Only Resorts.

What to pack: It’s boho chic thanks to the A-listers popping in from L.A. So bring your va-va-voom bikini, colourful caftans and a little bit of glam for the evening — the famed Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a knockout restaurant here.

Closer to home: Ryerson University’s Sleep and Depression Lab, Toronto. Enrol in a clinical trial for a series of free snooze-friendly therapies, and treat sleep and stress in a single go with Colleen Carney, Canada’s guru of good dreams. Four sessions can fix your problem, whether it’s tuning your internal clock, adjusting your body temperature or falling — and staying — asleep. “You’re no longer at the mercy of the night,” says Carney. 416-979-5000.

IRetreat yoga-surf getaways, Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua and Mexico
Best for: Getting away on your own

Buried deep in the Costa Rican jungle a bumpy two-hour Jeep ride from the nearest airport, this is not for the faint of heart. There aren’t many proper walls — not on your room (a cabana or ‘tiki tent’ on a raised platform), the dining area or even the shower. But this is part of what makes all of iRetreat’s trips so astonishing: They make sure you are surrounded by nature. There are two yoga sessions a day, Ashtanga in the morning and restorative in the evening, which leaves the rest of the day free to spend on the beach. Yoga is a perfect complement to surfing as it stretches out screaming triceps, biceps and obliques pushed to their limit by paddling through the waves. For first-timers the surfing’s not nearly as intimidating as it seems — after a quick lesson on land, the instructors tow you into the waves, choosing the perfect one and giving you an extra push into it for good measure. All you have to do is stand up! The secret to staying up is, as clichéd as it sounds, being 100 percent in the moment. The minute you think about something else, off you plop. There is nothing like absolute concentration on a sport to slow a busy mind and reconnect with your body — and the rush of being propelled by the ocean is indescribable.

Ultimately that’s what iRetreat is all about: being immersed in nature rather than setting yourself apart from it. The sound of waves lulls you to sleep, and the parrots and monkeys wake you. At the end of each retreat everyone receives a string bracelet to act as a daily reminder to tap into this incredible feeling. The food is so fresh it’s often literally just been pulled from the garden that morning; and although vegetarian, it’s deliciously satisfying. Bonus: You’ll leave with a rockin’, ripped body and a calm mind. From $1,750 per retreat, iRetreat.

What to pack: This is rustic so bring the essentials: sunscreen, a rash guard, yoga gear, hiking shoes, something warm for the evening, a water bottle, a flashlight and at least two swimsuits.

Closer to home: Milagro Retreats, Tofino Botanical Gardens, B.C.
Tucked away on 12 acres of rainforest coastline is an eco-sanctuary of relaxation and renewal. The transformative healing on these weekend yoga, surf and spa adventures begins with raw and sprouted foods, deep-tissue massage and hang-10 clinics run by Surf Sisters Surf School.


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