Mythbusting for spa newbies: Sage advice for those planning a journey into the world of wellness

Suzanne Duckett
The best retreats simply provide an opportunity to step back from your everyday life - Andreas von Einsiedel 2013, All Rights Reserved

Myth One

A few days on a wellness retreat will “fix me”

When I first started “retreating”, I’d convince myself that the nurturing combination of rare, self-centred days holed up in a gorgeous venue, one-to-ones with experts, massages, exercising in nature, healthy food, zero alcohol and caffeine was all that was needed to make everything tickety-boo again. WRONG! The very best ones simply provide an opportunity to step back from your everyday life and allow you to start unpacking some emotional baggage, reset your motivation levels and give you some new tools to use at home as part of your ongoing human tinkering project (and it is ongoing). It’s about little changes, marginal gains and remembering what feeling good feels like. However, most retreats simply don’t arm you with the take-home stuff to continue the feel-good factor, so take a notebook or keep your phone handy, so you can record everything the talented specialists share. Ask for printouts, recipes, links or videos of that weird exercise because if you don’t keep up the good work when you return, it was simply a healthy holiday where the results will last only as long as your glow.

Myth Two

I’d like to go with my partner/best friend/mum as we need some “quality time” together

You might want to rethink that one. If it’s “retreat-lite” at a hotel where you are dipping your toes in self-development life – a few sessions and treatments here and there rather than a full immersion – it might work. But if you want to do a proper, or fast, detox, do yourselves a favour and go alone. Why? Well, there’s a lot of time in the lavatory – the Epsom salts, the sitting on the loo for hours with your feet up, heels on a footstool to get your knees higher than hips (it helps the bowel to completely empty) and discussing what’s left in your body. So no, retreats of this nature are not a two-player sport, no couple of any description needs to compare lavatory habits on holiday.

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Myth Three

Fellow guests will all be the rich/healthy/successful/beautiful/aloof types

That lot must be on the extra “private” retreats because every one I’ve been on included a mix of couldn’t-make-them-up clichés of every stripe. My last trip to one of my favourites, Yeotown in Devon, is a perfect example. With me was a frazzled mum of two with a penchant for Hobnobs; an overweight 30-something man who has fought a raft of addictions (drugs, alcohol, now junk food); a successful middle-aged businessman trying to find renewed life purpose; an ex-Princess (long story); the daughter of a bankrupt billionaire; a down-to-earth north-London female 40-something and… me, an adrenalised working mum aiming to reboot body/mute mind, drop the morning coffee and evening glass of red (I may die trying). And by God did we laugh! Giggling through the wacky singing session, snoring side-by-side post-gong bath, backslapping the best archer, belly laughing in the hot tub and reading quietly in the evening in our identical dressing gowns by the crackling fire – the ultimate equaliser.

Myth Four

There’ll be a lot of “sharing with the group” stuff

It varies from retreat to retreat, plus some people revel in giving you intimate details of their life at every given opportunity; others are more closed books. But you’ll be amazed how cathartic it can be to talk honestly about things you are struggling with to a stranger.
We seek out non-intimates precisely because they’re non-intimate, no judging or advising, besides, they’re working through their own stuff, too. It’s not sitting cross-legged in a circle where the magic of true connection happens, the real epiphanies are when you least expect it – having an instantaneous heart-to-heart on a hike, in the hushed conversation following sunrise yoga or in the back of the minibus on the way home. If the group gels, which the best retreat leaders work hard to ensure, it’s the encouragement up that steep incline on the hike, the hand on your shoulder when you’re having a moment (and you will) and it’s the “Oh God, you too?” avowals where real sharing and camaraderie is. And the one thing you can be sure of: what happens on retreat, stays on retreat. That’s the unspoken rule.