by Chantal Houde
Meditation and other practices that encourage mindfulness are being praised for their benefits more and more often in Western culture, and with good reason. Rituals that bring an expanded awareness of self through an increased sense of moment-to-moment presence have been explored as a means to bring about positive personal change for centuries. Modern science is catching up, and showing what many practitioners have known for years: meditation and mindfulness make a difference in quality of life.
The mental and emotional effects, including decreased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression are cited frequently as benefits, and they are indeed impressive. Recent studies have shown that meditation reduces the size of the amygdala-—the brain’s fear centre-—while strengthening the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making, focus and memory. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, or the ‘rest and digest’ branch of our autonomous nervous system through conscious relaxation of the mind and the body, we also invite in a host of lesser-known mental and physical benefits including increased resilience to pain, an increased a sense of social connection and a stronger immune system.
Though most of us are aware of at least a few of these benefits, it’s sometimes still a struggle to find the time for a regular meditation practice. It can be hard to find the space-—be it a physical space away from others, the mental space, or the emotional distance from our challenges-—to cultivate these practices in our day to day lives. The best time to adopt a new habit is when we consciously create the space to do so. As many travellers know, getting out of your routine on a wellness getaway can provide just the space you need.
Taking a vacation that incorporates exercises in mindfulness, whether they be formal meditation techniques, or simply unplugging from technology and becoming consciously immersed in your reality can help set in motion changes you can incorporate into your life when you return home.
Several global destinations and a couple closer to home offer the perfect setting to explore mindfulness. Some offer meditation instruction, yoga and martial arts classes-—excellent forms of moving meditation-—and others simply provide a nurturing atmosphere and the freedom of unstructured time to allow you to explore the practice on your own. By choosing destinations and accommodations that are themselves aware of their environmental, cultural and health impacts, you will already be incorporating mindfulness into your life!
Sol & Luna Lodge and Spa, Peru
Peru is a country steeped in spirituality, and many travellers are visiting the country in the hopes of cultivating a deeper connection to themselves and the world in the land of the ancient Incans. The Sol & Luna (Sun and Moon), a sustainable lodge situated on more than 32 pristine acres in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is the perfect retreat to practice mindfulness and nurture yourself. With yoga and Tai Chi on offer, both excellent forms of moving meditation, fresh organic food from their garden, spa treatments, and tour options to visit the sacred site of Machu Picchu, there is no limit to the ways you can connect with yourself mindfully.
Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
A long winding journey up the mountains will bring you to Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. Casa Palopó is a private home-turned-boutique-hotel that offers the lake and its magnificent volcanoes as the perfect backdrop to inspire your meditative state. Palopó is tiny so if it’s solitude you enjoy, this spot will suit. They also offer boat tours around the lake to visit the other small villages, worth the trip to see the different characteristics of each.
The Legian, Bali
The ‘Island of the Gods’ in Indonesia is the perfect place to explore a mindful approach. A warm Balinese welcome awaits travellers at The Legian, as well as mani-pedi stations, morning yoga, and the Balinese shores of Seminyak Beach. Let yourself be lulled into a state of serious relaxation and observe how your thoughts melt away and bring space for new ideas. A visit to Ubud, the hill town popular among yogis and travellers and made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love is a worthy day trip – it will almost certainly live to your expectations and offers countless opportunities to experience yoga and meditation.
The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa, South Africa
If you are searching for luxury this South African retreat with its choice of elegant suites in the main house or private garden villas will not disappoint. Let go of your to-do list and let the accommodating and friendly staff at the Saxon take care of all your needs. Enjoy fine South African meals made with handpicked ingredients from their rooftop organic garden and find respite at the Saxon Spa and Studio, a secluded haven offering ancient and modern healing techniques and aromatherapy from around the globe to promote a holistic sense of vitality, energy and balance.
Alta Mare by Andronis, Santorini, Greece
The Santorini seaside lifestyle offers you a chance to unwind and explore your body, mind and spirit. You will certainly want to practice mindful eating, taking the time to savour and appreciate the fresh local Grecian seafood and pasta. A short sail from the hotel will take you to small villages, Venetian lighthouses and the volcanic isles of Palaia and Nea Kameni where you can swim in the healing sulphurous waters of the hot springs.
The Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan
Bhutan remains one of the world’s most mysterious countries. Known for monks and temples set in the dramatic backdrop of the Himalayan mountains, this country provides the perfect respite from day-to-day stressors. The Gangtey Lodge, in a remote glaciated valley of the same name, delivers an authentic experience in one of the world’s most undiscovered destinations. A must-try mindful treatment is a Bhutanese ritual in their new hot stone bath house.
The experience combines ancient Bhutanese medicinal practices with unobstructed views of the magnificent Gangtey Valley. In a specially prepared Bhutanese Dotsho, or hot stone bath, fresh spring water is used and river stones are collected and heated to warm the bath. Follow it up with a massage, foot scrub, and a cozy robe and you may notice your thoughts slowing to match the quiet way of life.
Suncadia Resort, Cle Elum, Washington
Go off the grid in this Pacific Northwest resort just 80 miles east of Seattle. Let your mind settle as you count the stars on a crisp clear night outdoors in the fresh, pine-scented air. Hiking is one of the main attractions in this area; with over 40 miles of exploratory trails that take you along the lush Cascades through meadows and along rivers, there are lots of opportunities to reconnect with nature and let your thoughts shift to the background.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Longboat Key, Florida
For travellers seeking a beach experience, Longboat Key provides the perfect spot to soak up some sun. Offering moonlit meditation classes and sunrise yoga on the beach to guide you in your new practices, you’re sure to leave feeling centred. Stay nourished with farm-to-table meals, and spend your days on the water kayaking or paddle boarding. Longboat also offers a fully customizable package, aptly named “Your Key to a Lifetime of Wellness,” which is the perfect starting point to help you build healthy, mindful habits into your day.
Chantal Houde is a yoga teacher, communications freelancer and reiki practitioner in Ottawa, Canada. She is currently completing her yoga therapy training and is passionate about nature, wellness, travel, and healthy food. Learn more about Chantal and follow her wanderings on her wellness travel blog, Travel With Celery.