(Spoiler alert: all my preconceived notions were wrong)
Words by Rebecca Deurlein
Photos by Hilton Head Health, Natalie Lopez, Cheekwood Estates & Gardens
True confession: I’ve always thought of a “wellness retreat” as a euphemism for a weight loss clinic. But after testing my theory on my first wellness vacation, I’m delighted to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Caveat: Every retreat is different. I chose Hilton Head Health (HHH) for two reasons. First, it’s in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. If you’re going to get well, what better place than in the sun and surf? Second, it offers programs that seemed truly holistic, for the body, the mind, and the soul. I liked that it included hard workouts such as kickboxing and strength training—channeling my desire to be fit. But it also tempted me with luxurious body treatments—why not reward all that fitness?
Arriving and meeting each guest was a treat. Many traveled solo, as I did, and all had their own reasons for being there. One woman had lost 90 pounds through the HHH weight loss program and its follow-up online H3@Home program. COVID isolation had caused her to gain weight, so she returned to regroup. I expected to hear similar stories from just about everyone, but I was wrong again.
It was a reminder to me that wellness is about so much more than the number on a scale. In fact, most were there because they wanted a safe space to learn about and better themselves, whether that meant eating more healthily, becoming more active, cutting down on drinking, recovering from addiction, working through loss, or improving lifestyle habits after a health scare.
Being in a beautiful environment certainly helps visitors get in the right frame of mind. And I appreciated that I was able to choose all of my activities for the day, the first being a morning beach walk. The lapping of waves against the shore, the hardened sand that made the perfect walking surface, the sun rising as I walked and turning the water and sand into a mosaic of colors, all reminded me of everyone’s ability to be active in our natural surroundings. Taking your athletic shoes off to exercise was a great reminder that you don't need a gym or equipment to be healthy and fit.
With that in mind, I chose a bike over a treadmill and rode under trees dripping in Spanish moss, rumbling over wood bridges spanning creeks. I reflected, prayed, and asked myself why I never do this at home, where I opt instead for sweaty workouts on manufactured equipment.
As someone who enjoys a hardcore workout, I also challenged myself in classes. Here, trainers paid attention to my form, corrected mistakes I’ve been making for years, and pushed me to push myself safely. I balanced on a giant ball, kickboxed, took a swimming noodle class, and lifted weights. All were short, 30-minute classes, bursts of energy that were enjoyable versus grueling—in other words, I’d want to do them again and again.
And that’s the point of a good wellness retreat—teaching you how to adopt a healthier lifestyle that you can truly commit to long after you’ve gone home. For instance, I learned how to make food I love with healthy substitutions and how to appreciate the quality of a meal over quantity.
Since our emotions frequently take hold of our outward behavior, HHH addressed that as well. In a meditation class, I learned that just 10 minutes a day can redesign my brain and create distance between what's going on around me and my reaction to it. As my instructor said, Thoughts can be tyrants, and meditation teaches you to be fascinated by your thoughts, not attached to or controlled by them.
I was intrigued by a seminar entitled Rethinking Drinking because, let’s face it, none of us wants to think about our drinking. But it forced me to question why I think of alcohol as necessary to socializing. Why does one drink lead to two? And how much healthier would I be—all the way around—if I thought before I drank?
When I returned home, I was eager to see what would stick. That is the true test of a program, after all. To be honest, I didn’t expect to retain much, and—big surprise—I was wrong yet again.
I remembered what I had learned about portion sizes and adjusted accordingly. I began riding my bike, and six months later, I’m still loving every minute of those rides. I spend time each day doing some form of meditation, finding myself happier and less anxious. I think about whether I really want a drink at 5 p.m. or if that drink is nothing more than a habit. And as silly as I thought pool aerobics were before the wellness retreat, I spent all summer splashing with my noodles and getting a really great workout.
The thing about wellness is that it’s not easy. There are so many facets to it, and they all reflect on one another. A great wellness retreat helps you interpret and understand those facets and sets you on a path toward overall health and happiness.
Ready to clear your mind, challenge your body, and rejuvenate your soul? Here are three southern wellness retreats worth a visit!
If you have a few hours:
One of Nashville’s greenest spaces, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, is offering its Wellness 360 program each Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. The outdoor classes range from Tai Chi Movements—an ancient Chinese martial arts practice—to Sound Bath Meditation—soothing sounds and calming breathwork.
Learn more: https://cheekwood.org/
If you have a few days:
The Carillon Miami Wellness Resort will change the way you think about Miami. Experience five days and four nights of customized relaxation so that you leave feeling completely rejuvenated. The program focuses on physical and mental well-being, featuring massage therapy, personal training, thermal hydrotherapy, and more.
Learn more: https://www.carillonhotel.com/
If you have a few weeks:
Rancho Cortez, a fitness-focused wellness retreat in Bandera, Texas, will have you living the cowboy life for two weeks. In the gym you’ll focus on yoga, Pilates, and strength training, while outdoor activities include water aerobics, hiking, and horseback riding. Meals are made with produce straight from the ranch’s own garden!
Learn more: https://ranchocortez.com/