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Feeling Deeply Unwell at A Wellness Retreat

Can chakra massages, spiritual purification rituals, and breathing journeys heal my ails?

Feeling Deeply Unwell at A Wellness Retreat
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The Bali-based Banyan Tree Escape defies logic. The property, which is intentionally designed to connect you to nature directly, is so shockingly beautiful that it shakes the senses. Nestled into the jungle, each of the 16 villas is a free-standing treehouse with no walls, doors, or windows and 180-degree views from every angle. The nature is unlike anything you’ve seen before: lush, vibrant jungle with so many green hues that Pantone needs to visit for inspiration, sweeping views of seven mountain peaks, snuggled in beside the Ayung River (which provides a sound machine-like rush of white noise), and, of course, Bali-famous rice paddies.

All this beauty, but I could only think of how growingly unwell I felt with each passing hour. Feeling ill on any vacation is drab, but being sick on a wellness retreat? A special and new level of hell.

Far From Home

The point of a wellness retreat is to leave more inspired, grounded, and at peace than you arrived. However, I somehow grew more and more unwell with each passing day. Literally on the other side of the world, a UTI that hinted at discomfort on my day of arrival (likely from contorting my body in numerous economy seats during the 24+ hours of flights from New York) turned into a full-blown infection during the four-day retreat. While others on the wellness journey perfected their breathing practices and cleared their minds, I could only focus on one single thought constantly: “Please don’t be an infection”.

I had a good reason to fear, too. Put a finger down if you’ve had a sneaky history of UTIs. Now, put another finger down if you’d had to be hospitalized because a UTI turned into a mind-blowingly painful kidney infection. (I’ve put two fingers down.) So, you could say I have a healthy and robust fear of UTIs. When one crops up, I waste no time on over-the-counter tinctures and powders and instead head for the hardcore stuff: antibiotics.

If you’re going to be sick somewhere (pray you don’t, though), make it with a Banyan Tree property. And if looks could heal, consider all who lay eyes upon Banyan Tree properties invincible. A doctor was called in for me (as was a round of antibiotics), but the property’s loving manager, Puspa, swore a chakra massage would solve my ails.

Magic Hands

I am sitting face-to-face with a Balinese healer who had been aligned chakras since before I was even born. We meditated together for 30 minutes so he could assess my blocks, and then I laid face down with nothing but a sheet covering me for a 60-minute treatment where he targeted the pesky blocked chakras. His hands hovered above and then kneaded areas that needed focus, which felt similar to a massage-meets-reiki treatment, where you could feel heat and attention in certain focused areas of the body. Laying there, in the middle of the jungle, I realized I was very far from home—geographically and metaphorically. But consider me shocked when, after the chakra treatment, I truly felt lighter, more aligned. I asked the healer after the treatment if he thought the infection was healing, and he said, ‘No infection, none.’

Skeptics Among Us

While I embrace Balinese traditions, and all Eastern medicine, I was sure my slightly improved state on the last day was from the antibiotics doing the heavy lifting, not any mystic practices. Why are we, myself included, so quick to dismiss traditional practices in place of harsh Western solutions? There are a few reasons for this, says Dr. Paige Yang, L.Ac.

“It is simply different, and what people are not familiar with they will naturally be skeptical of and will want more information or "evidence" before giving it a try,” she says. “Another reason is Western medicine (WM) is fast and covers up symptoms, which is more convenient for our capitalist culture where we always need to be on and can't miss work/deadlines/events, etc.,” she adds. Also, “I think there is a role of "orientalism," racism or "othering" of [Eastern] medicine that makes it feel more exotic, less accessible, and just less than when stacked against Western medicine,” adds Dr. Yang.

Retreat 101

But, hey, let’s back up. What actually happens on a wellness retreat? While each retreat is prized for its individuality, the base premise is always about educating and empowering you to implement discovery and wellness into your daily life during and after the experience. The Banyan Tree retreats are especially unique though. In four days, we focused on mindset reframing, somatic practices, yoga (restorative and Vinyasa), meditation, breathwork, ice baths, nature immersion, and releasing old patterns through a fire ceremony.

Each of the Banyan Group’s retreats is custom-designed to match the local expertise. For Bali, spiritualism and rejuvenation are the focus. The upcoming June 15-20 yoga retreat, at the Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, will have a similar growth and empowerment mindset. In October, the stunning Banyan Tree AlUla in Saudi Arabia will host a yoga retreat facilitating self-connection and discoveries.

Retreats are certainly a privilege, and wellness, at times, can feel reserved for those with enough money to indulge in it. Banyan Group’s new platform, Beyond, is aiming to address that. It is designed to be an online transformative well-being companion, fueling your overall health and well-being, immersing you in captivating experiences inspired by destinations worldwide—all from the comfort of your home. A retreat without even leaving your front door.

Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

Banyan Group leans into locale-specific retreat practices, like the only-in-Bali spiritual purification ritual, designed to cleanse the body spiritually and physically. We hiked down the Tjampuhan Waterfall, which is just a few minutes walk from the center of the property. I was put in a traditional Balinese ritual outfit, which consisted of a modest top, a ceremonial sarong thoughtfully wrapped around my waist, and a handful of incense and intention-focused flowers as offerings to the gods. While other retreat members were likely thinking big, I focused my intentions on the short term. “Please don’t let this be an infection, gods.” (They were likely hoping for a significant, more meaningful intention…but, alas, it’s all my brain could conjure.) Guided through meditation, chantings, and then offerings by a local priest, we began descending into the mighty river towards the roaring waterfall, where we aimed to stand under its raging force for a few brief seconds for purification. The purification is designed for our souls, but I was hoping the waterfall could be more literal and heal infections, too.

Wellness Is the Treat

At the end of the retreat, I certainly felt more empowered with wellness practices, but also nervous for 24+ hours of flights back to New York, fearful of discomfort from this threatening infection. But folks, when I landed in New York, there was indeed no infection, just as my chakra healer promised, and confirmed by tests from urgent care. Was it the antibiotics, spiritual purification ritual, and/or the chakra massage (or, heck, obsessive worrying-turned-manifestation)? I’ll never know, but I do know a wellness retreat is a luxury, one well worth it if you’re searching for a new beginning for yourself. The once-in-a-lifetime experience may not have encouraged as many wellness practices into my everyday life, but it did solidify one resounding idea: feeling well is priceless.

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