I Went To A Wellness Retreat And Never Felt More Serene And Joyful

New year, new me

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but 2017 was total shit.

It was not only that the entire world went up in both figurative and literal flames, but I had some flames to deal with on a personal level, too, leaving me in a constant state of burnt-out panic and a general blah-ness. By the time the holidays arrived, I was in dire need of not only a bit of R&R but something more: a spiritual awakening.

That’s when I caught wind that Ruby Warrington, founder of The Numinous and Moon Club and author of Material Girl, Mystical World, was leading a five-day spiritual and mystical kickoff to 2018 at Kripalu Yoga Center, called New Year, Nu Yu, and I just knew I had to be there.

So, after a late night of celebrating the end of what was probably the worst year I’ve experienced in my 27 years of life, I woke myself extremely early on the first day of 2018, ready to heal at my first wellness retreat and hopefully sort out some of these inner dumpster fires of my own. While I wasn’t thrilled about boarding a bus at Port Authority at 9:30am on New Year’s Day, a time when I would normally be sleeping off the party for another few hours or so, the rest of the week would, undoubtedly, make up for it.

So, what exactly was this retreat, and what did it focus on?

Well, as Warrington previously explained to us, a wellness retreat is “more than just a getaway with some yoga on the side.” In fact, there are some transformational mind, body, and spirit experiences to be had, and New Year, Nu You didn’t skimp on any of those. The theme of this one was to take an already buzzy concept in the world of wellness—self-care—to a whole new level for 2018. “My intention was for people to leave the retreat having made a deep, deep connection on an emotional level—and an understanding that it’s always in our power to give this to ourselves," Warrington explained. "The different workshops were designed to help foster this connection and understanding, as well as equip participants with the knowledge, tools, and practice to help them to truly nurture themselves.”

To achieve this, Warrington curated an all-star group of teachers, healers, and mystics to show us the ropes in a variety of practices, including everything from tarot and breathwork to the science of happiness. “All of these teachers have been fully immersed in and doing the work on themselves for many years—decades in many cases. Not only do they all bring an authenticity and dedication to the modern healing space, they also all manage to make ancient and sometimes ‘woo-woo’ topics totally relatable and relative to modern life,” she says. In short, they knew their stuff.

The goal was for us to leave with new tools and skills that we could then incorporate back into our hectic everyday lives, reaping their benefits long after the retreat was over.

Warrington herself gave us an in-depth lesson on our astrological birth charts and how to read them, focusing specifically on our moon signs. I’m happy to say that I determined that my sometimes-materialistic tendencies are perfectly justified because my Sagittarius moon in the second house means it’s simply what my spirit needs. (May my shopping habit recommence.) Lindsay Mack, an intuitive tarot reader, gave us an in-depth lesson on the major arcana and insight into the year ahead—a year ruled by the High Priestess.

Alexandra Roxo, transformational mentor and healer and co-founder of The Moon Club, taught us about our heart space, and how to see it and care for ourselves through it. Healer and intuitive teacher Betsy LaFae took us on a meditational journey to find our spirit guides as well as offered a powerful breathwork session. Transformational coach and meditation teacher Sah D’Simone schooled us on the science behind our emotions—specifically happiness—and taught us healing meditations that show ourselves, and those around us, some much-needed love.

All of it, was, to be blunt, fucking awesome. I went numb and felt a sense of weightlessness during a breathwork session like I’ve never felt before, awaking to all of my energy blockage—that I could physically feel—cleared. In a deep, guided meditation, I was handed two symbolic items from my spirit guides—signs I’ll be working to decipher in the physical realm as the year continues on. During my personal tarot reading, I pulled the nine of wands, justifying my need for this week of rest (and making me feel a lot less guilty about ignoring my inbox) and indicating the presence of big things coming my way.

The point of each workshop was to help us reconnect with ourselves, and to not just live in our minds, but our hearts. As D’Simone explains, “There is scientific evidence that confirms that a daily practice of purifying our minds and energizing our body—through meditation, breathwork, movement, and eating a wholesome diet—can help us to connect with our inner-wise teacher. When we drop into these moments of feeling connected, where the internal dialogue falls silent, we’ll find that compassion, courage, and curiosity arise.” The bonus was that it was all a lot of fun.

He goes on to explain that “unless we clean up our conditioning and unlearn all of the harmful shit that has been cooked into us, we’ll be living them out on autopilot and not even be aware that our life is passing us by—and that we have not been fully present for any of it.” And everything we did for those five days helped us do just that.

During it all, I noticed how I became this new, carefree person. I wore nothing but yoga pants. I didn’t wear any makeup. I didn’t shave my legs. I spoke slower and softer. I locked my iPhone in my room for 12 hours at a time each day. And it all felt really, really good.

Just as inspiring as the presenters and their lessons, though, were the badass women (and the handful of dudes) in attendance. Everyone came from different walks of life, different states, different age ranges, and even different countries. Yet we all had something in common: We were all burnt-out and seeking refuge from the hecticness (and sometimes hellishness) of the world around us. We weren’t just at Kripalu to get away and brush up on our yoga skills (though we did that, too)—we were all looking for something.

As one of my new friends pointed out, all of us were “just a little bit broken,” some more so than others, and by the time the workshops were in motion, we were all eager to share our stories with one another—whether that’s what we had initially intended to do, or not. There’s something incredibly powerful about spilling your guts—your deepest darkest fears and insecurities, some that you’ve maybe never been able to utter aloud before—to complete strangers. 

But, honestly, what made up for a large portion of this healing experience and the newfound happiness I brought back to New York with me was the time I spent alone—and by alone, I mean by myself and away from my technology, completely disconnected from my constantly buzzing iPhone. For five days, I was fully present in the moment—my moment, not someone else’s.

I woke up each morning (at 6am!) and turned my alarm off to get ready to meditate, do yoga, and eat breakfast, and left my room with nothing but my key and a notebook. For the first time in a long time, I sat down and ate breakfast without scrolling through my news feed while simultaneously chewing. In fact, I ate in complete silence each morning (a rule at Kripalu), reflecting on my surroundings and eating at a normal pace.

The free time I had? I spent reading a (physical!) book in a quiet sun-filled room boasting mountain views, quietly baking in a sauna, or working on my meditation practice. I never once felt bored or had an urge to know what everyone else was up to. There was no FOMO to be had.

The sense of calm I felt was indescribable—something I hadn’t felt since my Motorola Razor days. I was grounded and in my own body, not floating away from myself consumed by what everyone else did the night before. Because did I really need to see 900 photos of the blizzard happening in NYC on my Instagram feed? No. (Kripalu had much better views of it, TBH.)

Of course, this “quiet time” was what Warrington had in mind when planning the retreat. “Technology—social media and email in particular—means we’re always available to the demands of others, and constantly in response mode. I believe that having times when we’re invisible, when we can literally disappear from the world, is a vital balance to this,” she says. Invisible I was, and it was magical.

It was this sense of invisibility that made me realize I wouldn’t have traded this week for anything. While it was particularly cathartic to do this retreat at the beginning of a new year, thus starting off on the right foot, taking this necessary break from life and making the time for an introspective look inside is beneficial at any time. And while, sure, I didn’t come back to New York with my whole life figured out, I not only have new tools to help me get my shit together, but I’m also remarkably more hopeful than I was in 2017. The fog’s cleared, and a lot of the dark clouds have dissipated. And to top it all off, I met some truly inspiring and beautiful people in the process.

If there’s anything I can take away from this experience, it’s that we all need to be a little more selfish sometimes. We need to take the time to truly take care of ourselves and step away, if only for a moment, from the toxic bullshit that constantly surrounds and consumes us. We need to get out of our heads and back into our bodies.

Whether it’s signing up for a retreat and heading to the mountains or going off to an exotic island or even just spending a day in the park completely alone (ahem, that includes leaving your phone at home) to spend time journaling or meditating or working out your emotions, having a moment of peace, with our own thoughts, is necessary to this journey we call life.

2018, you’re already looking up.