January leaves many with a list of do-betters: I will go outside more. I will spend less time on the phone. I will finally read that book on procrastination. It takes balance to hold all those intentions for a month, let alone a year or a lifetime. Often, it takes a break from such pressures to really recenter, and that doesn’t always have to come on a special calendar day. (The winter holidays are never truly a break and we all know that.)
A retreat isn’t about running away. Try as we might, we can’t step out of our own lives. Even if you can physically get away, the mind follows. As mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, for better or worse, “wherever you go, there you are.”
A great retreat is about having all the support and structure you can get to start making those changes or keep a good thing going. Total immersion shows us how wellness feels in a near vacuum, and then we find out how much we can carry back with us. Sometimes that starts at a spa in ridiculous luxury, proving to yourself no joy is too expensive nor too frivolous. Sometimes it starts by introducing yourself to a community, and reawakens in embodying that aspirational self once a month. It happens most often in the blink of an eye, with a moment of space to think, “Oh, right. Here I am.”
Check out our recommendations for upcoming Austin retreats and gatherings where you can unplug, create new intentions, and simply be present in your surroundings.
Phones aren’t typically a big part of yoga retreats, but Innermission makes this intentional disconnect its central identity. Innermission is a new retreat, started in 2021 by ex-corporate yoga teachers Brooke Joy and Sara Werlinich. After last year’s participants locked up their phones for the weekend, they confessed in a promotional video that they felt nervous for the time away from the world. The digital silence, according to a press release, helps “to create connection with the self and others, [building] balanced relationships with technology and exposure to a variety of life tools.”
On January 27, Innermission’s second retreat begins at Lucky Arrow Retreat in Dripping Springs. Over four days and three nights, its phone-free participants will experience therapeutic physical challenges, including ice baths and breathwork, as well as interactive workshops on guilt and shame, making authentic connections, and communal living. Music, play, and locally sourced meals and snacks are also included in the program. With only each other to compare experiences, those at Innermission can let go of expectations from the outside world and simply be together. The three-night glamping trip (starting at $1,475 per person) is still open for reservations at yourinnermission.com.
Of course everyone wishes to be well, but finding the right experience can be difficult. Is it really just about a weekend away, or is it about grief? How about a better relationship with food, or reconnecting with a loved one? Miraval, an acclaimed Lake Travis spa resort, organizes retreats by intention, with sample itineraries that demystify the often obscure path to an incrementally healthier mind and body. An extensive daily schedule shows the breadth of mix-and-match opportunities for visitors who know exactly what they need or those who just want to play it by ear.
The sample itinerary for mental wellness includes journaling time, yoga, a facial, and a farm tour. The culinary and nutrition “journey” provides a personal nutrition consultation, advice on mindful grocery shopping, and cooking classes. No matter what track, the intriguing offerings are made even more enticing with the promise of customization, so visitors get exactly what they want out of their stay. Packages (starting around $1,000 per night) are available at miravalaustin.com.
Although it may not fit the austere image of “wellness” branded offerings, Burning Man is perhaps the world’s foremost creative retreat. Getting to Nevada is a hike, though. Burning Flipside, the Austin area’s regional burn (45 miles out of town, in Thorndale), offers year-round chances to escape the daily grind and, of course, the man. In true Austin fashion, local burners started the event as Burning Man’s first regional offshoot in 1998. Now, according to Flipside, the event becomes a city of around 3,000 every year — a much more accessible option that’s less than 5 percent the size of the massive pop-up city in the Black Rock Desert.
Church Night, a weekly warehouse work session with other local creatives, provides an opportunity for Austinites to get out of their heads and daily creative blocks. A page on the Flipside website also promotes The Burner Art Safari, connecting interested contributors with projects around the world seeking new hands, minds, and financial patrons. The next scheduled Flipside burn is Memorial Day 2022, with the theme “The Sacred and the Propane.” Visit burningflipside.com for announcements about events and more ways to connect.
Guaranteed to Wrinkle
Guaranteed to Wrinkle took its name from vintage Ralph Lauren labels. It’s a mental image directly at odds with the imagery often used to advertise wellness offerings: women in stretchy clothes who have impeccable makeup and not a bead of sweat on that taut skin. But this “women’s membership community” shuns that idea, instead working a lot like any professional society, but with community action and self-care at the center. Membership connects women not specifically to retreats, but to discounts, events, and workshops curated to offer a break from daily life while connecting more deeply.
There is a surprising focus on food discounts and events, from perks at Bakery Lorraine and Thai Fresh to affairs with Bento Picnic and William Chris Vineyards. More on the nose, some events tackle reducing food waste, cancer fundraising, and setting the record straight on mental health. There are even volunteer days, to make sure the community feels the wellness, too. There are no scheduled events yet for 2022, but keep an eye out, as they pop up regularly, or join the newsletter on guaranteedtowrinkle.com. Members ($25 per month) also have access to a private Slack channel.
Bite-sized sanctuary (free or less than $30)
Unfortunately, wellness can be expensive, in both dollars and time. But it doesn’t have to be expensive to be worth it. If it helps you retreat from your usual routine and it makes you feel well, it’s a wellness retreat.
Sanctuary Yoga, a nonprofit studio off South Lamar Boulevard benefiting the Amala Foundation, offers Greenbelt hikes with yoga stops along the way ($30). Hikers get a chance to rethink yoga (it’s more than making shapes with your body, right?) and practice among real-life stimuli outside.
The Artist’s Way, the 1992 self-help bestseller and workbook by Julia Cameron, helps readers confront artist’s block and foster a more authentic, creative lifestyle. It’s essentially a self-guided three-month retreat in tiny, bite-size pieces, at the cost of a (potentially used) paperback. Cameron breaks things down into a 12-week process much like the now-standard rehabilitation programs, structured by readings, prompts, activities, and reflections. Once a week, readers take themselves on an artist’s date. After nearly 30 years of publication, it’s still a groundbreaking practice that can be done again and again, and it’s easy to find others to connect with who have already tried it.
Other self-guided silent retreats are just a Google search away. Write out a schedule for yourself, following one of many free templates from teachers expanding their audiences, or following your own intuition. Include meditations, talks, walks outside, mindful meals. Most phones have “do not disturb” settings that allow calls and notifications according to specific rules you set, so don’t hesitate to engage that option.
Practice Yoga Austin owner and teacher Adriene Mishler (Yoga with Adriene) offers an extensive library of online resources, often for free or on a pay-what-you-can basis. Her YouTube channel has accrued over 10 million subscribers finding themselves as yogis. Yoga International delivers a collection of more than 2,000 classes, 400 meditations, workshops, and teaching resources that can support a varied and customizable retreat wherever you are. One year of Yoga International (starting at $20 per month) costs about as much as a month of in-person classes at most yoga studios.