After more than ten years of being obsessively attached to my cellphone, I stepped completely off the grid a few months ago and headed into the bush in a bit of a mild panic, going cold turkey. I initially obsessed about all the emails I’d miss and the social media updates I wouldn’t be able to do. Yet after the first day of hopeful stares at my phone, I put it away and began to relax into the experience.
It allowed me to take note of the details, savor the moment and become wholeheartedly consumed by all that was on offer and appreciate the privilege of being in the moment. The experience became more introspective, as even though I was in a small group, silence was respected and most of my thoughts remained my own. My senses were able to reconnect with nature, heightened and intensified by being distraction-free. I can just imagine if I’d been able to add a few health treatments and a bit of meditation to the mix, how perfect it would have been.
Fortunately for us, in South Africa, most spiritual retreats are paired with beautiful settings that offer comfortable accommodation and alternative therapies, meditation, wellbeing workshops, Reiki, spiritual guidance and the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature. Personally, it is only recently that I learnt to disconnect in order to reconnect with myself.
If recent trends are to be believed, the world seems to have come full circle as the desire for reviving retreats gain popularity. Tourists are now seeking out soulful experiences that take them beyond the realms of superficial pleasures to a place where the focus is on health, contemplation and being close to nature.
Whatever your preference may be, we are also blessed with a variety of options. The Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo is a well-known destination for those wanting to reflect and contemplate life. They offer weekend retreats and simple Buddhist teachings as part of their package.
Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge in Limpopo combines time spent in nature with powerful healing therapies such as cranio-sacral therapy, a system of alternative medicine intended to relieve pain and tension by gentle manipulations of the skull which helps one to shift negative energy, a valuable exercise to any individual!
Boondocks Mountain Lodge in Mpumalanga facilitates the Transformation Game aimed at advanced personal introspection. The game under supervision brings great understanding to key life issues as you move along your 'life path', exploring your intention and gaining a better appreciation for your strengths and weaknesses.
Silent Retreats are also popular with those who like to embrace simplicity while listening to their own heart and body with no outside interference. It’s a brave thing to do, having only your own company and conversation and is most a retrospective, healing and highly recommended experience.
For a retreat with a difference set deep in nature, you could opt to go off the grid for a digital detox and join a walking trail in the Kurger National Park or escape to a remote nature reserve where hiking trails, mountain streams and brightly starlit skies will remind of what really matters.
Art in Nature Retreats are a playful way to express and de-stress with plein air painting allowing you to borrow the colours straight from the outdoors, with forest walks, singing and laughing lessons as well as story telling all on offer. Even time just sitting in the garden listening to the birds and watching the clouds pass overhead, is a replenishing gift.
By definition the conducted retreat is carefully structured as a whole, with attendants expected to join classes and group activities from the first day. This can be interchanged or extended by a Self Retreat, which allows your day to flow much more freely, following your own scheduling of meditation, walks and activities.
The wonderful thing is that all of these retreats whilst spiritually based, are not religion-specific, and anyone and everyone is welcome no matter what faith they belong to.
It’s all about pausing for long enough to give back to ourselves, to our body and mind, spending time in nature and restoring balance to our souls.
A calming setting with rolling green fields, forests, valleys and dams up in the hills. The country’s longest running Buddhist centre, it was established in 1980 and offers much more than just Buddhist-focused workshops. Weekend and week-long retreats range from drumming classes and tai chi workshops to art and creativity classes as well as yoga. Another big draw of the centre is its healthy and delicious vegetarian food, they have even published two cookbooks of favorite recipes!
Housed in a restored 19th-century farmhouse in the quiet country village of McGregor, retreats run throughout the year. Many of which focus on health such as detoxing and stress release, but also covering themes like creativity and cooking. They also have regular wellness weeks where you can enjoy country walks, do guided meditation sessions and yoga classes and get some pampering body treatments.
Just two hours from Cape Town at the foot of the Witkransberg in the Overberg on a 217-hectare property with fynbos and milkwood forests, make for a peaceful sanctuary. Retreats are held year-round and cover a range of practices and topics including qi gong, whale communication, art, guided meditation, lucid dreaming and yoga, or you can go for a mid-week pamper retreat where you do yoga and get massages and reiki treatments. Cosy rooms in the 19th century Cape Dutch farmhouse with king-sized beds and Victorian baths add to the charm.
Situated high on the northern slopes of the beautiful Magaliesberg less than a two hour drive from Johannesburg, is a haven of tranquillity from the fast pace of the city. Run on Buddhist principles, Emoyeni, which means “place of spirit” in Zulu, runs regular retreats, some that are conducted in silence. They range from two-day to week-long and include healthy cooking, Nia and “Stoep Zen” – a retreat about Zen practice and meditation. With no TV, silence after dinner and simple vegetarian meals, here it is all about disconnecting and getting back to basics.
In the small Klein Karoo town of Barrydale, here the focus is on yoga. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced yogi, you’re welcome at this retreat, which offers regular classes and weekend yoga retreats, meditation, individual retreats as well as well as five-day detox programmes and healthy, organic vegetarian meals.
Should you prefer to take your retreat in the form of a digital detox out in nature, the three night walking safari is for you! Working out of the private 24,000ha Makuleke Concession in the remote and Northern part of the Kruger National Park, this is where South Africa meets Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Each day you’ll spend 4-5 hours walking a distance of no more than 10 kilometres, with breaks and plenty of stops to look at tracks and find wildlife. It’s introspective and quiet and a great experience.
In the interim days when life carries on, mostly at a very rapid pace, there’s the option of an App called Headspace, which once downloaded offers a 10 - 15 minute meditation session that will simply ground the body and mind before starting each day. Referred to as ‘gym membership for the mind’, it will certainly train you to escape and breath, whatever the situation.