5 Reasons Why I’m Terrified to Go on a Mindfulness Retreat

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Note from Sifu Anthony: This is a guest post by my amazing wife, Dr. Akemi Borjas de Korahais.

I’ve traveled to dozens of mindfulness retreats and wellness seminars around the world, and I’m scared s**tless every time I go.

This happens every time I go to Costa Rica with my husband to co-host our annual qigong retreat.

I’ve been on this particular trip over a dozen times, and I’ve helped to lead over 100 beautiful souls to Costa Rica.

But I still get scared. Every. Single. Trip.

Maybe it’s not fear. Maybe it’s anxiety. Or maybe it’s both.

I’m not alone in feeling all this, am I?

I hope not. I’m sharing my fears here in the hopes that you can relate to at least one of them.

I also want to share how I’ve faced my fears and become a happier, healthier woman as a result.

As we get ready for our upcoming retreat in July, here are 5 fears I’m wrestling with:

1. I’m a creature of habit

I like to style myself as someone who adores travel.

I’m a Sagittarius, I plan trips in detail, and I often do fantasy trip planning just for fun.

But that’s just how I view myself. The reality is that, as I get older, I find myself more and more attached to my routines.

A few examples of my obsessions:

  • Room temperature of 69 F at night (so I can be cozy under my blanket!)
  • A Phillips fade light for falling asleep (because I get scared of the dark sometimes)
  • A special white noise app (because I get scared, did I mention that?)
  • A special pillow for my neck (because my neck goes out of alignment while I’m sleeping)
  • Breakfast consisting of bulletproof coffee (because good fat is good for you!)
  • A daily 45 minute morning walk (for stress reduction, exercise, and for fun)
  • Spending at least 3 hours of my day relaxing with zero humans and my two adorable pups (because I’m super introverted)

In my clinic, I see 60-80 patients per week, and this is how I find balance as an introvert.

I know I live a privileged life, and I’m grateful. Really! But going without these luxuries often feels like a hassle.

It’s hard for me to let go of my comforts.

Really, it’s like my brain comes up with all of these reasons ahead of time as to why I’m going to be miserable.

My thought process goes like this: Things are good here. Why change? It might make things worse. I’ve finally got my schedule figured out so that I have energy, feel productive, and don’t experience much pain.

Here’s the truth: The change in routine helps me identify the things that matter and that make a difference for me at home.

At the retreat, my heart opens.

I become inspired by new vistas on my daily walks through the natural reserve that is part of the retreat center.  

I share my breakfast (i.e. bulletproof coffee) with the kitchen crew at the retreat center, who have become like a second family.

Akemi and the kitchen crew in Costa Rica

I make them an extra cup, and they marvel at my brilliance at putting butter instead of milk in my coffee. (Bulletproof coffee is a huge fad, and I’ve tried to explain this to them but they won’t listen and insist that I’m a genius.)

I’m dragged out of my introverted tendencies, and I glow.

I share laughter and companionship with the attendees rather than strictly maintaining silence and solitude. And when I truly need solitude, I find it.

It’s worth it to me, at least once a year, to shake my routine up. I’m a happier person for it, and also a better doctor.

2. I get travel anxiety

The first plane ride I ever took was at the age of 10.

That ride took me out of my native country of Venezuela to a new and safer life in America.

I remember having mixed feelings: I was excited beyond anything I had ever felt before (I was going to America! I could visit Disney World!)…but I was also devastated by the loss of family and culture.

Talk about a charged trip!!

Every time I get on a plane, I still experience some of that anxiety.

Because I’m so introverted, it feels like I’m gearing up for an assault of all my senses:

Harsh fluorescent lights.

Yucky cleaning chemicals and pesticides.

So. Many. People!

Loud noises.

Plus my weird but persistent belief that I’m going to miss the plane even though I’m right there at the gate!

So, I gear up:

  • Earplugs, to give me a break from the overwhelming sounds. (I just bought myself noise-cancelling headphones, which work great too.)
  • Homeopathics and natural remedies for stress and immune support and motion sickness.
  • Sunglasses or blue-light blocking glasses (which lower harsh light exposure and reduce my stress response).
  • I dress for success (feeling pretty makes me happy and less anxious).
  • And I prepare myself to warmly encounter every person I come across, like I’m doing a one-on-one meeting in my clinic. This tactic works for my social anxiety (groups are no bueno but one-on-ones are muy bueno!)

A pensive moment in Costa Rica

My husband has also battled his own anxiety. Because of this, we like to make sure that every person who comes on our retreat feels like they’re part of a supportive family, and that anxiety isn’t the end of the world.

3. I have food anxiety

These days, it seems like everyone and their nephew has developed a food sensitivity or is on a special diet.

And yes, I’m talking about myself here too.

When I’m at home, I eat:

  • …grain free (no corn, no wheat, no oats, no rice)
  • …dairy free (except for the occasional sheep’s milk cheese)
  • …6 servings of fresh, mostly local, organic vegetables per day
  • …lots of ghee (clarified butter), avocado oil, awesome olive oil, lard and duck fat
  • …local, humanely-raised proteins from the farmer’s market

This is the food that nourishes me and makes me feel healthy.

I’ve grown to love my diet (my brain works better than it did 10 years ago), but it makes eating out hard.

Traveling is even harder.

But here’s the thing. Our retreat center serves delicious, gluten free, organic, local food, and they can accommodate virtually any dietary need.

For example, we’ve had all types of people come to our retreat:

  • Those who suffer from celiac disease (extreme gluten sensitivity) and other gut problems like inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis
  • people with vegetable allergies;
  • lacto-vegetarians;
  • vegans;
  • people who are strictly Paleo;
  • people with nut, soy, or corn allergies;

If you need a special diet in Costa Rica, then you basically get your own personal chef. The retreat center assigns a specific team member to ensure your allergy is taken care of.

This makes me wonder why I get so stressed about food!

It’s not like I’m traveling to a convention center where I’ll be forced to eat bad food! Bleh.

Really, the biggest problem is what to eat at the airport, and that’s easy enough to manage.

Costa Rica has a high rate of celiacs in their population so most restaurants often have some gluten-free options.

So really, there’s not much for me to worry about.

I’m a champion worrier though, so when things get hard, I keep my eye on the prize.

That prize is Emanuel’s gluten free chocolate cake!

Emanuel is the head chef at the retreat center. He started out as a gardener, but started cooking and blew everyone away with his creativity and natural talent.

His chocolate cake is worth the trip! It motivates me when my anxiety gets too high.

4. I have a chronic illness

I beat ovarian cancer when I was 22 years old.

After beating cancer, I suffered from chronic fatigue and autoimmune issues that affected my brain.

Even before the cancer, my immune system was vulnerable to bad infections.

I’ve also faced debilitating menstrual periods for many years. For a long time, I was terrified to go through one while traveling.

For a couple of years, I suffered from migraines – the first one I ever experienced I went through alone in a hotel room in Chicago. It was one of the worst nights of my life.

All of these issues have pretty much been resolved, thank goodness (and thank qigong and Chinese medicine!).

I know how scary it can be to be on your own somewhere while being sick.

There have been many times where I’ve cried for my mom (as an adult, mind you) when I’m in excruciating pain.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never felt more supported and taken care of than I have at our retreat center in Costa Rica — even while I was sick.

For example, last February I was hit by a bout of vertigo while on retreat. This was my first-ever experience with vertigo. I told my husband that it felt like tumbling out of an airplane — for 3 hours in a row.

The entire staff took amazing care of me. Sifu Simon (one of Anthony’s colleagues and one of the teachers in residence) held my hair back whenever I vomited. (Anthony was teaching qigong to the group.)

Dr. Akemi with Sifu Simon, his wife Ellie, and their children

To be honest, I was incredibly embarrassed at the beginning. I kept apologizing, but Simon just looked at me and told me so sincerely that he would rather be there with me than anywhere else. My heart cracked wide open seeing this kind of pure human compassion.

There’s something very special about the people on that mountain.

I am so grateful for that experience. It changed me in a deep way. Because of how I faced my suffering, some deep and hidden emotional wounds began to heal.

Honestly, I’m not the only person has had health challenges at the retreat, and I’m also not the only one who has grown from the experience.

Some have had trouble sleeping, others have had a flare up of pain, others have had digestive upsets, and one or two have had sprains from ambitious trail walking.

And they are always well taken care of.

Every retreat, I bring a suitcase full of my Chinese medicine supplies, and I’m ready to switch into doctor mode whenever I’m needed.

But even without me, the mountain and her keepers will be there to care for you.

I’d like to add that more often than not, I feel my best in Costa Rica.

I’ve spoken to many attendees who mark their time at The Blue Mountain Retreat as the line between before and after.

The Flowing Zen Qigong retreat in Costa Rica helped me SO MUCH! I had been anxious and depressed for 9 months from some health challenges. I practiced at home every day, sometimes 3 times a day, but I couldn’t shake the emotional slump I was experiencing. After I went to the beautiful retreat in Costa Rica, I am amazed and delighted: the anxiety and depression are gone! Now I have more energy than I have in years!” – Dr. Claire Holland, MD

Their health improved in measurable ways after a retreat — in spite of minor challenges like the ones I’ve described.

I hope that if you’re someone who’s challenged by a chronic condition, and you’re scared to come to the mountain, ten you’ll let us all help you heal yourself.

5. I get stressed about money

Closing my acupuncture clinic while I travel to Costa Rica has been challenging in many ways:

  • I worry about my patients getting the care they need;
  • I worry about covering the business expenses of the clinic;
  • I worry about paying my employees even when there’s no money coming in;
  • I worry about paying myself even when there’s no money coming in.

I can imagine it’s the same for many of you considering the trip. You’re worried about the money part.

The trick for me was to observe what happened after every retreat, like clockwork: my medical practice boomed as patients mysteriously flocked into my clinic.

One of my mentors taught me an important lesson years years ago:

“When the doctor is up, the practice is up. When the doctor is down, the practice is down.”

It’s similar to the Law of Attraction.

The more I take care of myself and engage fully in my life, the more people want to see me for healing.

And I’m not alone. I know this has worked for many participants as well —  entrepreneurs and employees alike.

Costa Rica is often the boost that we all need to get us out of scarcity mode.

People often tell me: “I wish I could go, but I can’t afford it.”

I sympathize. I do. I grew up in poverty in Venezuela, and I’ve experienced plenty of financial stress as an adult as well.

On the other hand, I’ve watched broke college students who made it to Costa Rica by scrimping and saving and staying in the Dormitory.

I’ve seen retirees on a fixed income make it work.

I think the key is to view it as an INVESTMENT.

I’ll give you an example.

If you know me, you know that I love my pups, Ziggy and Pepper.

I love them so much that I don’t mind buying the absolute more expensive grain-free, organic dog food that I can find.

It’s an investment. I want them to lead long, healthy doggy lives.

See, Schnauzers are well known to develop tumors as they age.

Our dogs have none, and I attribute that to their diet.

There’s a saying in the veterinary world: You either spend the money now on good food, or you spend 10x as much later on vet bills.

The same is true for humans. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been teaching this concept for centuries, and we have our own version in the west: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This is a hard concept, especially for Americans. We’re brainwashed by marketing to favor instant gratification, and we typically spend our money on cures, not prevention.

But you can do it. I know you can.

Be Scared, But Do It Anyway

If you have that inner voice that’s telling you to go to Costa Rica, why aren’t you listening?

Maybe it’s one of the five reasons I listed?

Or maybe you’d like to share your reason in the comments below?

Seize the day, and the sunset!

I’ve lived my entire adult life with cancer hanging over my head. It’s colored what I do for a living, and what I choose to do with my time.

As someone who’s almost died at young age, I implore you to live your life to the fullest and never to assume you have another year.

We make plans for 1, 2, 5, 20 years down the line, but really there are no guarantees.

I’m 35, and I don’t assume that I’ll be alive in a year. 

This isn’t an excuse to act irresponsibly or throw my life out the window. I still adult every day. I see patients, I pay bills, and I cook dinner. 

But I also seize the day. Carpe diem. I also grab every opportunity to really LIVE.

If I can do it, then you can too. 

I’m Dr. Akemi Borjas de Korahais, and I’m dedicated to loving and caring for each and every patient that walks into my clinic. I use a combination of acupuncture, Functional Medicine, qigong, Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), and nutritional counseling to help my patients get the healing that they deserve.

You might also like:

7 Ways a Mindfulness Retreat Might Save Your Life

22 Frequently Asked Questions About Our Costa Rica Retreat

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27 Responses to 5 Reasons Why I’m Terrified to Go on a Mindfulness Retreat

  1. Ray MorneauRay Morneau June 13, 2017 at 6:11 am #

    Fantastic treatise, Doctor! both as to thoughtful content and to humor (complementing Sifu Anthony’s). Thank You!

  2. Deborah Levy June 13, 2017 at 7:52 am #

    Me too I am from Venezuela, not that i was born there but raised there and had my children there. Looking forward to meet you and your husband. I Have no experience or clue about QiGong, i bought a book about it, but had barely the time to read 10 pages.
    I was just looking to go away for my birthday, but as i couldn’t do it for my date , this just popped up and i said to myself why not? and I just used some saved money to do it… maybe i have too many expectation from it, but whatever it is or will be i am up for the adventure and i feel proud of myself that i took the decision without asking anyone but myself.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais June 13, 2017 at 7:58 am #

      Good for you, Deborah! I didn’t realize you were Venezuelan! I’m sure we’ll all have plenty to talk about in Costa Rica!

      As for your expectations — keep them high. People often say that they had high expectations for the trip, but that the retreat exceeded them!

    • Akemi Borjas de Korahais June 13, 2017 at 9:49 am #

      I can’t wait to meet you! Nos vemos pronto.

  3. Debbie June 13, 2017 at 8:53 am #

    I loved reading this article. Such warmth and caring, intelligence, knowledge, and a great sense of humor! I think this will attract people to Costa Rica. I can totally relate to the anxiety and fear that she describes! Maybe Costa Rica retreat is my future when my youngest boy of 11 years old is grown up.

    • Akemi Borjas de Korahais June 13, 2017 at 9:51 am #

      Debbie, thank you for your sweet words. I hope to share our anxieties together in Costa Rica someday soon.

      • Debbie June 13, 2017 at 10:04 am #

        awww…thanks, me too 🙂 Now I have to get offline because I will soon be teaching my first tai chi class at the local JCC here in Milwaukee, WI. I plan to eventually introduce people to some of the great quigong techniques that Sifu Anthony has taught me in his 101 class and his online academy!

  4. beryl whiting June 13, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    Interesting blog. Concerns me that despite doing and leading this course over a dozen times, you STILL have all these issues.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais June 13, 2017 at 11:28 am #

      Hi Beryl.

      Do you expect Akemi to be perfect? If so, there are plenty of false gurus out there who will be happy to tell you lies about how perfect they are.

      Akemi is not like that. Instead, she’s honest about her struggles.

      I’m biased, but I think my wife is doing incredibly well. She beat ovarian cancer at age 22, has healed from a host of other issues using qigong and TCM, sees twice as many patients as most acupuncture physicians, and looks healthier than most people her age who haven’t faced half as many health challenges as she has.

      If you choose to view this a a failure, so be it. I see this as a win. I see very clearly that, if not for qigong, TCM, and retreats like these, I might very well be a widower right now.

      • Beryl whiting June 13, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

        Thank you for your response. It is a near miracle that your dear wife healed herself from such an insidious disease as ovarian cancer, please understand that I greatly admire that in her.

        All the more reason that it is so perplexing that travel anxiety Is still so debilitating to her. Curing yourself of ovarian cancer, and staying free of it for many years is nothing short of Herculean!

        By comparison, healing yourself from something like travel anxiety, even though it is due to painful and very traumatic childhood issues, can be relatively fast and easy.

        There are a myriad of simple techniques that your lovely wife could be introduced to such as NLP timeline therapy, and other NLP techniques, EFT, Thought Field Therapy, Hypnosis, CBT, to name but a few of the more mainstream therapies.

        There are also many very powerful, more esoteric therapies, way too many to list here that have some overwhelmingly successful testimonies dealing with these issues that tend to lay very deep in the unconscious mind. Dr Bradley Nelson’s Body Code and Emotion Code are especially powerful at unearthing and eliminating these types of challenges.

        Even some very simple yoga pranayama breathing can be extraordinary helpful at calming the mind. Perhaps she is yet to be introduced to any of these.

        Food issues too can be helped magnificently with NAET.

        It really is never about being perfect. We must let go of the idea that there is any such state as perfect.

        I assure you Anthony that it is very possible to delight in discovering more of who we really are by peeling back the layers of these old, outdated emotional issues that hold us back, freeing us to reveal our light heartedness that allows us to fully embrace life with all its obstacles, knowing that we can release an inner power to overcome them all.

        I sincerely hope that your treasured wife feels able to go forward and experiment with something that will relieve her of these anxieties, there is certainly a plethora of help available to her.

        Wishing you well on your retreat.

    • Akemi Borjas de Korahais June 13, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

      Your words are straight out of my inner critic’s mouth, Beryl.

      What do you think is going on? I’m always working towards increasing my understanding and growth.

      • Beryl whiting June 13, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

        Dear Akemi, congratulations on being so open as to ask that question.

        Please see my answer above. If you want more info, and I no longer work as a therapist so be relaxed and know that I am not looking for a client, you can email me and I’ll be happy to offer you some pointers of where you might go to discover more about what is holding you back from your true magnificence.

        All the very best on your journey.

  5. Susan June 13, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    I related to every word and exclamation point, Akemi! Thank you so much. I am an HSP and we have much in common! Have you read the book, The Highly Sensitive Person, by Dr. Elaine Aron? You, too, may have been born with the inherited trait of high sensitivity–which puts you in the “priestly advisor class” of society, where we have a vital role.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais June 13, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

      Susan, I don’t know if she’s read the book (probably), but she definitely knows that she’s an HSP. She even talks about this phenomenon with her patients.

    • Akemi Borjas de Korahais June 13, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

      I definitely have, Susan! Her work was transformational in my life and also affected my clinical practice.

  6. Holly June 13, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    Dear Akemi
    You put me to shame. I have a problem with vertigo, wanted to come on the retreat but was afraid of how I’d cope. Next year maybe. You’ve inspired me greatly

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais June 13, 2017 at 4:05 pm #

      How’s this for inspiration: She taught a class on Chinese medicine the very next day! I was amazed and impressed by how quickly she recovered after being so violently ill!

    • Akemi Borjas de Korahais June 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

      Aww, thanks Holly. By the way, we’re a shame-free zone here 🙂

      I understand, and I really hope you can come next year. We would love to take care of you.

  7. Holly June 13, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    I enjoyed reading your post! Thank you for sharing so openly. I have many of the same travel anxieties and its nice to know I’m not alone. I look forward to meeting you in Costa Rica and hopefully scheduling some treatments with you too!

  8. Vera June 13, 2017 at 8:26 pm #

    You talk straight to the heart, Dr. Akemi. Hope one day to meet you and Sifu Anthony. My time has not come yet to go on retreat. My mom is 93 and must be here with her……
    But I feed on Sifu’s lessons and blogs, and the classes I teach at community centres around Toronto. Qigong is my life, Qigong is for Life!

    • Deborah Levy June 14, 2017 at 9:06 am #

      what a coincidence , my mom is also 93, but i have been lucky enough to send her to my brother for that time, so that i can recharge from being a caretaker.

    • Akemi Borjas de Korahais June 14, 2017 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Vera, Anthony and I would love to meet you. Caregiving is a big job. I’m so glad you have a way of recharging. I went to Toronto years ago briefly and enjoyed it. You’re in a beautiful place. I hope to meet you one day in our beautiful mountain retreat. Best wishes to your Mom.

  9. Jeff June 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

    Very courageous post. Psychologists draw a distinction between worry, anxiety, fear and panic. In my experience, they are just different intensities of the same thing, in the same sense that red, orange and yellow are just different frequencies on the visible spectrum. It’s all basically fear, and the key to dealing with fear is one’s mindset.

    Obviously, everybody has a fear of something, and people have different triggers. My ex-wife recently pointed out with some amusement that I approach situations of extreme danger and potentially violent death in a calm and relaxed manner, but I freak out if the washing machine breaks down.

    Although I am not a cancer survivor (and congrats, BTW), well, let’s just say the short version is I have faced death in a number of different ways on different occasions, partially as a result of my experiences in the military. In my opinion, the key is to embrace, on some level, that which you fear. A warrior, for example, has to make some kind of peace with his own death, or he will be of no use to anyone on the battlefield. It doesn’t mean you have to desire death, but you have to have some acceptance of it.

    Part of my own spiritual practice involves embracing fear and death, and learning thereby not to be controlled by it. Although I am not a Buddhist, the Buddhists do have a very good practice called Maranasati, part of which involves meditating on corpses in various stages of dissolution, including one’s own. The Buddhist scholar Atisha made the following observations:
    1.Death is inevitable.
    2.Our life span is decreasing continuously.
    3.Death will come, whether or not we are prepared for it.
    4.Human life expectancy is uncertain.
    5.There are many causes of death.
    6.The human body is fragile and vulnerable.
    7.At the time of death, our material resources are not of use to us.
    8.Our loved ones cannot keep us from death.
    9.Our own body cannot help us at the time of our death.

    There is also this very nice little Hindu story you can find on the internet in various forms, if you will indulge me:

    In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Garuda is a guardian of Lord Shiva. A tale is told how once, perched on Mount Kailash, Garuda noticed a tiny bird. He was struck by the contrast between the majesty of Kailash and Shiva’s palace, and the delicacy of a beautiful creature, a little bird seated on the arch crowning the entrance to Shiva’s place. Garuda wondered aloud: “How marvelous is this creation! One who has created these lofty mountains has also made this tiny bird — and both seem equally wonderful.”
    Just then Yama, the god of death appeared, riding his black buffalo. Garuda noticed that the gaze of the Master of Death briefly fell upon the bird, but then he continued on his way into the abode of Shiva.
    Since a mere glance from Lord Yama presages death, Garuda’s heart was filled with pity for the tiny bird. He gently picked it up and flew off with it clutched carefully in his powerful talons. He took it far, far, away to a deep forest where he gently placed it on a rock beside a rushing brook. Then he returned to Kailash and assumed his customary position at Shiva’s gate.
    When Yama emerged from his consultation with the Great God, he nodded to Garuda in recognition. Garuda took this opportunity to ask Lord Death, “Just before you went inside, I saw you notice a little bird. You seemed to have a pensive expression on your face. May I know why?”
    Yama answered, “When my eyes fell on the bird, I saw that soon it would find its death in the jaws of a great python. But there are no such serpents here, high on Kailash, and I was briefly puzzled.”

    Thank you for your continued efforts!

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