[Update: Now there is a scientific reason to go on a mindfulness retreat.]
Four years ago, one of my tai chi students asked me a question that really made me think.
“I’ve got $1500 to spend on my health. Should I go to your retreat in Costa Rica, or sign up for a year of unlimited classes in your studio?”
(At the time, both options cost roughly the same amount.)
It’s tempting to assume that a full year of unlimited classes in my tai chi studio would be the more powerful healing option.
But I thought long and hard before I gave her my answer.
Three days later, I told her that the Costa Rica retreat was the more powerful option for healing.
Based on a decade of experience as a teacher and a healer, I wholeheartedly believe that a weeklong retreat in Costa Rica is more powerful medicine than a year’s worth of instruction in my studio.
In fact, I believe that a mindfulness retreat – whether it’s qigong, tai chi, meditation, or yoga – might just save your life.
I may have saved this woman’s life. Based on what I know about her health, I believe it’s entirely possible that the deep healing of the retreat in Costa Rica allowed her to avoid a potentially life-threatening health complication.
We’ll never know, of course. That’s the beauty of preventative medicine. We don’t get to see the terrible things that might have happened.
And that’s how you want it, right?
Here’s are 7 reasons why a mindfulness retreat might just save your life:
1. Stress is the Real Killer
Stress kills. Stress – whether it is mental, emotional, or physical — is the real cause of what ails us. Stress suppresses the immune system, blocks the flow of energy, and makes your life less enjoyable.
We all know that smoking is bad for us. But did you know that quitting smoking is LESS important than quitting stressing?
Yep. A 10 year long study concluded that emotional stress was more predictive of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease than smoking.
Mindfulness retreats can bring you to a stress free state that isn’t possible anywhere else.
You simply cannot experience that kind of relaxation any other way – not with a vacation, not with weekly massage, and not even with daily tai chi classes.
Speaking of vacations…
2. Normal Vacations Are Anything But Relaxing
According to a Gallup poll, most Americans don’t feel rested after they return from vacation.
Vacation is stressful! Going on vacation involves packing (usually the night before), waking up ridiculously early to get to where you’re going, the stress of travel, sleep problems once you’re on vacation, and the stress of having to “do” things while on your vacation, not to mention working harder than usual just to get time off in the first place.
Mindfulness retreats are different. As soon as you arrive at the retreat center, you begin unraveling all the stress. This is something that just doesn’t happen with normal vacations.
The result is clear. Normal vacations leave you exhausted. Mindfulness retreats leave you well rested, recharged, and restored.
3. Your Diet is Killing You
Look, food matters.
My wife and I run into this problem all the time with our shared clients. (She’s an acupuncture physician, and we have shared hundreds of clients over the years.)
Getting people to eat well is difficult.
The best method for helping people eat better is as follows: serve them 3 delicious, organic, locally sourced, lovingly prepared meals every day for 7 days.
And 2 snacks.
And organic coffee.
Does eating well, not worrying about what’s for dinner, and not stressing about cooking contribute to healing and restoring while on retreat?
You bet it does.
Ask yourself this: when is the last time you ate 21 healthy meals in a row!
The answer, for most Americans, is never. Not ever.
No wonder a weeklong retreat can be so healing.
4. You Don’t Practice 5 Hours A Day
Ask yourself another question: when was the last time you practiced mindfulness for 5 hours a day?
On my retreats, we do 5 hours of qigong and tai chi per day – four in the morning, plus an hour in the evening.
There are lots of breaks, including snack time. But my point is the same – we do a lot of mindfulness.
And it’s not just the practice sessions. Walking along mountain trails lined with more flowers than a botanical garden, gazing over million-dollar vistas, and just sitting silently with friends while watching the fire dance – these are all forms of mindfulness practice.
A heavy dose of mindfulness changes how you see the world. It also changes your biochemistry, your neural activity, and your blood pressure.
5. Wifi Isn’t Making You Feel More Connected
There is no wifi at our retreat center.
Cell phone signals are notoriously weak. (There is a magic rock where you must stand to get a signal.)
Did I just lose your interest? Are you unable to even imagine a week without wifi? If so, then I hope you’ll keep reading because you really need this message.
There is Internet access at the retreat, but you have to hike to the office, and log on using an older computer with a Spanish keyboard.
You’d be amazed at how quickly your mindless internet usage decreases as a result of this.
The irony is that with less connectivity, you’ll feel more connected – to nature, to your classmates, to your own spirit. You probably haven’t felt so connected since you were a kid.
What are we doing with this precious thing called life if we’re not working on feeling more connected?
6. You Are Desperate To Reinvent Yourself
You know that voice in your head, the ceaseless chatter that constantly overthinks, makes useless comments, and generally worries about things that will never improve by worrying?
In the Zen tradition, we call that the Monkey Mind. Running around in your head is a crazed monkey.
When you quiet the Monkey Mind, you start to find your true self. This isn’t New Age mumbo jumbo. It’s neuroscience.
The voice in your head comes from your prefrontal cortex. And that, my friends, is only the tiniest part of your larger consciousness.
The deeper parts of your consciousness lay behind and beneath the monkey mind. Once you quiet this part of your brain, you suddenly have access to more powerful states of consciousness.
The result is a unique ability to reinvent yourself.
The happiest, most profound, most fulfilling moments of your life were done from this state. That’s where you’ve made your best decisions, when you’ve contributed the most to the world, and when you’ve been your highest self.
Want to create better lifestyles habits? Be more disciplined? Commit to wellness?
That stuff doesn’t happen from the monkey mind. Until you quiet the monkey mind sufficiently, you simply CANNOT access this part of your mind.
It’s there. Deep in your mind. And the only way to dig down there is to go on a mindfulness retreat.
7. You Can Take Mindfulness Home With You
When you leave the retreat, you are not only refreshed and recharged — you bring new tools back home with you. Powerful tools to keep that mindfulness momentum going.
This is a game changer.
Even if you couldn’t take anything home with you, even if you just got the benefits of a weeklong mindfulness retreat — that might save your life.
But being able to take the arts home with you? That’s just priceless.
Here’s the thing about doing arts like qigong and tai chi on a retreat — you understand them on a different level. Even if you’ve been practicing for 20 years, you’ll learn something new on retreat.
I’m sure I speak for all retreat leaders when I say — you won’t learn it from me. You’ll learn it from the mountain, or the beach, or the sky. I’m just the there to facilitate your connection to something larger.
When I teach students at our retreat in Costa Rica, it’s not really me teaching. It’s the Cosmos.
I wrote this article about all mindfulness retreats because I strongly believe that they are powerful, and I want to help convince people to experience them.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention some details about my own retreat.
Qigong and tai chi saved my life, and I am passionate about sharing these arts with the world. My retreat in Costa Rica is — by far — the best way for me to share these arts.
Our annual retreat in Costa Rica is a special event. My wife and I absolutely adore the retreat center, and we take good care of everyone who attends. (She also does acupuncture in the afternoons, for those who are interested.)
Meanwhile, the owners of this retreat are our good friends, and they will take such good care of you that you’ll be amazed. You haven’t been so well taken care of in ages.
Join us. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.
Click here for details galore about our retreat. Feel free to contact me with your questions. I am happy to help you make one of the best decisions of your life. Or, if you’d like to get a good feel for our retreat center, watch this amazing video:From the heart, Sifu Anthony