From psychedelic shrubbery in Gabon to sobbing seminars in Japan, we round up the world's weirdest wellness retreats
It’s never too late to live a more spiritual and carefree life. However, if traditional spas leave you feeling cold and meditation makes you drowsy, don’t dismay – there are plenty of more colourful options out there.
From swimming in red wine in Japan to drug-fuelled shaman rituals in Peru, we’ve found 13 alternative wellness retreats that are certain to change your life – in one way or another.
1. Orgasmic meditation, UK
Coming first on our list is the latest mindfulness fad known as: orgasmic meditation (or OM, as it’s known to participants). The premise is simple: a fully-clothed partner methodically strokes a woman’s clitoris for 15 minutes – and that’s about it.
OM can take place in groups or privately but the benefits of mindful masturbation are said to include increased intimacy, higher energy levels and reduced stress.
More information: https://onetaste.us/
2. Psychedelic enlightenment, Gabon
In the pristine forests of Gabon, the path to enlightenment is paved with a potent hallucinogen known as iboga. This psychedelic shrub is central to the Bwiti religion, which combines worship of the forest with Christianity, and is taken during their initiation ritual.
Iboga induces a lengthy trip which shamans say helps fight depression and, surprisingly, drug addiction. Critics warn that the ritual, which also involves face painting and dancing, is dangerous due to the potency of the plant; where other psychedelic drugs like Ayahuasca have one mind-altering ingredient, Iboga has at least twelve. Nevertheless, foreigners are visiting Gabon in increasing numbers to take part in this spiritual experience.
More information: www.iceers.org
3. Silent retreat, India
The modern mind has little time for rest, with much of our free time occupied with scanning Twitter, worrying about finances and engaging in conversation about the weather. But if you weren’t allowed to do any of those things, how long could you last?
At one of the Vipassana (meaning “to see things as they really are”) retreats scattered throughout India, participants are challenged to take a 10-day vow of silence while leading a monastic lifestyle. It’s said the practice increases one’s self-understanding and improves wellbeing. Courses are free but donations are welcomed.
More information: www.bodhi.dhamma.org
4. Return to the womb, London
As any mother will tell you, keeping a baby calm is no mean feat. The womb might just be the ultimate relaxation tool, but it’s a one-way trip for all of us. However now you can try out the next best thing at the Zed Rooms by Simba Sleep in Shoreditch, London.
Key to this is the ‘womb room’ where you can ‘curl up cocooned and breathe in peace’. Thumb sucking is optional.
More information: https://simbasleep.com/pages/the-zed-rooms
5. Salt caves, Chicago
Hidden deep in the USA is a spa unlike any other. Owners of the Galos Caves in Chicago, USA, say a short stint in one of their iodine salt caves can cure everything from asthma to colon inflammation.
While these claims should be taken with a pinch of salt, the benefits of inhaling salt-enriched air, or halotherapy, have been recognised since Ancient Greece. So sit back on a recliner, let gentle music wash over you, and take a well-earned breather.
More information: www.galoscaves.com
6. Prison pampering, Thailand
While a visit to a Thai correctional institution may seem more like holiday hell than wellness weekend, in Chiang Mai a trip to prison is an unorthodox experience.
Here massages are delivered by trained inmates at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute, as part of a program to help them integrate into working society. A visit here will soothe both your aches and your conscience, as any wages and tips are kept aside for prisoners upon release – an enlightened idea.
More information: www.correct.go.th
7. Wine spa, Japan
While you may have heard of the luxurious wine spas of Bordeaux, Japan’s version is more house red than Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Yunessun Spa Resort in Hakone, Japan boasts a communal wine pool where visitors can front crawl their way through a sea of red wine. Vinotherapy, as it is known, is said to have a rejuvenating effect on the skin and slow the ageing process. However, if red isn’t your colour, you could always take a dip in the resort’s green tea or coffee spa instead.
More information: www.yunessun.com/en/
8. Fuck It Retreat, Italy
What started as a haven for stressed-out executives has since become a complete way of life for many. Forget Zen rock gardens and meditative breathing techniques, these retreats dispel worry, stress and anxiety by using two words: fuck it.
Fretting over finance? Fuck it. Worried that your bum looks big in this? Fuck it. These stunning Italian sanctuaries also use Kundalini energies and the Chinese qigong techniques to help rebalance the lives of guests.
More information: www.eff-it-helps.com
9. Meditating in kayaks, Mexico
Forget those calming music mixes you listen to at work, Sea Trek Baja brings the soundtrack to life. Heading along the Gulf of California by kayak, these eight-day trips allow you to take in the beauty of Carmen and Danzante Islands with only dolphins and finback whales for company.
The combination of sapphire skies, silent meditation and the quiet lapping of waves against your boat will leave even the most tense of guests relaxed. Or alternatively capsized and underwater, but refreshed nonetheless.
More information: www.seatrek.com
10. Laughter yoga, India
A subscriber to the notion that laughter is the best medicine, Dr Madan Kataria established the world’s first Laughter Club in 1995. Every morning he would meet a handful of “patients” in a Mumbai park and administer his jokes.
Soon hundreds were turning up, and with the jokes wearing thin people eventually began to simply laugh at nothing in particular. “Fake it ‘til you make it” was the mantra, subscribing completely to the idea of contagious laughter. Funnily enough it worked: today laughter yoga, as it’s now known, is practised around the world. Some even do it via Skype.
More information: www.laughteryoga.org
11. Ayahuasca Shaman Retreat, Peru
Once a sacred ritual of indigenous Amazonian tribes, Ayahuasca ceremonies have become an increasingly popular attraction. They are ritualistic traditions in which participants experience visions and epiphanies after taking a concoction of psychedelic plants. With the experience lasting hours, a trained shaman will traditionally be required to oversee the trip.
Blue Morpho, located in the rainforest around an hour from Iquitos, Peru, offers regular ceremonies with time-honoured shamans who prepare the ayahuasca mixture according to the guests drinking the brew – and the advice of the medicine spirits, of course.
More information: www.bluemorphotours.com
12. Cryotherapy, Slovakia
If it’s a “health kick” you’re after, then how about three minutes in a room that’s approaching the temperature of the surface of the moon? Yes, you read that right – cryotherapy involves stepping into a room cooled to -110°C (-184°C), with little more than a bathing suit to keep the ice at bay. Athletes have been using it to aid recovery for decades, and now it’s the public’s turn to don a pair of slippers and step into a giant fridge.
Benefits are said to include the stimulation of enzyme and hormone production, as endorphins, adrenaline and testosterone are released. Safe to say it’s a step up from a cold shower.
More information: www.aquacityresort.com
And if none of those do the trick…
13. Crying therapy, Japan
Come on, let it all out. It’s long standing belief that a good cry does wonders for our wellbeing; Freud believed emotions were better let out than kept in, and numerous studies vaunt the health benefits of crying as a way to reduce stress.
With that in mind, the Japanese have taken to crying therapy in which participants are encouraged to weep out loud. To get the emotions flowing, handsome “weeping boys” regale clients with sad stories and remind them of deceased pets, coaxing out tears and gently wiping them away. Known locally as ruikatsu (tear-seeking), crying therapy is practised in Kansai, southern Japan, although several companies have also begun to adopt the practice. Just don’t forget your tissues.