From psychedelic shrubbery in Gabon to sobbing seminars in Japan, we round up the world's weirdest wellness retreats
It’s not too late to rectify those ill-fated New Year’s Eve resolutions in which you swore to live a more spiritual and carefree life. But 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: 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: www.turnonbritain.co.uk
2. Psychedelic enlightenment, Gabon
In the pristine forests of Gabon, the path to enlightenment is paved with a potent hallucinogen known as iboga. Ingested as part of a spiritual ritual, this psychedelic shrub is central to the Bwiti religion, which combines worship of the forest with Christianity.
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. Nevertheless, foreigners are visiting Gabon in increasing numbers to take part. Presumably, they haven’t heard of Glastonbury.
More information: www.iceers.org
3. Silent retreat, India
The modern mind has little time for rest, at any one time it could be 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 retreats (meaning “to see things as they really are”) 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. It’s free but donations are welcomed.
More information: www.bodhi.dhamma.org
4. Return to the womb, Gran Canaria
Only the womb itself can provide a more relaxing and comforting space than a luxury spa. While attempting to return there may result in long hours of family therapy, you can try out the next best thing at the Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort in Gran Canaria.
The Corallium Spa at the resort is home to the colloquially termed “womb room”, where visitors lie – presumably in the foetal position – on water beds while ambient sounds emanate from the warm red walls. Thumb sucking is optional.
More information: www.lopesan.com
5. Salt caves, Chicago
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.
And 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. With more salt facilities starting to pop up around the world, why not grab a lounger and take a well-earned breather?
More information: www.galoscaves.com
6. Prison pampering, Thailand
While a visit to a Thai correctional institution may scream holiday hell rather than whisper wellness weekend, in Chiang Mai a trip to prison is an unorthodox experience.
Inmates at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution are given holistic training that will aid job prospects once released. A visit here not only soothes aches and pains but also aids karma, 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 be privy to the luxurious wine spas of France, 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 you prefer to save the strong stuff until after dinner, you can 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 its guests. 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 if your bum looks big in this? Fuck it. These stunning Italian sanctuaries also use Kundalini energies and the Chinese technique of qigong to help rebalance the lives of guests.
More information: www.eff-it-helps.com
9. Meditating in kayaks, Mexico
Forget your CD copy of Meditation Music: Calming Seas, Sea Trek Baja brings the soundtrack to life. Heading along the Gulf of California by kayak, these eight-day trips take in the beauty of Carmen and Danzante Islands with only dolphins and finback whales for company.
If the untouched nature and tranquil, lapping tides weren’t soothing enough, fresh fruit, sapphire skies and silent meditation aboard your kayak should leave anyone feeling refreshed. Or capsized and underwater, but we hope refreshed.
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. Oh, how they laughed.
Soon hundreds were turning up. The problem was: the jokes ran dry. So, in the end, they just gathered to laugh at nothing in particular: “fake it ‘til you make it” was the mantra. 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, now a growing gap year phenomenon, ayahuasca ceremonies are a ritualistic tradition where participants experience visions and epiphanies after taking a concoction of psychedelic plants.
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
Nothing shouts “health kick” like freezing your jangly bits off for three minutes in temperatures of -120C (-184F). Sportspersons have been using cryotherapy to aid recovery for decades, and now it’s the public’s turn to don gloves and a face mask 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. It’s the coolest wellness trend in town.
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 been known 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 tear-jerking Japanese have taken to crying therapy in which participants are encouraged to weep out loud. To get the emotions flowing, “therapists” regale clients with sad stories and remind them of deceased pets. Known locally as ruikatsu, crying therapy is practised in Kansai, southern Japan. Take a tissue.