“Discover your next chapter,” says the neat white box on my table. For the next three hours, I create a collage of my desired future life out of cut-out stock images, contemplate impactful life events, identify my “big want,” and take stretching breaks. All the while, I’m trying to avoid the thoughts creeping in, the dishes in the sink, the sound of my next-door neighbor (badly) practicing guitar.
I might be on a retreat, but I’m very much still stuck inside my own living room. The white box is the Self-Guided Transformation Retreat by Numina, a California-based life and business coaching firm. Later in the week, I will go on another retreat in my bedroom: meditating on my trusted yoga mat, incense burning, my laundry basket carefully concealed for added glam. This retreat, too, arrived in a box, complete with relaxing bath soaps, a booklet, and a QR code that unlocked my meditation session, courtesy of Retreat Yourself, an Australian subscription box that just started shipping to the U.S. And if I have any room left for further introspection, I might try the Marriage Retreat in a Box: a series of relationship-improving activities to complete with your significant other, outlined in a hefty guidebook that just arrived at my doorstep. (Perhaps we’ll do it in the garage, my partner’s sacred space.)
When COVID-19 came for conferences and vacations, retreats—the hallmark of wellness culture–were mostly canceled, too. Sure, some people might be out there, attending sunrise yoga sessions together in Nosara or Tulum, but for those of us who aren’t ready for close encounters yet, retreats have reinvented themselves for customers where they are: at home. But is it possible to find your #bliss in the place you’ve been stuck in for a year and a half?
This new brand of wellness retreats attempt to bypass all of the pandemic-times hurdles. Before the pandemic, David Lesser, the founder of Numina, hosted people in his own home in order to get his business retreat idea off the ground. But the prospect of cutting himself out of the process had long held appeal. “I’ve always wanted to reach people where they are—to be efficient and cut out the middleman,” he says.
Numina’s at-home retreat box was released in July 2021—a stacked, jewelry box-like package complete with a book of prompts and supplementary materials needed to complete the retreat’s three hour-long, five-step process. “People are ready to guide themselves,” Lesser says. “The person just has to be open to seeing things differently.” Compared to the CEO-oriented, in-person $15,000 day-long program (which also includes six months of coaching sessions every two weeks), Numina’s boxed retreat, which costs just $150, is a bargain.
Marriage Retreat in a Box, created by Dr. Corey Jamison and Julie Bush and launched in March 2021, is even more affordable at $72. The box includes two workbooks—one for each partner—and is filled with prompts to help couples tackle thorny topics like communication, conflict, and money. If they get stuck or need to lighten the mood, they can pull a card out of the Conversation Starters deck (for example, “What’s the best party you’ve ever been to?”). “This has been a long time in the making,” says Jamison, who has a PhD in psychology. “But the pandemic seemed like the perfect time since couples are spending a lot of time together.”
While retreating without going anywhere might be a dubious concept, the convenience and ease of an at-home “getaway” is these products’ best selling point. However, what if retreating at home becomes yet another item on your to-do list? I question whether worn-out couples, left to their own devices, would actually be motivated to complete a retreat. But Jamison brings up another advantage to an at-home retreat: privacy. While at many in-person retreats the expectation is that you’ll open up and share with the group, at home, there’s no such pressure. “If you go somewhere, you can learn from the context of other people, but at home, you get to do it on your own time and there’s no distraction or comparison,” she says. “Nobody will see if you’re upset, or cry, or say the wrong thing.”
Rather than convince my husband to tackle some worksheets on a work night, I settled in one night earlier this month to complete a Numina retreat designed to help me understand my past and future, recognize harmful behavior patterns, and commit to personal and professional goals. Completing it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park; staying focused, even with frequent breaks, was a struggle. The lasting effect—a sense of clarity and self-congratulatory optimism—took time to settle in. “The client has to be motivated,” Lesser says. “If you hire a coach and write the check [for an expensive in-person retreat], you’ll set the time aside, but if you paid just a little [for a boxed retreat], it’s tempting to say, ‘I’ll do it next week.’ It’s a challenge to tune into yourself.”
The most wellness-y of the bunch is Retreat Yourself; neatly branded, it offers seasonal, themed boxed retreats that are meant to emulate the relaxation of an in-person retreat by offering online yoga flow and mindfulness lessons along with a selection of home, body, and pantry products, including vegan cookies, mint body moisturizer, incense, and an exfoliating mask, which customers use to have a pampering day at home. “Our sales almost tripled during COVID-19,” says Retreat Yourself founder Kate Williams. “It’s been huge for us.” The experience starts with a breathing exercise, dedicated playlist, and a mantra to chat. “By then, you hopefully feel relaxed,” Williams says, and can move on to the rest of the course, which includes meditation, journaling, yoga, writing goals, outlining acts of kindness, mindfulness coloring, snacking on nourishing goodies, and pampering.
When I set out to partake in the Retreat Yourself experience, it felt good to carve out dedicated time to intentionally complete activities I’d normally sandwich in between slices of “real life.” I opted for a half-day of meditating, yoga, journaling, and nibbling, plus 15 luxurious minutes for a post-mask shower and moisturizer application. I felt a bit silly creating a retreat “atmosphere” in my home by lighting an incense and even a couple of candles that normally do nothing but collect dust, but I liked the privacy that came with it—even though I only completed half of the activities, nobody judged me.
For Lesser, a retreat—at home, or anywhere—is essentially “like stepping into a sacred space so you can view your life and transform some things about yourself.” Two chairs and a small, distraction-free room should be enough, he says—no luxury spa required. Williams agrees: “The concept of retreat is disconnecting from the chaos and reconnecting to who you are,” she says. “We may associate retreats with going away because doing so helps us break away from daily habits, but it really comes down to resetting your mind.” Easier said than done? Perhaps. But what other choice do we have right now?
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