No doubt about it, this pandemic has sucked a lot of joy out of life. Whether it be a drink with friends in the pub or a two-week break in the sun, the prospect of anyone having any fun ever again seems to have all but vanished.
By necessity, how we pursue leisure is changing — if not for ever then certainly in the short to medium term — and the wellness industry, born in large part out of people’s desire to find meaning and balance in a frenetic world, is having to adjust.
Products and treatments designed to counteract the effects of long working hours, stressful office environments and gruelling commutes, suddenly have less purpose in a world where many are now working from home, whether they like it or not.
Classes from yoga to Pilates to CrossFit and beyond are all cancelled; gyms and clubs are closed. The booming health tourism market, which was worth around £700 billion last year and, before Covid-19, was projected to hit more than £900 billion by 2022, has taken a massive hit, grinding to a halt along with every other area of the hospitality/leisure industry.
Four British writers give their verdict on a selection of virtual retreats. Pictured: Mexico’s Grand Velas Resorts Wellnessing Getaway Online
Although many shops and businesses are now preparing to reopen, this whole sector is at the back of the queue.
It’s no surprise, then, that so many clubs, clinics, salons and gyms are diversifying online, in a bid to guide their businesses through the crisis and out the other side.
You can attend virtual classes in almost anything, from mindfulness to Barrecore to eyebrow threading, but go on a whole wellness retreat virtually? Can it really be done? Here, four writers put the latest trends to the test …
THE MEXICAN HAPPINESS RETREAT
VIRTUAL RESORT: Mexico’s Grand Velas Resorts Wellnessing Getaway Online (velasresorts.com).
COST: Free access to a one-day virtual retreat via pre-recorded YouTube videos, including a sunrise workout and classes on happiness, nutrition, anxiety, art therapy, dance, yoga and sound therapy.
NEXT ONE: Available any time at magazine.velasresorts.com
I was feeling a bit frayed — who isn’t? — and then up popped this: an invitation to spend a day finding ‘Elevated Bliss’ at the Grand Velas five-star spa hotel in Mexico.
Obviously, things being as they are, the invitation didn’t actually include travelling to Mexico. I only had to get to my computer.
Daisy Waugh (pictured) said Mexico’s Grand Velas Resorts Wellnessing Getaway Online is a bargain when you consider the price of their non-virtual experiences
From 10am Mexican time, and for all that Mexican day, this internationally renowned resort hotel would be running a Wellnessing Getaway Online from its Facebook page directly into my sitting room in West London.
Better still, it was free: a bargain of godly proportions when you consider that a 24-hour non-virtual ‘wellnessing’ experience at Grand Velas costs up to $1,400 (£1,149).
The six-hour time difference was always going to be a hurdle. The Grand Velas journey to ‘Elevated Bliss’ began with a fat-burning Energetic Sunrise class. Sunrise in Mexico starts at our 4pm — about the time (quite early, due to quarantine boredom) my countdown begins for the first glass of gin.
If I stuck with the timetable, Deborah Hanekamp, a ‘medicine reading healer’ (no, I don’t know what that means either), would be teaching me how to transform my ‘bathroom into a healing space’ at around midnight. And Roberto Gopar would be live-streaming ‘the multiple benefits on a physical, mental and spiritual level’ of his sound therapy session at 2am, by which time I would have long since passed out to the therapeutic sound of my own snoring.
Daisy said the Energetic Sunrise session wasn’t elevating or blissful. Pictured: Mexico retreat Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
I’m going to skip over the Energetic Sunrise session because there was nothing elevated or blissful about it: a pre-recorded cardio workout with a shiny blonde dame in running pants, standing in front of a wooden wall which didn’t even attempt to resemble paradise or Mexico or a beach. She shouted out things like: ‘Squeeze those glutes!’
The next session, Full Body Workout with Rachel Devaue, wasn’t any more elevating: a different dame (also pretty, but with dark hair) stood in a modern kitchen, shouting: ‘Engage that core!’
Session No 3 (also pre-recorded) was a talk on The Science of Happiness, in which wellness expert, author and former model Nikki Sharp told us that ‘happiness is something we all want in our life’.
She posed the ticklish question, ‘Why do we want to be happy?’, before brilliantly answering it: ‘Happiness actually has led to people making more money, so the happier you are means that you do make more money …’
There was a gap in the schedule after that, while the people of Mexico and elsewhere — I didn’t get the sense this was playing out to a large audience — enjoyed their siesta, and here in the UK, I poured myself that gin.
Daisy said the art therapy session made her cry with laughter, but the retreat was blissful in the end. Pictured: Mexico retreat Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
I wondered whether it was worth tuning in again after aforementioned refreshment, given how comically hopeless it had been up until then. But I had nothing else to do, so in I logged for one last session: art therapy.
To soothing music, and after a struggle to squeeze the paint from the tube, art therapist Beatriz did some therapeutic splodging, and as she filled her paper with splodges, she spoke to us softly in Spanish: ‘Simplemente expresate’, she murmured, which probably means, ‘Simply express yourself’.
By the time she held up her splodgy ‘finished’ painting, I was actually crying with laughter. A state of elevated bliss, indeed. So, thank you, Grand Velas. We got there in the end.
Daisy Waugh’s latest novel, In The Crypt With A Candlestick is long listed for the Comedy Women in Print prize for comic fiction.
THE MENOPAUSE JUICE DETOX
VIRTUAL RESORT: Amanda Hamilton’s Online Midlife Reset Detox Retreat (amanda hamilton.com).
COST: £295 for a five-day course, with interactive small groups of up to eight women of a similar age, all via Zoom. Includes easy menus, workouts and access to a WhatsApp group, and promises to manage your hormones, improve sleep, beat stress and lose weight. Recipes and suggested menu plans are provided but participants shop for and prepare their own food.
NEXT ONE: June 14 to 18.
Claudia Connell (pictured) who has gained a stone in the past two months, tried Amanda Hamilton’s Online Midlife Reset Detox Retreat
Stepping on the scales for the first time in weeks, I was horrified to see that I’d piled on a stone in two months. Drastic action was needed if I was going to lose the lockdown lard for the summer.
Luckily, nutritionist Amanda Hamilton is offering an online Midlife Reset Detox Retreat.
One of the main aims of the retreat is to improve metabolism and switch cells from storing fat to burning fat, especially around what Amanda calls ‘the menopause middle’.
Eliminating all meat, fish, wheat, unnatural sugars, dairy, caffeine and alcohol, it will also detox the liver and gut and give my poor body a break from the mountain of junk I’ve been filling it with in recent weeks.
The detox follows a strict routine:
- On rising: Hot water and juice of half a lemon.
- 9am-9.30am: A fruit and veg smoothie.
- 10am-10.30am: Pilates.
- 12pm-12.30pm: Soup and a ‘slaw’ (like coleslaw but without the mayonnaise).
- 1pm-2pm: An online class to raise questions and discuss our detox.
- 3pm-3.30pm: Another smoothie.
- 6pm-6.30pm: Soup. An afternoon snack is permitted if needed. I must also drink two litres of water and can have herbal teas.
There are five of us, all in our 50s, ‘attending’ the retreat and we meet online to discuss our woes and goals. I state that I want to lose my pudgy ‘carb’ face and to deflate my giant stomach.
My first breakfast smoothie was a ‘berry beet’ made with cooked beetroot, spinach and avocado, blended with coconut milk. I expected it to be foul but was amazed at how delicious it was.
Claudia (pictured) said by day two she developed a pounding headache, which she believes could’ve been caused by caffeine withdrawal
Over the next few days my smoothies include: carrot and ginger, pineapple and coconut, cucumber and spinach and even a frozen pea and mint one. Our Pilates classes focused on the areas most likely to bother middle-aged women: bingo wings, tummies, inner thighs and a backside set on migrating down the backs of our legs. And they must have been hitting the spot because I ached like a 100-year-old the day after our first session.
Preparing the soups was time-consuming but worth it, as they were tasty and insanely filling — so much so that I couldn’t finish my evening bowls.
The huge portions of raw slaws meant I never experienced my usual mid-afternoon energy dip that sees me heading for the fridge.
By day two I’ve developed a pounding headache — caffeine withdrawal no doubt — that eventually eases thanks to all the water I’m drinking.
I enjoy our afternoon Zoom classes where we learn about gut health, nutrition and the effects of alcohol on weight.
I was staggered to learn that one study found a 72 per cent drop in fat burning immediately after drinking alcohol. I was starting to regret all those lockdown cocktails.
Claudia (pictured) who shed five pounds in five days, said she’s going to carry on the detox because it has been effective
A fellow detoxer says she now pictures wine as ‘liquid cake’ — a tip I’ll be using in the future.
By day three, I’m shocked I don’t feel hungry and, if I’m honest, shocked I haven’t cheated. Instead, all the nutritious smoothies and shakes have made me feel energised and surprisingly full.
On day four, I wake up and notice that my stomach has gone down significantly. It’s not washboard flat but it’s nowhere near as roly-poly as it was.
By the time I’ve reached day five, my ‘carb face’ has gone and I am five pounds lighter. I feel light, revitalised and like I’ve had an internal spring clean.
The detox has proved so effective that I’m going to carry on for another five days. I thought I’d be reaching for the pizza delivery menu as soon as it was over, but I have no desire to drink alcohol or eat junk.
What’s happened to me? Whatever it is, long may it continue.
THE SOUL-SURFING WEEKEND
VIRTUAL RESORT: Pause: Soul & Surf At Home (soulandsurf.com)
COST: £80 for a virtual weekend retreat via Zoom with up to 25 people. Ten sessions, including surf fitness, yoga, massage and cooking demos.
NEXT ONE: June 13-14.
Anna Maxted (pictured) tried Soul & Surf At Home, which is a virtual weekend retreat via Zoom including surf fitness, yoga, massage and cooking demos
Soul & Surf organise idyllic surfing and yoga retreats in Sri Lanka, Portugal and India, but instead of sun salutations overlooking the Arabian Sea, we have Soul & Surf At Home. With a husband and three teenage boys, my home is all laser gun battles, PS4 and fighting. I could cry.
It’s the first time I’ve seen you smile in ages,’ says my husband. I’m not a yoga fan. I can’t surf and my body feels battered, but I haven’t felt this relaxed in weeks
The weekend schedule comes mainly from the firm’s retreat in Portugal and includes live yoga, shiatsu self-massage and ‘pop up’ training (above) — because, of course, getting upright (or in surf-speak ‘popping up’) on your board requires core strength and technique. We’re sent cooking demos for dhal curry and coconut roti, and given links to playlists and a surf-themed film.
I join Hayley, who’s actually in Sri Lanka, for Zoom yoga. It’s 8.15am UK time and sunny, so I take my laptop outside. Hayley’s flow yoga opens up my upper body and leaves me serene, buzzing and upright.
After an online induction, we try the shiatsu self-massage. ‘It’s a non-invasive treatment using pressure points on the meridian pathways,’ explains Becca. We tap around our jaw ‘like raindrops’ to release tension, then move to tapping our shoulders and chest. It’s surprisingly energising and enjoyable. A yin yoga session follows, and as I lie on my mat, listening to Rachel’s soothing tones, my mind slows until I’m in a blissful, meditative state.
Anna (pictured) who was exhausted by the end of the weekend, said she felt truly sorry to have to leave
‘It’s the first time I’ve seen you smile in ages,’ says my husband. ‘You looked so happy out there. Like Snoopy on top of the kennel.’
I’m loving it. I’m not even a yoga fan and I can’t surf, but I haven’t felt this relaxed in weeks.
On Sunday, I bounce outside for another flow session. It’s exhausting and my body feels battered, but dynamic yoga mimics the moves and builds the strength required to surf. At the end of the day, I’m truly sorry to leave.
THE BALINESE YOGA ESCAPE
VIRTUAL RESORT: Bali’s Escape Haven Free Three-Day Mini Escape (escapehaven.com).
COST: Free access to daily emails, 30-minute video lessons featuring workouts, yoga and recipes, plus access to a support group on Facebook to connect with other women on the retreat. The aim is to help you slow down and find balance.
NEXT ONE: June 5 to 7.
Sarah Vine tried Bali’s Escape Haven Free Three-Day Mini Escape (pictured), which involves workouts, yoga and recipes
The problem, I fear, is one of unreasonable expectation. If I’m taking part in an online yoga class, I’m just there for the instructions. If, on the other hand, I’ve signed up for a wellness retreat in Bali, the disappointment is almost unavoidable.
Escape Haven runs award-winning all-women exotic retreats specialising in all the sorts of things you would expect, from Ayurveda to detox via everything in between.
It even offers a deluxe yacht package, which is all of the above, only adrift in the beautiful blue waters of the Bali Sea. Sun, beach, impeccable service, delicious food and breathtaking scenery are what make these trips worth every penny.
So when I was asked to trial its virtual offering, I had fairly high hopes. But I can honestly say this was one of the least pleasurable of my lockdown experiences — and that is a very competitive field, I can assure you.
The basic problem is this: it’s all the most annoying aspects of a wellness retreat — the patronising tone, the sweeping statements (e.g., ‘As women we know that our attention span isn’t so great.’ Er, no), the over-enthusiasm (‘Isn’t it fantastic?!’ Again, no), the cod-mysticism, the dewy-eyed evangelism — but without the climate, the food and the sea; in short, the fact that you are in Bali. Plus, of course, all those other retreat treats, such as long massages, foot rubs, facials, nice towels and so on.
Sarah Vine (poctured) said the experience of having a woman in Bali speak about self-discovery made her want to pour a very large glass of wine
Instead, it’s same old you sitting at your same old desk in your same old house, with your same old teenagers sleeping in and refusing to do their homework, while the dog stares at you in desultory fashion because it’s fully 11-and-a-half seconds since you last fed him and the washing up sits waiting in the sink.
Only now you’ve given up precious time to watch a woman in a swirly silk kaftan — a woman who, it is clear from the heavenly backdrop, actually is in Bali (damn her!) — tell you how mystical and wonderful your experience is going to be, and how you are going to go on an important and life-changing journey of self-discovery in a way that, quite inexplicably and unreasonably, makes you want to pour yourself a very large glass of wine, break out the Violet Creams and search the kitchen drawers for that ancient packet of fags your friend left behind at Christmas.
Well, that’s what it did to me, anyway. Matters were not helped by the fact that the website was extremely unwieldy and also that, even once I’d negotiated the toolbar to find my sessions, I had to watch each and every one of them to the bitter (and sometimes very boring) end, until I could move on to the next.
I hate to be awful, but that’s the truth of it. I suggest you save up your money for the real thing.