My tears were just starting to ease, save for a few stray drops still trickling down my face, when I finally unclenched my fists and inhaled a deep breath. Opening my eyes for the first time in over an hour, it took a moment for my vision to adjust to the light. Ahead of me, at the front of an enclosed treetop yoga platform, sat my retreat leader, the tantric-based spiritual teacher Rachel Pringle Urb. Just behind her, a soft rain shower was washing the jungle of Nosara, Costa Rica, anew. Fitting, I thought.
For the last hour, while on my hands and knees in a cat-cow position, I had screamed bloody murder at varying intervals during a sacred rage ritual, one of several experiences I participated in during Rachel’s six-day retreat. Parched and somewhat exhausted, I was reeling after what felt like years of therapy distilled into a single afternoon workshop. I was curious as to how my body could feel so heavy and ragged while my mood felt light—giddy, even. I glanced at the 30 other women around me. I felt like we were all in on a secret. Lost in thought during our final meditation, I wondered what exactly I had just done and why it felt so good—and why it took me more than 30 years to discover.
Rachel Pringle Urb leads a workshop.
Courtesy of Rachel Pringle Urb
While sensual magic workshops and yoni activation ceremonies weren’t always on my bucket list, I was prompted to attend Rachel’s retreat after working with her for nearly a year via Zoom sessions. I was intrigued by her tantric-based teachings, but I was also interested in cultivating my own version of spirituality. More specifically, finding a way of being that didn’t require eliciting power or acceptance from a source outside of myself—especially after two fraught pandemic years. After leaving the retreat, I felt empowered, armed with a new manifesto of spiritual living I could subscribe to, and I knew I wasn’t the only one interested in this type of life-altering experience, as evidenced by my fellow retreat-goers.
Participants at Rachel Pringle Urb’s retreat in Costa Rica earlier this year.
Courtesy of Rachel Pringle Urb
When I got home, I decided to dig a little deeper. Why, every time I opened my Instagram or my email, was I being alerted of another personality or brand getting on board the transformation train, offering spiritual gatherings of all sizes? I was also curious to better understand what to offer at my own retreat this coming February—a six-day writing retreat in Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico—and if writers would be interested in diving into their craft while also practicing rituals Rachel taught me: breathwork, tantric meditations, and more.
While many new-age spiritual retreats such as the one I went on in Costa Rica cater primarily to women—as well as like-minded offerings such as the La Luna Retreats in Spain and the upcoming Wild Terrains’ retreat in Mexico—the industry has spread wider than I previously thought. In fact, it’s booming, both in terms of consumer need and from an economic perspective, which perhaps explains why brands both large and small are quickly getting on board. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the world’s wellness economy is expected to rise from a $4.4 trillion market in 2020 to a $7 trillion market in 2025. While wellness tourism currently accounts for $436 billion of this total, it’s projected to soar in the coming years as the world emerges from the pandemic: Experts project a nearly 20 percent annual growth, with the wellness tourism market predicted to be a $1.1 trillion industry by 2025.
A yoga session at Finca Victoria.
Courtesy of Finca Victoria
“Wellness, hospitality, and travel are now converging in unprecedented ways: from the healthy hotel concept going utterly mainstream; to airports, airlines, and cruises injecting so much wellness programming; to the profusion of ever-more-creative wellness destinations, retreats, and tours,” say Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, senior researchers at GWI. “The wellness concept is transforming almost every aspect of travel, and wellness tourism will only grow faster in years ahead, as it lies at the powerful intersection of two massive, booming industries: the $2.6 trillion tourism industry and the $4.2 trillion wellness market”
Comparing tourism projections to the shift in spirituality among adults in the United States seems to clarify why new-age retreats are of more interest now than ever before. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, as of 2017, approximately 27 percent of Americans considered themselves spiritual but not religious, an increase of 8 percent since 2012. There’s also a staggering rise of depression among adults in the United States: According to research conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health, depression spiked in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic and worsened in 2021, affecting one in three American adults. Following a time when many were without human-to-human connection, the research points to a widespread search for community, connection, and meaning—which, of course, is exactly what wellness experts around the world aim to offer.
An Ayurvedic bath ritual at Finca Victoria.
When hotelier and creative Sylvia de Marco opened the Ayurvedic retreat center Finca Victoria on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico at the beginning of 2019, she launched the first-ever property in the Caribbean dedicated to this ancient Indian wellness system; specifically panchakarmas, or multi-day detoxes that act as a full mind-body reset. “In western society, our worth has been valued by how much we accomplish, how much we do, how strong we are, which has created immense health issues in the modern world,” says DeMarco. “Retreat centers like Finca Victoria mimic what larger communities should strive to accomplish: education on how to live a balanced life.”
An indoor bathing area at Euphoria Retreat.
Courtesy of Euphoria Retreat
At Euphoria Retreat, located near the foothills of Mount Taygetos in the Peloponnese region in southern Greece, Marina Efraimoglou employs a like-minded model based on ancient Greek philosophies. During a five-day experience known as the Odysseus Journey, guests are introduced to Greek mythology and Homeric poetry while partaking in guided meditations, gong baths, and drama therapy sessions using archetypal roles from the Odyssey. “We recreate Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca around various locations at Euphoria Retreat,” says Efraimoglou. “The experience is meant to engage each participant’s inward journey, their own Odyssey that hopefully helps them reach their own version of Ithaca.”
A guided meditation session at Euphoria Retreat.
Photo: Stavros Habakis / Courtesy of Euphoria Retreat
Also entering the experiential wellness space are more well-known brands, such as Six Senses, which recently debuted its first edition of the Alma Festival at its Ibiza location. The three-day experience brought together wellness pioneers of all backgrounds—from the spiritual guide Sah D’Simone and biohacking expert Dave Asprey, to celebrity trainers like Taryn Toomey of The Class and Vishen Lakhiani, the creator of the wellbeing platform Mindvalley—in an effort to create a meaningful way for people to connect through modern spirituality.
Instructor Niki Trosky leads a yoga session at Ondalinda in 2021.
Courtesy of Ondalinda
Destinations, too, are creating their own experiences. In Careyes, a community along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, Lulu Luchaire hosts her festival, Ondalinda, a four-day event offering wellness activities such as sweat lodges, cacao ceremonies, and sound healings. Even New York-based concepts are making their way into the mix. At The Well at Hacienda AltaGracia, which debuted in the fall of 2021 as one of the largest wellness destinations in Latin America, the New York City-based brand offers an integrative and holistic experience approach to modern medicine during five- to seven-day healing retreats, each with international experts at the helm.
An indoor pool at The Well at Hacienda AltaGracia.
Courtesy of The Well at Hacienda AltaGracia
Ever since leaving Costa Rica, I’ve done my breathwork and tantric hip-rocking meditation almost every morning. While I don’t know if any spiritual practice is a cure-all for life’s woes, I do know I feel wildly better when I do my practice versus when I don’t. If anything, it seems as if the rise in new-age spiritual retreats will lead us to begin questioning why we are the way we are a little more. At worst, we’ll have fun; at best, we’ll leave a better, more realized version of ourselves.