Every now and then, you need a break from the daily grind, some time away to reflect and refresh. In just a few hours' drive from Richmond, you can find yourself practicing yoga in the Blue Ridge Mountains or meditating in an ocean breeze. The region is surrounded by wellness destinations where visitors can improve the health of their bodies, minds and spirits. Some retreats emphasize traditional approaches, while others are more progressive, but all of them offer experiences designed to help you heal. Whether your budget is large, small or somewhere in between, a healthy getaway awaits you.
The Spa at Colonial Williamsburg
(800) 688-6479, colonialwilliamsburgresort.com/spa
Nestled within a history lover's paradise, the Spa at Colonial Williamsburg combines centuries-old wellness practices with modern technology to help guests soak, steam and strengthen their way back to health.
The spa's designers researched native and Colonial Virginian healing traditions when developing its services, based on what staffers describe as a 500-year-old continuum of wellness practices.
"The sense of history was very inspiring," says Paige Megna, a California-based consultant who helped design the concept and guest experience. "There was an immense amount of information in the library, among the historians and throughout Colonial Williamsburg." To illustrate: In the 1600s, Native Americans sat in steamy tents with hot stones to detoxify, then cooled themselves in a river and finally applied oil to protect their skin, explains Kate Mearns, spa director. That 17th-century practice inspired the spa's Hot Stones Experience, which also incorporates detoxifying wraps.
A favorite ritual is the herbal inhalation practice that begins each massage. Therapists instruct clients through a series of relaxing breaths over a bowl of water infused with lavender, lemongrass, rosehips or other herbs. Most massages and other treatments start at $110, and lodging is available.
The spa holds wellness workshops throughout the year. Programs typically include a Saturday-morning walk, followed by a seminar that often reflects the storytelling tradition of Colonial Williamsburg. A recent topic: "Connect Your Soul Through the Power of Stories."
"Visiting a spa is not just about pampering and being indulgent," Mearns says. "It's about being well and taking care of yourself."
(800) 858-9642, yogaville.org
If you want to detoxify your system, strengthen your body and calm your mind, consider Yogaville, an ashram (spiritual retreat) community.
Guests can explore their interpretations of divinity if they choose to do so. Yogaville welcomes people of all faiths, as symbolized in its interfaith shrine. The shrine, fashioned in the shape of a giant white-and-pink lotus flower, rises over a lake against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Yogaville offers day, weekend and longer programs. Programming covers a wide range of topics including "Peaceful Weight Loss," "Yoga for Midlife Meaning" and "Kindling the Creative Fire: Integrating Yoga and Creative Inspiration."
Most stays cost between $200 and $400, depending on length, program and lodging. Visitors can also enjoy massage therapy, energy balancing and other services for an additional cost.
Yogaville's popular silent retreats draw visitors who want to turn inward for a few days. The benefits last long beyond the visit, says Raymond Lau, a physicist who works for a Richmond-based manufacturing company. "The silent retreat was very cleansing. I was able to create a calm within myself," he says. "And that calm is locked in my mind. When I have a lot of stuff going on, I can still go to that place of calm."
Calming the mind can serve many needs, says Yogaville's Rev. Lakshmi Barsel. "When you calm the mind, you start feeling more peaceful and relaxed," he explains. "And putting your mind in order can help you get ready to tackle those problems that seem overwhelming."
Edgar Cayce's A.R.E. (Virginia Beach)
(800) 333-4499, edgarcayce.org
Richmonders who are watching their wallets will find a host of free wellness options at Edgar Cayce's A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment), which offers a health center, holistic-health workshops and conferences, and a spa — all just steps from the beach.
The center holds regular lectures, meditation sessions and more at no charge, with no strings attached and no additional requirements. Visitors can also enjoy the meditation garden and its soothing waterfall.
The spa's treatments start at $40 and include lymphatic massage and inner sound therapy, which uses music and other sound to restore emotional and physical health. "You get a good value there," says Richmonder Bill Sroka, a regular massage client. "I have recommended it to many friends."
Spa-goers get more than much-needed pampering. "We are about educating and empowering our clients," says Janice Long, manager of the health center and spa. "We want to give clients the tools to continue improving their wellness at home. Sometimes we can give people easy, holistic treatments to resolve serious problems." Long explains that she's taught some clients how to use potato skins to help prevent cataracts, and others to use castor-oil packs to help reduce uterine fibroid tumors.
Weekend and weeklong conferences are available, and they focus on wide-ranging topics related to physical, mental and spiritual health; they cost an average of $250. The nearby Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront offers discounted rates to conference attendees. New this year, participants can study ancient mysteries, spiritual growth and holistic health from their homes in A.R.E.'s first virtual conference, "Body-Mind-Spirit Transformation." The $199 fee includes online chats with experts. A.R.E. is kid-friendly, too, hosting a day camp for children in the summer.
Miracle Farm Bed and Breakfast Spa and Resort (Floyd)
(540) 789-2214, miraclefarmbnb.com
Located on a riverbank in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Miracle Farm Bed and Breakfast Spa and Resort will appeal to those who want to heal the earth while they heal themselves. Owners Ed Cohn and Karen Osborne work to create a sustainable environment by relying on as many of their own resources as possible. They manage their facility in accordance with permaculture principles, which call for designing farms and settlements that reflect relationships found in nature. For example, they compost all food waste and soft paper (such as paper towels) and then return it to the earth as organic fertilizer. This retreat also features an animal sanctuary, which is supported in part by lodging profits.
Guests can customize their weekends for their wellness needs, choosing from Pilates, meditation, hiking and massage therapy, among other uplifting therapies. For more excitement (and live music), they can hit a nearby, weekly Friday Night Jamboree. Weekend stays range from $125 to $155 per night.
Mornings begin with a four-course, vegetarian breakfast delivered to each guest's private cottage or cabin. "We serve eggs from the rescued chickens in our sanctuary, and we grow a lot of the food in our two large organic gardens," Cohn says. "We also serve food from local, organic farms. Sometimes that's more expensive, but the more alive food is, the better it is for you."
That approach pays off, says three-time visitor Jeanna Mitchell, who works in a deadline-driven job for a Richmond contractor. "The food is out-of-this-world gourmet," she says. "And I even like the car ride there. Just knowing that I am going to be out there for a few days in the fresh air, with no responsibilities — I feel all the kinks go out."
The Monroe Institute (Faber)
(866) 881-3440, monroeinstitute.org
The Monroe Institute offers visitors an unusual path to healing using an audio technology called Hemi-Sync. Participants use headphones to listen to guided exercises infused with different sounds, which bring the activity of the two different brain hemispheres into synchronicity. This can lead to altered states of consciousness — for example, evolving from overactive to calm.
During the introductory weeklong program (which costs about $1,900), participants practice Hemi-Sync exercises, which are followed by group debriefing sessions. They also swim, do yoga, enjoy massage and journal as they contemplate some of life's big questions.
"We don't have a particular dogma or a doctrine," explains Amelia Walton, director of community development. "But we ask people to consider that we are more than just our physical bodies."
Richmonder Peggy Siegel, a writer and teacher who has participated in five programs, says it is important to be open to experience, whatever happens during the week. "It was different each time," she shares. "I have come to know a lot more about who I am. It really expands awareness and perspective."
Participants take away many different benefits, Walton adds. "But the most prevalent theme is that people come away refreshed and rejuvenated," she says.