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Retreat to British Columbia - Mind, Body and Spirit


by Cathryn Atkinson

While the word "retreat" means to withdraw from battle, it can also signal a far more holistic escape for reflection and rejuvenation. British Columbia – a haven of mountains, forest and sea - is home to many examples of this other important type of retreat. Such places offer the ultimate refuge: experiences can shape new ways of living, aid in the pursuit of good health and inspire one to reflect on their own personal wealth – one that has nothing to do with dollars and cents.

Here follows five vastly diverse opportunities for calm, seclusion, and, ultimately, the chance to breathe.

Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands

Hollyhock Centre, nestled on Cortes Island in hauntingly beautiful Desolation Sound, positions itself as Canada's leading educational retreat centre.

Despite its isolation, the centre has been going strong for 27 years and is now a charitable foundation dedicated to learning and well-being. Here, you'll unearth a wealth of activities, including yoga, kayaking, cooking and spa treatments; special weeks are also set aside for artists, writers and those seeking refuge from the pressures of daily life.

Hollyhock is also renowned for its ongoing series of speakers who fall under their theme of social change programming: each explore and explain alternative lifestyles, teach a variety of art forms and indulge in spa therapies.

"We find programs that bring together personal and professional skills have such a high value for people," says Dana Bass Solomon, Hollyhock's CEO. "The aim is to inspire and nourish people who are trying to make the world a better place."

Bass Solomon says the ongoing stresses of everyday life are leading more people to take stock in what is important to them.

"Life is a little bit confusing right now and we are finding the types of gatherings we offer are a strong draw," she says.

For more information: or call: 1-800-933-6339.

Kootenay Rockies

Quantum Leaps Lodge, located on 11 acres in the Blaeberry River Valley near Golden, offers a wide variety of holistic pursuits for those eager to recharge their batteries – all within a glorious mountain setting.

Retreats vary from the activity-based to the reflective: adventurous firewalking, dance, and shamanistic drumming workshops are scheduled alongside yoga, meditation and massage. (Outdoorsy types can partake in river rafting in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.) As an added draw, the lodge hosts many guest speakers and specialists who explore spiritual growth.

Annette Boelman, who co-owns the retreat with her partner Brian Olynek, says Quantum Leaps aims to provide visitors with the opportunity to explore ancient wisdoms from North America and around the world.

Boelman says they call their workshops "playshops" to encourage a lighter, more joyful path to enlightenment.

"We're generalists when it comes to a spiritual path; we believe in using the best from international spiritualism. It all provides an excellent path."

And within such a wide schedule of programs is the theme of exploration for self-knowledge and peace.

"We try to provide a safe sanctuary for inner and outer explorations," says Boelman. "Some of our guests come for the beauty of the Rockies, some for rejuvenation. We're very flexible with what people want to create."

For more information: or call 1-800-716-2494.

Yasodhara Ashram, a yoga retreat and study centre on 140 woodland acres along the shores of Kootenay Lake, attracts visitors from around the world.

The ashram was founded in 1963 by Swami Sivananda Radha – an early pioneer of yoga in the West, unique particularly because she was a woman. As a westerner, she was able to bridge eastern yogic practices to everyday life in North America. The teachings offered at the ashram are both practical and inspiring.

"We are a very vital spiritual community. Families come with little children and our oldest resident is 85," Janet Gaston, the ashram's manager of admissions, said. "Yoga goes beyond Hatha, beyond the postures. It is an entire system of living we try to follow."

Gaston said that along with yogic movement typified by Hatha, the retreats they offer work with symbolism through dreams, chanting mantras and the invocation of divine light. Newcomers to yoga are just as welcome as longstanding enthusiasts. Visits can be as short as a few days or last three months or longer, and the ashram is open year round.

"In terms of wellness, a lot of what we teach creates a balance in our lives... a focus. Typically visitors speak of finding rest and renewal, and they comment on how happy they are to meet other people with similar questions," she adds.

Along with those who want to explore the spiritual meaning of yogic life, the ashram is also popular with those who need to remove themselves from the stresses of city life, make a major life decision, or seek healing after health problems.

For more information: or call: 1-800-661-8711.

Mountain Trek near Nelson is a retreat for the body that is good for the mind. Here, you'll find a weight loss and fitness centre that combines the luxury of a spa and the discipline of a boot camp using the alpine trails and flowery landscape of the Kootenays as a backdrop.

General manager Kirkland Shave says Mountain Trek staff aim to provide a challenging outdoor experience to de-stress guests, using the retreat's FitPath program to change the unhealthy habits of a lifetime. Participants can go for one week or several.

"We're pretty scientifically-focused. Weight loss is our visitors' primary, conscious objective. The experience is very in-depth and we give them a tool bag so they can go home and integrate what they've learned into a subtle lifestyle change," Shave says.

He added that in the first three or four days many participants go through emotional moments as buried feelings surface. He attributes this to the rigours of the boot camp and the detoxification experienced thanks to the combination of organic diet and exercise. Most guests, Shave says, are "traditional" people who generally don't try alternative therapies like yoga.

"They are coming to us without having explored a lot. We make it safe and comfortable for them," Shave adds. "By the end of the first week there is quite a transformation. The lines in their faces have dropped, they sleep more deeply and by the time they go home they are pretty pumped."

For more information: or call: 1-800-661-5161.

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast

The Hills Health Ranch near 108 Mile Ranch is nestled in the heart of the province's cowboy country – a setting that the destination takes to heart. Surrounded by 20,000 acres of ranchland, the fitness spa and resort boasts a wide range of wellness services with the added bonus of time spent in the saddle.

Guests are drawn to the retreat to decompress and to focus on personal well-being through quality fitness, food and fun, says the ranch's wellness director Regula Wittmer. They stay from a week to 90 days, with longer stays increasing in popularity. Weekend breaks are also in demand.

"It's not the Hilton; we're a ranch," says Wittmer. Our packages and programs are luxurious and our staff…well, we are always getting compliments on how caring and nurturing they are - they are our strong point."

Face time with these professionals is indeed paramount; Hills Health Ranch offers over 40 fitness classes and weekly workshops, all with a focus on fitness in Mother Nature's backyard.

Along with their year-round programs, from hiking to skating, depending on the season, The Hills Health Ranch is also family-oriented, offering an array of children's summer riding and winter ski camps.

"Parents can do their own thing and their kids are well taken care of," Wittmer says.

For more information: or call: 1-800-668-2233.

For more information on retreats in BC, visit For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, call 1-800 HELLO BC® (North America) or visit

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