Image: Go on forest walks at Ananda, an award-winning destination spa resort in the Himalayan foothills of India
Two years ago, Ms Elies Hadi, 31, was in a rut. Burnt out by her career in banking, she did “the cliche thing”, she says, and enrolled herself in a five-day breathwork retreat in Perak, Malaysia.
“I wanted to discover my calling, my purpose,” says the freelance life coach, who was in banking for six years. Ms Hadi is not alone.
World travellers made 691 million wellness trips in 2015, 104.4 million more than in 2013, says the Global Wellness Institute, a non-profit education and research organisation based in Florida.
Global wellness tourism is now worth more than US$563.2 billion (S$804.6 billion), up 14 per cent from 2013, and is projected to grow by a third to US$808 billion by 2020, says the institute.
Using the World Health Organisation’s definition of health, “wellness” is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, says the institute, and wellness retreats are destinations where guest wellness is the primary goal.
Ms Beth McGroarty, the institute’s research director, told The Sunday Times that at first, physical health programmes such as exercise, weight loss, yoga, spa and detox over-shadowed mental well-being and happiness. But that has changed rapidly in the past two years, she says, as the wellness industry recalibrates to help people with increasing levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
“This new focus is happening because, for one thing, mental issues are skyrocketing globally. Between 1990 and today, people suffering from depression or anxiety have increased by roughly 50 per cent, to over 600 million people, according to the World Health Organisation,” says Ms McGroarty.
“We also suddenly live in a smartphone-tethered world where we are connected 24/7 to all kinds of digital noise and bombardment, so we are barraged by work, social media, news and information 24/7. This has decimated the work-life divide, sleep and any sense of free time or peace. People want to be close to the forces of nature – to be able to hear themselves think.”
As a result, many are turning to retreats to help lead them back to nature and back to themselves, through meditation, mindfulness exercises, life-coaching, energy therapy, counselling, guided talks and specialised nutrition-rich diets.
Aggregator sites have also popped up to point travellers in the right direction.
From single-day sessions to two-week-long itineraries, travellers can easily locate the type of wellness experience they fancy through a range of dedicated wellness search and booking websites such as www.healingguide.org, www.spafinder.com, bookretreats. com and retreat.guru
While healing sessions, spa treatments or hour-long yoga classes may be helpful, Singaporean spiritual practitioner and meditation coach Luke Elijah Lim, 38, who holds wellness retreats and workshops around the world, says retreats are worthwhile for their intensity.
Wellness retreats can be costly, from $1,000 for a three-day retreat to upwards of $10,000 for a two-week one, but travellers who have been on them say there are options for every budget if you know where to look.
Click through the gallery to find out more about the top wellness destinations and retreats to book yourself into.