Meditation or Vacation?

Research shows that meditation has a positive effect on your mental health, helping to improve mood and lower stress levels. But a 2016 study has found that the practice may also have quantifiable physical health benefits, too. In fact, when compared with the de-stressing health benefits of a relaxing vacation, meditation’s effects may be even stronger and longer-lasting.

For the study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School recruited 94 healthy women, aged 30-60 years. Thirty of these women were experienced meditators who had enrolled in a six-day meditation retreat at a resort in California. The remaining 64 women were not regular meditators and half of these women were randomly selected to simply enjoy the vacation, while the other half followed a meditation training program run by the Chopra Center for Well Being. The meditation training involved classes in mantra meditation, yoga and self-reflection, all designed by best-selling author and spiritual guru Dr. Deepak Chopra, although he was not part of the study.

For all three groups, researchers collected blood samples and self-reported wellness surveys immediately before and after the retreat as well as one month and 10 months later. They examined more than 20,000 genes from each participant to understand what biological changes were occurring in the body.

Researchers found that all three groups showed some differences in their molecular makeup after a week at the resort. The most significant changes in their “post-vacation biology” were in molecular pathways related to stress response and immune system function.

Evaluations of the participants’ self-reported wellness surveys found that the women who learned meditation techniques at the retreat reported fewer symptoms of depression and less stress than their non-meditating peers. They also maintained these benefits for a longer period than the women who did not meditate. Studies have shown that these mental health benefits have direct physical health benefits, too, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved digestion, more physical energy, and a more robust immune system.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said study co-author Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, a neurology professor at Harvard University and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a statement.

One thing that wasn’t clear was whether the women who learned to meditate continued to do so after the retreat or if the mental and physical benefits they reported were the direct result of their one week of practice. But either way, the benefits of meditation were evident long after the initial sessions.

Meditation can change your genes

On top of helping to ease stress and symptoms of depression, another study discovered that meditation can even help lower blood pressure.

A 2018 Harvard study analyzed 24 people who suffer from high blood pressure. They attended weakly relaxation sessions with a trainer and listened to a meditation CD at home for eight weeks. The study found that meditating for just 15 minutes day (for at least eight weeks) alters the expression of the genes that regulate inflammation, glucose metabolism, circadian rhythms and immune regulatory pathways.

“With the new guidelines, patients and physicians alike are going to be more and more interested in non-drug therapies that might control blood pressure or potentially augment their medications,” Dr. Randall Zusman told NPR.

In other words, daily meditation can be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

Credit: Jenn Savedge

Yoga Vacation Ideas for Beginners to Purists, Surfers to Sailors, and Nature Lovers to World Travelers

Yoga based vacations are gaining popularity with travellers looking for a balance between wellness and exploring a new place and intriguing culture. Rachel Quinn, Head of Group Sales for Holidays for Humanity, states that over 35% of their inquiries now include requests for yoga, alongside some other vacation “must haves” like white sandy beaches, water sports, and tropical encounters. Here are a few ideas for a variety of yoga travel types:

Yoga Vacations for Sailors in Turkey

This sailing journey is an exclusive one-of-a-kind voyage that offers guests a chance to practice yoga among the enchanting blue waters of the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The striking coastline, with its pristine beaches, idyllic villages, picturesque coves and remote ancient civilizations is waiting to be explored. This is an excellent opportunity to experience a taste of traditional Turkey in the unhurried pace of staying aboard a sailing yacht. Sit back, relax and let their experienced captain, crew and chef take you on an unforgettable journey. Rates start at $1399 per person based on seven-nights shared accommodation.

Yoga Vacations for Surfers in Costa Rica

Founded in the spirit of adventure, Rip Jack Inn in Playa Grande, Costa Rica is known for tropical bliss and friendly ambiance. They are just steps away from Playa Grande’s main surf break, and offer daily yoga classes in their beautiful shala. If you love to surf, practice yoga, and love great food, you’ll feel right at home here. Rip Jack Inn is also a member of Pack for a Purpose, and supports local community outreach programs. Expect prices around $170 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Purists in India

Shreyas is dedicated to promoting the authentic spiritual tradition of yoga in a holistic manner and is recognized as one of the finest yoga retreats in the world. What makes Shreyas unique is that, whilst yoga is taught in traditional ashram style (daily yoga, meditation sessions, chanting classes, a strict vegetarian, no alcohol policy and community service), their guests live in a luxurious environment normally associated with a star rated hotel. They enable their guests to integrate the ‘manifold facets’ and benefits of yoga into their daily lives without the austerity and rigor usually associated with ashrams. Expect prices around $550 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Beginners in Mexico

With personalized yoga, pranayama and meditation classes the Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita is a great place for beginner wellness travellers. Set on 14 acres, including a picturesque sugar sand beach, the resort is perfectly positioned along Cancun’s famed Riviera Maya. Intimate in design, with only 90 luxury suites, they offer a completely new kind of vacation experience focused on wellness, serenity, and romance, balanced by a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Expect prices around $750 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Nature Lovers in Nicaragua

Aqua’s explicit vision statement is to “lead luxury sustainable development in Nicaragua” and as such, they built, and operated their resort in close partnership with the local communities, and in complete concert with nature. Additionally, they are completely committed to sea turtle conservation, and encourage their guests to join along. They provide opportunities to work with trained staff in caring for the turtle eggs, protecting them in the nursery, and for those fortunate enough to be there during hatching, to help release them back to the ocean. Daily yoga takes place on their palm-thatched open air, ocean-side platform. Expect prices around $280 night/ based on double occupancy.

About Holidays for Humanity: Holidays for Humanity connects travelers with vacation options that appeal to their self, as well as their soul. By working with partners that promote sustainable and eco-friendly practices they offer a range of travel options including eco resorts and hotels, health and wellness, volunteering abroad, cultural and culinary and expeditions and tours.

Media Contact: Dee Raffo, Ki Communications
Ph: (604) 905-0933 

Retreat Yourself: Planning the Perfect Yoga Getaway

I don’t know about you, but a vacation is not a vacation for me if it doesn’t include some kind of physical activity. The only way I can truly let go and have fun is when I know I can get my sweat and laughter on.

With that in mind, I am always on the lookout for a vacation that can double as a super-fun sweaty experience. This past February, I led a yoga and surf retreat in El Salvador. Not only did I learn to surf, but I had a total blast leading yoga while overlooking gorgeous beaches and exploring a new country. I came back 100 percent refreshed, relaxed, happy, and healthy, and with a new appreciation for awesome activities.

Want to “retreat” yourself? Try my tips to plan the perfect fit getaway:

1. Consider timing – Off-peak times are often less crowded and cheaper. In August, I co-led a retreat with Tara Stiles and Mike Taylor to the Standard Miami. I know what you’re thinking: Miami in August? Yes! All of the retreat participants not only got to take part in three yoga classes. a day with three different instructors, but they also got to enjoy all of the amenities of a gorgeous spa hotel on the water in Miami at a fraction of what it would have cost in the high season.

2. Pace yourself. Some people may be super-human, but as someone who has led several retreats, I can say I have infinitely more fun when there are other instructors and/or activities. If your retreat leaders are having a blast, chances are much greater that you will have a blast. All work and no play (regardless of the beautiful setting) can dampen the spirits of even your favorite instructor. Plus, having different activities and people to choose from every day is awesome. There’s no shortage of active retreats. You can find yoga and cooking; yoga and surfing; biking and yoga; the list goes on! Search online for your two favorite things—then add the word “retreat.” You never know what you’ll find!

3. Go in groups.  It is almost always less expensive to book a retreat as a double. Talk to your friends and see who would be game for an adventure. If none of your pals share your affinity for physical activity, consider booking a double room. Chances are your random roommate could be a great new buddy for life—you two did book the same vacay, after all.

Source: Shape Magazine