In Victoria’s renowned Empress Hotel, this Health retreat helps you look inward

A black-and-white portrait of a youthful Queen Victoria keeps watch from the corner of the Library in the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Leaded windows look out to the front yard and the Inner Harbour outside, tourists wandering by and snapping photographs as the sounds of this ever-present bagpiper on the corner flow into the room. Down the hallway in the recently renovated Lobby Lounge, guests indulge in the hotel’s popular afternoon tea ceremony, sipping their favorite brew (or a glass of Veuve) alongside elegant candies and savourynbsp;snacks.

Within the Library, however, my mind is focused not outward, but inward. This weekend, as opposed to browsing the regional museums and galleries, shopping for trendy souvenirs or taking in the panoramic views, I am gazing in a PowerPoint presentation projected onto a screen, taking notes using a resort pencil and thinking deep thoughts: about my place in the world, regarding the purpose of traveling and about the destructive power ofnbsp;FOMO.

As someone who participates through life in high speed, calendar packaged and each second accounted for, I do not always have time (or create time) to reflect — or to plan. However, after a year of incapacitating back problems, new-to-me panic attacks and an overall sense of feeling overwhelmed, it was time to take a breather. When I was invited to join a group of attendees at this weekend retreat hosted by Vancouver-based gym trainer Catherine Roscoe Barr, I signed upnbsp;instantly.

The pitch to the retreat included enticing promises like the way to “become a rock star sleeper” and “prioritize physical action” — both abilities which have eluded me considerably in recent years as a small-business owner. The setting was appealing, too, and not merely because Victoria in February tends to imply flowers rather than snowdrifts. I attended college and worked my first fulltime job here, and there was something attractive about taking stock of my life and well-being from town that introduced me into adulthood. I had expected some feel-good talk, walks round town, yoga, meditation and healthy catered meals, all normal fare in the health travel world. However, it was the thought-provoking lectures on the science of health that actually got under my skin — and the even more thought-provoking (and often emotional) discussions among participants, a lot of whom were dealing with problems (for example, post-traumatic anxiety disorder, postpartum depression and eating-disorder recovery) that dwarfed my own mundane early midlifenbsp;catastrophe.

“The biggest thing is learning how to live with intention,” Roscoe Barr says as she opens the escape on the Friday evening. I have hurried in from an early supper of huevos rancheros in Rebar, my favorite Victoria restaurant for more than a few of its servers happen to be living, and am suddenly feeling old, as though the last two decades have flown with no intention atnbsp;all.

The introductory lecture on stress management covers topics like neuroplasticity and the physical manifestations of stress and relaxation, interspersed with personal anecdotes and inspirational quotations. 1 metaphor specifically sticks {}, of old customs being like four-lane highways in the mind and new customs like bushwhacking — and how repeated effort can turn paths into roads. I feel half like I am back in school in a psychology convention, half as if I am in a women’s support group. (Though Roscoe Barr’s retreats are available to all, our team happens to be entirelynbsp;feminine.)

We are given breaks to consider and write our thoughts down on each topic, from reducing our “stress inventory” (my listing includes such innovative ideas as “take real days away” and “go out for a walk each morning”) to being prepared to counteract anxiety with activities that stimulate the relaxation response (“make plans with a friend” and “have a soothing, non-caffeinated beverage”).

Though a number of the science is new to me, the lifestyle hints are hardly revolutionary — and yet I am understanding with a sinking feeling I haven’t been practising them at all as I careen from item to item on my to-do list. I see parallels between my life in general and my life as a professional gentleman, also: Seduced by the concept of checking off goals and adventures, I have been living for the destination, not for your journey, to reverse a yearlong travel cliché.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” The Tolkien quote takes pride of place in curlicue-adorned cursive on many a traveling influencer’s Instagram account. Conversely, though, not all those who stride purposefully arenbsp;discovered.

While I believe strongly in the transformative power of traveling — of opening one’s mind to different ways of being, of meeting new people and, occasionally, of simply carrying a much-needed break — I have become concerned about its potential destructiveness: the economic and social inequality so frequently exacerbated by the business, along with the severe environmental impact tourism can have on communities and the world at large. The irony is not lost on me that I am working through these problems from the comfort of a luxury hotel room which I took a plane to get to. Regardless of the relaxing environment, I do not sleep easily that night, the “cans” and “shoulds” and “wants” in my mind duking it out in thenbsp;dreamscape.

The rest of the retreat follows a similar pattern: hard truths about well-being followed by exercise breaks followed by healthy, flavourful meals prepared by the resort’snbsp;kitchen.

We learn about the physical and psychological advantages of being active (and how to banish the “all or nothing” strategy from the workout regime), concerning the effect of good posture and about a balanced approach to healthy eating. Barr describes her philosophy, one which eschews denial in favour of a positive strategy. “we would like to put so much good in our own lives the unhealthy stuff gets pushed out,” she says. We discuss meal-planning tips (and recipes), learn some simple meditation methods and talk about the difference between things that bring immediate gratification and the ones that result in real joy. At our time off, I pick the familiar over the brand new, taking a brisk stroll to a few of my long-ago favorite “secret” rocky shores and lingering — and spending too much money — in my favorite bookshop, which I maintain is the very best in the nation. (It’s named Munro’s, and next time you are in Victoria, make sure to stop by.)

The reality is, of course, ocean aside, there is not much I am doing here I couldn’t do at home in Toronto. I could read the same novels Roscoe Barr reads, watch the same movies on the internet, come to the same obvious conclusions about how working on the pc too late at night probably affects my quality of sleep (I am doing it right now). But there is something about a getaway — particularly you take alone — which offers the chance to reflect a bit deeper: the clutter-free hotel area, the escape from routine, the absence of a pile of dirty dishes to divert you from what matters. It is that lots of perspective that I appreciate the most about traveling, and one which I admit hasn’t been there on my excursions ofnbsp;late.

Throughout the weekend, it is the concept of living with intention that sticks with me, of making decisions that I’ll feel great about later. Roscoe Barr calls it a Marie Kondo approach to conclusion, motivated by that guru of decluttering and tidying up. Just as you might opt to create space in your house just for things that matter, she says, opt to create time in your life for just the adventures and opportunities that truly bring you joy. For me, this means saying no more frequently, being more present in the world, and opening up space in my life for serendipity. And, occasionally, staying up too late on my computer to get some work done. So long as I do not make it a tradition.

Should you go

The Upcoming all-inclusive Luxury Wellness Retreat in the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria runs Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, with a subsequent session tentatively scheduled for late February. From $1,249 a person ($1,149 with double occupancy), $999 not including lodging, .

Catherine Roscoe Barr offers wellness retreats throughout the year at different destinations. Find the most recent list at .

Can not make it to a scheduled escape? DIY your own introspective getaway at one of these destinations:

Quebec City

A convent rebooted to a boutique resort, Le Monastère des Augustines is conveniently located in the heart of Quebec City but self-contained and serene behind rock walls. Simply stay to use the space by yourself, or book a package that includes meals, activities and services like massageor reflexology. From $74 per person a night, .


Hugely popular throughout the aurora borealis season, Northern Lights Resort amp; Spa outside Whitehorse is a worthy destination any time of year because of its relaxed, down-to-earth atmosphere and access to nature. Summer Bamp;B remains from $185 per person a night; three-night aurora-season packages from $675 per individual, .

Homer, Alaska

Alaska itself is “getting away from it all” for many, but to take it up a couple notches, visit the exclusive Stillpoint Lodge, a brief boat ride in the artsy town of Homer. All-inclusive, customized packages include gourmet meals, group yoga classes, hiking, a massage, and access to amenities such a spa, a meditation cottage and just a labyrinth. Open May 25 to Sept. 24, from $1,200 (U.S.) per person a night, .


All of the rooms in Iceland’s Hotel Budir have a view, be it of the Snaefellsjokull glacier, the sea, the hills or the richly understated all-black church Budakirkja. In summer, take advantage of nearby hiking trails; in winter, go ice climbing or see the Northern Lights. Year-round, enjoy the local-centric Nordic cuisine at the resort’s restaurant. By 25,000 ISK ($285 Canadian) a night, .

Kat Tancock

Trip support was supplied by Destination BC and Fairmont Hotels. They didn’t review or approve thisnbsp;post.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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