After booking a solo getaway to a wellness center in Saint Lucia, I counted down the days until I could sip from a fresh coconut on the beach, SUP in the warm Caribbean waters, and let my worries go “poof!” No kids vying for my attention (I’m a mom of two preschoolers). No work deadlines or late-night scrolling (ahem, Liking) on my phone. Just five whole days of blissfully ignoring everything else in favor of spa treatments, yoga, and self-care.
But when I finally landed on the island, my relaxation fantasy wasn’t quite the reality I had envisioned. BodyHoliday, a 42-acre beachside wellness resort, is paradise. The lush grounds and hillside Alhambra-inspired spa fortress—complete with its own reflecting pool and a designated Ayurvedic center—were exactly what I needed in my life. So why did I feel a pang of angst instead of vacationer’s euphoria?
Turns out, I’m a creature of habit, and the sudden lack of structure in my day combined with what seemed like limitless choices of resort activities—archery, chanting, tai chi—sent me into a mild panic. My list-making mentality backfired, and seeking calm and relaxing activities became stressful.
It would have been wise to close my eyes, inhale the briny salt air, and let the lapping waves ground me into a laissez-faire state of mind. Instead, I started to tally all the things I felt I had to do while I was here: must try the turmeric tummy juice, must loaf in the spa’s infrared treatment room, must order from the custom Ayurvedic menu, must read in the hammock on the beach, must order those adorable mini-scones at tea time. Why don’t I feel relaxed yet?
It wasn’t until my first Ayurveda therapy—shirodhara (a ritual of pouring oil onto your forehead)—that I surrendered. Even before I entered the treatment room, which looked more like an ornate jewel box than a place for massages, the spa therapist lead me to a stone basin for a ritual foot bath. It took less than five minutes to rinse and gently massage my feet, but this small step made a huge impact on my mindset. It was like stepping over a mental threshold that forced me to pause before entering a new space.
As the herb-infused sesame oil streamed down my forehead, aimed at infiltrating my sixth chakra, I felt as if waves were washing over me, hypnosis-like, as I dipped in and out of conscious awareness. I was in another world. After the treatment was done, the therapist sprayed rose water on my face, awakening my senses and bringing me back to the present.
The need to weave transitions throughout my vacation felt like a revelation. Taking an extra step to bridge activities, especially those that had their own pace, wasn’t obvious, at least not to an on-the-go person like me. Once I let go of my “must do” mentality, my relaxation perspective took a pleasant turn and I floated from one activity to the next without feeling like a vacation-starved being.
BodyHoliday prides itself on setting up its wellness program in a way that allows guests not only to make positive changes incrementally, but to stick to these vacation-learned practices back home. My lesson here: Forced relaxation is counterproductive, and I need to implement transitional behaviors before I switch gears from chaotic to calm.
Now that I’m back home, I miss drinking honey-ginger tonics on a whim and my skin no longer smells like the grounding herbal sesame oil of Ayurvedic spa treatments, but I’ve since added some mini rituals to my routine. As soon as my kids are in bed, I shower so that I can open a new chapter in my evening that’s just for myself. Before I start typing away at assignments, I spritz a crystal-infused frankincense-and-patchouli spray called Peace. These new habits are small, but they are some of the best souvenirs I’ve brought home from a vacation.
Here are six more lessons from BodyHoliday experts that will help you make smoother transitions, whether you’re unwinding on vacation or seeking TLC at home.
When You’re at Home: Try a Calming Visualization Practice
A counting meditation works in a pinch when you need to shift gears. (Think: asking a cranky toddler to count down from five in order to avoid a tantrum.) Picture a black-and-white flip clock and focus on each descending number for a few breaths. If your mind keeps darting away from the numbers, add some ornamentation to your digits. A number sprouting flowers and vines should keep you focused.
See also Use Your Imagination
When You’re Traveling: Try Chanting to Relax
Visiting a new place can be as exciting as it is overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to make some noise and let it all sink in. “A chanting meditation is the best meditation to start a vacation,” says Makesh Krishna, yoga and meditation instructor at BodyHoliday. “When you practice chanting meditation, you can feel the vibrations within yourself so no other thoughts will disturb you.” Any mantra will work, but focusing on the chakras may increase your concentration. Start with “lam,” for the root chakra, then continue with “vam,” “ram,” “yam,” and “ham,” and conclude with “Om” for the third eye and crown chakras. Feeling self-conscious about humming in your hotel room? Sneak outside and let nature accompany you for added stress-reducing benefits.
When You’re Traveling: Try an Herbal Tea Recipe for Stress Relief
“Preparing for a holiday also means trying to stay off stimulants, such as coffee and regular tea, as much as possible,” says Damien Adjodha, organic garden supervisor at I-tal, BodyHoliday’s farm-to-table restaurant. “They can impair your sleep, mood, and general well-being.” Adjodha likes tisane made with locally grown moringa for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and tulsi (holy basil), an adaptogen said to neutralize the body’s response to stress.
To make a cup of your personalized stress-reducing tisane, you need only three ingredients.
Place one lemongrass tea bag and one tulsi tea bag into an extra-large cup and fill with about 2 cups of hot water. Let herbs seep for a few minutes. Add 1 teaspoon moringa powder and infuse for 5 minutes. Strain tea. Sweeten with honey, to taste.
See Also 4 Healing Herbal Tonics
When You’re at Home: Upgrade Your Massage Oil with Crushed Herbs
An abhyanga massage is said to leave one with “a feeling of lightness.” While a self-massage is nice, adding bolus bags can take it up a notch. To make your own bolus bags, combine crushed neem leaves, turmeric, marigold, dried black peas, and cereals and let them infuse inside a muslin bag for 30 to 45 minutes. Warm up your dosha-specific oil—this will help open up pores and allow the herbs to penetrate the skin. Using long strokes, push down in the direction of hair growth. You can also pat-pat-pat the herb-filled bags to ease sore muscles. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Sanskrit word sneha means both “love” and “oil.”
See also Quiz: Discover Your Dosha
When You’re Traveling: Use a Floral Facial Mist to Feel Better Fast
Pack a facial spray, preferably rose water, in your toiletries bag because it’s one of the quickest ways to reset. “The aromatic effect of rose water has a direct impact on the sensory nervous system and pituitary gland secretions, which control stress,” says Mahalingam Lakshmanan, leader of BodyScience, BodyHoliday’s diagnostic clinic, which applies Eastern and Western practices. Spritz in the morning and in the evening, or any time you feel like you need to tune up. Meow Meow Tweet Geranium Palmarosa face toner packs antibacterial witch hazel and a bouquet of flower oils that keep skin moisturized, making it an ideal pick-me-up after a long flight.
When You’re at Home: Try an Invigorating Ginger Foot Bath
Turns out playing with your little piggies can shift your mood. At BodyHoliday, all Ayurvedic treatments begin with a gentle foot bath to bring awareness toward the forthcoming relaxation. “The sole has maximum nerve endings in the body and each is connected to a particular organ,” Lakshmanan says. “Stimulating these points enhances the benefits of the massage to follow.”
See also Relieve Pain with Yoga for Foot Care
Give yourself a foot bath by filling a small tub with warm water. Add some crushed fresh ginger and about a teaspoon of sea salt and let feet soak for about 3 minutes. Then, rub your feet with a massage oil, such as Banyan Botanicals sesame oil, paying close attention to the top of each toe (which links to the brain and promotes clarity and positive thinking) and to under the ball of the foot (which links to the solar plexus and diaphragm to encourage peacefulness).
In need of a getaway to restore and reboot? Visit BodyHoliday (rates from $420 per person per night).
Yoga Retreat BodyHoliday, October 5–12; October 12–19; December 14–21, $4,830 per person for 7 nights.