How silent retreats can improve your mental health

If you follow wellness trends on social media, you may have noticed more and more influencers promoting “silent retreats” (or silence retreats) recently. In stark opposition to the bustling and luxury label-filled Dubai vacations that many influencers love to detail, these stays are a totally different kind of escape. Before you sign up for one, remember the main principle is that speaking is completely forbidden. So what’s the objective of these kinds of retreats? Experts and fans say it allows a guest to focus on oneself, meditate, take time for reflection and above all, to fully disconnect from everything else.

Press pause on speaking in order to find peace and tranquillity. That’s the golden rule of “silent retreats,” sojourns that take place in quiet, even isolated places, for a period lasting from a few days to several weeks. During a silent retreat, guests renounce the use of their phones, social networks, and laptops for the duration of the stay, in order to put the focus squarely on themselves, balance their inner and outer being and even seek out meaning for their life.

On TikTok, the interest in this kind of vacation is taking off with the hashtag #silentretreat exceeding 400,000 views.

How silent retreats help

A French influencer named Solenefeig, followed by more than 420,000 subscribers, shared her experience with her community. The video that recounts her silent retreat in Bali has been viewed more than 38,000 times. Viewers responded with comments suggesting that they were inspired to seek out a similar experience. Far from the luxurious hotel rooms that influencers have come to be associated with, the decor of these retreats is often simple or minimalist, even rustic and the people who attend come in search of inner healing. Especially since Covid-19.

“The [pandemic] lockdowns played a role in a growing interest in personal development, which encouraged people to put the focus back on themselves,” explains Jeanne Lehmann, founder of French-based “Silence,” which has organized several retreats since its inception in 2019. Since then, silent retreats have become a flagship experience in well-being vacations, with a prominent presence on social networks. This visibility enables companies offering retreats to reach an audience of curious individuals. In the case of the Silence Instagram account, which counts nearly 13,000 followers, testimonials of people who participated in the stay are relayed as well as previews of the activities. For Guillaume Charroin, founder of the Clairière and Canopée retreat, such experiences are beneficial, especially for people who have experienced tragic events, or who struggle with addiction. “By organizing these retreats, I hope to be able to transform the daily lives of people who are overworked in their daily lives and who no longer feel able to properly take care of themselves,” adds Jeanne Lehmann of Silence.

Make peace with one’s body

silent retreat
Image Credit: Instagram

Silent retreats have their origin in an ancient Buddhist meditation technique known as Vipassana. Meaning “seeing things as they really are,” Vipassana is based on self-transformation through self-observation.

Silent retreats were born out of this concept. Guillaume Charroin, founder of the company Clairière et Canopée, based in France, has been offering stays dedicated to silence and fasting for a few years now in partnership with the Silence organization: “Our stays allow guests to ‘detoxify’ themselves and to rest their psychological-emotional dimension.” On the program are walks in nature, meditation sessions and yoga, all without a phone of course. However, total silence is not immediately required. “Silence is gradually established in the daily life of participants. On the last two days, complete silence is required of participants. “At a time when our minds are saturated with information, and our bodies exhausted by the cogs of daily life, this moment of total disconnection can help bestow benefits to our health.”

Such retreats take place in a variety of locations, such as meditation centres, monasteries, ashrams, yoga centres or personal development centers. The retreats may feature teachers or spiritual instructors, or be self-directed, where participants have the choice to follow their own pace and practice independently. In the case of the Clairière et Canopée retreats, which combine fasting and silence, participants are encouraged to consume organic juices and soups at least three times a day, drawing on the Buchinger fasting method. “All these liquids have antioxidant, revitalizing, cleansing virtues,” says Guillaume Charroin. “Fasting will create an inner emptiness to help us reconnect with our emotions. Food is often used to compensate for our annoyances. Here, we give the body the opportunity to rebalance its diet, to clean itself completely. The whole body is involved,” he continues.

Between letting go and introspection

Louise, like many guests, has experienced a tragic event. “I lost someone close to me, which affected me enormously.” Between this loss and her busy job, she found her mental health particularly impacted. “I needed to let go and grieve away from the pressure of work. It was by stumbling upon Silence’s Instagram account that Louise discovered silent retreats. She later decided to go with her partner for a retreat organized by Silence and Clairière and Canopée. “I was very afraid of the idea of total silence, of having dark thoughts again, but once I arrived, the exact opposite happened.” During those six days in France’s Drôme region, Louise was totally cut off from the outside world. No phone, no social networks. The days followed a fixed schedule of hikes, reading, and massage sessions.

“During the silent hikes, our focus is on our other senses, especially observation. We completely reconnect with nature. There are so many demands on our attention on a daily basis. This was a moment outside of time where I gave myself the right to be unavailable,” explains Louise. For the first few days, like anyone else, Louise at first found it hard to let go of her lifestyle habits. “But as the fasting went on, my hunger disappeared, and I finally learned to listen to my body,” she adds. At the end of the stay, Louise not only enjoyed being disconnected but also experienced an opportunity to build on insight and introspection, which she would like to do again. “I think the greatest gift you can give yourself is to give yourself more time.”

The story is published with ETX studio

(Main and featured image: Instagram)

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