Destination: Wellness

 Calming shades of blue, gray and taupe accented with deep purple welcome visitors to the newly opened Lavender Retreat Wellness Club in Woodbridge. The private rooms are well appointed and cozy. Soft music seems to emanate from the great beyond. Every sensory detail gives it the feel of a high-end spa. Yet owner Jaime Bohl doesn’t like to use the word “spa.” She explains that she hopes clients will look to Lavender Retreat’s Woodbridge and Washington, D.C. locations for more than just luxury treatments: She hopes they’ll come for total wellness support.

“I want to offer a place where people can come, rest and feel good about themselves,” says Bohl. A look at Lavender Retreat’s menu reveals some traditional offerings, such as Swedish massage and facials, but it doesn’t stop there. Bohl plans to offer holistic-health treatments too, such as therapeutic and cosmetic acupuncture, therapeutic massage, nutritional counseling, chiropractic care and even group travel opportunities in the near future. Bohl says she also wants to host social events “so people can get to know each other and say hello. It’s not just about running a business. I really want to bring people together.”

Bohl isn’t the only one thinking more holistically about wellness these days. An integrated approach to wellness like that offered at Lavender Retreat is trending globally, according to a study released in 2013 by the independent nonprofit research institute SRI International for the New York City-based Global Spa and Wellness Summit, an organization devoted to developing the spa and wellness industries worldwide. The study looked into the growing popularity of wellness tourism, which is loosely defined as travel organized around maintaining or improving one’s wellbeing. The study found that 1 out of every 7 tourism dollars spent in the global market is already spent on wellness tourism, and that the wellness tourism sector worldwide is expected to grow by 9.9 percent every year until 2017.

Why the boom? “Aging populations, an alarming rise in chronic disease and unhealthy lifestyles, failing medical systems with rising costs and the stress associated with the modern lifestyle are all driving a mounting global health crisis,” the study notes. As a result, consumers are taking a more proactive approach to wellness, seeking out complimentary and alternative medicine, nutrition and weight loss services, spa services, mind/body activities, beauty treatments and more, all in the name of feeling and looking their best. Wellness tourism, or planning vacations and small breaks for the purpose of promoting health and happiness, is a growing part of this new, more well-rounded plan for living a healthier life.

Virginia has been a mecca for wellness seekers for some time. “Virginia has a rich history in wellness retreats and spa destinations as a result of its hot springs,” says Beth McGroarty, press director and research associate for the Global Spa and Wellness Summit. The landmark Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, for example, brings visitors from near and far to Bath County for a stress-relieving soak in the same pools that once hosted Thomas Jefferson. And Virginia’s wellness-destination opportunities are growing, thanks to a number of new destination spas, wellness centers and medical spas offering packages, treatments and getaways aimed at restoring the whole person.

Consider the newly-opened Spa at Primland Resort in Meadows of Dan, which, along with its traditional day-spa options, has created three-day retreats designed to do more than just treat the customer to a few hours of pampering. “We’re really about that feeling of well-being, a way to reconnect with and rebalance your life,” says Primland representative Ann Walker. Primland’s Circle of Life American Indian Package includes a Stone of Eternal Youth facial, a blue corn and honey wrap and float and a yoga session. The resort’s three dining facilities offer dishes made from local, organic and sustainably procured ingredients. Primland’s design emanates its bring-the-outdoors-in ethos, but guests can also take nature walks throughout the 12,000-acre grounds with an on-staff naturalist.

“We’re literally at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” explains Walker. “When you enter the gates at Primland, you still have six miles to drive before you get to the lodge. And while you’re on the road, you go through these magnificent groves of rhododendron. You see wild turkey and sometimes deer. It starts to set the stage for your experience … It’s truly a getaway.”

The idea of getting away to get well isn’t a new one: A select group of wellness-minded folks, including yoga practitioners, monks and other spiritual retreaters have participated in mindful meditation in seclusion for hundreds of years. But mainstream participation is now on the rise.

“Consumers have caught on to mindful vacations that offer mental restoration,” according to Wellness Tourism Worldwide’s Top 10 Wellness Travel Trends for 2014. And it’s easy to see why: Relaxation and relief don’t end when the trip is over. Instead, vacationers returning from some much needed time away can apply the skills they learned on retreat (meditation, journaling or yoga, for example) to everyday life.

Great options exist for Virginians seeking personal and spiritual growth while on retreat. Those looking for emotional healing and personal growth through individual work, group work and support might consider joining up with the Mid-Atlantic Pathwork at Seven Oaks Retreat Center in Madison—“a spiritual path of self-purification and self-transformation on all levels of consciousness,” based on lectures given by its founder, the late Eva Pierrakos. During Pathwork retreats, participants work through emotional and spiritual challenges using role-playing, meditation and guided classes. Yoga enthusiasts hoping to immerse themselves in the teachings of Integral Yoga, might consider a stay at Yogaville in Buckingham. One of the country’s premier ashrams, Yogaville offers weekend workshops that cover various areas of study, including yoga postures, yoga philosophy, breathing exercises and stress management. Yogaville also offers silent retreats, personal and mid-week retreats, chanting, weight loss, recovery and cancer retreats and yoga vacations. In addition, headquartered in Virginia Beach, is Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), which offers its own signature six-day, seven-night Wellness and Rejuvenation Retreat, featuring spa treatments, daily exercise, meditation, breath work and other workshops designed to promote total mind, body and spiritual wellness.

Like day spas and destination spas, medical spas are making the shift to integrated wellness. “The wellness center is the next wave of beauty,” says Melinda Minton, founder and executive director of The Spa Association (SPAA). “It’s the way both Boomers and Milennials are approaching life. Everyone doesn’t just want to be attractive. They want to feel great, too. They want the whole package.”

Clients looking for targeted treatments, such as skin rejuvenation or laser hair removal are connecting the dots between health and beauty, according to Dr. Pamela Minkler, owner and medical director of Blue Ridge Aesthetic Center, a medical spa in Lynchburg. “People don’t want to look 10 years younger,” she says. “Instead, they come in and say, ‘I want to look like the healthiest version of myself.’” In addition to medical-grade skin and body treatments, Dr. Minkler and her staff are trained to counsel clients and offer makeup application and healthy skin care tips and choices. “We do a lot of discussion on sun avoidance,” she says. “In general, most of our clients are very healthy individuals overall. I think they understand that getting a little Botox isn’t going to get them all they’re looking for, so they’re looking in other areas, too.”

Keen to discover a  healthier and more vibrant self (and not quite ready to commit to Botox), I pay a visit to Darlene Rollins, creator of the Earthwalk Retreat just outside of Fredericksburg. Far from the luxury amenities at Primland or the plush surroundings at Lavender Retreat, Rollins runs guided walks and workshops aimed at helping clients achieve balance and healing through nature from a secluded, comfortable lodge bordering more than 4,000 acres of protected greenbelt along the Rappahannock River.

As we sit on a large rock that juts out into a creek on the property, Rollins asks for my observations. I still my mind and realize how thunderous the sounds around me have become. Even on a barren, stark winter day, trees rustle around me. Water falls hastily over rocks. I see the pattern of frost on leaves and notice a tiny leaf, the only one left on its branch, moving with the wind on the opposite bank. I decide that, if stopping to pause just for a moment has a calming effect like this, it’s no wonder folks are retreating for wellness in larger numbers these days.

“I think sometimes we get so off-kilter with the stress of day-to-day activities that we need more than just a massage,” says Primland’s Ann Walker. I couldn’t agree more. And I’m already looking forward to planning my next getaway.


Blue Ridge Aesthetics Center


Earthwalk Retreat


Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E.

Virginia Beach

Lavender Wellness Retreat


Primland Resort and Spa Meadows of Dan

Seven Oaks Retreat Center Madison



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