Bliss break: Summer gone too quickly?

Special to The Globe and Mail

As summer winds down, the weeks to come may also be your last chance to unwind - at least for a while. As such, busy Canadians from coast to coast are seizing their final seasonal hurrahs as opportunities to retreat, rejuvenate, and rediscover basic wellness. Whether your definition includes Sanskrit chanting, hot stone massages, mountain hikes, or pedicures, our country offers seekers an array of retreats to suit every lifestyle.

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But with so many options, where do the experts go when they need a break? Here are some of their favourite places to recharge.

Spa Eastman, Quebec "Treating yourself to wellbeing will improve your health, help you cope with stress, and remind you how good it feels to feel good," says Carina Raisman, a 30-year-old Montreal yoga instructor with a background in dance, medicine and macrobiotic nutrition. "Spas and retreats are great ways to unplug from the ongoing demands of daily life."

One of Raisman's favourite spots is Spa Eastman, a peaceful, upscale property in the Eastern Townships, 80 kilometres east of Montreal. (There is also a location in the city proper, and another in neighbouring Nun's Island.) Founded in 1977, Spa Eastman's 43 rooms are spread across seven pavilions. Its 125 hectares of wooded lands house 15 kilometres of trails perfect for hiking, as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools. "It was a total getaway," Raisman says. "We rented our private chalet tucked away in the woods and everything was taken care of. You didn't have to worry about what to eat and where to cook - you didn't even need to carry your wallet around. In just two days I felt like I had taken a two-week vacation."

The spa offers naturopathic and nutritional evaluations, and serves healthy cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients. (Detoxing guests can even opt to dine on meals compatible with blood type.) Other activities include yoga, tai chi, and therapeutic beauty treatments, such as body wraps, massage, hot-stone massages, lymphatic drainage and hair repair. The final prescription for relaxation: a selection of organic wines.

Spa Eastman: 1-800-665-5272; . Prices at the all-inclusive spa include accommodation, three gourmet meals a day and access to seven daily activities. Three-night packages range from $360 to $985 a person, double occupancy.

Raisman's courses: 514-576-7247; . Hollyhock

Cortes Island, B.C.

Eoin Finn, a 38-year-old Vancouver yoga instructor with an international reputation, is a self-described "blissologist," who also organizes group trips that focus on yoga, ecology and surfing - known as "YES retreats."

"We bring in a marine biologist and teach people about ecology and how to surf," he explains. "It's a riot." Finn's next YES trip hits Tamarindo, Costa Rica, from Dec. 1 to 7, with another planned for Bali from March 1 to 7, 2008. Closer to home, custom retreats can also be arranged in Tofino, B.C. But even blissologists need a break, and one of Finn's favourite havens is Hollyhock on Cortes Island, about 160 kilometres north of Vancouver.

"It's awesome," Finn says of the 25-year-old Hollyhock. "Just being in nature in general, or anywhere beautiful, is one of the most nourishing things you can do for your body and soul. Hollyhock is very remote and mind-bogglingly beautiful. They have a big hot tub and sauna overlooking the water, there are lots of conversations with great people, lots of kayaking."

The not-for-profit centre provides a wide range of educational programs and themed workshops (kayaking, Kabbalah, and drawing, for example), conferences on topics such as social change and relationships, and weeks devoted to artists and writers. Organic gourmet meals are buffet style, with different themes from Indian to Italian. Also on the menu are yoga classes, meditation, and guided naturalist events such as evening "star talks," beachside oyster barbeques, and hikes through the island's eco-system of forests, bluffs, and lakes.

"One of the concepts of Ayurveda [India's tradition of health and healing]is that you don't even recognize yourself sometimes. When you're so busy it's almost like a parasite is running the organism...," says Finn. "You definitely come back from a weekend at Hollyhock a different person than when you came."

YES: _tall.html. Depending on the destination, YES trips cost about $1,300 to $1,400 and include food, accommodation, marine biology lessons and yoga. Surfing lessons are extra. Hollyhock: 1-800-933-6339; . Prices at Hollyhock range from about $80 a day to more than $250, and include meals, accommodation, ranging from tents to single rooms with private baths. Tuition and program fees are extra.

Yasodhara Ashram

near Nelson, B.C.

When Louise Quinn, publisher of the yoga magazine Ascent, needs a break she heads to the Yasodhara Ashram Yoga Study and Retreat Centre in southeastern British Columbia. Founded in 1963 by Swami Sivananda Radha (one of the first women to bring yoga to the West) the ashram is affiliated with Ascent, which began as a journal for the Yasodhara community.

"I love those kind of holidays," says the 48-year-old Montreal resident. "Deep relaxation with a healthy lifestyle, hikes in the mountain, swim in the lakes, the fresh mountain air."

Located on 48 hectares of woodlands on Kootenay Lake (about 40 kilometres northeast of Nelson), the ashram offers both scheduled and self-directed retreats, allowing guests to choose the best way to deepen their individual yoga practice and learn about ancient teachings. One program is the karma yoga "working retreats," which range from $25 to $100 a day. "Karma yoga is the yoga of action, and everyone at the ashram participates, using work as a reflective practice," explains representative Francine Flemming. "Karma yoga jobs vary from harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables or sweeping the temple, to helping in the kitchen."

The ashram also offers intensive weekend sessions and three-day yoga retreats, among other year-round programs. Accommodations range from rustic cabins, to log guest lodges, to what Quinn describes as a "geo-thermo and solar-heated and air-conditioned eco modern guest lodge." Housing a bookstore, dining room, yoga studios, and atrium, the main building serves as the centre's gathering place where people hang out, she explains.

"It's a great way to replenish, just to see what's normal and get back to what a good routine feels like," Quinn says of the centre's all-inclusive programs. "Starting your day with a 7 a.m. hatha yoga class, taking a hike in the afternoon...The ashram culture is a learning culture focused on individual reflection."

Yasodhara Ashram: 1-800-661-8711; . Weekend sessions, such as the upcoming "music and consciousness intensive" from Nov. 9 to 11, begin at around $300; three-day yoga retreats cost around $450. Prices include three meals a day, accommodation, and where applicable, morning yoga class and evening satsang (spiritual chanting).

Follow your teacher Often, though, a retreat's appeal is not its destination, but rather its teachers. So if you're unsure of where to begin your own quest for chill, chances are your favourite yoga instructor or wellness practitioner has a getaway of his or her own planned.

For instance, JP Tamblyn of Toronto's Octopus Garden yoga studio is hosting a yoga/surf retreat at the Milagro Retreat resort in Baja, Mexico, from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5. The retreat includes two yoga classes a day, a transformational breath-work workshop, and organic meals.

Meanwhile, Toronto's Downward Dog - the Ashtanga yoga studio where Sting practised while in town - has a 10th anniversary retreat planned in Umbria, Italy, Oct. 6-12. Instructors Ron Reid, Diane Bruni, and Marla Meenakshi Joy will host a brood of students at La Casella, a beautiful farmhouse retreat nestled in a green valley.

Octopus Garden Mexico retreat: 416-515-8885; . The Milagro Retreat prices range from $1,266 to $1,689 a person. Surf classes and travel expenses are extra.

Downward Dog Italy retreat: 416-703-8805; . Prices for the Umbria retreat are around $1,500 a person and include yoga, accommodations, and meals. Travel is extra.