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Get or Stay Healthy With Wellness Vacations


By Victor Block

As they stroll through New York State's Adirondack Park, people pause to listen for sounds of the forest and inhale the scent of wildflowers. The setting is equally tranquil in North Carolina, where visitors relax in tubs set outside overlooking a placid lake and the Smoky Mountains. Other folks prefer to adopt a variety of yoga positions -- on the back of a horse.

These people are enjoying "wellness travel." Once viewed as an esoteric or even quirky focus for trips, this kind of outing has become mainstream. The Wellness Tourism Association says the practice "allows the traveler to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle and support or increase one's sense of well-being." More people than ever are traveling to get -- or stay -- healthy.

In the past wellness travel was often associated with the spa experience. Today it covers a broad spectrum that includes procedures such as nature immersion, spiritual healing and lessons about ways to incorporate healthy habits into our daily lives.

Those visitors to Adirondack Park were following in the footsteps of tuberculosis patients who, from the 1870s until the mid-20th century, were prescribed time outdoors in fresh mountain air. They were taking part in forest bathing, which was pioneered by Japan's ministry of health as a way to connect with Mother Nature through one's senses. Studies have suggested that it can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and relieve depression.

Similar benefits are attributed to river-walking, which takes advantage of a scenic waterway in Adirondack Park. Participants wearing waterproof waders and boots move slowly through a gentle river, focusing upon the feel of the water and its soft gurgling sounds. Their senses are heightened to the surroundings and, as the guides suggest, they "let the river do the rest."


Water in a soaking tub in North Carolina is enhanced by therapeutic Himalayan and Epsom salts that have been blended with aromatic essential oils. This experience takes place in a treetop cabana perched on a mountainside with a view of Fontana Lake. A sign along the driveway into Lakeview at Fontana reads "Relaxation Ahead," and soothing soaks are just one way in which the resort fulfills that claim. It also helps guests to disconnect from everyday life and reconnect with the environment by eliminating television and Wi-Fi from the accommodations.

Natural springs in Florida are the setting for another relaxing and rejuvenating experience using the emotional, physical and therapeutic benefits of water. Professional mermaid-diving instructors teach students wearing a monofin how to swim gracefully, then move to dry land for hypnotherapy, yoga and other classes.

Callers at a facility in Lexington, Kentucky, are surprised to see horses adopting traditional yoga poses along with others called downward horse, neighasana and vajrahoove. Swampy, Applejack and Vanilla Ice not only practice this discipline, which originated in ancient India, but they are the world's first yoga-teaching horses. Instructors translate the animals' movements into positions that guests mimic. It's fitting that these yoga retreats were launched by Hallway Feeds, an equine-only feed mill that offers superior nutrition and holistic wellness for horses.

Yoga also is offered at a number of spas in Breckenridge, Colorado. One has multi-modality packages that incorporate reiki energy, intention seeding and ear acupuncture. Among benefits of yoga noted by Johns Hopkins University are stress management, increased energy and brighter moods.


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