My First Ever Wellness Retreat

August 21, 2023

Earlier this year, I did one of the bravest things I have done in a while. I would say that this comes next to travelling alone in Japan in 2019. I found myself driving to the farthest south that I have ever been, to attend a SoulSpeak Yoga Retreat. They are based in the Philippines and organize various wellness and yoga retreats around the country. During that weekend, I came to meet like-minded individuals who were, like me, searching for something. We really didn't know that at first, but as we went along that journey, we got this realization of why we were there. 

Sometimes, scrolling on Instagram opens up some opportunities.πŸ˜€ I discovered SoulSpeakYoga through the platform, and even before learning about this yoga retreat event, I got to already attend a few of their meditation courses over at Zoom. I got to like the vibe of their community. It so happened that I was still hurling myself up from a rock-bottom experience from last year, and I was beginning to feel discouraged because things have not been improving, and it's already been a year. 😞 Those feelings of frustration had been burdening me since then, so I think this was the reason I really felt called upon to attend this event. I thought about deciding to attend for so many times. Looking back, I think the stars did align for me to experience that weekend retreat because 1) I got to find that IG post at the perfect time, 2) I had the resources to go there, and 3) I had the courage to travel alone. It was one of those moments wherein I thought- "Just try it. There's more to gain than to lose from this."

The Travel to the South

It was my first time to travel as far south as this one. Of course I still felt anxious about driving, but I think the Universe paved some way for me to have some practice to gain some confidence, because during the previous week, I drove to our province along this area also. I also applied the lessons I learned from that trip and rechecked my route on Google Maps a thousand times to make sure I don't make a wrong turn again enroute to my destination. πŸ˜… There was just a slight hiccup during the start of my day as unprecedentedly I had some emergency at work and had to log online on a Saturday morning. Thanks to my teammates, I still got to push through with the trip (although I had to leave the house a bit later than I originally planned). I guess this was the start of my lesson for that weekend -- learning to set personal boundaries.

And so I started my road trip to the south! I followed Google Maps and continued the expressway road up until I saw mountains in the distance! I was just at awe about this during my trip, and I felt at that moment that I was really escaping the city into a peaceful weekend.

My Arrival & First Impressions

First photo I took upon arrival.

After a few hours of travel, I finally arrived at the resort. A caretaker helped me with my bags and led me to my room. She told me that the rest of the attendees were in the lobby and I can go straight there after visiting my room because the resort tour was just about to start. Since we walked along the lobby, I already saw my fellow retreat attendees and they were all girls! After a quick hi, I continued to follow our caretaker to my room. Upon entering the room, I met one of my roommates, Apple, whom I learned later was a doctor. After settling my things we went together back to the lobby to formally meet the rest of the group.

My space for the retreat 😊

Tour Around the Resort

Our group was given a tour around the resort. I got to appreciate all the green scenery. The place was full of trees and flowers. The resort also takes pride in their crops, which they harvest and use to cook for their guests. Speaking of guests, I think it was only our group who was there at the resort, which really made the venue a perfect place of sanctuary to unwind and destress.

As we were being toured around, I started observing our little retreat group. We were around 10 in total. Most of us were solo goers (only three knew each other). I was happy because most of us were coming from the same page. I was also amazed to realize that these ladies also went here into this retreat without knowing anyone. I did acknowledge that participating in this activity did involve some risks, but I just trusted the Universe that I would be safe. I realized that they also did the same. I also realized that in the natural flow of things, I would never be able to meet them.  They were from different walks of life and from different disciplines. There were lawyers, doctors, a single mom, and those in advertising. Meanwhile, I am from the IT world, which is such a small social bubble. They were actually quite amazed that I was a techie person (an impression I have not received in a long while now, I guess the last time was still in college, in a GE subject lol). Everyone was just so warm and had this welcoming energy. I really felt like I was in a safe space.

First Meal at the Resort

It was already lunch time then, and so we were led to the dining table and were served with our lunch. They had vegetarian options also. 

Their food was so good! I could really tell that they were made of fresh ingredients. It was a very satisfying meal. My favorite was the dessert (of course!), which was this strawberry ice cream inside a coconut. It was so refreshing to eat the ice cream with fresh coconut meat. It was a great combo. My tastebuds were pleasantly surprised.

While eating, we chatted away. Most of us learned about the retreat online and I'm glad to know that I was not the only one who was a first-timer. They just saw the event online and I guess just like me, they felt the calling to attend the retreat.

The whole retreat group, with teacher Pam (rightmost).

Retreat Starts: The Sharing Session

After the tour, we finally got to meet our retreat facilitators, Pam, and Guilly. Pam asked us to pick one card from her Oracle deck and then had us form a circle, and we did so sitting on our yoga mats. We did some short breathing exercises to clear the space. The first activity we had was to introduce ourselves and why we were there at the retreat, and also to look at our chosen card and see what the message of the Universe was for us. I guess to have the ball rolling, Pam and Guilly started with theirs. At this moment, I felt grateful to my Toastmasters training because I felt less anxious about the situation. And also maybe it's because I felt that I was in a safe space with these people, technically even if we were (still) strangers.

I would say this was the point when we entered the glitch in the matrix. For the next several minutes, as each of us gave our stories I have never felt so vulnerable and open in my life. I believe the rest of the participants felt the same. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried during my turn. As I looked at my card before my turn, something stirred inside of me. When it was my turn, the waterworks just gave way, in full force. I felt like I was digging up repressed feelings and thoughts as I translated them into words. Again, I experienced the healing that can happen when you get to have someone to listen to you, making you feel seen and validated. It has a very powerful effect.

I also got to learn more about humanity during that sharing session. My first impression with these ladies was that they were very strong, confident and independent people. As I listened to their stories also, I realized that really, each of us are having our own battles in life. I felt their walls go down and really talk about their deepest fears and insecurities. I would say more tears were shed during this time.

Yoga + Sound Healing Meditation

After our afternoon break (which involved some siesta back in our room 😴), we went back to the lobby in our yoga clothes for another activity. Pam and Guilly led us with some introduction about cold immersion, which all of us will be doing tomorrow morning (yay!), and also did some breathing exercises that we could use during the cold immersion to quickly stabilize our body temperature.

Then another facilitator, teacher Francesca led us on a Kundalini Yoga and a Sound Healing session after. During the sound healing, she had a lot of instruments around her. I wasn't able to watch her play them during the sound healing (because we were all lying down with our eyes closed) but it was so amazing to hear these instruments in real life. For example, the singing bowls. I only got to hear sounds of those via a recording from a Spotify playlist. My ears could really feel the vibrations when I heard them during this session. It was so different! I was near the "mini stage" so I could really feel the vibrations. I believe this was the moment that I decided I wanted to have one myself (which I later on did purchase! yay).

Dinner + Bonfire

I didn't realize that it was already night time (curious how time passes by when you are meditating!). Of course it is eating time again! We were served with a fabulous dinner again. My favorite was the binakol dish. It was my first time to try this and it was such a nice twist from the tinola dish that I am used to.

Shortly after dinner, we assembled around the bonfire that was already set up outside. They provided us marshmallows and crackers for us to create smores. It was my first time doing this and it was fun! It was a bit tricky at first to cook perfectly toasted marshmallows, but we tried. πŸ˜…Eating the melted mallows sandwiched in chocolate mallows was so good! I felt my inner child dancing happily during this experience.

It was also a clear night, and so amidst the flames of the bonfire, I got a glimpse of the stars at night. It felt magical, like a dream. ✨

At this time I still did not realize it, but I actually picked up one of the snacks that my roommate personally brought. I thought it was part of the snacks provided by the resort. πŸ˜…(sorry Apple!).

After a few chitchats,  I was beginning to feel sleepy, and so together with my roommates, we returned to our room to rest for the night. πŸ›ŒπŸ’€

Early Morning Walk + Grounding Meditation

I always had this habit of waking up early even during out-of-town trips. Maybe it was just really embedded already in my body clock to be already up and awake by 6AM. And so just like clockwork, by sunrise, I was already wide awake. Since everyone was still asleep, I decided to do some morning walks (like I always do) outside.

This morning walk was just magical. It felt like there was something that was stirred inside me and now this energy is awake and connecting to the energy of the Earth and of the Universe. The atmosphere was also perfect for some meditation because the air was dewy cool. I decided to remove my slippers and walk barefoot to really feel and connect with the energy of Mother Earth. The grass was slightly damp, but it felt perfect. 

I came upon the remnants of the previous night's bonfire. Seeing this lone chair here made me think that someone had some solitary time last night. And then I got reminded of the Loneliness Oracle card that I drew yesterday and the things I shared yesterday. I felt the energy of the Universe, addressing those inner demons and fears that I have let go during that session. I felt it at the atomic level, how I am so entangled and intertwined with the Universe. The energy was comforting, letting me know that yes, I am never alone. I felt like I found my inner peace. If only I could capture this mood and energy and store it in a bottle, I would. But for now, the energy imprint is stored in me. My mind and body will remember it forever. πŸ’–

During this moment, I felt goosebumps and I just allowed myself to cry, but this time it was all happy tears. It  also felt like all my energy pores were open and my senses were heightened and I was just feeling everything. I was just so grateful that I was here at this moment, that I was able to experience all of this. 

I looked back to a similar morning walk that I had 3 years ago, and it was like a full circle moment, but this time I was at the opposite side, receiving the answers to all of the questions and anxious energies that I have thrown to the Universe back then.

I continued my morning walk around the resort. It really is amazing how nature can heal the soul. It has been a long while since I have relaxed like this outside of the busy city... outside the responsibilities. πŸ˜πŸ˜…

Yoga Flow + Cold Immersion

At around 7AM, everyone was up and we were back to the lobby wearing our yoga outfits. It was time to do some flow yoga to warm up our bodies for the cold immersion later on. I wore my knee braces for this (I knew there would be several warrior poses that would be bad for my knees πŸ˜“). Guilly was kind enough to modify the poses so they would be gentle to the joints.

After several poses, our bodies were all warmed up, and we're ready to dive into the ice bath!

These two tubs were filled with ice cubes. Pam was prepping us and giving reminders on the breathing exercises we learned yesterday.

Since there were only two tubs, we had the cold immersions by pair. I was the other half of the last pair to go in, which just meant that I got to see everyone go through the experience. Honestly, the anticipation was already killing me. I really wanted to go in and experience it myself.

During the orientation, Pam and Guilly explained that submerging into an ice bath simulates the experience of being in a highly stressful situation. This cold immersion experience will help us become more resilient by taking over our instincts. Our instructors were there beside each participant as they went into the ice bath, reminding them to do the breathing exercises.

They said the hardest part was the first two minutes. After that, the "storm" is over and you will be able to feel your body stabilize and relax. I looked at each of my fellow participants, observing their facial expressions throughout this experience.  And true enough, during the first few minutes, I saw their stressed faces as they felt the sudden change of temperature. Through the guidance of our instructors, they did the breathing techniques. Then afterwards, I saw the muscles of their faces loosen up and relax.

After several rounds of this, it was finally my turn. 😁

That look of anticipation. πŸ˜…
I don't know why but apparently I had unconsciously clenched my fists.

Pam instructed us to do some breathing and then on cue, to plunge into the ice bath and just go in without hesitation. And so within just a few seconds, I climbed in and had my whole body plunged in ice cold water.

The first few seconds were a blur. As I felt the cold water coming in contact with my body and my muscles, I felt like I heard my body release a silent but deafening scream. I felt my muscles react so intensely and instantaneously. My body was in shock with the sudden change of temperature. Every molecule of my body protested and I felt like I was being tortured. Maybe this is what the Harry Potter spell Crucio felt like.

If without the training, I think by instinct people will panic and will start doing short gasps of air in this situation, making them hyperventilate. However, apparently the technique was to do heavy and long breathing cycles.

Despite the physical pain that I was feeling, I focused on Pam's voice as she continually instructed me to do the breathing exercises (which involved breathing in through the nose + breathing out to the mouth, at the same time contracting the pelvic floor muscle). Amazingly, with every breathing cycle that I did, I felt a warm energy in my torso spreading outwards to my extremities. This continued until finally, the cold did not bother me anymore! 😁

My body began to relax. I stayed for a few more (around 6 minutes?), relishing this peace I found after the "storm".

As a finale, (which the others did as well), I went further and submerged my head for a few seconds into the ice cold water and finally stood up. Everyone was clapping and I was just so proud of myself. I went to Francesca, our other facilitator, and she instructed me to do some exercises to help my body recover from the cold.

All of us were so ecstatic. I could feel the high energy of the group. We were very proud of ourselves for surviving our first cold immersion!

Photo with the roommates. 😁

After everyone was finished, our instructors went in for their own ice bath experience.  It was amazing how chill (hah!) they were when they went in for the cold plunge. I could tell that this is one ritual that they really enjoy, and they have built resilience through their practice.

Our three lovely instructors, in one frame. πŸ’“

This experience made me change my outlook about cold showers. Since setting up an ice bath at home is not an option, having a cold shower is the closest thing I can easily do at home (As of this writing, I've had a few of them already. πŸ˜‰)

Round Session of Sharing + Sound Healing

After the cold immersion event, we still had a few more activities before we officially wrap up the retreat. And yes of course, we had our last breakfast at the resort!

We spent some time bathing and freshening up. I also took this time to buy some goodies from the store and some plants (they had some for sale). I bought a few for my mom, sister, and friend. I also bought their homemade sweet vinegar that they served in one of our meals (I think it was during dinner).

I bought a Devil's Bone plant (left) and another plant (forgot the name) for my mom. πŸ₯°

After a few hours, we assembled again in the lobby.  Pam again asked us to pick an Oracle card from her deck and requested us to form a circle. And so we began our closing sharing session. 

This time, it was evident that everyone was in high spirits. We all had positive energies to share and we are all on the same page with regards to how this weekend has changed us. 

This is the card that I got. I sent a promise to the Universe that I won't be that serious with life, and that I would take every opportunity given to me to gain life experience from this moment on. 🀲

I resonated with the group's energy when they said that they felt like their cup was full and ready to give back to the community again, that they have somehow found what they were looking for in this retreat.

Our last activity was a sound healing session, again led by teacher Francesca.

After the session, she allowed us to experience using her instruments. I was particularly drawn to the singing bowls, and it was a joy to experience letting them "sing" by rotating the wooden handle around the edges.

Quick Lunch + Departure

Finally, it was time to leave. After a quick light lunch, Guilly mentioned that it was now time for us to "go back to the matrix". It was with a grateful heart that I said goodbye to each of them. We hugged each other, and even though I have only known them for 24 hours, we have bonded on a cellular level. I knew that it was very unlikely that I would interact with them again in the future, but that's one thing that I also got to learn from this retreat. It was not about maintaining the relationship, but more on recognizing the kind of connection that I had with them. It was already set in our life's history that our paths coincided for once through this retreat. And we are all moving forward with life carrying these shared experiences with us for the rest of our lives.

I went back to the car and I slowly built my walls back up as I braced myself to drive back to the city.

Meeting Up with a Friend

My adventure continued as I explored the city around with Jean, a good friend from the office. We did a quick food trip and chatted away over desserts.

Bought some goodies from this famous Lomi House. I bumped into Apple again here. 😁

Desserts with friends is the best combo ever. πŸ₯°

Since it was getting late and I had a long trip ahead (and Jean also had errands), we said goodbyes. Thank you Jean for meeting up and also for giving me goodies to bring home! πŸ˜„

My Journey Home + Sunset

It was sunset when I got back to the expressway back to the city. And this is the moment it sank in me what I just did and what I just experienced. Did that really happen, or was it all a dream? I felt so happy and calm and just grateful to the Universe. I felt so connected with everything and I was so happy. It was one of my most memorable drives. I'm so happy I got a snippet of that in the dashcam. The sunset that day was so magnificent also. 

I had some moments of introspection in the car, and it was a really peaceful journey home.

My pasalubong to the fambam!

It was such a great experience. I really felt that the Universe aligned for me to be there. Thank you to our teachers and to the connections that I formed during the retreat. That was a life-changing weekend, and I am forever grateful. πŸ™✨  

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