Get Well Soon

Three Wellness Retreats for When You Need to Refocus and Recharge

Luckily, you don’t need to hop on a plane to find peace and solitude. Here are three retreats in the Sarasota area where you can dive in deep.

By Stephanie Churn Lubow December 27, 2023 Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Heartwood Yoga Institute & Retreat Center

Heartwood Yoga Institute & Retreat Center

The constant juggling act that is contemporary life often leaves us with little time to do something for just ourselves. The pace of technology keeps us in overdrive, and self-reflection and healthy, supportive practices often fall to the bottom of our to-do lists. If we’re lucky, maybe we can fit in a yoga class after work or set aside a few minutes of a busy morning to meditate, but the idea of taking longer amounts of time for ourselves—like, entire days—seems like an extreme luxury. However, retreats can offer us a much-needed sanctuary and provide an opportunity to slow down, recharge our batteries and connect with ourselves in a deeper way.

With origins in religious traditions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Sufism, retreats have traditionally been a time to withdraw from the distractions of secular life for the purpose of contemplation and prayer. Nowadays, people go on retreats to focus on their physical, mental and spiritual well-being. As wellness tourism has become one of the fastest-growing industries around the globe, retreats are popping up in exotic locations. Luckily, you don’t need to hop on a plane to find peace and solitude. Here are three retreats in the Sarasota area where you can dive in deep.

Heartwood Yoga Institute & Retreat Center

Seven miles east of I-75 sits the Heartwood Yoga Institute & Retreat Center, a lush 7-acre property tucked away in the woods near Lake Manatee. Ginny and David Shaddock built and opened Heartwood in 2013 as a center for people to go deeper into yoga, offering regular classes, as well as training sessions for yoga teachers 
and therapists.

The property, shaded by live oak trees and bamboo groves, includes two air-conditioned yoga studios, plus an outdoor screened yoga pavilion, a meditation gazebo and chakra garden, a yoga library, an art workshop, a fire pit and a full-size walking labyrinth.

With a background in dance, director Ginny Shaddock has been a certified yoga teacher for 20 years and has an MFA in creative writing.  “I think people tend to externalize both their happiness and their unhappiness,” she says, “and removing themselves from their environment allows them to go inward. That’s when they really discover that their state of mind is what establishes their health and sense of inner balance. It’s hard to do that when the phone is ringing and the kids are yelling and everyone is in your face asking something of you. Removing yourself from your regular environment gives you a chance to reset.”

Heartwood offers a number of all-day retreats and holds multi-day programs several times a year, usually with a theme such as “Detoxifying Your Life” or “Release and Renew.”  Most retreats include time for yoga, meditation and journaling, as well as free time to explore or relax. “Sip and Savor” is a popular retreat held at Heartwood twice a year and includes restorative yoga, meditation, a reflective art project and a lunchtime wine tasting. “We also always do a retreat on New Year’s Day,” Shaddock says. “We walk the labyrinth and we talk about the path of our lives and how to establish our new path moving forward.”

For multi-day retreats, dorm-style accommodations are available. For those wanting more private housing, there are several hotels and Airbnb-style options nearby. In the “yoga kitchen,” coffee, teas, muffins, snacks and fruit are always available, and vegetarian lunches are served at all full-day retreats.

Retreat participants are invited to put away their phones and other devices. “I believe anxiety is bred by all of the technology that we’re constantly bombarded with,” Shaddock says, “and even if you remove yourself for a day at time and reestablish yourself to quiet and to real connection, that makes a huge difference. I don’t think people even notice that they don’t have it until they find it.”

Heartwood Yoga Institute & Retreat Center, 17503 Waterline Road, Bradenton, (941) 745-5719,

Kadampa Meditation Center

Kadampa Meditation Center

Kadampa Meditation Center

Driving U.S. 301 in downtown Sarasota, one might find the Kadampa Meditation Center, with its ornate gold statuary and large relief tiles along its rooftop, out of place among the gas stations and fast-food joints. Home to a Buddhist temple, the center opened its doors in 2001 and offers daily meditations in the tradition of Kadampa Buddhism, as well as classes on Buddhist teachings.

Once the site of a bus depot, the fenced property includes the main building, which has a covered veranda on all four sides, plus an adjacent meditation garden. Gen Kelsang Gomlam, a Buddhist nun and resident teacher at the center, calls it “an oasis in the heart of the city.”

“Even though the street is loud,” she says, “when we’re in here most people don’t notice it much. You’d think maybe we should be out in some pastoral location, but you need to have a place to go when you’re living in the city and you can’t go a long way to find some peace.”

As well as offering daily mediation classes, the center hosts one-day and weekend retreats for people who want to immerse themselves more deeply. “We call it ‘modern Buddhism’ because it’s Buddhism for mainstream society—open and accessible to all,” Gomlam says. Retreats usually consist of three to four guided meditation sessions per day, interspersed with lectures and free time for people to wander or enjoy solitude.

“Our retreats are basically like learning about your mind—learning how to develop and maintain a peaceful, positive attitude, regardless of external circumstances,” Gomlam says. “This is real self-care.”

“It’s sort of like spiritual psychology,” she continues, “because all Buddha teaches is the mind. And if you understand the mind, then you can change your mind. It’s like if you understand the car engine and your car breaks down, you can fix it, and if you don’t, there’s nothing you can do. It’s a matter of understanding your mind so that you can fix it when it’s broken.”

The center has 11 comfortable, modestly appointed rooms available for people who want to stay there—some singles and doubles, plus three dorm-style rooms with bunk beds. “We get people who just want to chill and get away from their families for a little while,” Gomlam says. “We’ve had people who live 20 minutes away who just want to be in this environment and really soak it in, even if they just stay one night.” The World Peace Café in the main building is open daily and serves coffee, tea and baked goods, and, during retreats, vegan meals are prepared for guests if they want.

“You don’t have to be Buddhist,” Gomlam says. “We’re mostly here to help people learn how to get calm and peaceful and positive. And they may or may not decide to do Buddhism. The majority of people just come for the general programs and teachings and the advice for life.”

Kadampa Meditation Center, 730 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 373-1600,

Rasayana Cove Ayurvedic Retreat

Rasayana Cove Ayurvedic Retreat

Image: Gene Pollux

Rasayana Cove Ayurvedic Retreat

An hour’s drive east of Sarasota, in the tiny hamlet of Ona, is Rasayana Cove, an Ayurvedic retreat center on 25 acres of lush oak forest with spring-fed ponds and pastureland along Horse Creek. D’nesh Mader, who opened the center with his wife Julia in 1994, says that the remote location inspired them to create a haven for people wanting to get away from traffic and noise and experience the healing that comes from spending time in nature. Their backgrounds as practitioners of Ayurveda—the traditional medicine of India—became the focus of their retreat center, with guests now mostly coming for all-day or more extensive weekend experiences.

Mader says it was his own search for health and wellness that originally led him to learn about Ayurveda, which he and his wife both studied in India. “Ayurveda believes that the road to good health is to maintain two factors: balance and routine,” he says. “And balance, in particular, applies to what are called the ‘doshas’— the fundamental energies that govern all of our physical, mental and emotional functions.”

Mader explains that the three doshas—called Vata, Pitta and Kapha—are associated with various combinations of the five elements (earth, water, fire, space and wind) and each of us is born with our own individual elemental constitution which, when out of equilibrium, can lead to health issues. “We try to convey that concept to people and then we look at how that reflects in terms of their lifestyle and diet,” Mader says. “Those are two factors you can have relative control over. So that becomes a focus of the weekend retreat. We begin to talk in those terms and look at what herbal elements you can use to try to get back in balance.”

A typical retreat at Rasayana Cove begins with an Ayurvedic consultation, in which the guest’s constitution and health status are assessed. Taking that into account, a dietary plan is created and specific foods are prepared for each guest. Retreats usually include Ayurvedic body treatments such as abhyanga—a type of massage done with herbal oils that are formulated to be absorbed through the skin. Meditation sessions are also held in the morning and evening, and guests can choose to participate if they wish.

The property has three rustic but comfortable cabins that are available for guests, two of which are off-grid and have fans and lights that are powered by solar panels, and one that has air conditioning and internet access, although Mader says that most guests are coming specifically to disconnect from the world.

“Every retreat is somewhat different and is customized to the needs and desires of the individual,” Mader says. “I try to get a feel for people and what they need to do to find balance, to transform their lives, and how we can help them get there.”

Rasayana Cove Ayurvedic Retreat, 4224 Solomon Road, Ona, (863) 494-7565, 

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