You are finally here. You’ve done the research and found the most welcoming travel location for Black folks, with the perfect Black wellness practitioner. You are ready to get your self-care on. Now more than ever, Black women in search of self-improvement and community are booking wellness retreats to de-stress. But as the saying goes, “All skin folk ain’t kinfolk.” Group dynamics, diverse personalities, and the unpredictable nature of travel can create drama, trigger trauma, and ruin what was intended to be a time for nurturing and self-care. As part of your travel prep, here are five tools to keep you safe and present if the wellness vacation you planned unexpectedly goes sideways.
Tool #1: Breathe
Before impulsively responding to the person or people on the retreat who are working your last nerve, take three deep breaths. Mindful breathing cools down the heat of emotion, allowing our higher wisdom to kick in and help us make mindful choices. The University of Michigan Health: Michigan Medicine website states, “Breathing sends a message to the brain to slow down and relax.” Interacting from a relaxed state of mind places us in a position of personal power and enables us to let go of our expectations and think about the possible negative consequences of our reaction before speaking.
Tool #2: Take time to yourself
Therapist Dr. Mahogany Hall, DSW, LCSW, advises, “Unexpected emotions may surface and require personal space. In the event that this happens, it is important to honor your emotional and physical needs. It is okay to remove yourself from a group setting. You could be doing both yourself and other group members a disservice by remaining in the group space when you are unable to be fully present. Instead, sometimes you have to simply do you.”
Tool #3: Go for a walk
The simple act of walking helps us think. Find a pair of comfortable shoes, put one foot in front of the other, breathe in some fresh air, and clear your perspective. Many retreat spaces purposely do not have screens or Wi-Fi. Being with the same group of people in the same spaces for long periods of time can be challenging. Taking a walk can clear your head and create an opportunity for new experiences. Moving the body keeps the mind in the present moment, and if you choose to take a challenging hike, you will need all your mental and physical capabilities to stay present in order to complete the hike. It’s always nice to walk with someone you’re connecting with, but if you decide to head out on your own, be sure to first let the retreat leader know where you are going and ask the staff about any precautions you should take in the area.
Tool #4: Have an honest conversation with the retreat leader
Speak up mindfully. As a paying customer, you have the right to respectfully advocate for yourself in all situations. Organizing wellness retreats is really hard work, and most wellness professionals love to step up to the challenge. You trusted the retreat facilitator to take you on this journey, so respect them enough to tell them the truth if you have a negative experience. Being candid about your experience will not only make you feel better but also enable the wellness facilitator to work with you. For example, they may creatively organize group activities in a way that doesn’t create drama so that you can be mindfully separated from any person who might be triggering you. Make your wellness facilitator an ally.
Tool #5: Listen to your intuition and, if necessary, leave the retreat
Listen to your intuition. If you’ve done everything you can and the situation still isn’t right, you can leave. Is it easy to just depart? Yes and no. You’ve invested time and money for a wellness vacation, and Western culture and capitalism tell us that we must stay, tough it out, and get our money’s worth. But you don’t have to tough it out; you are allowed to say no and take care of yourself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you don’t fit in with the group. If the retreat is a space where you are not able to reasonably be your full self, you can find a hotel to stay in, call an Uber, and enjoy your time on your own. You can always contact the retreat leader once the retreat is over to give them feedback about your negative experience, and you can always ask for and discuss the terms for a partial refund.
Black people are not a monolith. When some of us get together in the same room, it can be like oil and water. But participating in a wellness retreat can be the spark for life-changing personal development. Remember, the ultimate self-care practice is being able to advocate for ourselves mindfully in all situations.
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Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.