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Sunni Nutt, right, of Essential Yoga Studio incorporates yoga retreats into her practices, including at Alexa Orth's Airbnb property Wild Rose 417.
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
Sunni Nutt, right, of Essential Yoga Studio incorporates yoga retreats into her practices, including at Alexa Orth's Airbnb property Wild Rose 417.

Balancing Business with Bliss: Wellness retreats stretch the boundaries of professional growth

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Sunni Nutt works full time in the nonprofit sector, a role she said is fulfilling but also comes with its share of stress. During her career, she’s turned to yoga for mental refreshment and physical well-being. She had always been intrigued by wellness retreats but found them seemingly out of reach. However, when a co-worker mentioned a camping and yoga retreat in 2019, her curiosity grew.

“I thought attending it would be a good way to connect with new people, reconnect with nature and, literally, ground myself into what felt important – with my personal work and actual work. I came back feeling wonderful,” she said.

So wonderful, in fact, that she was inspired to delve deeper into yoga and earn a teaching certificate, eventually purchasing Essential Yoga Studio LLC in 2022 and incorporating yoga retreats into her practice.

In today’s fast-paced professional environment, addressing employee wellness has become a priority, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2023 Work in America Survey. Workplace stress and burnout, according to the survey, affected 77% of responders, and only 40% responded that their workplace respects employees’ time off.

With so many people attuned to managing their overall wellness, the travel industry also has seen a surge in wellness trips. At Expedia, officials in 2023’s Travel Trends outlook report are calling 2023 the “no-normal” year because almost 50% of travelers are opting for simpler, more relaxing retreats with “quirky” activities – like sound and forest bathing, chakra healing and spa options that include laughter therapy.

“I have found retreats to be a truly excellent way to immerse myself – physically, emotionally and energetically – in a supportive space so that I can release long-held stress, anxiety and external pressures,” Nutt said. “It’s a break for my mind, body and soul away from daily stressors so that I can return to ‘real life’ and show up better in the grind of a busy life I love.”

While many travelers look globally to find such offerings, wellness retreats are popping up throughout southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, according to Amy Reaves, owner of the Wellness Collective LLC and co-owner of Awakened Spirit Retreats LLC.

“You don’t have to go to Sedona or California anymore,” Reaves said. “We have such amazing resources around; you don’t have to go far.”

Reaves and co-owner Leslie Smith led their first Awakened Spirit retreat in March 2023. Taking place in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, it included yoga sessions, massage therapy and mindfulness practice. Smith said the price point for the three-day retreats range $700-$1,200, including accommodations, wellness sessions and meals.

“We want to create something economical, catered toward people who can’t spend more than a few days away,” Smith said.

She added that working professionals can benefit from experiencing nontraditional vacations.

“People have things they need to bring to the world that’s so valuable, and if we don’t work together, we’re missing out,” she said. “When we remember our wholeness, we show up in this life with alignment to our purpose. That creates success and happiness in your personal life and career, and most importantly, it creates inner peace so you can enjoy the ride along the way.”

Camping retreats are also a popular format, with Awakened Spirit and Essential Yoga Studio both hosting them this past September.

“Our most recent retreat in September 2023 was in partnership with two other local woman-owned businesses, and our focus was on crystal mining and hiking in Mount Ida, Arkansas,” said Nutt, who worked with Mystical Thoughts LLC and Red Riding Hood Society.

The company is planning a February 2024 retreat focusing 3 days on energetic healing that includes guided meditation, yoga, reiki energy healing and sound baths.

Nutt said that for those who might not be able to get away for a weekend retreat, there are options.

“Many studios and practitioners offer half-day retreats or extended sessions that encompass multimodalities to support wellness,” she said.

Missouri State University, for instance, offers a holistic approach to employee and student well-being. Spearheaded by Galen Martin and Jerilyn Reed of the MSU Wellness Program, the university launched its inaugural yoga retreat in 2023 with about 30 participants for a $70 fee.

MSU collaborated with Reaves of the Wellness Collective.

“The retreat, specifically, is a great intro for people who have never delved into yoga,” said Reaves, a registered yoga teacher since 2014, as well as a reiki master teacher and energy healer. “Yoga is a great way to naturally and holistically tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, to heal to self-regulate. In our absolutely highly stressed, fast-paced lives, yoga is a great way for us to slow down and gain a little perspective.”

MSU’s Reed said the retreats are open to the public, and the first had attendees from as far as Kansas City and West Plains, and age a span from 20s-70s.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy it,” she said.

While some wellness seekers prefer a fully curated experience, others like to have control over their itinerary. For those looking to curate their own personal wellness retreats, the journey might be simpler than expected.

Alexa Orth and her husband Tony, through their new Airbnb property Wild Rose 417, provide a luxurious touch to the wellness experience. The newly renovated five-bedroom house on East Division Street sleeps up to 10 guests or can host small groups up to 25, with services from grocery delivery to on-demand spa treatments.

“I think people now are looking for the most simple way to accomplish anything,” Orth said. “We partner with Essential Yoga Studio, where our guests can do private yoga sessions at the house, or they can go to the studio and take private classes or do drop-in classes.”

Orth said she also partners with Sweet Leaf Beauty and Balanced Beauty to add facials and massages on-site or at the spa.

“We’ve had nothing but positive responses,” Orth said, since the opening of the property in August. “Everyone seems to love it, the fact that it’s different, something that the 417 area needed.” 

Orth said currently most bookings occur between Thursdays and Sundays, and getting the word out for the spa-option add-ons is still in its beginning phases, with guests receiving a digital menu of services upon booking.

With so many options for wellness travel, the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The Global Wellness Institute projects a 9.9% average annual increase through 2025, reaching a $7 trillion economy.

Smith of Awakened Spirit Retreats suggests looking at wellness travel as a holistic approach to the mind, body and spirit during time off work.

“If we want to grow in the right direction, we have to be open to moving into new spaces together,” she said.

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