Latest in Wellness Travel: The Menopause Retreat
With a growing number of women approaching the age of hormonal changes — by 2025, approximately 1.1 billion women worldwide will have experienced menopause — the travel industry is catering to a new niche: Women who want help dealing with everything from hot flashes to mood swings, with perhaps some classic spa treatments thrown in.
Menopause-centered offerings vary widely, from mindfulness techniques to herbal remedies to nutritional guidance and exercise. Sometimes, the most important activity is just the chance to bond with other women facing the same issues, experts say. “There’s a great healing and discovery when a group of people are going through a similar circumstance,” said Melissa Biggs Bradley, the founder and chief executive of Indagare, a membership-based travel company that recently announced its first midlife and menopause retreat.
At the Six Senses Hotel & Spa in Portugal’s Douro Valley, I recently took part in a three-day bespoke menopause retreat to deal with my night sweats, migraines, joint pain and mood swings, and to get a greater understanding of the hormonal roller coaster I’ve been on (rooms starting at 850 euros or about $924). After a health screening, I was given a tailored agenda to nurture and balance my aging, changing body. First up was a personalized strength training session — squats, lunges, planks and resistance band exercises — to remedy my joint pain and build bone.
For my excessively dry skin, I was given a collagen-boosting facial — collagen production decreases with the loss of estrogen that accompanies menopause — replete with serums and a mask for hydration. To reduce inflammation, I trembled during a daily cold plunge, followed by 15 minutes in an infrared sauna. The finale consisted of a 30-minute bio-hacking treatment, during which I wore thigh-high compression boots — think pulsating, vibrating currents moving up and down your legs — to enhance lymphatic drainage and relax sore muscles; listened to a guided meditation through headphones while wearing an eye-mask; and experienced infrared light stimulation on my face, which is said to heal the cell renewal process and again, stimulate collagen.
At the end, my entire body felt relaxed, but what it all added up to is hard to say. Dr. Lauren Streicher, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and host of the Menopause Podcast, is skeptical when it comes to claims that spa treatments will reduce the symptoms of menopause. Dr. Streicher warns women to beware of medical claims made by spas. “It’s OK if you want to talk to other menopausal women, share information and get support,” she said. “The problem is when information is presented as if it’s scientific. It can be manipulative to say a smoothie will make your vagina less dry.”
If you’re seeking medical advice about your symptoms — which some destinations offer — Dr. Streicher advises knowing what specifically you are seeking to address, and recommends consulting with a licensed physician if you are considering long-term solutions, such as hormone replacement therapy.
Ms. Biggs Bradley said she decided to offer a menopause retreat because “so many conversations on our trips have steered to the physical changes of the 40s and 50s and how to navigate them. Women were starved for information.”
When it comes to menopause travel, Dr. Heather Hirsch, founder of the Menopause & Midlife Clinic at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and author of “Unlock Your Menopause Type,” sees the greatest benefits in terms of self-care, community and education. “The fact that you’re carving out this time and resources for yourself, which women in midlife don’t do very often, is an important thing,” said Dr. Hirsch.
There are all sort of products claiming to reduce symptoms, and a retreat can be a good way to get ideas and test products before committing to a purchase. These getaways are unlikely to alleviate your consistent, long-lasting symptoms, but Dr. Hirsch said, “even if the infrared mask makes your skin feel great for a few weeks, it is the combination of self-care, community and education that will stay for much longer.”
Here are a few getaways with specific perimenopause and menopause programs. What they all have in common is a focus on facing the inevitable hormonal changes that come with the aging female body.
The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in Stockbridge, Mass., will be hosting its first menopause-focused retreat from Sept. 15 to 17, called “Unearthing the Wisdom of Menopause Rituals for Self-Care and Discovery.” The weekend — guided by two members of Kripalu’s lead faculty — will focus less on symptoms and more on adjusting to overall bodily change. There will be a combination of discussion, sharing circles, yoga, breath practices, tools from Ayurveda (the holistic approach of India’s ancient medical system), and a fire ritual to celebrate the “journey of transformation.” The retreat includes meals and access to the center’s grounds ($299 plus accommodations; rooms starting at $145).
In the Jaavu Spa at the Amilla Maldives Resort, the four-day Pause menopause retreat is offered three times in September. Led by Claire O’Sullivan, a women’s health and nutrition coach, this retreat is structured around four themes — balance, move, relax and evolve. In addition to one-on-one coaching, the retreat includes treatments such as reflexology and light therapy. There are yoga and meditation sessions, and seminars on intuitive movement, stress reduction and hormone balancing ($5,915, including room, meals and treatments).
Indagare’s Wise Women retreat at Canyon Ranch Berkshires in Lenox, Mass., is the company’s first to focus on midlife and menopause. The five-day retreat, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, will be hosted by Dr. Robin Noble, an OB-GYN, specializing in the menopausal transition. There will be private consultations and daily group sessions addressing the impact of hormonal shifts on sleep, mood, bone and heart health, metabolism, fitness and sexual activity. Each morning, guests have the option to choose among Canyon Ranch’s offerings, such as yoga, hiking, meditation and spa treatments; afternoons and evenings are reserved for cooking classes and workshops on topics such as how to become your own health advocate, optimizing sexual function and strategies for navigating life’s shifting roles (starting at $4,500, including room, meals and activities).
The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, in Fairfield, Iowa, offers a Menopause Program using ayurvedic treatments. A five-day program, offered year-round, begins with a private wellness consultation, including an ayurvedic pulse assessment from which a treatment plan is created. Guests spend several hours a day in herbal body treatments to restore balance and remove impurities. There is time for yoga and meditation, and personalized sessions with resident experts to monitor progress and devise a take-home plan to help maintain daily routines for nutrition, herbal therapies, yoga and meditation. The Raj offers the choice of eating at a table with other guests or dining alone (starting at $3,900, including room, meals and treatments).
Targeted at “active, performance-minded women in and beyond the menopause transition,” the weekend-long Feisty Menopause retreat — from Nov. 16 to18 — will take place at the Lake Nona Wave Hotel in Orlando, Fla. Led by a fitness coach-trainer and an orthopedic surgeon, it will welcome two dozen women seeking to address the health and fitness goals that shift during menopause so they can stay active and avoid injury. The gathering will focus on exercise, strength-training and nutrition, and includes a full body musculoskeletal analysis to look at movement patterns and areas of weakness. Activities also include suspension yoga, which is performed in a fabric sling, resistance and barbell training, and even time for dancing (starting at $2,500, including accommodations and some meals).
Les Margeurites is a five-day retreat based at a boutique hotel in Alet-les-Bains in southwestern France. The retreat is facilitated by a nurse and a therapist, who are working to change the narrative around perimenopause and menopause — not just the hormonal changes, but also how they impact women’s lives and relationships. Capped at six women, the retreat will include workshops and coaching sessions, plant-based meals to build estrogen, meditation, massage, tincture-making with an herbalist and yoga. Retreats will be held in November, and in April and September 2024 (starting at 1,350 British pounds, or about $1,698, including room and meals).
In 2005, Paula Gallardo and Tania Smith co-founded Mamaheaven, a retreat for new mothers. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and they are now running Menoheaven, twice-yearly retreats in October and May that gather up to 12 women at the Florence House, a Victorian inn one hour south of London. With a naturopath, nutritionist and yoga teacher leading discussions, the retreat aims to “destigmatize and demystify” the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. This three-day retreat includes sharing circles, organic meals, healing massages, yoga, cold-water swimming and workshops that cover topics from stress and sleep to libido and brain-fog (starting at 550 British pounds, including room and meals).
The Preidlhof spa hotel in South Tyrol, Italy, has a weeklong Menopause-Wellness retreat offered during the months of February, March, June and September. The program includes 22 treatments — ranging from massages and acupuncture to deep breathing and holistic coaching sessions. The retreat offers medical wellness sessions, and spa treatments accompanied by real-time biofeedback and data analysis to assess biological age. There are dance and voice classes, forest bathing (a form of meditation in nature) and many outdoor trails nearby (1,987 euros, not including room and meals; room and meals starting at 212 euros).
Camiral, a wellness resort located an hour from Barcelona, will offer its five-day Renew and Harmonize Retreat, in March 2024. Each day focuses on a theme: Reconnect highlights the body-mind connection; Energize focuses on movement, strengthening and ways to alleviate menopausal symptoms; Nourish concentrates on ways to nourish the body to maximize bone density and cardiac health; Recover concentrates on mindfulness and stress reduction; and Grow features treatments and a debrief with a nutritionist around managing hormonal changes. The retreat is led by a fitness specialist, a physician and a nutritionist, and includes treatments such as cryotherapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (starting at 2,128 euros, including room and meals).
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