“This three-day yoga retreat is the ultimate treat yo’self vacay.”
That was my original title for this article, a quick and easy phrase that encapsulates everything there is to know about the three-day trip I was about to embark on. Such are the first impressions of self-care retreats like this: exclusive, expensive, and maybe even a little selfish.
I came into the trip with a closed mindset, something I didn’t know I had been carrying for years.
Spearheaded by the mindfulness and yoga initiative SoulSpeak, Soulful Stillness is a three-day yoga retreat packaged as a mind, body, and soul detox. With its early morning yoga classes, acupuncture sessions, and oracle readings, my friends quipped that I ought to prepare for an Eat, Pray, Love journey.
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As I watched my phone signal start to deplete during the four-hour trip to the Sambali Beach Farm in Zambales, I felt a twinge of guilt over being unavailable, and thus, unproductive.
Stanford Professor Jenny Odell brings this anxiety to the forefront in her best-selling book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
“In the context of health and ecology, things that grow unchecked are often considered parasitic or cancerous. Yet we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth,” Odell writes. “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance as productive in the same way.”
Slow living is an insult in the busy streets of Manila, and here, there was nothing to do but be where you are.
With the pandemic leaving many of us feeling unmoored, turning to productivity gives a concrete sense of self or at least normalcy amid the chaos. The next three days would be a journey of unlearning, relearning, and just like what they say in Yoga: “noticing how clenched you are."
A community, revisited
SoulSpeak began in 2019 with spiritual retreats through their first offerings of ZambaSoul and MasungiSoul, their one-day nature trip in Masungi Georeserve.
“Everything just fell into place, nothing was planned,” Soul Speak co-creator Moshe Rey shared on how it all started.
Moshe and his best friend, Nella Lomotan, combined spirituality and eco-tourism to birth SoulSpeak, as Moshe had been running yoga retreats years prior and Nella ran the business side of the programs.
"Given that long history, that fusion was just very natural for us. That’s how SoulSpeak was born. It evolved by itself."
Mosh and Nella started by approaching the mentors and friends they met through White Space Wellness, a studio in Quezon City that offered yoga and mindfulness classes. After White Space shut down amid the pandemic, Moshe found a way to give the studio a second life.
Just before he offered it to me, I was saying to the universe: ‘give me people who just want to do retreats and I’ll show up.'
"The truth is, SoulSpeak is the continuation of that energy. It lives on through us so we’re really giving back to my teachers."
One such person is Reiki Master-Teacher Sarah Samantha Salcedo, who met Moshe through White Space and taught him the art of Reiki, the Japanese form of healing through laying of hands on or near parts of the body. Sarah has been practicing Reiki for 14 years and teaching it for 12 now.
"Fast forward many many years later, he began offering retreats,” Sarah shared. “And just before he offered it to me, I was saying to the universe: ‘give me people who just want to do retreats and I’ll just show up.'”
A week later, Moshe and Nella approached her with SoulSpeak. The universe listened.
With SoulSpeak starting with a new community from the ashes of an old one, it’s no wonder the same thing was happening from within. Over the three days, I had conversations and exchanges about things that I haven’t spoken about in years.
All around me, there were bright women, lawyers, mothers, wives, widows, and mother-daughter tandems open for a chat at any time.
I met Kyra, who I connected with because we talked about mental health not five minutes after meeting. Three days later, we were swimming in the Zambales ocean talking about astrology and, as people in their early twenties do, where our lives would lead.
In the thick of a one-hour emotional conversation with Cat, a wonderful mother of two, I realized that self-imposed barriers like age gaps and status did not matter much in places like this. All you had to be is open to the idea of community.
“Tools in your toolbox”
At one point, my roommate, Rya, and I got to discussing past lives. Even for my crystal-donning, manifesting self, this seemed too far-fetched, but I continued listening in.
During the exchange, she began to discuss kinesiology and the masters she followed online. "It's really just to add more tools in your toolbox," she said. My mind rewired then and there.
As much as the average person would raise their eyebrows at the thought of using alternative practices, what's so wrong with seeing them simply as available tools, and not direct answers?
I had a much more open mind after that revelation, signing up to Reiki healing and giving acupuncture a try for the very first time. Reiki, in particular, gave me a new perspective on that realm of spirituality. As Moshe placed his hands over me to sense my chakras and energy, I felt a tenderness and connection that I can't explain myself.
It should be noted that there's still a lack of clinical research when it comes to the benefits of Reiki or palm healing, but I would be lying if I said I did not feel seen through the act.
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Even the instructors themselves understand that it’s only human to have doubts about spiritual means of healing, especially for a Catholic country like the Philippines.
"Healing comes from within. I don’t think we have the capacity to heal someone else, but we offer a space for you to be able to do that for you,” shared Teacher Shailoe Peredo, a yoga instructor of over a decade who is now pursuing her Masters in Counseling Psychology. “We may be able to provide you with tools, the vocabulary, or the energy for you to approach your own journey.” There was that word again: Tools.
Sometimes the more you resist, it’s the very thing you actually need for you to experience yourself differently.
Moshe also iterated: “It’s good that you have these doubts, because as [Buddhist teacher] Pema Chodron said, 'Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth’. The only requirement here is that people are willing to step outside of their comfort zone. That’s where all the adventure and healing begins.”
"Sometimes the more you resist, it’s the very thing you actually need for you to experience yourself differently."
With each day, from walking up at 6:30 AM for our beachside yoga session to being in the quiet through meditation, I began to notice how clenched and rushed I had been treating myself. Slow living is an insult in the busy streets of Manila, but here, there was nothing to do but be where you are. I knew the retreat would end soon but I didn't want that feeling of serenity to subside.
As much as I will continue to believe in the traditional ways of healing through therapy and what I learned through my Psychology degree (mostly Western ideals), places like this are a stark reminder to look around and be open to the tools to complete your life’s toolbox.
Just being, not doing
In the Jia Tolentino essay “Always Be Optimizing,” she deconstructs what it means to see yourself as a product to be used and enjoyed, particularly magnifying the toils it takes for women to be “endlessly presentable."
"The ideal woman is always optimizing,” she writes. "She takes advantage of technology both in the way she broadcasts her image and in the meticulous improvement of that image."
Tolentino added that the ideal woman is conceptually overworked, both in concept and in the way she moves through life.
Improvement, perfection, hustle culture, girl boss. We’re no stranger to concepts like this floating on the Internet. We’re also no stranger to just how damning they can be if you live yourself to unrealistic ideals.
During the three days, the women and I took time to release the shackles in a world where everything is optimized and rushed. Doing nothing has become a defiant act for me. In that way, Soulful Stillness isn't just a getaway, but a recalibration to be with nature and, most of all, to be with yourself.
What happens next
Teacher Shailoe shared that a number of participants had started their dedicated yoga practice, while others went on their own spiritually guided path after their SoulSpeak retreats.
"Even if you come here and go back and you're still in that mentality of 'I'm too busy naman,' that transition is difficult. But there have been a lot of people who, more than anything, have been inspired to continue what they experienced here."
True enough, a few days now after SoulSpeak, I still see things through a calculating lens, but I’m trying not to see myself as a tool to be used. SoulSpeak didn’t singlehandedly do that for me, but it was definitely a catalyst that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the trip.
After all, wellness doesn't come from quick fixes or even retreats like this. It's made through the tender, compassionate actions that build a life well lived.
As for SoulSpeak, they’re planning to offer more venues and programs with different price ranges. Their next venture is one in El Nido called PalawanSoul. Hopefully, just right near my and many others' budgets.
I still believe that Soulful Stillness is still the ‘ultimate treat yo'self vacay’, but it’s by no means an escape. If you're willing, it will give you the friends, practices, and tools to make your world mirror that three-day paradise, where there’s no pressure but to just be.