sitting on bench in outdoor area with trees at Healience resort

Back to the Source: A Wellness Tour in South Korea

hills on lake in SeoulI’ve only recently begun to understand the power of my words, manifestation, and how to define my future with clear intention. In early October 2019, I stood up from my desk after a frustrating call with client and huffed, “I need a week in South Korea”. To my surprise, within a week I was contacted by the Korean Tourism office about a possible campaign highlighting their wellness properties. Yes, yes, yes!art park in SeoulHow could one say no to a week of wellness activities in a country that I fell in love with only a year before? But this trip would be quite different from my visit to Seoul in 2018. No fashion week runways, no tasting menu accompanied by wine pairings from South Korea’s best sommelier, no dancing until dawn. In fact, I’d be waking up with the dawn to enjoy wellness experiences like nature hikes, spa treatments, and meditation exercises meant to cure anything that ailed you.forest walk along small creekWhile en route to my wellness tour in South Korea, I thought back to a presentation that I had heard over a year ago on the other side of the world. At ILTM in Cannes, Anna Bjurstam, founding member of Global Wellness Summit, discussed wellness travel, its growth, and offered a name for that transformative thing that can happen while on a wellness tour. This transformative thing, which Anna termed a “wellness gateway”, typically occurs while we’re on a relaxing vacation, health retreat, or nature excursion far from the demands of our daily lives.

My wellness gateway in South Korea began at Vista WalkerHill, a luxury hotel nestled in the Achasan mountains just outside the bustling city center of Seoul. With panoramic views of the Han River, I enjoyed an invigorating foot spa, some much-needed laps after a long flight, a couple of vigorous hikes to the hills nearby, and my favorite – a private soak in a cypress hot tub under the light of a full moon. Time to define my future with clear intention!front window of Vista Walkerhillfoot spa with bubbles on deck at Vista Walkerhillfront façade of hotelsitting on edge of indoor pool at Vista WalkerhillOur next destination led us a few hours outside of Seoul, the perfect setting to escape from the fast pace of urban life. A stop at Museum SAN, the name a homage to Space, Art, and Nature, beckoned me into a dome that was designed to represent both a womb and a tomb. As the meditation music melded with the tinkle of tiny raindrops, I felt worlds away from any stress.meditation dome at Museum SANart display in field at Museum SANsculpture and red leaf trees at Museum SANtrees reflecting on pool at Museum SANyellow leaves on tree at Museum SANreflection of building and sky on pool at Museum SANMuseum SAN was the perfect transition to our wifi-free mountain retreat at Healience Resort. As we ventured further into the Wonju mountain range, I couldn’t help but marvel at the magnificence of the tall trees in all of their fall glory. Who knew that the next morning these same trees would lead me to happy tears, a pleasant side effect of this forest bathing experience amongst the statuesque Korean pines. yellow trees at Healiencemeditation cave at Healience resortsinging bowl at meditation cavehealthy meal at Healience resortFull moon at night over Healience resortMore meditation and mindful eating followed in this resort designed to help you go within. Into that endless well of wellness inside of you. But how to tap into that source? Our tour guide had the perfect answer: a visit to Jeju Island, home of South Korea’s first health and wellness resort, WE Hotel. WE, standing for “water energy”, is appropriately named after the healing properties of the high grade mineral water used in all of their treatments.

But treatment is an understatement to what I experienced at this wellness resort. A crystal sound bath was first on the agenda. As I relaxed on the floor, intense sound waves reverberated through my body. Earlier in the week, each of the tour participants had to choose a word to describe the mood after our forest bathing among the powerful pines. “Release”, I said. It seemed to envelop my feelings at that moment, and where I was at in my life overall. Ready to release the past, partial relationships, and previous disappointments. It was time.tea ceremony at WE hotel in Jeju Islandpool therapy room at WE hotel in Jeju IslandTears flowed endlessly. My body shook. This symphony of sound waves moved through every cell, clearing the chaos. It was as if I was both orchestrating it and a participant, as I watched a translucent figure rise up and out of my body. Pain leaving. 

A water massage awaited. Submerging into the soft touch of the water, I followed my therapist’s lead as he held me like a baby, pushing and pulling my body through the warm pool. After a delicate dance of therapeutic poses that left every limb loose, he lifted my cushy corpse up and out of the glowing water, leaving behind any remnant of discomfort. He held me up for what seemed like an eternity, but was really only a magical moment suspended in time. Offering me up to some higher plane, the gateway to my inner well.

Wellness never felt so complete! Of course this release didn’t happen like the flip of a switch. Harboring pain in different areas of my body, mind, and spirit had been a gradual process which required an even more paced and tender approach to the healing that was taking place on this wellness tour in South Korea.foot spa and rock massage area at Paradise Seouldj booth and sauna at Paradise SeoulRenewed with an assured aura and attitude, I now felt like stress would just slide off and out of me. As our wellness tour closed at the mega-spa in Paradise City Seoul, full of over a dozen treatment pools, stone therapies, water slides, and endless options for both relaxation and fun, I thought about how I could continue along my wellness path back home.indoor pool area at Paradise SeoulVIP area at indoor pool in Paradise Seoul hotelOn my return flight home, I realized that we are our best healers. Once we discover our inner wellness source, which exists in all of us, the opportunities for healing are endless. And it’s exactly what modern medicine doesn’t want us to know. Pharmaceuticals, prescription pills, and addictive drugs, whether it is in our food or prescribed by a doctor, all prevent us from becoming our own holistic healers. Whether it’s Coca-cola, codeine, or cocaine, it is designed to prevent you from becoming your best self.

Find those opportunities to tap your inner well. Go on a nature hike this weekend, book a spa vacation to Seoul, or download a meditation app. Foster those moments for wellness. Open up the gateway.sitting in black bikini in front of dj booth and sauna room

 

meditating at the W hotel in a bikini

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: A Staycation Saves the Day

Sometimes the answer to all of your problems is a staycation. What’s a staycation? It’s the vacation where you stay close to home, you don’t have to get on a plane(because who loves TSA lines?!?), and you need to escape your own life for about 48 hours.

One of my most memorable staycations happened when an old boyfriend broke up with me on my birthday. I thought we’d be spending it together poolside, enjoying the warm July weather that washes away the June gloom, signaling that summer is finally here. But instead, it appeared he had made “other plans”. When I hadn’t heard from him a few days prior, I messaged…

“It’s my birthday tomorrow so I thought we’d be spending it together.”

“No, I have other plans.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You didn’t think we were exclusive, did you?”

OUCH.

Shocked, I don’t even remember how I responded, but I remember sitting in my car sobbing as the gas pump clicked, signaling me to move on – literally and figuratively. With my gas tank full, I picked myself up off the proverbial floor, and drove home stunned. What would I do now with a free weekend, no beau, and no birthday plan in place? I called my best friends to tell them what had happened and they suggested the perfect solace: a staycation.

My staycation proved to be just that – a quick salve for my broken heart. Surrounded by friends, laughs, and my favorite part about L.A. summers – great pool parties! – my short visit to the W Hotel was exactly what I needed. Soaking in the sun, I felt my sadness melting away. This quick getaway was just what I needed!

Slipping away from the bouncy beats at the pool, I wandered away from the crowd. Peeking at me through the bushes was a little figurine meditating in lotus pose. I took this as a serendipitous sign to do the same.

I prostrate in gratitude for all those who made me suffer and helped me to become mature after hard times.

I first heard this mantra when I was at a Buddhist temple in Seoul last year. During an evening recitation of the 108 mantras, this one stayed with me as I reflected on different exes. As much as I suffered at the moment, I learned the lessons I needed to learn from that relationship. No bitterness. No regret. Just resolve.

A friend wandered down the same path, wondering about my whereabouts. “We miss you – come back to the pool!” With the pure love and support of my friends, I knew I’d be okay. This particular birthday was a rebirth of sorts; a painful release of the old, and an uncertain step into the new.

Looking back at this photo, I realize how much I’ve grown since then. Not in spite of my suffering, but because of it. And because of my daily meditation practice that pushes me into a more positive space.

I originally posted this photo on Instagram with the caption: Love is a gift of one’s inner most soul to another so both can be whole. – Buddha. Here’s to a future of fearless gift giving.

To learn more about meditation, click here.

a staycation saves the day at W hotel

my-visit-to-a-buddhist-temple

Seoul Searching: My Visit to a Buddhist Temple

geumsunsa-templestay“How do we know we’re in the right religion?” That was the question I asked the bishop who visited my 5th grade classroom at St. Mary’s Catholic School long ago. Even as a 10-year-old child, I questioned religion – the dogma surrounding it, the proposed path to an eventual salvation, the confines of man-made rules.south-korea-templestay I don’t remember the bishop’s words, but I remember his body language: a hesitant shift at the podium, a calm, yet confused look on his face, and the cool pace with which he delivered his answer. It was as if he had been asked this question many times before, but was uncomfortable sharing his response with a room full of young children.

south-korea-templestaySo how does one know? What leads people on their spiritual journey? I had the chance to think about these questions while on a visit to Geumsunsa Temple in South Korea. I’m not Buddhist by label. I have a Taoist devotional next to my bed, but not far from it are various healing crystals, a Virgin Mary statue, and beads gifted to me by an indigenous Brazilian shaman. That was the beauty of visiting Geumsunsa; they welcomed everyone no matter your faith or fatherland. We had a diverse group from around the world – Mexico, Hong Kong, France, Germany, and me, repping the United States of America!south-korea-templestay Tucked away in the mountains outside of Seoul, Geumsunsa is one of the Buddhist temples throughout South Korea that offer what is known as “templestay” visits to foreigners from all over the world. Depending on how much time you have and where your travels take you in South Korea, there’s a templestay to fit every tourist’s itinerary.seoul-searchingmy-visit-to-a-buddhist-templeseoul-searchingmy-visit-to-a-buddhist-templemy-visit-to-a-buddhist-temple Upon arriving to Geumsunsa, I already felt at peace. Lush fall foliage, just changing their leaves, enveloped cozy colorful dorms and nearby sitting nooks. After setting up my modest room, I changed into the temple uniform and joined the rest of our group for the beginning of our stay. Sitting amongst the trees and the cool, crisp air was the perfect setting to listen to the monk’s words and simple wisdom.geumsunsa-templestayTemple101south-korea-templestay After a ceremonial ringing of the temple bells, our group enjoyed a vegan meal together. We ate in silence, as instructed, and with a renewed focus on my food, I felt satiated and healthy. As I carefully chewed each bite, my mind wandered and my thoughts drifted from the mundane, “why did I get so much rice at the buffet?” to the random, “I wonder if Buddhists have something like Lent?”.

 

I’ve been on my own spiritual search ever since those early days in Catholic school. While other children knelt with eyes closed, waiting for the bread to turn into the body of Jesus, I peered skeptically at the ceiling, looking for something, or someone to come from the heavens and turn the priest’s unleavened bread into a holy object. south-korea-templestayOur next activity was a visit to the temple – finally! The monk prepared us for our evening meditation, and the more mentally demanding 108 prostrations that were to follow. I really had no idea what to expect, as the extent of my exploration with Buddhism was reading my “Daily Tao” at bedtime back home. This was a bit more intense.geumsunsa-templestaysouth-korea-templestaySo what is a prostration? I consider it a test of your physical and spiritual stamina in one move – and I truly didn’t think I would be able to do 108 of them. About ten minutes in, I felt fatigued, but the messages that the monk recited for us motivated my mind and body to absorb the meaning behind this physically demanding exercise. my-visit-to-a-buddhist-templeUpon finishing, we retreated to our rooms, and it was in this private space that I released all that had passed through me in the temple. I cried cleansing tears and wrote down some of the mantras I recalled, and what they meant for me.

I prostrate in gratitude for all those who made me suffer and helped me to become mature after hard times.

We’ve all cursed at those exes, annoying coworkers, and the guy that cut us off in traffic, or really anyone who has made us suffer! I thought about some of those people and how they helped me to evolve into the person I am today. I felt a renewed sense of gratitude.

I prostrate in gratitude for having my family who shares happy, sad, and challenging moments together.

Hearing the word “family” sent a flood of tears down my face as I thought about my grandfather and father, whose only visits to Asia had been for fighting wars. How lucky I was to be visiting this country on my own terms, with peace and open-mindedness in my heart. I was sad that neither of them had been so lucky to travel here as I had – seeing the beauty of a new culture.

south-korea-templestay

I prostrate as a vow to blow all the jealousy, anger, and frustrations from my mind.

When I first started my company, a close friend told me that “only women with rich husbands or rich dads launch businesses like yours.” Ouch, that hurt! And it did make me angry and jealous for a time – and frustrated that I didn’t have those endless resources as some did. But I became resourceful and resilient, two things that make me an even better business woman today.

I prostrate in repentance for seeing this world as absolute right or wrong.

This led me to reflect on my faith, as something not so rigid, but fluid and evolving. I thought of all the friends I had of differing faiths: Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, Catholic, Jewish, and how at the heart of every religion seemed to be a message of love. Oh how I wished we could all be more accepting of each other and focus on our own spiritual growth, and not what others were doing wrong!

SS15I prostrate as a vow to lead my life with passion.

This is harder than it sounds! I had a flashback to a short time in 2018 when I lost steam and suffered burnout. Life as a passionate entrepreneur was taking a toll! So I got back to basics, and did things to rejuvenate myself like listen to music, exercise more, and take care of my health. Only then could I really feel the passion for my work.

I prostrate as a vow to keep focused and refrain from many distractions.

Cell phone, anyone? To combat this distracting tool, I started setting aside time for Instagram, I shut off all notification banners, and did some other things to manage my use of technology. I admit, it’s a great tool – my favorite meditation app is on my phone! But everything has it limits…

south-korea-templestay

I prostrate as a vow to be free from the ordinary standards that everyone in the world follows.

This was a memorable prostration, quite simply because it was a reminder that I was going in the right direction. My path didn’t need to look like everyone else’s. And it’s okay.

geumsunsa-templestaygeumsunsa-templestayOn the flight home from a luxury travel conference in France last year, I read through a pamphlet titled “Luxury Experiences in South Korea”. Flipping through it, I was surprised to find a segment about templestay visits in there. But as I reflected on my own templestay, I thought, yes, it was a true luxury to connect with myself. To connect with others. To connect with my soul. And this luxury is truly priceless. my-visit-to-a-buddhist-temple

Thank you, Geumsunsa Temple for the photos!