In 2009, Eve Cook was battling an aggressive cancer.
“It wasn’t going away, and doctors were telling me, ‘Get your affairs in order,’” Cook said. “We really had to decide what made us excited and motivated in the world.”
The next year, her family would purchase more than 200 acres of land in the North Georgia mountains, not far from Helen, Ga. There, Cook took time to recover and heal, all the while dreaming of starting a retreat center.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be alive … but, we just went for it,” said Cook, whose cancer has since gone into remission.
That was the beginning of Elohee Retreat Center, which sits on roughly two dozen acres and hosts 80 to 90 retreats a year. Various facilitators and instructors rent the center, offering retreats from yoga to mediation and women’s self-empowerment getaways. The property features a 100-foot waterfall, walking trails and a reflection pond overlooking Yonah Mountain.
“Being here on this land, surrounded by this beautiful energy and having something to live for by creating Elohee, is a huge blessing,” Cook said. “I can’t not share it with people.”
Perhaps more than ever, people are in need of healing. The World Health Organization (WHO) in March released a study that said the global prevalence of anxiety and depression jumped 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.
While it’s well known that leisure travel can promote well-being, vacations that incorporate meditation or mindfulness techniques can have long-lasting results.
“There are thousands of studies now showing how meditation benefits the mind, the nervous system,” said Ryan Strong, senior minister at the Center for Spiritual Awareness (CSA). “It slows aging, decreases anxiety, decreases depression.”
The CSA is in Lakemont, Ga., just past Tallulah Gorge, tucked away quietly on a roughly 10-acre wooded site along Lake Rabun.
“You are up in the mountains, near a beautiful lake,” Strong said. “It’s very serene … There is something special about the land itself.”
Founded in 1972 by Roy Eugene Davis, the CSA this April celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Lake Rabun location is the center’s international headquarters, although it has teachers and other centers across the globe.
The CSA is nondenominational and teaches the principles of healthy living and meditation.
“Then beyond that, our main focus is to teach Kriya Yoga … the path of realizing, or becoming aware, becoming awake of our true nature, becoming more conscious of the truth of our reality,” Strong said. “Kriya Yoga is a path. It’s a path of awakening to our ultimate consciousness.”
Davis taught Kriya Yoga for 68 years before his death in 2019. He had directly studied under Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian monk, yogi and guru who brought meditation to the U.S. and introduced millions to the teachings of Kriya Yoga.
Starting April 18, the CSA will offer retreats every two weeks through early December. People are invited to come, rest and learn to meditate. Typically, a retreat day would include a morning and an afternoon mediation, along with optional classes.
“Everything of course is optional, but we have afternoon classes on Ayurveda or Vedic astrology, or we will play a video of Roy’s seminars and talks,” Strong said. “But most people that come have a lot of time to just be in silence, to rest, relax, walk the grounds.”
The property includes a library, learning center and two meditation temples. Cabins feature single beds with small kitchens for vegetarian cooking. It’s $60 a night to stay at the center.
Another respite to consider is in Boone, N.C.
The Art of Living Retreat Center is nestled in the mountains on 380 acres. It consists of dozens of buildings, including a meditation hall that can hold up to 3,700 guests. There’s also a spa on the property, offering Ayurveda courses and treatments.
“People are coming here, not for a quick fix,” said Kimberly Rossi, director of Ayurveda, wellness and business development at The Art of Living Retreat Center. “They are learning how to heal themselves to be happier, to be healthier, to be more whole.”
Spiritual guide and humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar founded The Art of Living Foundation in 1981 and today it has centers in more than 156 countries.
“In his words, he envisioned this retreat center to be a place where people of various faiths, race, religion, philosophies and tendencies can all come together and find that common goal in every one of us to find the ultimate truth, to find the depths of humanism that we are all gifted with, and let this place be a chance for miracles in the lives of millions of people,” Rossi said.
Each week, the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone hosts signature programs, based in breathing, mediation, yoga, Ayurveda, and wellness, she said. One of its most popular programs is the happiness retreat, which teaches techniques to reduce anxiety and depression.
Rossi said the pandemic has made the retreat center increasingly busy.
“What I think COVID did for some people is put some pressure on them, where they were having subtle signs of being uncomfortable and COVID magnified those sensations,” Rossi said. “And then it became more of a matter of urgency … People, who were being too busy and sweeping it under the rug, had to face it.”
Elohee Retreat Center
Sautee Nacoochee, Ga.
Center for Spiritual Awareness
The Art of Living Retreat Center