24 January 2017


Club Med or a meditation retreat? Which is better for your health? If you are interested in your health and wellbeing, is it worth “sacrificing” holiday time for a retreat, or are you better advised to simply head to the beach?

You may think this to be a silly question. However, the “vacation effect” is well known. There are measurable positive health changes that flow from a simple holiday; while intuitively we expect a meditation retreat will do us good.

So this week we go Out on a Limb once more and examine new research. What happens when meditators and non-meditators head for a residential holiday or retreat? Who comes home healthier, and who is healthier months later? But first

Thought for the day

There is a difference 
Between interest and commitment. 

When you are interested in doing something, 
You do it only when circumstances permit. 

When you are committed to something, 
You accept no excuses, only results.

Art Turock

Modern researchers are beginning to look at some really cool things. What happens physiologically when we go on a meditation retreat compared to just having a holiday?

Most of us who work hard – either formally or at raising a family - will have been on a good holiday, felt a release of pressure; maybe even something of a relief.

We might have regained some balance for a bit, but then the holiday ended and we went back to life as usual with the same old coping skills we had before the holiday began.

We feel a bit better, but has anything changed?

Many who read this post will have been on a meditation retreat. Same release of pressure; same relief. But maybe more. A deeper level of relaxation. Relaxation of body and mind. Maybe some new learning, some new insights, some new techniques we can take back to our ongoing life. We feel a bit better, but maybe something has changed?

In a highly controlled and randomised residential study, regular meditators, new meditators and non-meditators spent 6 days in the same retreat environment. Blood tests examined interesting things like telomerase activity, Aβ peptide levels and tumour necrosis factor alpha.

Everyone benefited from a significant ‘vacation effect’ - highly significant epigenetic changes as well as a reduction of stress-related responses and immune function related to acute-phase wound healing and decreased inflammation.

Remember, meta-inflammation is a major driver for all the chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and MS (see the link below).

The study also identified an additional ‘meditation effect’ in those who had practiced meditation before their retreat.

The regular meditator group, showed additional epigenetic changes associated with cellular functions that relate to healthy ageing, and this was associated with increased expression of a number of telomere maintenance pathway genes and an increase in measured telomerase enzymatic activity.

Remember too, telomerase protects and repairs our telomeres; the shortening of which is directly related to the rate of our aging.

Changes in wellbeing were assessed after the retreat/holiday, as well as 1 and 10 months later. All groups showed equivalently large immediate post-intervention improvements in wellbeing, but interestingly, novice meditators showed greater maintenance of lower distress over time compared with those in the vacation arm.

The researchers concluded that this study provides a strong distinction between beneficial effects of short-term relaxation typical of a vacation versus acute intensive meditation for regular meditators.

Also, they pointed out that for those already trained in the practice of meditation, a retreat does in fact appear to provide additional benefits to cellular health beyond the vacation effect.

So there you have it. The meditation retreat was a clear winner! Maybe armed with this evidence it will be easier to approach the boss for time off to attend a future meditation retreat – there are well proven advantages.

Epel ES et al. Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Translational Psychiatry (2016) 6, e880.  LINK HERE

A New Way of Living

COMING PROGRAMS - Retreats and Trainings

March 27th -31st     Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2
Ruth and I train people aspiring to be meditation teachers, or who already are and are seeking to extend their skills. This program is allied to Module 1, presented by Paul and Maia Bedson who teach on Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation. We teach Contemplation and Guided Imagery.

April 7 – 13th     Meditation in the Forest
This is our annual Pre-Easter 7 day retreat at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. Each year we learn a little more about relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, and we practice together. Then each year there is a specific theme; this year it is contemplation. There is not so much written on contemplation, and very few retreats on this specific topic, yet in my experience it is one of the most useful and profound elements to add to our practice. Ruth and I love presenting this retreat, and we love observing the benefits it brings to those who attend.


  1. As a regular reader of your blog and an admirer of your work I would ask you to include the cost of your meditation retreats within the information section - having to ring up and find out that it is way beyond one's means is a fairly depressing activity - not consistent with your positive messages.

  2. Dear Jeanette, the Foundation does have the scope to offer reduced fees - that is why they like people to ring so they can help if there is financial difficulty. Please do ring and enquire...

  3. A very interesting article, especially the material on telomerase and ageing-which I am doing.I would like to get to your retreat, but it is a long way from home. All the best, Michael.

  4. I admit, I have not been on this web page in a long time... however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues. how to meditate at home

  5. I really loved reading your blog. I also found your posts very interesting. thanks for sharing. we also provide Meditation Retreats For Beginners in UK. for more information visit our website.