Northland is home to a number of retreats offering time-out, meditation and yoga. Reporter Jenny Ling asks three retreat owner-operators why self-care and inner reflection are so important.
Santipada Buddhist Monastery, Takou Bay
There's a little oasis located just north of Kerikeri that not many New Zealanders know about.
The Santipada Buddhist Monastery in Takou Bay is surrounded by native bush, tranquil gardens, a thriving orchard, and vegetable gardens.
Run by monks Bhante Yasala and Bhante Anuttara with help from volunteers for nearly two decades, the centre last year opened up as a retreat where people can learn to slow down, meditate and reflect.
But not many know of its existence in Northland, head monk Bhante Yasala said, because it has tended to attract international visitors rather than Kiwis.
Retreats are for a minimum of three nights and participants are encouraged to maintain silence throughout except for talking with the teacher.
The use of mobile phones or computers is discouraged, and participants must abide by the eight Buddhist precepts - or sila - which include refraining from taking life, dishonest speech, taking intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol, and sexual activity.
A typical day involves rising at 5am for chanting, followed by a morning group meditation, breakfast, a walking or sitting meditation, lunch, a dharma talk by Yasala or Bhante Anuttara, and two evening meditation sessions.
While volunteers are expected to help out gardening, cleaning and cooking at the Otaha Rd property, retreat participants have more freedom with their spare time.
They are encouraged to read from the library which is stocked with books on meditation and Buddhism, or simply rest.
After three days people leave "a bit more relaxed in the body and their mind", Yasala said.
"People recognise how busy they are.
"But in three days nothing much happens, once they have experienced that maybe they can think about doing longer next time.
"The dharma talks will help how you manage the mind and life. Conditions will never change but it's how you deal with them."
Accommodation at Santipada is basic, cosy and clean.
There are a number of separate men's and women's cabins that sleep up to 12 people, and shared men's and women's ablution blocks.
Vegetarian food is provided for breakfast and lunch, such as porridge and muesli in the morning and a cooked meal often made with vegetables from the raised garden beds in the afternoon.
Bhante Yasala said some people may struggle with only two meals a day.
But eating less is beneficial, she said.
"People don't know what it means to be hungry.
"Without hunger they just keep eating. But when the stomach is emptier it's really good, even for a few days."
Yasala became interested in Buddhism and meditation in her early 20s while at university in South Korea.
After hearing a dharma talk from a monk and contemplating the universal truth that everything is constantly changing and impermanent, she quit university, wrote a letter to her parents, and embarked on her new path.
She was ordained as a female monk in the Korean zen tradition in 1984, then studied in Myanmar and India, practising meditation and learning the Theravada and Vipassana traditions.
In 2003, Yasala travelled to New Zealand where she studied psychology, then established the Santipada centre on 6ha of land donated by Bruno Mertens, a retired building engineer, artist and life-long Buddhist who died in 2010 aged 96.
The most important thing for a successful retreat is being open and respectful to others, she said.
"This is a good environment," she said.
"It doesn't matter what religion you are from. I believe they can get the benefits of the Buddha's guidance for us."
A donation of $100 per night covers food and accommodation for the retreat.
Tara Retreat, Mangawhai
Yoga, massage, beach walks, a sauna and a bit of stargazing are all on the cards at Tara Retreat in Mangawhai.
Run and owned by Glen Crofskey and Nicola Bradburn, the retreat is set among 1ha of fruit trees, banana groves, vegetable and herb gardens and native bush.
The couple were living in Wellington before they moved north 10 years ago in search of a better lifestyle.
Over the past five years they have developed the property as a fun, alternative getaway.
"We wanted to open a wellness retreat that was close to a beach, had a nice lifestyle where we could get outdoors, and host people as well," Crofskey said.
Bradburn said going on a retreat is a good opportunity to de-stress and push the reset button.
"Particularly the last year and a half, people have higher levels of stress and spending time at a retreat is good to just try to look at your health overall.
"A retreat will kick them off on their journey.
"When people first come here, they say they don't realise they were so stressed or tired, but they go back feeling rejuvenated."
There are five accommodation options at Tara Retreat including a glamping tent, a self-contained studio made from recycled wood, a Mexican-themed caravan, and a former gypsy house truck made with recycled kauri, lead-light windows and a loft-style bed.
There's also Cob Cottage, which has been handmade from untreated native and exotic hardwood timbers, with stomped clay, sand and straw walls.
Each accommodation option has its own private setting, and there's a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen and dining area with a pizza oven and barbecue.
A typical retreat includes three-night stays in either Cob Cottage or the studio, with a yoga session, massage, and sauna included in the $545 (single) or $650 (double) price.
During the warmer months of October through April, the glamping tent is also available.
Crofskey who teaches yoga, said the retreats are "quite bespoke".
"I have done group retreats where you have to be strict on the time, but ours is more bespoke.
"For a couple, if they want to sleep in they can, we can make it whatever suits them.
"Some people want to get up and go, and others want to have it more relaxed. We match it to whatever they want for their weekend or three days."
Crofskey, a former journalist, has been teaching yoga for about five years, mainly hatha and vinyasa yoga which involve physical postures, breathing techniques, and matching movement to the breath.
He started practising the ancient Indian discipline 15 years ago to improve his flexibility and heal his body, which was racked with pain from a mountaineering accident and "a couple of mountain bike crashes".
"By my mid-30s I couldn't touch my knees," he said.
"That's why I got into yoga, to heal my body.
"Now I can put my hands flat on the ground and am pretty agile and fit. It's total free movement now. I know it [yoga] works."
Originally from Northland, Bradburn is a naturopath, herbalist and massage therapist of more than 20 years.
Self-care is "absolutely" important, she said.
"You need to take some responsibility for yourself and look after yourself," she said.
"Have a support crew, like your naturopath or herbalist to check in with, but for people to be healthy and well and happy self-care is really important."
There is also an infrared sauna for relaxing and detoxing or as part of a hot/cold therapy, which is believed to strengthen the immune system and improve circulation.
The yoga studio can transform into a movie theatre or dance floor at night or people can gather around an open fire to do some stargazing.
Retreat participants are encouraged to sample Mangawhai's restaurants and cafes, visit the local market and walk along the surf beach, which is a short drive away.
"Sometimes the internet can be patchy, but our visitors don't mind, sometimes they don't even ask for the Wi-Fi password," Bradburn said.
"They don't want to be online, they want to be in a rural environment to reconnect back to nature."
Tushita Mystery School, Peria
The Tushita Mystery School in Peria offers retreats and courses for anyone who wants to explore how they are living.
Damalaya, the administrator, said the school was established five years ago and is run by about 12 people including teachers, who volunteer their time.
Retreats are run throughout the year for three to five days at a time, and centre around the meditation technique called I Am, short for insight awareness meditation.
"It's a very ordinary straight-forward practice that anyone can come to and do," Damalaya said.
"Essentially there's sitting meditation, periods of walking meditation, journal writing sessions and a session of physical relaxation and breathing.
"If a person is willing and wants to take time out, a retreat is a really good thing to do.
"It's good to let things go for a while and just be with ourselves.
"Sometimes we need a particular place where we can do that, because it's much harder to reflect and meditate in your ordinary daily life."
Participants are provided three vegetarian meals a day, and separate men's and women's accommodation is shared in cabins and chalets.
Phones and other devices are not allowed to "lessen all the things that distract you from where you are right now".
"It's concentrating on your own process and silence and keeping things simple and straightforward," Damalaya said.
"People are very busy in their lives and therefore in our minds, we hardly ever give ourselves a chance to slow down and stop and rest back into ourselves."
Participants pay a $50 registration fee along with a donation at the time of the retreat which includes accommodation and meals.
There are also solo contemplation retreats which are self-directed and self-catering for people wanting time out.
"So people can have time out in their own space and reflect for themselves. If they want to sit quietly or write for a few days they can do that.
"It's more the overall atmosphere of being in that quiet contemplative mode rather than being busy."
Damalaya said she has been interested in meditation and "the spiritual understanding of our existence" for a long time.
In her mid-20s she lived in Scotland, studying at the Findhorn Foundation, a charitable trust formed by the spiritual community at the Findhorn Ecovillage.
When she returned to New Zealand, she kept up her meditation practice and studied I Am meditation under New Zealand-born Master Yanchiji.
The teachings don't follow any particular doctrine or religion, and while the retreats are silent, there are daily sessions where people can ask teachers questions.
"Often people think they could never do a silent retreat," Damalaya said.
"But they discover they can, and when they give themselves a chance to relax for a bit, you notice the change in people's faces.
"They get the benefit of feeling that there's more than just the busy and unease of life, there's more to me than that."
Damalaya said all sorts of people attend retreats at Tushita.
"Not everyone wants to understand the whole spiritual thing but the students recognise the value of these practices that anyone can do.
"They can still learn these things and find them useful in their daily lives."