Melissa's Travels

Euphoria Retreat in Greece: A Boot Camp for Soul Stretching

After a recent wellness retreat, Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley shares the challenges and rewards of a stay at Euphoria Retreat in Mystras, Greece.

I didn’t know which workshop I dreaded more: interpretive dance; acting in an improvisational scene from Antigone or singing solo before a group. I hadn’t tried anything close to any of these “arts” since grade school. The five other women in my leadership retreat cohort, all accomplished professionals from Europe and the U.S., admitted to feeling equally ill at ease. But that, of course, was the point. The retreat leaders designed a program where we’d be forced to shed capabilities and surrender to a state of deep discomfort as that is where revelations reside.

Despite Americans’ growing obsession with wellness and “healthspan” and an increased appreciation of the mind-body connection in medicine, I had yet to hear about a retreat that really dug into emotional or soul healing until this fall. In fact, even after I decided to go to Euphoria, an innovative spa retreat in Mystras, Greece, I didn’t actually understand what I had signed up for. I have attended physical boot camps, where you surrender your agency and give yourself over to mandatory yoga, hikes and a strictly limited diet. (Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy the experience much.) However, they did help me permanently change some of my lifestyle habits for the better. And when you can’t muster the discipline to do the hard physical training that you know you need or you want to jump start an exercise practice, I understand how these can serve a valuable role.

But as Chinese medicine has long been aware, integral to true well-being is the connection between mind, body and spirit. A physically powerful body without a calm mind and an integrated soul is not a truly healthy one. Doctor and author Gabor Mate has been one of the more impactful evangelists of this in the West. As he writes in When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress, “Emotional competence is what we need to develop if we are to protect ourselves from the hidden stresses that create a risk to health, and it is what we need to regain if we are to heal.” Put in a more clinical way in his best-selling book The Myth of Normal: “One of the things many diseases have in common is inflammation, acting as kind of a fertilizer for the development of illness. We’ve discovered that when people feel threatened, insecure—especially over an extended period of time—our bodies are programmed to turn on inflammatory genes.”

Like so many visionary founders, Marina Efraimoglou, the founder of Euphoria Retreat, has created a product that delivers what she herself sought and couldn’t find. After surviving cancer and a super stressful career as co-founder of one of Greece’s biggest banks, which she sold in 2001, Marina visited healing centers and spas all over the world. She incorporated yoga, meditation and healthy nutrition into her life to restore her well-being and a sense of balance. In her travels, she also became convinced of what the ancient Greek and Chinese medicine practitioners knew. “Our approach is naturalistic,” she explains, “meaning that our healing begins with the energy of the outside world and that we draw conclusions that relate to the energy of the world and individuals.”

Given that she would be partnering with the natural world, it took Marina more than ten years to find the perfect spot for her new kind of healing destination. Located on a hillside just above the village of Mystras in the southeast Peloponnese, Euphoria backs up to an ancient pine forest, which according to legend was once inhabited by female priestesses. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mystras, the Greek capital of the Byzantines in the 13th century and later occupied by the Venetians and Turks until it was abandoned in the 1800s, is a short hike away. The terra-cotta roofs and Byzantine style façade of Euphoria’s buildings disguises the contemporary spa facility within, which includes a series of pools that flow from inside to outside, a hammam area with steam and infrared sauna rooms as well as a cold plunge, ice fountain and experiential showers; and fitness and yoga studios. The intuitive spa therapists practice massage as well as energy healing, reiki, acupuncture and the exclusive Sanctuary for the Busy Mind treatment, which if it could be bottled would be more popular than Coke and Starbucks combined. A medical doctor can run a battery of tests and develop a custom diet based upon a blood test that measures biomarkers such as glucose and glycogen. (In general, the food is nutritious and delicious based on a Mediterranean diet with wines available.) Weekend guests from Athens often check in for a few days of healthy living.

However, to tap into a more transformative healing experience and reap the benefits of Marina’s mission, it is best to join one of the retreats that she leads with her wellness advisor Mary Vandorou. The one I was invited to focused on a new archetype of female leadership, but like all of their retreats, it really explored self-awareness and emotional honesty. We were six women from four different countries, and in the first meeting Marina and Mary established an atmosphere where vulnerability was valued and authenticity required. One high-profile guest led by revealing that she had recently called the police on her own son who had become violent; a net of trust instantly enveloped us.

“Our healing programs are centered on the five constitutional elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal and their related energies and emotions,” Marina explained. “As such, all treatments consider the holon (“whole” in Greek) in addressing the three levels of existence – emotional, physical and spiritual.” Over the course of four days of workshops that included drama, dance and voice classes as well as spa treatments, meditations and forest and labyrinth walks, we revealed—to ourselves and each other—which element was our dominant one and its implications in our life. We also discussed three levels of leadership: over ourselves, within our closest relationships and in a public realm. Where did we feel most comfortable and most uncomfortable? How did our constitutional elements, or natural characteristics, play into those states?

In discussions, we wrestled with a lot, but we learned the most from the dreaded workshops. How we channeled Antigone when she confronted Creon or when she stood over her dead brother laid bare instinctual defenses. How we danced to express the seasons of life conjured emotions often well suppressed. Matching steps to our breath in a silent forest meditation amplified neglected senses. By the end of four days, our bodies had been treated to delicious meals and restorative treatments, but these merely added a layer of comfort and safety to the real work, which was deeper than bones and muscles. Who among us doesn’t need to do some excavating of our emotional terrain or some stretching of our souls? “I feel like that was a year of therapy wrapped in a cocoon,” said one of my fellow participants. “And I didn’t know how badly I needed it.”

Since Marina founded Euphoria in 2018, she has seen a growing incidence of emotional imbalances that she attributes to increased isolation from Covid, remote work and technological dependencies. Add to that list global economic and political anxiety, and the need for the emotional and spiritual therapy that she offers is clear. In the ancient words of Hippocrates, “The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.” So did I find euphoria at Euphoria? When defined as “an intense experience of well-being and happiness,” yes I did. Now the challenge, just like it is after leaving any boot-camp, is maintaining it—or going back for another fix.


Looking to read more on Euphoria Retreat? Check out our exclusive review here.


What to Know

The forty-five rooms are comfortable but not super luxurious as the goal is to spend time in nature and the spa. The top accommodation is in the historic Leoncini Mansion. Programs range from 2 to 21 days with a host of signature programs offered each year.

The 2024 Retreat Lineup

Spring

· April 16-21, 2024 Odysseus Journey Retreat

· May 16-19, 2024 Feel Alive Again

· May 20-26, 2024 Spartan Spirit of Adventure

Summer

· June 12-16, 2024 Leadership/Empowerment

· June 25-29, 2024 Spartan Spirit of Adventure

· July 09-14, 2024 Odysseus Journey Retreat

· August 29-September 1, 2024 Feel Alive Again Retreat

Fall/Winter

· September 16-22,2024 Spartan Spirit of Adventure

· October 09-13, 2024 Leadership/Empowerment

· November 19-24, 2024 Odysseus Journey Retreat

· December 5-8, 2024 Feel Alive Again

Learn More

Published onMarch 6, 2024

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