In the desert of life, a refreshing wellness retreat might be the cool oasis you didn’t know you needed. Jessica Van Antwerp is the owner and CEO of Integral Travel, a service that provides wellness retreats and education to teach people how to unlock the natural healing capacity of their bodies- all while connecting with others and the planet. She draws on over a decade of experience in the health and wellness industry, as well as the wisdom she’s gained through her personal struggles with anxiety, weight, low self-esteem, and addiction. For Jessica, there is nothing more fulfilling than empowering people in their own well being and helping them heal their hearts.
What brought you to Integral Travel?
Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with low self esteem, generalized anxiety, weight issues, and a cannabis addiction. I try to be open and straightforward because it allows people to see my perspective and how I came to find this path. I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out how to combine teaching and the healing power of nature in my career.
Massage therapy really spoke to me and sparked my desire to learn about the health of the body and how everything inside it relates. But one of my frustrations with massage is the feeling that patients want me to fix them. I can help, but if they aren’t willing to put in their own work then the changes I make for them won’t last.
That desire to help other people in their own health is what brought me to Integral Travel. Teaching people that they have so much power within themselves is what brings me true joy. We spend our entire lives in these bodies but we’re not taught how to maintain them and that is how we can make strides in our collective health.
**Prefer to watch? Check out our livestream, “On Qigong and Wellness Retreats with Jessica Van Antwerp” below!**
How did you develop a wellness retreat within Integral Travel?
Originally, Integral Travel was an international travel program developed by a Thai massage teacher. teacher. She took students around the world and taught them how to do Thai massage, and this overlap in our alternative medicine circles is how I first came into contact with her.
After taking over, I had a business partner whom I went to Thailand with. We ran the program at a loss just to get the ship out of the harbor, so-to-speak. While it was magical and enlivening there were also so many challenges. Not only with the trip but also with myself.
After my business partner decided to go a different direction, I decided to take the chance to rebrand. I knew I wanted to help as many people as possible by teaching them how to help themselves.
How nature and health go together
I wanted Integral Travel to have a strong connection to nature and help people re-establish their roots in that way. Nature is an element of health that is often overlooked. We are natural beings, so it only makes sense that we should spend some of our lives there during a wellness retreat. Spending time in nature increases the functioning of your immune system, decreases stress hormones, and increases neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. There are actually a lot of movements in urban and impoverished areas to add green centers so that everyone can have access to these benefits.
What is qigong?
Qigong centers around cultivating life energy by combining movement and meditation. Most people have heard of tai chi, which is a a type of qigong. There are hundreds if not thousands of styles of qigong and they all vary slightly depending on who is teaching it and where they learned it.
Your body is a self healing organism, as you can see when you cut your finger and it heals by itself. We’re also surrounded by energy all the time, which is basic physics. So if we can mindfully move by softening our bodies and let go of the energy that is no longer serving us, we can receive fresh energy from the universe. Our bodies use this fresh energy to heal themselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
How has qigong changed your life?
Qigong helped me recover from a nervous breakdown, so it holds a really special place in my life. At the time I was running a wellness center and completely ignoring my self care. I was stressed, overworked, tired, it came to a point where I just had nothing left of me to give.
The same day that everything broke down someone came to the center asking to teach a particular style of qigong. He gave me a 10 minute introduction and I immediately felt its power. I am thankful I was open and receptive of it at the time and I repeated that 10 minute practice every day for months.
Even though very little changed in my life, it healed me. My boss let me work less, but I was still working over 70 hours a week. It was through my practice of qigong that I was able to get in touch with the healing energy in the universe. That’s what we’re pulling in during our practice. Rather than my life circumstances changing, it was more my relationship to the stressors in my life that changed.
Why should a person go on a wellness retreat instead of just going on vacation?
Sometimes we come back from vacation more tired than when we left. We become so focused on experiencing everything this new place has to offer that we lose track of within. Part of the appeal of a retreat is the simplicity in that way.
Rather than needing to plan your itinerary, meals, budget, lodging, and transportation, we take care of all of that for you. Movement, health, nature, touch, and inner reflection are all also incorporated, some of which people don’t get daily even in their own life. You’re still out and exploring but you’re being mindful about where you’re exploring.
We’re your personal teachers, guides, and coaches throughout the entire experience. Combining the two- the magic of the destination and inner reflection gives you perspective on your day-to-day life as well as the chance to examine it and make a change.
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Touch- an underrepresented element of health
Diet and exercise are definitely foundations of health, but they’re all we really hear about. I also really encourage touch as a facet of good health as well. Not only because of my background as a massage therapist, but there are more and more studies showing the benefits of touch.
Stress contributes to every major disease out there, but touch is one of the most effective and natural ways we can heal from it. Touch can decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and calm your nervous system. A simple hug from someone you really care about can do wonders for your mood. We can’t live stress-free lives but we can learn how to treat the stress we undergo.
Why not just engage in these wellness practices at home?
Wellness is something that we need to take time out for, no matter what. A wellness retreat won’t be able to replace daily wellness rituals but there is a benefit to taking time away. You’re leaving the monotony of your daily life and getting a new view on your life both physically and mentally.
Our retreat is an experience that is focused on cultivating a stillness of the mind and a peace in the heart. When you’re stressed in your life you just want some relief, so we try to tailor our treatment to do that best. We want you to slow down, spend valuable time in nature, eat amazing food that is nourishing for you, meet amazing new people, and grow closer to yourself. All of our time and energy goes towards making sure you have the best experience possible and feel comfortable returning to your life with a new, refreshed perspective. You don’t necessarily get all of that from a regular vacation.