All About Retreats

This is Part 22 of a serial blog originally titled 'Martha Carter's Healing Journey'. In Part 21, I reflect on a conversation with my mom on New Year’s eve about health and healing which ultimately prompted me to list (and share!) my top ten favourite self-care suggestions for 2019. In Part 20, I dive deeper into the subject of pain and share my recent research and explorations in Somatics as a healing solution. Missed the earlier posts? Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18 and Part 19.

The Value of Retreats

Google Dictionary Definition of re·treat

withdraw, retire, draw back, pull back, pull out, fall back, give way, give ground, recoil, flee, take flight, beat a hasty retreat, run away, run off, make a run for it, make off, take off, take to one's heels, make a break for it, bolt, make a quick exit, clear out, make one's getaway, escape, head for the hills; do a runner, scarper, do a bunk; light out, bug out, cut out, peel out, take a powder, skiddoo; vamoose, skedaddle, split, cut and run, leg it, turn tail, scram, hook it, fly the coop, skip off, do a fade, show a clean pair of heels…

“Show a clean pair of heels”...!! Haha, I haven’t heard that one before!

What strikes me about this dictionary definition of ‘retreat’ is that every word is dynamic and full of MOVEMENT! (rather than referring to stillness and relaxation). Hmmmm... Interesting.

It has been almost 10 years since I started the Twisted Outreach Project for Backcare and Scoliosis (TOPS) — with the idea of sharing ‘twisty’ knowledge for scoliotic bodies.

Since then, we have held workshops, classes, lectures, performances, and many social gatherings. We have become a hub - in person and online - where folks with scoliosis can connect to teachers and scoliosis specialists of all kinds, simultaneously building knowledge and community. Our ever-growing mailing list includes people from around the world, with one student traveling all the way from Japan just to attend a weekend workshop!

In fact, we started to see interest from so many out-of-towners that we decided to try the retreat format in order to offer students a comprehensive weekend package with classes, accommodation, and meals all included. The response and positive feedback has been tremendous!

Since then, TOPS has become known for holding exceptional retreats - rejuvenating movement workshops taught by wonderful teachers and held in beautiful places. In every retreat I have ever organized or attended - and I have done many now - I have witnessed participants having the time of their lives. They get to ‘vamoose’ from their usual life and open themselves to new things. Everyone goes home changed—rested, more grounded, heart open; empowered.

After all, everyone - with or without scoliosis - can use some extra self-care in this stressful, modern world.

One of my teachers recently said, “We are born into a world that our bodies have not evolved for. We are bombarded by all kinds of confused energies - harmful chemicals, unnatural habitats, etc. Because of this, counteracting these unnatural and unhealthy influences on a regular basis is essential.”

This is a great reminder to look after ourselves... But why attend a retreat?

Aside from the obvious value of experiencing a period of intensive study, what else do retreats provide that is worth the extra time, travel, and money?  And why, for most people, are they so transformative?

For me, it’s all about CONNECTION… with oneself, nature, and community:

1. SELF: A chance to connect with yourself and the opportunity to stop and listen. This is especially important for people with scoliosis and back pain, who often get into the habit of ignoring or ‘powering through’ the discomfort.

2. NATURE: An opportunity to connect with the healing power of nature in new ways and in new places. Since most human populations have moved into urban centres, getting out into nature has been scientifically proven as beneficial to all healing. Think ‘forest bathing’ for example!

3. COMMUNITY: A time to connect with new friends - possibly like-minded and like-bodied - and places. And unlike most tourist-style excursions, the retreat format and organization takes some of the stress away from travellers—providing a welcoming and secure place for everyone, especially solo travellers.

So, ironically, although the definition of retreat is to withdraw, pull back, get away, etc, the opportunity to connect with others, as well as ourselves, is one of action and movement. That is the real retreat TREAT!

But don’t just take it from me, as I am not exactly objective here. In the spirit of celebrating (and shamelessly promoting!) our upcoming retreats, here are some participant comments, photos, and reflections from our past TOPS gatherings.

About Back Care on the Beach in Mexico

The annual TOPS retreat in Troncones, Mexico (previously known as Yoga your Body, Dance your Soul) is great for anyone looking for a fabulous, hot, relaxing, and rejuvenating escape. The first testimonial below says it all!


“The TOPS retreat in Mexico is like FIVE! amazing holidays. There was the ‘culinary delights holiday’ courtesy of Antonio, the Master Chef; the optional ‘eco-adventure holiday’ chock-full with beautiful birds, tropical fish, and gorgeous wild lagoons and beaches; the ‘cultural exploration adventure holiday’ to Troncones and Ixtapa beaches, and most of all, the deeply relaxing, freeing ‘yoga dance holiday’, which brought me back into myself through peaceful, ease-ful yoga and playful, joyful dance”.

“Give yourself a week in Mexico with some amazing people to stretch your body and dance your soul.  I left feeling so relaxed and uplifted by the whole experience. Doing yoga and dance while looking out at the Pacific will change how you are in your body. Oh, and the margaritas at sunset are also fantastic!”

“I loved taking the time out from my hectic life to just focus on stretching my body and soul.  I loved getting to know new people who also were curious about finding new ways to connect to their bodies. I loved the supportive teaching environment, which fostered supportive classmates.  It was great to see how much more open everyone became as the week progressed.”

About Deborah Wolk on Salt Spring Island, BC

Deborah’s retreats are fantastic for anyone with scoliosis or interested in the condition, and the next one is designed to address scoliosis in women throughout the different stages of life, when the condition is known to change. Her intensive course content stimulates the brain, her innovative poses open the body, and the beauty and power of Salt Spring Island provides its own healing energy - an ideal combination.


”I loved the jam-packed schedule. Deb’s teaching for an almost complete novice like me, the structure, the demos, and time to practice. First and foremost, I enjoyed, and welcomed, the challenge of learning and practicing poses when I mostly do restorative yoga at  home. Not to mention, learning more about anatomy and the terminology of scoliosis. A perfect retreat for scoliosis sufferers, as well as, non-scoliosis people.”

“The people who are drawn to this workshop are lovely. I really enjoyed the exchanges and sense of community. Excellent and informative for all level of students.  More than a workshop - a wonderful place. I enjoy finding a community of folks with similar experiences and back issues. You do a wonderful job TOPS. Thank you.”

“I appreciated Deborah’s wealth of knowledge, and Martha’s amazing organization and accommodation. All the volunteers provided exquisite assistance in making all aspects of the amenities available. Amazing healthy food. Time to explore and structured time to learn. Nurturing of the body, mind and soul, it’s a great gathering of sisterhood while at the same time acquiring life skills that will keep me coming back for more!”

About the Fusion Retreat with Martha Carter and Ahava Shira in Black Creek, BC

This retreat is specifically designed to address the needs of people who have experienced spinal fusion. It is also great for teachers and bodyworkers who would like to learn more about the condition.


“The TOPS Fusion Retreat was a life-changing experience that allowed me to connect deeply with myself and others who have gone through spinal fusion surgery. I came away with a self care practice and a community of wonderful fusion sisters that I will carry with me forever.”

“For anyone with scoliosis and a fused spine, this is an opportunity to learn, practice and feel about this unique medical and physical situation. It’s the first time I have met other people travelling this journey. It has given me the confidence to practice yoga seriously.”

“I loved the synthesis of the yoga and the ‘writing alone together’. The community created by the shared fusion experience was phenomenal.”

About Yoga for Scoliosis with Elise Browning Miller at the Yoga Weyr, Nanaimo, BC

Elise is a master teacher who welcomes all kinds of students, including people with scoliosis and back issues, yoga teachers, and other interested wellness professionals.


“Everything was splendid! Agenda was adhered to, but flexible. Amazing planning! If you want to be empowered instead of anxious about your scoliosis, or learn to better help your yoga students with scoliosis, TOPS’ Yoga for Scoliosis retreats are STOP #1.“

“I loved the course and connection. I loved being with other twisted ladies. So healing! Elise is such a wonderfully impressive teacher! Attentive, caring, fun and so knowledgeable. Anyone with scoliosis or an interest in yoga and the back will enjoy this course and leave with a better understanding of individual alignment, an inspiration to deepen, and more individual practice to support themselves. Very empowering!”

“Definitely take this workshop!!! It’s empowering, encouraging, healing, emotionally and physically; restorative with very knowledgeable instructors.”

I’ve had my own incredible experiences at Elise’s retreats, which you can read about here.

A few more thoughts about the benefits of a retreat:

  • New energy… Almost everyone has trouble staying consistent with their personal practice. After attending a retreat, I always come away with renewed incentive, additional information, and enthusiasm for everything.

  • New perspectives… It’s not just about moving the body… it’s also about shifting perspectives; moving mind, body and soul… pushing, pulling, looking in; going deep.

  • Renewed body... Many body systems, including heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels, and many more, work on a ‘circaseptan’ - or week-long cycle. The added benefit of attending a week-long retreat is to rejuvenate all the body systems at once!

Since it is my work to organize and host retreats, I attend more than most people. There is no doubt that my life has been transformed for the better. The more retreats I take, the more I want to take. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to ‘retreat’ too much?

Imagine if you could find a way to continually take the time to stay connected; focused on the essential interaction of self, nature, and community. Imagine if every day, every week was filled with a sense of freedom, rejuvenation, and transformation? Wouldn’t that be awesome

Maybe that is the ultimate goal.

Retreats can teach us a new way to be, so that we can ‘retreat’ anytime we want or need. We learn to open our minds, bodies, and souls to new possibilities that can potentially become part of our day-to-day existence. All we need to do is to learn to stay connected!

And the best way to learn this is to sign up for a retreat... I hope to see you at one of ours this year!



Pick a retreat that intrigues you, or check them all out here - and take advantage of our EARLY BIRD RATES!

- Back Care on the Beach with Martha in Mexico, March 2-9, 2019.

- Fusion Retreat with Martha and special guest Ahava Shira in Black Creek on Vancouver Island, June 7-10, 2019.

- Women’s Yoga for Scoliosis with Deborah Wolk on Salt Spring Island, June 27-30, 2019.

- Yoga for Scoliosis Part 1 & 2 with Elise Browning Miller in Nanaimo, Sept 12-16, 2019.

In my next blog, I return to the topic of Somatics and share my explorations of this movement practices as it relates to Scoliosis.