For more information

Ananda Center Laurelwood: 38950 SW Laurelwood Road, Gaston; anandalaurelwood.org, 503-746-6229.

Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center: Via National Forest Route 46, Detroit; breitenbush.com, 503-854-3320.

Tipi Village Retreat: 39615 Wendling Road, Marcola; tipivillageretreat.com, 541-933-1145.

Focusing on wellness and spirituality when you are at home is often difficult. You’re surrounded by work, kids, pets, a growing list of household projects and other everyday concerns. Sometimes, you just have to get away to shift the focus to yourself for a short time.

That’s the role of wellness retreats. In Oregon, there are still places where you won’t be disturbed by the internet or the ring of your cell phone.

Nearest to Bend is Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center. This rustic oasis, barely two hours’ drive northwest from Bend, is one of the leading spots in the Pacific Northwest for people to immerse in health and wellness practices.

If you venture to Breitenbush in August, for instance, you can study yoga, meditation, shamanism or reiki bodywork. You can attend workshops on spiritual healing, holistic eating, color theory or chakra awareness. In September, you might learn about ayurvedic and herbal medicine, rhythmic energy work, tarot readings, creative writing and sacred song.

Located near the small town of Detroit in the heart of the Oregon Cascades, Breitenbush sits on the banks of the Breitenbush River, within a geothermal area at the edge of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area. It’s not a fancy resort, nor does it pretend to be. Many of its structures date from the 1920s.

In an era when it’s almost impossible to escape the workaday world, Breitenbush offers just such a getaway: There is no guest internet or cellphone service. (The office maintains connections for emergency and administrative purposes.) It’s no wonder Breitenbush has so many repeat visitors. In fact, it hosts about 20,000 guests a year, split evenly between those on personal retreats and those attending workshops. Nearly every weekend, year-round, some type of workshop is scheduled.

Daily routine

Some might describe the clientele as new age, but the people I met were mainly well-educated professionals on personal retreats. A modest, all-inclusive nightly rate included a private cabin, three full meals a day from a vegetarian buffet, classes in yoga and meditation.

I found my 48-hour visit so relaxing, the time just flew past. I read. I wrote. I hiked the South Breitenbush Gorge Trail amidst old-growth cedars, firs, hemlocks and thickets of slumbering rhododendrons. I welcomed a 90-minute massage from a therapist who gave special attention to neck and shoulder muscles tight from hunching over a computer. Mainly, I centered myself and recharged my personal battery.

Three times a day, I shared a table with new friends in the lodge. Meals were served at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., and were announced by a bell that could be heard across the resort. Although I am not vegetarian, I never left the table feeling hungry. We had eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, soup and salad for lunch, additional entrees and dessert for dinner. It would not be hard to get used to a diet like that. There is no bar; no alcoholic beverages nor recreational drugs are permitted.

Overnight guests also have full soaking privileges in the steam sauna and hot pools, where nudity is the norm. There is something liberating about being naked with strangers in this environment. While the resort describes its bathing areas as “clothing optional,” I did not encounter a single person who shrouded him or herself in a swimsuit during my visit. Bathers can relax their reserve, quietly disrobe, hang their clothing on pegs and slowly slip into the steaming water with others dressed exactly like them.

There are two sets of pools at Breitenbush. On the river plain, four tiled hot tubs, oriented to the cardinal directions, share a single platform. On an open hillside above the main lodge are three rock-lined pools classified as Sacred Pools. The particularly beautiful pool furthest from the lodge is designated as the Silent Pool, where conversation is discouraged to allow bathers to meditate. Temperatures range from 101 to 108 degrees.

It is cooled considerably from the water that bubbles from the earth at 180 to 190 degrees. A geothermal well, nearly 500 feet deep, feeds not only the bathing pools but also heats the entire resort community. Were it not capped, a 60-foot geyser of steam and boiling water would erupt every few minutes.

A small and ramshackle sauna house, built of cedar planks, is another popular haven. Not a dry sauna, but a steam-heated one, its moist heat sends many bathers dashing for the cool plunge (in an old claw-foot bathtub) just outside.

A little history

These hot springs have been inhabited, or at least visited, for thousands of years. Ancient arrowheads still turn up on the forest paths. Native American tradition holds that tribes sometimes gathered here for powwows, laying their rivalries aside.

Named for a 19th-century trapper, the Breitenbush River was homesteaded around 1900. In the late ’20s and early ’30s, this area was developed as a small resort; its main lodge and many of the 10-foot-by-12-foot cabins were constructed at that time. But a 1967 flood wiped out a section of the property and it was largely abandoned.

Ten years later, in 1977, young Alex Beamer applied his inheritance to buying the property. He assembled a small community of friends, mainly volunteers, who rebuilt the old resort. In doing so, they drilled the geothermal well that heats all buildings, rebuilt and expanded a hydroelectric plant to provide their own electricity, and hid all cables underground.

They also drew up a credo by which the community still lives today. In part, it reads: “We see ourselves as guardians of the Breitenbush Hot Springs, safeguarding the earth and healing water. … Our primary service is to provide a healing retreat and conference center, which promotes holistic health (and) spiritual growth.”

Other retreats

There are two other lesser-known Oregon wellness retreats.

In a secluded Mohawk Valley woodland northeast of Eugene/Springfield, the friendly Tipi Village Retreat welcomes individuals and groups looking for a serene place to recharge, whether for a special occasion or a simple escape. Yoga and reflexology instruction are offered.

Within the Tipi Village, five tepees are simply furnished with rugs on stone floors, plus beds featuring down comforters and wool blankets. They share a central bathhouse. There are also cabins and additional rooms with private baths. Full breakfasts are served on a patio beside Mill Creek, while dinners (Spanish paella is a favorite) are available by prior arrangement.

Less than an hour’s drive west of Portland, near Gaston, the Ananda Center Laurelwood operates what it calls “a campus of higher consciousness” on the lower slopes of Bald Peak. A global movement, Ananda is based on the teachings of the late Paramahansa Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi.” Most activities are focused on workshops and classes in yoga and meditation; overnight lodging includes three vegetarian meals a day.

Located in a former Seventh-Day Adventist high school, the residential campus has 50 guest rooms as well as schools, gardens and a variety of programs in development. Ananada does have Wi-Fi and cellphone access. •

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