During a silent walk along the shore of frozen Lake Louise in Banff National Park, participants leave 20 feet between each other. That way, they have space to notice the crunch of snow underfoot, hear the tapping of a woodpecker against a pine and ponder the enormous craggy peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Spring and fall wellness retreats at the upscale Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta attract busy, stressed professionals looking to bring more calm and clarity into their lives without sacrificing luxury and good food. Our group of 18 included three mother/daughter pairs, a couple of childhood friends and several singles. The lone man was married to a return participant. They talked freely about their experiences trying — and often failing — to carve out time for meditation and yoga in their crammed work and family lives.
Meditation teacher Tracey Delfs, who teaches yoga and mindfulness at the chateau, accepts and encourages all comers. She’s studied with many leading teachers, notably Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Despite her vast knowledge, she’s goofy and approachable. Don’t expect much Sanskrit in her yoga class — she’s likelier to instruct students to do banana or gorilla pose. When a student talks to her, she models mindfulness, sharing her entire attention and focus. Delfs has a gift for taking a group of strangers on a Friday night and having them all laughing together and exchanging deep thoughts and feelings by Sunday lunch.
What is mindfulness?
The idea of mindfulness is both extremely simple to understand yet difficult to achieve. It’s about being in the present moment, both in body and mind. “This moment is your life,” Delfs emphasizes.
The potentially life-changing instruction comes during the mindfulness talks. Delfs uses a simple exercise to demonstrate the worthlessness of multitasking — mindfulness’ archenemy. She encourages students to adopt a regular seated meditation practice, even if it’s only five minutes every morning. She recommends setting a time of day, a regular meditation spot and a predetermined length of time. People should know what benefit they expect to get from meditation, because that boosts adherence, she explains. Mantras boost positivity and help overcome fear and self-doubt.
Taking time to be with yourself in stillness familiarizes you with your own internal weather patterns, she says. When you know yourself, you know when to say yes, when to say no, who you want in your life and what to let go of. “Meditation makes you bold,” she says. “You can speak your truth because you know your truth.”
Many times, people have told Delfs that their minds are too busy to successfully meditate. She just laughs, saying that’s when you need meditation the most. “It’s like they’re saying their bodies are way too dirty to shower.”
There’s also mindful eating, which requires diners to slow down, chew food more thoroughly and think about where the ingredients in their meal come from. At Lake Louise, retreat participants eat meals partially in silence to boost mindfulness — a novel experience in a world that usually demands small talk.
The Chateau on Lake Louise
The most striking visual image people take away from Lake Louise is the view. The chateau, the first incarnation of which was built in 1890, looks directly onto the famously blue-green lake, with craggy mountains rising up from its banks. Retreat-goers arriving in spring may be surprised to find the lake covered in ice and snow and dotted with skaters, hockey players and cross-country skiers. People visit Lake Louise because they like nature and mountains. They stay in the chateau because they enjoy luxury, good food and access to a 500-bottle wine library. From the extensive breakfast buffet to afternoon tea with a view, guests may be in a national park and UNESCO world heritage site, but they couldn’t be any further from roughing it.
Except for a few hours of free time on Saturday afternoon, the Lake Louise retreat is action-packed from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. However, participants are free to skip any activities if they need more time to themselves. Days start at 8 a.m. with a 90-minute yoga and meditation class, followed by breakfast, a talk on mindfulness, a forest walk and lunch. Saturday afternoon features more yoga, dinner and informal stargazing around a fire.
If You Go
To get to Lake Louise, fly to Calgary, Alberta. From there, you can take a shuttle bus directly to the chateau. If you want to see more of Banff National Park, rent a car at the airport and make your retreat part of a longer trip. Other area highlights include the cute mountain town of Banff Springs and the unforgettable drive up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park. Learn more at www.lakelouisewellness.com.