Time to unwind: Wellness retreat centers in WNC

PATH TO PRAYER: Walk the labyrinth at The Light Center or enjoy its wilderness trails. Photo courtesy of The Light Center

Western North Carolina has long been a healing mecca. From its early sanitarium days to the present, the area has been filled with many wellness centers where people can go to relax, rejuvenate, heal and unwind. Today, many of these centers offer a variety of reasonably priced programs, from classes and workshops to individual and group retreats to lectures and events, some of which are donation-based or even free and open to the public. Here are some of WNC’s wellness centers and their offerings.


The Heart Center – Robbinsville

Center director Liz Velazquez first envisioned The Heart Center during a workshop she attended in 2005. Having already acquired the property — 30 acres, including the former Mountain View School — Velazquez began creating her vision of a place where people of all ages could feel loved and safe while experiencing the beauty of nature. The center currently has two cabins where visitors can stay, with a third cabin underway.

Western North Carolina has a variety of beautiful wellness getaways, including this cozy cabin at The Heart Center, nestled deep in the forests of Robbinsville, N.C. Photo by Haley Steinhardt
Western North Carolina has a variety of beautiful wellness getaways, including this cozy cabin at The Heart Center, nestled deep in the forests of Robbinsville, N.C. Photo by Haley Steinhardt

The Heart Center offers personalized individual, couple, family and group retreats focusing on self-exploration and healing. Some of the activities include contemplative living workshops based on the writings of Thomas Merton, guided and silent meditations, reiki healing, chakra energy cleansing and balancing, the enneagram, labyrinth walks and artistic expression through music and dance. And of course, being with nature. “An integral part of our healing and rediscovering process involves developing an intimate relationship with Mother Nature through walking, hiking, water activities, grounding work and simply remembering to feel and savor her beautiful energies, sights and sounds,” says Velazquez.

The Heart Center is always open for visitors to come and explore the land for free. Simply call ahead to come walk the labyrinth, participate in a meditation or fire ceremony, or attend a drumming session. Reiki sessions are offered on a donation basis. For more information on The Heart Center, or to find out about upcoming events, visit TheHeartCenter9.com.


The Light Center – Black Mountain

The history of The Light Center dates to 1976, when its parent nonprofit organization, United Research Inc., was founded as a way to support the public in learning about prayer (nonreligious, nondenominational). The Light Center itself is a white, two-story dome built in 1979 with the intention of providing a free and open place where anyone could pray. In addition to the domed prayer room, the center offers a colored-light meditation chamber, a labyrinth and extensive hiking trails — all of which are free and open to the public. “Our mission is to help increase the individual’s awareness of oneness,” says center director Sarah Gayle. “It’s a place of peace and beauty where you can come to relax. Experience the colored-light chamber; meditate in the geodesic prayer room; walk the labyrinth or hike to Meditation Rock on the Broad River. This is a place for you to forget the cares of the world and reconnect with your inner peace.”

LightCenter1 copy
The Light Center has a uniquely majestic geodesic dome prayer room that encompasses the entire second story of the building. Photo courtesy of The Light Center

The Light Center offers workshops and retreats, but Gayle made it clear that any fees are only for specific programs. The main focus of The Light Center is to be a free place for people to come and explore their spiritual path. “The Light Center began as a place dedicated to prayer for Earth and its inhabitants,” says Gayle, “and to help people reconnect with their inner light. After 35 years, we are still open to the public, fulfilling this mission.” For more information, visit urlight.org.


Prama Institute – Marshall

The Prama Institute is a holistic retreat center and nonprofit organization founded on the principle of prama, which in Sanskrit means “dynamic balance.” The institute offers educational workshops, yoga retreats and workshops, spiritual retreats, workplace seminars and a variety of other events. It also rents out its facilities for personal and group retreats, and the rental fee includes event-planning support.

“At the Prama Institute,” says the center’s assistant manager, Rachel Maietta, “we live and work in a sustainable community, providing holistic education for the people and the planet. Plans are also underway to expand into a thriving eco-village that includes a yoga therapy clinic, organic farming and other sustainable projects.” The institute also recently expanded to create Prama Wellness Center, which specializes in detox and rejuvenation techniques centered on healing foods.

In addition to retreats and workshops, Prama welcomes the public to explore the property for free. “We sit on 120 shared acres only 20 minutes from Asheville,” said Maietta. “We have trail maps available, and our land has many beautiful places to sit and meditate. We love having visitors, meeting new people and seeing old friends. We just ask that you call or email ahead of time. We are also always open to volunteers.” For more information, visit pramainstitute.org.


OM Sanctuary – Asheville

OM Sanctuary is on the grounds of the former Richmond Hill Inn. The nonprofit and retreat center purchased the property in 2011 and has worked hard to create it anew as the beautiful holistic wellness haven it is today. At the heart of OM’s offerings are what it calls “Rest and Renewal Stays” where, in addition to enjoying yoga, meditation and holistic fitness classes, visitors are asked to explore spending time in silence and disconnecting from their cellphones and computers. In fact, several areas of the OM Sanctuary campus are electronics-free zones.

“As part of our ‘Bring-a-Program’ endeavor, we offer discounted group lodging to facilitators who wish to hold a holistic education program in a retreat environment,” says program manager Cathy Desfosses. “OM Sanctuary also hosts a variety of holistic education retreats and seminars conducted by local and out-of-state practitioners at an affordable fee for the community,” says Desfosses. “And we offer scholarship spaces in all of our programs.” Many of the daily yoga, tai chi, qi gong and meditation classes are offered by donation, and they are free for those who come to the center for a Rest and Renewal stay.

OM Sanctuary is on a beautiful stretch of 54 acres, giving people plenty of space to explore, reflect and relax. OM’s mission is to create a place where the community can have access to well-being services, healthy food and a variety of resources for mindful living. For more information, visit omsanctuary.org.




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About Haley Steinhardt
Haley Steinhardt is a freelance writer for the Mountain Xpress. She also owns and operates Soul Tree Publications (soultreepublications.com), a publishing support business in West Asheville.

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