People often look forward to leisure vacations as relief from work and life routines, and to improve their well-being. Little is known about what types of vacations yield the most enduring benefits. For example, would a person benefit more from a leisure vacation, a meditation retreat, or a mixture of both?
It is commonly reported that the benefits of leisure-only vacations are short-lived upon return to mundane routines, and so it is possible that adding meditation to leisure vacations might support a more enduring sense of well-being.
Blasche et al. [PLOS One] conducting a naturalistic study to observe the relative psychological benefits of intensive meditation retreats, leisure vacations with meditation, and leisure vacations without meditation in a sample of people with previous meditation experience.
The researchers assessed 120 experienced meditators (average age=52 years, 59% female, average weekly meditation practice=5 hours) before and after an intensive meditation retreat, a leisure vacation with some mediation practice, or a leisure vacation without meditation. All participants were members or affiliates of a Buddhist organization who were planning a retreat or vacation.
The average length of retreats and vacations was 14-15 days. Intensive retreats included an average of 34 hours of meditation practice per week. Vacations with meditation included an average of 3 hours of meditation per week. Leisure-only vacations did not include meditation. Primary forms of meditation used were focused-attention and/or open monitoring meditation.
Participants were assessed 10 days before, 10 days after, and 10 weeks after their retreat or vacation on measures of fatigue, emotional well-being, and acting with mindful awareness. The study period was similar for all participants and spanned August to October of the same year.
The results show that all three retreats/vacations led to significant decreases in fatigue and increases in well-being and acting with awareness at immediate post assessment and 10-week follow-up. The intensive retreat and the vacation-with-meditation groups, however, had significantly higher levels of acting with awareness (d=0.50) than the leisure-only group at immediate post assessment and 10-week follow-up.
At 10-week follow-up, the intensive retreat and the vacation-with-meditation groups had significantly higher well-being (d=0.81; d=0.70) and significantly lower fatigue scores (d=0.60; d=0.62) than the leisure-only group.
This study finds that intensive retreats and vacations infused with some meditation practice enhance acting with mindful awareness better than leisure-only vacations out to 10 weeks after the vacation ends. The well-being and fatigue benefits of a vacation lacking meditation fade more quickly over time than similar benefits derived from intensive retreats or vacations that include some meditation practice.
It is surprising that the results did not show a superiority of intensive retreats over vacations that included meditation in terms of acting with awareness. These were all experienced meditators, however, and so there may be a ceiling on their ability to improve on a mindfulness measure. Findings are limited by the use of a naturalistic study design that lacked randomization to groups.
Blasche, G., deBloom, J., Chang, A., & Pichlhoefer, O. (2021). Is a meditation retreat the better vacation? Effect of retreats and vacations on fatigue, emotional well-being, and acting with awareness. PLOS ONE, 16(2), e0246038.
Link to study