"You probably think you're mentally on top of your game," says Jack Kornfield, a 68-year-old former Buddhist monk who now advises the U.S. Marines on mental training. "But email, cellphones, TV, your job, your family – all these things are messing with your neural circuitry and hindering your potential." Members of the Marine Corps aren't the only acolytes lining up behind gurus like Kornfield. Meditation retreats have become mainstream destinations as devoted to cleansing the mind as they are to perfecting the body, all amid high-end spa settings. In addition to unplugging and de-cluttering your brain, these seven retreats – from Big Sur's cliffside hot springs to a Hawaiian silent sanctuary to boardroom-boosting mental exercises in the Berkshires – round out their spiritual curricula with adventure activities like hiking, skiing, and kayaking. "To be a really strong person, you have to make time for inner development," Kornfield says. "You have to work out the mind as hard as you work out the body. That doesn't happen on its own."
Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, Muir Beach, California.
It's not unusual for backpackers in Muir Woods National Monument, north of San Francisco, to wander onto Green Gulch's 115-acre valley and book a room for the night. Located on the Pacific's boulder-strewn sand, the Gulch, as everyone calls it, sits at the nexus of dozens of trails and offers workshops in foraging – but don't let the idyllic setting fool you. "A lot of the Zen students here are runners, swimmers, and bikers," says Shokuchi Deirdre Carrigan, a Buddhist priest-in-training and coordinator at the center. "They are people who like to challenge themselves." Whether you're a banker who runs marathons or a doctor who does Tough Mudders, Green Gulch bets you like intensity in your meditation – and thus offers a seven-day sesshin: a silent, seated Japanese Zen style of intensive meditation that lasts from 5 am until 9 pm each day. "It's its own kind of marathon," says Carrigan. "Sitting still for a day is a physical and mental discipline like biking a long distance." [From $90 a night; sfzc.org/ggf]
Credit: Thor Swift / New York Times / Redux