Immersion Initiative Trends

As we emerge from the cocoon-like existence that managing the pandemic required, there is a collective urgency to revitalize, strengthen and heal from within. People are eagerly intent on learning or returning to the practices that encourage wellbeing and thriving in the welcomed dawn of a post-pandemic era. The mandated physical distancing and abruptly halted social gatherings forced unforeseen self-reliance and, for many, a time for deepened self-exploration that only stillness can foster. As we strive to regroup, redefining what serves to cultivate our own self-care has become a top priority. Immersion wellness retreats are teeming with guests in the aftermath of the mental, emotional, physical and social toll the pandemic has undeniably caused. This tidal wave of movement toward immersion wellness speaks to the need for renewal and/or reclaiming what was lost.

The following five immersion wellness trends for 2021 were undeniably impacted by the pandemic and reflect our need for re-energizing health in body, mind and spirit.

TREND 1: Virtual Wellness Immersion

Virtual Reality (VR) has been used to help land a person on the moon and to instruct astronauts on how to manipulate the space arm. The military uses virtual environments to prepare soldiers for combat, and airlines use VR simulators to train and qualify pilots. We predict that the wellness industry will also harness the power of VR to create fully immersive experiences for the purpose of healing.

The ultimate promise of VR is to create an environment that is so sophisticated that one cannot tell the difference between reality and the virtual environment. From the hardware and operating system perspective, we are now at a tipping point where it is possible and cost-effective to deliver an immersive experience in an ideal reality that would provide a safe and powerful escape from emotional, mental and physical pain. The immersive experience could be as short as 20 minutes to be still effective.

The COVID crisis has dramatically demonstrated the need for wellness to be provided to us where we live, either at home or in specialized centers. VR will also be provided in places where people are in greatest need and most vulnerable, such as hospitals. Imagine being able to escape the noise, the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, and the agitation that is pervasive for most patients in hospitals. Similar principles would apply to travelers in airports or planes, immersing in VR to alleviate the noise, anxiety and stresses of travel.

One final word of caution: The technology required to create effective and realistic virtual environments is complex and requires distinct methods for each human sense. Most systems employ graphics for the visual sense and audio for the sense of hearing. Haptic or touch technology is also now quite advanced, but research into systems for emulating smell is still in its infancy. However, we know that major fragrance companies, such as Givaudan and IFF, are actively working on scent delivery systems that follow graphics and sounds.

We predict that patients and visitors will soon be able to roam on a beautiful tropical beach while staying in a hospital room.

  2. Spa & Sanctuary is Using VR Technology to Aid with Stress Relief

Located in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, Amooma Spa & Sanctuary is using VR technology to help visitors achieve a more mindful state by ensuring they de-stress in a more immersive way. While technology has been considered something that can get in the way of inner peace and mindfulness, the spa is embracing it as a means to enhance meditative experiences. The spa hopes its virtual reality sessions will help participants unwind from their stressful and busy lives and is calling its experiences Sousou. “We are using VR technology to add another dimension to our spa. It offers a quick escape for those in Hong Kong,” says spa manager Ganga Gurung, explaining that Sousou is a Chinese word that means “searching yourself.”


TREND 2: Nature and Regenerative Health

Constant change is both natural and unpredictable, and nothing demonstrates that more than living during a pandemic. COVID has significantly impacted the mental health of the general population due to the fear of contagion and the isolating and traumatic lockdown policies intended to stop the spread of the disease. Additionally, those seeking retreat have shifted their priorities in seeking the best fit for their needs; now, one of the first questions when selecting a place for an immersion experience is “Where will I feel safe?”

For many, the only solace found when they could not be with loved ones and enjoy a quality connection with their community was time spent in nature. Being outdoors became a healing ritual for many as a way to find connection; connection with oneself, and connection to the energy and the natural elements of our Earth. The COVID pandemic kept us from large events and gatherings and instead drove us to places with wide-open spaces, where one could enjoy the inherently therapeutic and health and wellness benefits of nature. More and more people found nature as their refuge, to recharge and refresh, counterbalancing the confines of lockdown and isolation. The growing popularity of outdoor activities as an alternative to concerts, movies, shopping, and eating in restaurants resulted from our “COVID confinement” and has driven this trend stronger than ever before.

Immersion properties around the world have long known the restorative effects of their natural environments, and ongoing research on the topic provides evidence that nature brings about a substantial biomedical physical and mental transformation. As wellness travel returns, expect this business to boom and expect to see more immersion retreats and experiential offerings set in nature, off the beaten track, created for small groups to meet this growing demand.

Nature-based immersion offerings around the world:

TREND 3: Holistic Self-Care

After a year of “pandemic stress” and disruption of our normal routines, turning our way of life upside down, self-care has surfaced as a “survival mechanism” in 2020 and 2021. Maladaptive coping strategies that have often been used to get through a challenging time to “escape from it all” will be intentionally replaced with practices that restore physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Because medical professionals and facilities were overwhelmed, and other facilities were under lockdown measures, most humans have had to go for months without access to physicians, gyms, spas, yoga studios etc. This meant that we “had to fly solo” in very turbulent times and with very little (or no) assistance from our health and wellness ecosystem. This required immersion into self-care practices to ensure resilience and balance into all facets of our wellbeing.

Self-immersive strategies, either guided remotely or not, were adopted to allow people to keep their sanity during times of intense fear and anxiety.

TREND 4: Fostering Social Connection 

Chronic loneliness and social isolation were considered a growing global epidemic before the pandemic struck. Now, more than ever, programs that foster community and social connection are crucial to improving our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Immersion wellness programs, by their very nature, provide a built-in community of support that provides relief from this social disconnect that was intensified over the past year. As travel increases, many people will prioritize a return to their favorite health retreat due to the familiar faces among staff and fellow alumni. After a year of virtual connection, the yearning to feel seen, felt and heard in person is an undeniable and primal human need that immersion wellness retreats provide and is often why they are described as a “home away from home.”

Rancho la Puerta – emphasizes their “Ranch Family”

TREND 5: Preventative Healthcare and Immunity-Focused Immersion 

We all want a long and healthy life, free of disease and to limit debilitating health conditions. As the world continues to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing awareness and a sense of responsibility for one’s health.

While immunity-focused programs may not be new, the global health crisis has elevated the importance many people place on their day-to-day wellness and the resilience of their immune system as the first line of defense.

Many wellness retreats have responded by creating immune-focused immersions designed to address physical, mental and emotional healing; support natural immunity; and enhance overall health and vitality. These immersions may include therapies ranging from Traditional Chinese Medicine, mindfulness training and personal meditation to IV fusion, cryotherapy and infrared therapy and cleanse/detox programs. Many retreats offer a complementary combination tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences. All include instruction on getting quality sleep, eating nutritious meals, and managing stress with expert guidance from wellness professionals.

A strong immune system has become a priority in health and wellness objectives.

As more retreats focus on immunity, it’s clear this will be a significant part of wellness travel in 2021 and beyond.

Immunity immersion offerings around the world:

Immersion experiences will encourage us to explore new destinations and ourselves in a deeper way. Here are five trends for 2020:

TREND 1: Long Stay, Life Changing Wellness Sabbatical

While meaningful changes often take time, going totally off-grid for a significant duration is not possible for the majority of society. The wellness sabbatical trend, previously outlined in the Global Wellness Summit’s trend report, sees all that changing in 2020, though, and plenty of venues catering to those on sabbatical leave are emerging around the globe. The “wellness sabbatical” immersion will focus on long-term change in a way that is sustainable, holistic, and most importantly, achievable, without taking a long period of time cut-off from work and life in the outside world.

With workplace culture changing, many professionals can work remotely, from anywhere that has a strong enough Wi-Fi connection. The idea is that this focus on well-being can boost productivity and relaxation and offer a wider perspective, facilitating deeper rest and healing but also offering education and the time to improve habits.

Examples of resorts that offer longer-term wellness programs:

TREND 2: Exploring Sobriety, an Alternate Lifestyle

While sobriety was once the realm of individuals in recovery, pregnant women, and those with religious or cultural objections to alcohol, it’s become an increasingly mainstream lifestyle choice. The term “sober curious” has had a nearly fivefold uptick in Google searches since 2017, which is reflected in the current dialogue between consumers, brands and influencers.

To be clear, recovery from addiction is a far different thing than choosing to live alcohol-free for health and wellness reasons. However, the increasing dialogue around alcohol use and the greater acceptance of sobriety are changing social norms. One dimension of this is the emergence of wellness immersions organized around abstinence, whether intended as a shorter-term reset or part of a long-term recovery process. The immersion setting provides a supportive community and environment for those choosing not to drink alcohol in societies where this has historically been an “alternative” lifestyle choice.

A few examples of sober curious programs:

TREND 3: Detoxifying Masculinity, Health and Wellness for Men

Men have historically been significantly less likely than women to seek therapy, with female mental health outpatient visits outnumbering male visits by two to one. According to the American Psychological Association, this phenomenon is underpinned by patriarchal cultural norms that uphold stoicism, independence and toughness as ideal male attributes.

In the era of #TimesUp and #MeToo, increasing numbers of men are realizing the value in taking a proactive approach to better managing their mental health and interpersonal relationships. This doesn’t always mean therapy. Increasingly, men are pursuing yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices and are seeking out supportive communities for building emotional intelligence. While a general increase in attendance by men has been noted across the industry, the dedicated all-male wellness immersion is an ideal setting for this work.

A few examples of programs and retreats:

TREND 4: Science Backs Psychedelic Healing

Meditation was, until quite recently, considered the domain of hippies and monks; however, supported by science, it has moved firmly into mainstream acceptance. Thanks to pioneers and advocates championing the field of plant-based medicine and psychedelics, we can expect to see a similar upward trend in both availability and acceptance of immersive experiences, including these modalities.

A recent study about the relationship of psychedelics and neural plasticity or the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself suggests that psychedelics may be useful for alleviating depression and anxiety, PTSD and even addiction. Combining ancient knowledge with modern expertise backed by scientific findings, participants explore the transformative potential and evidence-based treatments to improve mental health conditions in a safe and legal environment with experienced facilitators.

Examples of shamanic and energy medicine retreats include the following:

TREND 5: High Tech and Highly Personalized

As we continue our quest for deep and lasting transformations, the one-size-fits-all fitness and nutrition notion, which was once widely accepted as the gold standard, is instead being replaced by cutting-edge technology to create a highly personalized and measurement-based wellness immersion model. Now, we are looking at personalized data and DNA to explore one’s genetic predisposition and its responses associated with diet, fitness, weight regulation and even skin health optimization to create a truly bespoke environment for each participant.

The available technology allows us to explore factors affecting weight loss management, food intolerances allergies and disease as well as skin care and aging. Based on these genetic insights, participants are then given a bespoke nutritional plan as well as a schedule of recommended activities and treatments that address their specific personal health and wellbeing needs.

The list below shows some examples of resorts that currently use DNA testing as a starting point for personalized wellness programs. This list is not a complete overview of all resorts that use high-tech equipment for highly personalized programs, and neither do we endorse any of these resorts.

A wellness immersion is a curated experience to explore, engage and/or embody the awareness of multiple aspects of our being and environment, to not just know…but to feel a state of wellbeing. Immersion experiences will encourage us to explore new destinations and ourselves in a deeper way. We predict that 2019 will be a year to knock down walls of limitation with an experience that transforms the way we perceive ourselves forever.

Here are five trends representing the five elements of a wellness immersion experience: physical, mental, energy, wisdom and bliss.

TREND 1: Physical body: cleanse and clarify your body with food that nourishes

Healthy meals will continue to make a strong appearance, thanks not only to Instagram and millennials who are definitely driving this trend but also to a growing group of maturing baby boomers who embrace the concept of longevity, lifelong learning and ageless agility until very late in life. Destination spas and wellness resorts, such as Rancho La Puerta, Canyon Ranch, Pritikin Longevity Center, Lanserhof Lans, SHA Wellness Clinic, Chiva-Som and others have a long history of offering healthy meals and customized nutrition plans as essential part of their immersive experiences. In 2019, we will see more and more properties follow suit and adjust their menus accordingly. Healthy, nutritious meals, starring brain-boosting, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging mesonutrients; probiotics; macrobiotic options; vegan anything including plant-based fish and meats; and unprocessed, organic and, wherever possible, local ingredients, will become the new standard of immersion.


How millennials are shaping food trends:

Wellness destinations and culinary offerings:

2019 trend forecast from Skift (culinary travel!):


TREND 2: Mental body: heightening our awareness of the senses through brain training technology

Brain health, productivity, mental sharpness, the prevention of cognitive decline and brain fog, all buzzwords of 2018, will make their way into focused immersions that address lifestyle topics, such as resilience and sleep, and combine mindfulness practices, meditation and guided visualizations with AI and the latest technology to enhance the ability of our brain for extraordinary achievements. Think limitless possibilities for a long, healthy and mentally alert life. 2019 will bring forward new neurotechnology, VR and systematic training of the mind/brain/heart connection to increase awareness and accelerate this process with the goal of overall wellbeing. Systems such as THINK and BrainHQ will train the brain to feel its frequencies, and increase attention, focus and resilience, while VR experiences will enable users to immerse in nature while meditating.


Canyon Ranch:

Brain health enhancement program at Brain Health Institute and Amatara Wellness Resort in Thailand:

Brain health upgrade program at Samahita Retreat center:

Brain health retreats at The Lodge at Woodloch:


TREND 3: Energy body: tuning into sound and vibration

Science is raising our awareness of how a specifically designed sound experience can have the ability to help us to disconnect from habitual patterns. Using the consciousness-altering properties of sound to heighten self-awareness, connect to higher self, and fine-tune self-observation will be a big trend in 2019. Sound immersion, such as listening to specific harmonic overtone instruments in curated sound meditations, concerts or online through high-quality recordings,  will become more accessible to all.


TREND 4: Wisdom body: a tool kit of transformational processes and practices harnessing ancient wisdom science to facilitate change

Another big theme this year is the blending of old and new. More and more ancient practices that have withstood the test of time will enter mainstream consciousness. Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old holistic health system and Sanskrit for “knowledge of life,” will become more accessible with spas like California’s Surya, offering weeklong immersive panchakarmas. Working with indigenous elders and shaman is also becoming a big trend, whether locally at learning centers, such as New York’s Kripalu and Open Center, or traveling to the Amazon. These wisdom teachings are not meant to rest in the past. As our elders shared universal mysteries through the telling of stories, we also will explore a timeless wisdom and the cutting-edge science available to us now.

Links (Ayurveda retreats):
Art of Living Retreat Center:
Ayurveda Parkschlösschen:
Ananda in the Himalayas,
Body Holiday,
Rythmia, (ayahuasca ceremonies)


TREND 5: Bliss body: creativity and movement in the beat of today to align and expose agility of the self

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and positive psychology, flow, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In 2019, we will see more immersions that put creativity and flow center stage and help us shut down our inner critic and release our own cascade of “happiness” hormones, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide (the “bliss molecule”) and serotonin. Trending dance experiences, such as barefoot boogie, morning gloryville and daybreaker, in particular, provide outlets for physical expression in a time of social and technology-driven isolation and help us achieve a state of ecstasy, bliss, flow or peaceful contentment in a substance-free conscious immersion.


The Global Wellness Institute serves as an umbrella organization for numerous Initiatives, that are independently chaired and run. The resources, editorial, research and opinions presented by the Initiatives do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Global Wellness Institute.