By Helene Sayad – Original Article
As we set off for a morning hike on Mount Etna in Sicily, we peered up at clouds circling the top of the volcano, which had erupted several days earlier. Our route had been altered to a safer path, and we’d been advised to bring layers because the weather would change. At the base of the mountain, we strolled past lemon groves. But as the hike picked up steam, we traversed fields of volcanic ash. The temperature dropped, and fog encircled us. The landscape resembled a cross between a primordial forest and a lunar landscape. Steam rose from the ground, reminding us that Etna was very much alive. A sense of peace enveloped us as we marveled at nature’s power.
“It was created by my desire to explore the world in an authentic, non-touristy way,” she says, “but to stay healthy and provide experiences that few other programs offered.”
Joining us on this journey was Erica Gragg, a longtime yoga practitioner and former PR executive from New York. After starting the acclaimed Bikini Bootcamp in Tulum, Mexico, she co-founded Escape to Shape in 2006. The idea: Offer concierge-style experiences that enrich the mind, soul, and body from around the globe. “It was created by my desire to explore the world in an authentic, non-touristy way,” she says, “but to stay healthy and provide experiences that few other programs offered.”
Gragg spends an enormous amount of time researching tucked-away spots, finding private villas and boutique hotels for visitors. The destinations are often unexpected: Angkor Wat, Cambodia; Cartagena, Colombia; Marrakech, Morocco; Todos Santos, Mexico; Cuba; Patagonia; Bhutan; Iceland… “We aim to share a location with guests before it has become too mainstream,” says Gragg, “or in a way that is completely unique.”
In Morocco, for example, there are visits to a souk; in Bali, a visit to the monkey forest; in Cartagena, salsa dancing and cooking classes featuring ingredients reflective of the region. Acclaimed teachers from around the world teach yoga and exercise classes, and there are daily hikes, kayaking, meditation, and massage. The groups are often small, so the trips provide the opportunity to meet others with similar interests, while also giving travelers time for reflection.
“It’s incredible how much one can rediscover about oneself or expand one’s worldview when away from a day-to-day routine,” says Gragg. “The most important takeaway is connection: connection to a new country, a new culture, but most of all, a reconnection to oneself.”
No time to travel? Plan a healthy escape without leaving home:
- Get Outside: On warm days, take a yoga class with Dianna Lucas at Forest Park’s Grand Basin, try tai chi with Anna Lum at the Missouri Botanical Garden, or go paddleboarding with SUP St. Louis on Simpson Lake.
- Get Fit: St. Louis has a wealth of new workout options. Orangetheory offers interval training classes, Core 3 builds core strength with simulated surfboards, and Pure Barre and Bar Method teach barre classes. Or call trainer Monica Koch, whose klean&lean program has a strong following.
- Get Well: When it comes to wellness, consider the St. Louis Salt Room, F.L.O.A.T., or Sol Sweat Infrared Sauna. Or sign up for the Morning Meditation Series at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, where yoga teacher Mykael Ornbaun will lead participants through exercises reflective of the “Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art” exhibit.