Early in the morning, Day 2: On my way up to breakfast, a sign summons me off the main path: Nature Trail. Less than a minute in, I hear a rustle in the dead leaves. I turn to my left. A docile doe is no more than 10 feet away. She’s deeply camouflaged by the brown colors of fall in the mountains. She’s stunning, and still as a statue. Neither of us moves. I desperately want to be friends with her, but she is suspicious, timid.
It’s early November in Boone, and the crisp air is a relief from the heat back home in Charlotte, where summer has long overstayed its welcome. At this elevation, most of the leaves have fallen. The sky is North Carolina’s signature blue.
The Art of Living Retreat Center is an expansive complex that towers high over Boone, about two-and-a-half hours northwest of Charlotte. Founded by spiritual teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the center offers wellness retreats, courses and programs taught by its own staff and also hosts spiritual leaders from around the world. Whatever you’re in search of — yoga, ayurveda spa treatments, nature walks, silence, holistic wellness — whatever language you want to use, you’ll likely find an opportunity to explore it at the Art of Living.
During my short visit, I spend most of my time in two key areas: the dining room and the spa, though the retreat covers 380 acres and consists of many buildings, residences, a meditative labyrinth, a clay-making center and stunning views.
After I check in, I drive down a steep, winding road to the new shankara ayurveda spa for meditation class. Ayurveda is an ancient medical system that emphasizes disease prevention through lifestyle practices. This new yoga studio just opened in November as part of an expansion that included 20 hotel suites, an exercise pool and float tank, and a demo kitchen where guests can learn ayurvedic cooking techniques.
I’m late, so it’s not exactly the best start. About 25 guests line the walls, though few are in the center of the room, where I unfold my mat. Fortunately, class hasn’t started. Kunwar Gadhok (who doubles as the retreat’s marketing director) sits at the front of the room, knees crossed, and asks us each to announce why we are here and what we hope to get out of the class — and our favorite ice cream flavor. One young woman from New York is here to learn more about meditation. Rocky Road. A woman from Toronto, to center herself. Pistachio. Another, to slow down and reclaim her life. Vanilla. I’m here, as a journalist, to learn more about the center and meditation. I am here in search of peace. Coffee, hands down.
In his soothing baritone, Gadhok tells us that he began meditating with his dad when he was 9 years old, before he even knew what it was. He loved the inner peace he felt after meditations, and in 2018, after a stint in corporate America, he devoted his life to sharing it with others.
He guides us through intentional breath, at first a test of patience. A pesky crow whines outside our window, distracting me, but overall I feel lighter and calm when we’re done.