experiential travel

Looking for a meaningful and unique holiday gift that you don’t have to wrap? We love this list of experiential gifts from herbalist, meditation teacher and Reiki master Caroline Rasmussen of Antara. An expert in the power of meditation and transformational experiences herself, we tapped Caroline to share this meaningful list of experiential gift ideas that go far beyond what may otherwise fit beneath the Christmas tree.

At a time when we’re all focused on consuming less, could experiential gifts be the perfect fit this year? Find an idea you love… 

I love gifting wellness experiences because they give us the opportunity to educate ourselves. With education, we can better assess and take charge of our own health, which is so important as the wellness complex expands. Many of these gift ideas are opportunities we might not create for ourselves, perhaps because we think we can’t afford them or we’re too busy or they’re just too weird. But these experiences could be just the right tool or provide just the right information that we need for this point in our lives. On the other hand, we all have a unique physical, mental and emotional composition — remember as you consider gifts that what works for others may not work for us at all.

9 Powerful Experiential Wellness Gift Ideas

Epigenetic medicine testing to help your loved one make personalized health choices in the new year.

If you know someone who’s been struggling to get to the root of something like an autoimmune condition, chronic infection or hormonal dysfunction, epigenetic testing could be the key to uncovering the underlying causes and customizing a solution that works for them. While genetics refers to the genetic code itself, epigenetics involves how those genes are expressed, essentially to what degree they’re turned on or off at a given time. The best example is our DNA methylation profiles, which influence an array of processes including detoxification and inflammatory response. Testing your levels of homocysteine—an indicator of whether you’re methylating properly—combined with understanding your MTHRF status (if homocysteine is abnormally high) can help you craft a diet and supplementation protocol to address specific symptoms.

Lymphatic drainage session to boost the immune system.

Lymphatic drainage has gotten press for its body and face-sculpting benefits, but in addition to reducing puffiness it can help stimulate the operation of a central component of the immune system. The lymphatic system is basically the body’s garbage collector, filtering and destroying metabolic waste, bacteria, viruses and other foreign materials via a network of vessels and nodes. (You may have noticed the lymph nodes at the top of your throat swell when you get the flu as their processing kicks into high gear, for example.) Unlike blood, which is continuously propelled throughout the body by the heart, lymph fluid doesn’t have a similar pump and can become stagnant from dehydration, a sedentary lifestyle, infection, lack of sleep and stress. While even regular massage has lymphatic benefits, a targeted lymphatic drainage session (which should involve only very light pressure) can be extremely relaxing and help alleviate things like chronic fatigue, swelling and slow recovery from illness. (Note: It is not recommended for those with cancer and certain other health conditions.)

Infrared sauna sessions to detoxify.

This gift always goes over well. Besides providing a timeout for relaxation, a boost in mood-lifting endorphins without having to exercise, and aesthetic benefits like glowing skin and weight loss, infrared saunas are a great way to detoxify, which we all need to do regularly regardless of a healthy lifestyle. Sweat is one of our best elimination channels because the skin is our largest organ, and infrared saunas up the ante over regular saunas by penetrating deeper into the body to better release heavy metals and other toxins. Regular sauna use is associated with a decrease in the incidence of several diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias, likely due to its stimulating effects on blood flow and reducing inflammation by activating heat shock proteins, among other factors.

Meditation training: a gift of a 1:1 package with a teacher, a transcendental meditation course or a meditation retreat.

I view mindfulness and meditation as the best tools we have to better handle stress, improve focus and emotional regulation, and make sure we’re allocating our time to what really matters to us. Our lived experience is created by our minds, and becoming really aware of where we’re investing our attention and energy is more critical than ever in light of our hectic schedules and the sheer amount of stimulation and options available to us today. If we don’t have the mental filters in place to manage this constant torrent of inbound information and the tools to see how things are affecting us, eventually we start to feel unmoored and anxious. This is a great gift for anyone experiencing burnout or overwhelm.

Coaching sessions + spiritual refresh retreats: Track Your Life & STAR retreats at Londolozi Game Reserve, Extraordinary Adventure Club, or Hero’s Journey Experience

We live in a fast-paced, bigger-is-better culture that makes it easy to get set into other people’s versions of success without realizing it—when, in fact, each of us has a unique offering to make that’s tied to our very individual passions and skills. If you know someone who is completely depleted or whose routine and life obligations are draining their energy rather than feeding it, integrative coaching or a spiritual retreat can provide much-needed space for self-exploration. Especially if we’re at one of these junctures, the opportunity to disconnect from who we think we are, all the things we own, and the automatic behaviors that are built into our modern lives can be incredibly valuable in finding a path to sustainable happiness.

Astrology or birth chart reading session with an expert.

Astrology and birth charts are having a moment lately, and I think the reason is that more and more people are seeking a sense of purpose and meaning that speaks to them personally—and isn’t provided in a lasting way by our culture’s never-ending quest for more money, more beauty, more achievement. Your birth chart is a map of the planets at the time of your birth and can provide insights into your life themes, strengths and weaknesses in areas ranging from financial matters to psychic abilities. It’s a fun and interesting way to frame your sense of self, and even the most hardcore skeptic is likely to hear something about their personality and motivations that they recognize.

Traditional Chinese Medicine consultation to similarly help better understand the individual constitution and find tailored herbal and energetic/acupuncture treatments.

TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) has evolved a unique way of looking at wellness that incorporates physical and emotional factors and uses acupuncture, herbs and diet to regulate the flow of qi (life energy) in a preventative fashion. Our organ networks are viewed as encompassing both physiological and psychological functions. For example, the liver ensures the smooth flow of blood and qi in the body and its proper functioning expresses in evenness of emotion and behavior, versus difficulty eliminating metabolic waste products and a volatile temperament in cases of liver stagnation.

Each individual is also thought to have a dominant personality or energetic archetype (wood, fire, earth, metal or water) that has implications for both our physical as well as our mental/emotional health. This multi-layered conceptualization of wellness means that TCM treatments are inherently personalized, and similar to integrative and functional medicine in the west, seek to address underlying root causes, ideally before imbalances and blockages have a chance to develop into more deep-seated issues. Learning more about their individual constitution as understood in TCM is a perfect gift for someone interested in exploring their mind-body wellness through a new lens.

Colonic for digestive and total body health.

Ayurveda believes that disease begins in the gut, and the more we learn about the microbiome, the more Western medicine seems to agree. Microbiome dysfunction has been linked to an array of chronic conditions including IBD, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety and depression. Many Ayurvedic therapies center around the concept of removing ‘ama’—basically toxic sludge that accumulates in the digestive system—and colonics are a key method of doing this.

Debris from food that we eat can get stuck and adhere to our colon lining for months and even years, blocking up the system and contributing to inflammation. Perhaps not the appropriate gift for just anybody you know, but remember you’re potentially introducing someone to a valuable tool for upgrading digestive and total body health.

Cleanse + reset retreat to recharge physical and emotional health.

I’ve done many cleanses in my life, and each time without fail I come back with a new level of clarity and vitality that helps carry me through the next few months of busy city living in NYC. These are my own gift to myself every year instead of something material, and I always take the opportunity to combine the retreat with travel to a bucket list location or a lush natural environment that recharges me and enhances the experience.

It’s the perfect gift because it can be tailored for any life situation—you can take it in a more holistic direction and go alone or with a significant other somewhere like Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary in Koh Samui or Sukhavati Ayurvedic Retreat in Bali, or go for a more rigorous detox oriented approach with a group of girlfriends somewhere like The Mayr Clinic in Austria or We Care Spa in California (I recently did the latter to clean out my system before getting pregnant earlier this year), or anything in between.

Your loved one will come back with new philosophies and practices to support their wellness, for example a better understanding of intermittent fasting protocols that work for them, or what herbs and recipes Ayurveda recommends for their particular constitution.

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