I Went on a Secret, Celeb-Loved Healing Retreat—Here's What Happened

Updated 04/03/19

Self-help has never been buzzier. New trend programs, books, and seminars wax and wane daily. The digital age allows us to see into other people’s lives and (seeming) successes with greater ease than ever before. But are our internet idols as happy as they purport? More and more, influential people are being more vocal about their journeys to change and self-discovery, and there’s a one-week-long retreat that’s fallen on the lips of Justin Bieber (who mentioned it in his most recent Vogue interview), Katy Perry, Billy Bush, Sienna Miller, and more: the Hoffman Process. What exactly is the Hoffman Process and how does it work? I decided to attend and find out.

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Their website reads, “When you’re serious about change”. I was serious. I’m always serious when it comes to self-improvement, health, and wellness. When I signed up for the Hoffman Process, I knew I was only allowed to do it once in my life, and I felt ready. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to change, but there was an itchy irritability in my life that I couldn’t pinpoint. I was determined to identify and cut it off at the knees.

At that point in my life, I was 23 years old and spent all of my days traveling with an eccentric group of people, while teaching Kundalini yoga and meditation. I was always the first phone call during someone’s crisis or emotional breakdown. I had a great ability to quickly shift someone’s perspective and navigate them away from an impending breakdown. My clients thought that I was the walking picture of optimism and health. What they didn’t realize was that I was crippled by depression and anxiety when they weren’t around. I was co-dependent and people-pleasing, and a workaholic who was seriously miserable when I wasn’t helping someone else.

“Many people who come to Hoffman are very good at accumulating the outer symbols of success and projecting that image,” explains Raz Ingrasci, Chairman of the Hoffman Institute International. “But on the inside, they still feel unworthy, empty and unlovable. Unfortunately, outer success does not produce inner success. The Hoffman Process produces the experience of true inner success. You feel free, open, loving and spontaneous.”

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I signed up. A month before my start date, the offices sent me 40 pages of pre-processing work. This included reading and essay questions that elicited some seriously stern and introspective thoughts. It was a mixture of inquiries about my current life, challenges, and childhood experiences. The subject of patterns was heavily emphasized throughout the homework. I was slowly but surely becoming very aware of the patterns I’d adopted or rebelled against from my parents, most of which I’d been blind to.

When I got to White Sulphur Springs, the retreat site, I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect and I felt shitty about myself after all the eye-opening pre-process work. The whole week, I was identified and called by my childhood nickname, Tata. Cell phones were shut off and surrendered on the first day for a complete digital detox. There was no talk of sports, work, last names, or politics allowed, which made me feel calm. Los Angeles is a culture filled with ego crutches—what-do-you-dos and who-do-you-knows—so it was a relief not to hear any of that for a whole week.

A group of five teachers, each of whom held multiple PhDs in various fields of psychology, led 40 of us through the week-long journey. My group varied in age from 19 years old to 82. People of different ethnicities, backgrounds, countries, and socio-economic classes (they offer scholarships, as well as payment plans) all found themselves together in a retreat outside of Napa. “Virtually any adult can do Hoffman with great success simply because each person has an innate ability to heal,” Raz Ingrasci explains. “At Hoffman, we just create the right conditions and healing—wholeness—happens.” 

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Breakfast would usually start at 7:30 a.m., and the first round of programming was an hour later. Before the Process, I found myself thinking constantly about what my next meal would be. At the Process, that was taken care of. Large buffet-style spreads were served three times a day and were prepared by a Michelin-rated chef (also a graduate of the Process). The foodie in me was already giving the place five stars.

Each day was different. Presentations typically lasted 60 to 90 minutes with breaks in-between. Before I left, I was told by a graduate that I could share as much or as little as I wanted. Once I was there, the staff asked that none of us read ahead in our notebooks to see what the other days of the journey had in store. Everything was experiential. There was a lot of visualization, which was easy for me because I’d been teaching meditation for so long, but a lot of my group members felt excited because they’d never stopped to think quietly to themselves before. Some experiences were cathartic and made me think very deeply about what I do on autopilot, and what roles I’d taken on as a result of my upbringing. Patterns could even be positive ones, like compulsive kindness. Some of those experiences came, naturally, with hysterical crying. Luckily, the cathartic days were also paired with enforced silence during breaks, and I was happy to just be unbothered and in my feelings.

One day, the topic of vindictiveness came up. The presenter must have psychically seen me going through a memory reel in my head, and randomly called on me to share an episode of acting vindictively. I recounted to this group of strangers about the two weeks where I called every restaurant in L.A. to make reservations under my cheating ex-boyfriend’s name night-after-night, blacklisting him from his favorite places because of the no-shows. There was healing in the share because there was no judgment, and, most importantly, it called attention to the gaping, open wounds I still needed to heal.

 “We bring about a way of seeing and being that allows us to empathize and relate to ourselves and each other without fear, judgment, demonization, or division,” Ingrasci explains. “It is bringing the intellect into the heart and living through your heart.”

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At the end of the seven days, I was happier than I ever remember feeling in my life. I was so content without my phone, and the anxiety I had about powering up was gone. I had a new outlook on the situations that had been vexing me. It was like I had traded in a bicycle for a brand-new car with a GPS to help me navigate. I took some time to myself before going home, which the Hoffman Process recommends. I checked into a hotel in Napa to reacclimatize and slowly dip my toes into my overflowing email inbox while mapping out a life plan.

Five years later, I am a very different person. I have a job that feeds my desires while incorporating my lifelong passion for wellness. My relationships reflect well-set boundaries and healthy communication. I rarely take things personally anymore. When I have kids of my own, I’ll be aware of what I pass onto them. I got a small tattoo of my childhood nickname to remember my magical week of self-discovery. I still get caught in vicious cycles, like people-pleasing, from time-to-time, but I'm able to see the patterns coming up, and I’ve learned lasting and effective tools to stop them before they run amuck.

Hoffman Process grads can meet in monthly local groups meet all over the country, where they’re able to dip back into the Process experience for an hour. I check in with a friend I made at the retreat every week, still. It’s is the one call I always answer because it never fails to put me in a good mood. My biggest takeaway from doing the Hoffman Process has been a very deep sense of compassion for myself, my parents, my siblings, and people in general. We’re all guilty, but no one is to blame.

Next: Learn the four things on one editor's mental health self-care checklist.

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