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Table 1 Summary of Randomised Controlled Trials of Retreat Interventions

From: The health impact of residential retreats: a systematic review

Reference Study design Population (includes comparator group/s) Intervention Place (bold font indicates country) Comparator Timing of measures Outcome Measures Results
Epel et al., 2016 [1] RCT Healthy women (n = 94); Experienced meditator (n = 30), Novice meditator (n = 33), Vacation (n = 31) 5-day Meditation Retreat: Meditaton and yoga. Chopra Center for Wellbeing, La Costa Resort, Carlsbad, California, United States Vacation at the same venue without meditation retreat activities Pre-retreat, post-retreat, 1 and 10 months post-retreat. Gene expression changes (transcriptome-wide expression patterns), aging-related biomarkers (telomerase activity, Aβ peptide levels), depressive symptoms, perceived stress, vitality and mindfulness. Highly sig. Gene expression changes observed across all groups post-retreat (the ‘vacation effect’) characterized by improved regulation of stress response, immune function and amyloid beta (Aβ) metabolism. Sig. improvement in all groups in depressive symptoms, perceived stress, mindful awareness and vitality immediately after and 1-month post-retreat. The novice group improved sig more on mindfulness than the other two groups at day 5 and at 1-month and 10-months post-retreat.
Mills et al., 2016 [2] Quasi-randomised trial Healthy men and women (n = 119); Intervention (n = 65), Vacation ((n = 54) 6-day Panchakarma Ayurvedic Retreat ‘Perfect Health (PH) Program’: Physical cleansing through ingestion of herbs, fiber, and oils. Twice-daily Ayurvedic light plant-based meals. Daily Ayurvedic oil massage, heating treatments (sauna and/or steam, lectures on Ayurvedic principles, lifestyle, meditation and yoga philosophy. Twice-daily group meditation, daily yoga and breathing exercises (pranayama), emotional expression through journaling and emotional support. Integrative medical consultation (1-h) with a physician and follow-up with Ayurvedic health educator. Chopra Center for Wellbeing, La Costa Resort, Carlsbad, California, United States Vacation at the same venue without meditation retreat activities Pre-retreat, post-retreat and 1 and 10 months post-retreat. The Spirituality Scale, Gratitude questionnaire, Self-Compassion Scale, Ryff Scale of Psychological Wellbeing, Center for Epidemiology Studies-Depression (CES-D) tool, Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement System (PROMIS) Anxiety Scale. Other outcomes obtained were BP, height, weight (reported in Peterson 2016) Sig. increases in spirituality (p < 0.01) and gratitude (p < 0.05) in the retreat group and no change in control group. Sustained increases in spirituality (p < 0.01), gratitude. and self-compassion (p < 0.01) and reduced anxiety (p < 0.05) at 1-month follow-up.
Peterson et al., 2016 [3] RCT Healthy men and women (n = 119); Intervention (n = 65), Vacation (n = 54) 6-day Panchakarma Ayurvedic Retreat ‘Perfect Health (PH) Program’: Ayurvedic herbs using the Zrii purify herbal program, vegetarian diet, meditation, yoga, Ayurvedic oil massage, heat therapies and lectures on self-care and wellbeing. Chopra Centre for Wellbeing, La Costa Resort, Carlsbad, California, United States Vacation at the same venue without meditation retreat activities Pre and post-retreat BMI, systolic and diastolic BP, heart rate, saliva, stool, fasting blood sample, alcohol use, caffeine use, biological markers of cell biology, genome, metabolome and microbiome. Psychological indices of wellbeing (reported in Mills 2016) Statistically sig. Changes (decrease) in plasma levels of phosphatidylcholines, sphingomyelins and others after 6 days.
Taren et al., 2015 [4] Single-blind RCT Stressed unemployed job-seeking community adults ((n = 35); Intervention (n = 18), Vacation (n = 17) 3-day Enhancement Through Mindfulness (HEM) Retreat: Mindfulness training through body scan awareness exercises, sitting and walking meditations, mindful eating and mindful movement (gentle hatha yoga postures), discussion of individual observations and practices. Residential Retreat, Pittburgh, Pennsylvania, United States Vacation at the same venue without meditation retreat activities Pre-retreat (up to 4 weeks before), post-retreat (up to 2 weeks after) and 4 months post-retreat Neuroimaging assessment (resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) scan), hair sample (cumulative hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation), Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Sig. changes in resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) in the right amygdala-subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) of intervention group (time-treatment interaction p < 0.05).
Gilbert et al., 2014 [5] RCT Women, aged 31 to 60, with no meditation experience (n = 66) randomised to intervention or vacation ((n = not reported) control (n = not reported) 5-day resort stay to attend meditation, yoga, awareness and self-reflection training (intervention) or to relax at the resort and receive health lectures (control). Both groups received the same diet. Chopra Center for Wellbeing, La Costa Resort, Carlsbad, California, United States Vacation at the same venue without meditation retreat activities Pre- and post-retreat Stress, affect, reactivity and rumination (end-of day diaries). Sig. increase in positive affect and decrease in negative affect post-retreat in the retreat but not the control group. Both groups felt less ‘stressed’ post-retreat (p’s < .001).Only retreat women reported sig. Greater control over stressors (p = .01). All participants reported decreased rumination post-retreat, with more pronounced changes in the retreat group (p’s < .001).
Pidgeon et al., 2014 [6] RCT Human services professionals (n = 44); Intervention (n = 22), Nil intervention ((n = 22) 2.5-day Mindfulness with Metta Training (MMTP) Retreat and 2 × 4-Hour Follow-up over 12-weeks: Periods of silence, training in mindfulness and metta skills and cognitive therapy strategies to increase mindfulness and self-compassion. Follow-up included review and practice of mindfulness, metta and cognitive strategies. Residential Facility, Southern Queensland, Australia No intervention Pre-retreat, post-retreat, 1 and 4 months post-retreat Resilience (The Resilience Scale), Mindfulness (The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire) and Self-compassion (The Self-Compassion Scale). No sig. Differences reported immediately post-retreat with sig. Improvements in mindfulness and self-compassion in the retreat group at 1- and 4-months post-retreat and in resilience at 4-months post-retreat.
Kwiatkowski et al., 2013 [7] Randomised multicenter trial Non-metastatic breast cancer patients in complete remission (n = 232) intervention (n = 117), control (n = 115) 13-day SPA stay by small groups of patients comprising physical training, dietary education, physiotherapy and SPA cares. Three SPA centres: Vichy, Le-Mont-Dore, Chaˆtel-Guyon, France Not reported Pre-retreat and every 6 months post-retreat for next 3 years Anthropometric measures; Quality of Life (SF36 questionnaire), Anxiety and Depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) questionnaire) Sig. increase in SF36 score by 9.5 points (p < 0.001), 4.6 (p < 0.5) and 6.2 (p < 0.05) respectively at 6, 12 and 24 months. Anxiety and depression score were reduced at 6, 12 and 24 months.
Brazier et al., 2006 [8] RCT HIV/ AIDS patients (n = 47); Intervention (n = 20), Standard care (n = 27) 15-day Art-of-Living with HIV Retreat and Weekly Follow-up for 12 weeks: Breathing techniques, meditation, movement and group process. Three breathing exercises are the essential elements of the program, particularly the Sudarshan Kriya or Healing Breath. At the end of the retreat, participants were given a daily home practice. Follow-up sessions included reviewing procedures from retreat. Residential AOL facility in Quebec, standard care and follow-up in Vancouver, Canada Standard care Pre-retreat and 1, 6 and 12 weeks post retreat General well-being, Mental Health Index (MHI), Health-related quality of life (MOS-HIV Survey), Stress (Daily Stress Inventory (DSI)). Sig. positive changes in wellbeing, post-retreat with no change at later time points.