Here Bruno Čondić interviewed WorldTribe founder Kristina Bodrožić-Brnić to find out how she came up with the idea of organizing the Well-Being Retreats in Svib, Dalmatia. Let's dive into the world of true 'well-being'!
Hi Kristina! Let's get straight into the topic! What is your Well-Being Retreat and how did you come up with the idea?
Oh! These are big questions! Where to start? Well! Around 2010 the family had decided to invest money in the restoration of my grandparents' house and made a plan which had nothing to do with tourism by then. The idea of having an AirBnB came first up in 2012, when the 200-300m² house itself was finished. After all, my mother, aunts and my uncle had invested a large amount of money to make it look amazing. When the outside area with the pool and the terraces was finished in 2017, I felt like the property had even much larger potential. Friends of mine (who later became guests as well) and I were fantasizing about how retreats could take place there, but by then I have not even thought about being a host myself.
The years went by and in my life I underwent many changes and faced the challenge of starting over again at the end of my 30ies which is not tragic but it sometimes had felt like that at the time. I was on sabbatical for a year and gained experience in all my areas of interested. I also became interested in becoming a life-coach. While visiting a weekend-seminar I learned that I already knew many of the teaching contents of a two-year training already, even if the details of psycho-analytical theories became clearer only by practicing and within time. To cut a very long story shorter: after my sabbatical opportunities started showing up. I was able to use all my prior experience and to build on it up to today. I started my first coaching assignments and saw that I had a talent for being very present in a conversation, guiding people's and connecting the dots. This was also possible due to my prior mindfulness training and the Shinrin Yoku I had been practicing in order to reconnect with nature and to boost my trust in nature.
The Corona crisis led to the first lock-down and I saw the very negative impact the isolation had on friends, clients and students. This is when I came up with the idea of planning a retreat in Croatia. And soon the second lock-down came and I thought: 'This must be over by Spring next year. I will start announcing the retreat now and see what happens.' De facto nothing had happened. People were insecure and nobody wanted to travel during those days. One morning in Spring 2021 I woke up with the impulse of announcing the retreat again with new dates for autumn 2021 and it started rolling, when a friend from old times showed interest very quickly. This motivated me and I almost finished the complete program that same weekend with ideas that easily flew into my mind and wanted to be captured on paper. I simply knew what would make people feel better again.
What is the motivation behind this project? And who does work with you on this project?
The motivation is simple. It is a holistic approach to boost well-being in people. We write the term ‘well-being’ separately on purpose, even though the new spelling rules require the word to be written together, but I want people to be aware of the two components: It is about feeling ‘well’ and about ‘being’.
I subdivided it into the four sections of food-consciousness, nature-awareness, body-awareness and coaching, so people would have a private space to work on their blockages. When I looked at the program I saw that I could not do this all by myself. A friend of mine, Denica Yotova, who is a certified Yoga-teacher from Bulgaria, offered to come to Croatia to teach the section of body awareness through Yoga. This was great! And during our first retreat I learned how much knowledge and capacity my mother Danica had for the area of nutrition and food-preparation, much more than I was aware of. I am very grateful to have both women working by my side during the retreats and I know that without them, there just would not be a Well-Being Retreat. Oh, and look at their names! I always say: It is the same name but in different languages. Maybe that is destiny! Danica and Denica are the name of the morning star.
What does the program look like, how did you come up with this program and can you explain the program's activities?
So, as mentioned before, it came to me very naturally and is based on my own life experience of facing changes and using challenges to my own benefit. The four sections mentioned consist of several exercises. When practicing food-consciousness for example there is a day where the guests patiently prepare a meal of their choice for us, using everything they previously learned about ingredients. The Yoga-classes embody a four element structure to awaken our muscles and relieve stress. The forest-bathing exercises are quite fun but also relatively unique, which is why I will keep them a secret only available to those who come to practice them with me. In the coaching section we offer group coaching sessions and individual ones, but in the group coaching we follow certain topics and methods, and the simple act of learning to share this private information with others, strengthens the feeling of trust in others, which is something many of us lack due to negative experiences in the past or to what we've been taught by our family and society.
In your own words, could you explain what well-being means?
Well-Being is a state of feeling comfortable inside, being satisfied with who you are, and also being connected to your surroundings, which consist equally of natural elements, creatures and human-beings. And, to feel well or 'be well', you need to be connected inside and outside.
Why is the location of this program in an isolated area? Can a retreat also be done in a city?
Besides the fact that it is easy for me to access the location, I believe it has perfect conditions for people to calm down. As you said, it is isolated. This means that you hear no cars, or at least not many, and you see no people. You can fully focus on your being and the interaction with the group of people surrounding you. During this week of retreat, we become a family. We form a unit. And this is not part of any written schedule. It just happens. To get back to your question, whether this could be done in a city as well. When you browse the internet, you will find all sorts of retreats. Some even cruise on a Yacht, take a million selfies with each other and call it seriously a retreat. But the idea of having a retreat is very old. Poets, writers and painters often had their retreats, and it was always away from crowds of people in the countryside, somewhere where they could breathe fresh air, observe nature and also reflect on their own matters. So, my answer is “no”. A city retreat will not achieve equally good results. But any practice of healthy habits is important for our well-being. In the city you can practice forest bathing in the parks, you can meditate and you can meet inspiring people and exchange with them. So, an improvement of well-being can happen anywhere, yes.
How can people who don't have time to be in nature or can't take part in this retreat take care of their 'well-being'?
So, as said above maybe a park is not deep and wild, but it provides green areas and a connection to the soil, which we human beings really need. I will tell you about two simple exercises anybody can do in their city. The first one is for fast stress relief. Walk over the grass bare feet. Of course, also walk mindfully. Be aware that there are bees and other insects. Be aware of where your next step goes. Do this for 15 minutes and many of the tough questions that were on your mind should be gone by then, because you are connected with the same energetic field that all beings in nature are connected to. It feels good!
If you prefer to have your shoes on, you can practice mindful walking instead, which is an exercise to emphasize the Here and the Now. All you need to do is to walk slowly and feel your whole foot when walking on the ground. You can look around, you can ‘think around’, but always try to get back to this sensation you feel on the sole of your foot. This is a good exercise against anxiety and the feeling of needing to make decisions on big matters. It helps you to feel that you are here, because your mind wanders less and less far away within time.
What are your favourite activities in your well-being program and what do you think are your guests' favourite activities?
My favourite part the last time was the individual coaching sessions, because people got lighter and lighter within time. But during our first retreat I found the forest bathing exercises really great because they catapulted everyone into a state of deep calmness.
The guests like different parts! One might love Yoga the most, while the other prefers a hike or forest bathing. This really differs from person to person.
Can you describe what are your guests' reactions to the program? What do you think, how your guests are feeling after the retreat?
Depending on when we did it, we got different results. Our first retreat happened after two Corona lock-downs and in Germany the restrictions during those times and the handling of ‘right and wrong’ behavior were more rigorous and had a strong impact on people there. One thing I therefore remember very well was how grateful our guests were for having spent a whole week of their lives without wearing a mask on their face and having been able to breath in our fresh air in the mountains. The second retreat I believe that the nutrition program left a huge impact on our guests. I was told about how the preparation of meals at home was adapted toward what was learned about the body during the retreat. This makes me really very happy!
Kristina! Thank you so much for this interview! I learned lot about how and why it all started and I hope that we as a team will have many more retreats in the future and meet many more people from all over the world to spend some time together and learn from each other.
Thank you, Bruno for preparing this and I am very glad you had this wonderful internship with us! Looking forward to receiving you during our retreats as a photographer or a kind of nature coach. Who knows!