Eco Chic: Creating a retreat in the comfort of home

Finally, lost weekends are no longer needed to reconnect the frazzled dots of a post-Mayan apocalypse lifestyle.


Finally, lost weekends are no longer needed to reconnect the frazzled dots of a post-Mayan apocalypse lifestyle.

Thanks to “Eco Chic Retreat — the Do-it-Yourself Body/Mind/Spirit Renewal set,” anyone can afford to turn off the phone and go on your very own healing retreat, right in your own home.

According to producer and Taoseña Jody McNicholas, Eco Chic Retreat is “designed as a one to three-day “stay-cation” that is easy to follow, affordable and can be done in the comfort of a person's home alone or with friends.”

Brainchild of McNicholas and co-creator Karen Vardanega, Eco Chic Retreat facilitator, the two-DVD program is the result of the two friends pursuing worthwhile careers and paying a heavy toll — in terms of emotional, physical and, well, straight up “spiritual” draining.

“Karen and I met at the Boulder School of Massage in 1990 and have been inseparable ever since,” McNicholas writes in an email. “Both of us are seekers at our core. We began meeting in 1991 and have met every year to connect and conduct our own retreat. Both of us are massage therapists who live modestly so we learned to create a retreat on the cheap.”

The pair made a ritual of their weekend retreats. Whether they were in Lake Tahoe, Santa Monica, Sedona, Bolder or Taos, they kept at it — sometimes three times a year, and once for four straight months in El Salto.

“We looked forward to them and it was our time to turn inward and re-assess how we wanted to move forward, heal areas where we were stuck and merge back into our daily routine, hopefully a bit wiser!”

Having walked their talk for years, McNicholas and Vardanega were ready to take it up a notch, go public as it were. And for that, McNicholas' avocation as filmmaker was the natural way to go. She has completed eight films and is in the process of finishing the next called “The New Man” (for more about her filmmaking, see McNicholas' website

“I make film because I can't stop myself; it's a hobby turned vocation. I don't do it for the money,” she writes, “I do it because it's my voice, it's the way I express myself. I am horribly shy at my core so being behind the camera and having others illuminate a feeling or experience or journey is the most satisfying path for me.  I work in retail here in Taos and, on my off hours, I hold retreats and make films.”

Having stayed in Taos briefly, McNicholas left and returned four years later with husband Beau McNicholas, this time to stay for good. Beau is line producer for the Eco Chic Retreat DVD set.

It was Vardanega who actually came up with the DVD idea, an obvious progression, they realized.

“Retreats were so ingrained in both of our lifestyles but it never occurred to me to merge my passion for filmmaking with our retreats,” McNicholas says she loved the idea. “An affordable three-day retreat that you could do in the comfort of your own home.  This would make retreats accessible to all folks wanting a little R and R without the cost of travel or having to pay the retreat tuition fee. Thus, Eco Chic Retreat was born.”

Because of it's simplicity and cost the Eco Chic Retreat DVDs can be used in many combinations. The more than seven hours of instruction includes nine facilitators, two of whom live here in Taos, painter Jan Haller who leads the art programs on the DVD, and orientalist Ana Easter who leads the qiqong sessions. Karen Sheeks, the daily morning guided meditation leader, was a Taos local but has since moved to Mount Shasta, Calif.  

“The facilitators are all brilliant and were kind enough to donate their time to this project. This is collective outreach at its best and we are all proud to be a part of it,” McNicholas says.

On a personal note

Readily customizable, this reporter chose just the morning active meditation, to augment my own practice. You could also choose just a day retreat or stretch the program out for a complete 30-day retreat (not to mention four months!).

“The classes are short (and I mean really short),” McNicholas adds. “Our experience is that if the retreats had a lot of variety but shorter times then Karen and I were able to make less excuses as to why we didn't have the time to fit a class in.”

For example, there are four yoga classes in the two-day retreat, with different times ranging from 12 minutes to 25 minutes. When I was done with the 12-minute session, I felt stretched and whole, from the inside out. It is completely satisfying, and immediately available, not 20 minutes down the highway at the crack of dawn before work.

“Lourdes Paredes, who teaches the yoga classes on ECR, flew to Taos from Chicago to shoot her yoga segments,” McNicholas said. “She is amazing. Everyone benefits from the 12-minute class. We shot her segments at The Dream Tree Project, Wired!Café and on the land in front of Overland Ranch, all here in Taos.”

Most of the ECR segments are filmed here in Taos. The Illuminated Journal segment was shot at Mabel Dodge Luhan House.  

“It's a, 'I love Taos' project for sure!” McNicholas says.


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