Photo: Carlo Alcos

Learning the Importance of Opening Up On a New Wellness Cruise That Partnered With Deepak Chopra

Wellness Cruises
by Carlo Alcos Apr 24, 2024

Not that long ago, as my wife and I watched the conclusion of an emotional TV series, I found myself sobbing. I was slightly embarrassed at what was happening. It’s a show for god’s sake, get a grip. I stopped myself by laughing, but I didn’t really want to stop, it was cathartic. The last time I cried like that was when I was going through a divorce 14 years ago. Perhaps kids are raised differently today, but men of my generation — Gen X — were told not to cry. It was weak and unmanly, and I was a man.

I got the chance to take a close look at this belief on a wellness cruise that started in Panama City, Panama, and ended in Acapulco, Mexico. Swan Hellenic, a boutique luxury small-cruise line, partnered with Chopra, a company founded by wellness figure Deepak Chopra, for its first Explore and Restore wellness retreat itinerary, which includes daily yoga and meditation and a workshop series focused on personal growth. I am used to wellness-inspired activities. In the small town where I live, meditation and yoga abound, as do shops where you can buy crystals and all-hemp clothing. I’m no stranger to introspection and self-examination. This combination of cruise and personal growth intrigued me and off I went with my wife to accompany me.

Outdoor on-shore yoga with Chopra Swan Hellenic wellness cruise

Yoga class on shore during the Chopra Swan Hellenic wellness cruise. Photo: Carlo Alcos

On day two, after spending less than 24 hours on the ship, cruise passengers were sharing intimate stories of their lives with complete strangers during the first of four workshops. These sessions were led by Jennifer Johnson, a highly skilled facilitator with over 20 years experience who brought ease and humor into the workshops. “I have a river of joy that flows through me for no damn good reason, it’s just there, and you have to be able to access that,” she told me later when I asked her why using humor was important for her.

Toward the end of that first workshop, when there was time for one last question, my hand shot up before I could stop it. The microphone was handed to me. I was one of three men in a room of about 25 and we’d so far only heard women speak. “I feel compelled to bring a male voice to this,” I started. I went on to say that this was a situation that I am very accustomed to, often being the only man among a group of women who are trying to better themselves. “Where are the men?” I wanted to know. And when it’s still men running this world, what does it mean that there are so few here?

Taking the mic during one of the personal growth workshops. Photo: Swan Hellenic/Linn Hottgenroth
Photo: Carlo Alcos

Later at dinner, while we feasted on a gourmet five-course meal in the ship’s beautiful restaurant, other guests thanked me for speaking up. One of them said, “My husband is of your ilk.” But where was he and others like him? This was something I thought about, this lack of men, over the next six days. I thought about it during our daily yoga and meditation practices, sitting on the balcony of our stateroom, staring out at the ocean from a deck lounge chair.

On-deck yoga with Chopra Swan Hellenic wellness cruise

Photo: Carlo Alcos

It wasn’t all I thought about, of course. We were, after all, on a cruise that stopped at locations in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Mexico. We did yoga on a beach and swam in the sea. We had cultural experiences, eating local food and witnessing traditions that have been passed down generation after generation. We snorkeled with brightly colored fish. From the boat we watched dolphins play, sea turtles come up for air, and whales skirt the ocean surface. The ship was immaculate, the food top notch and plentiful, and the service over-the-top and friendly. There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t feel an immense sense of gratitude for where I was and what I was experiencing.

But still I wondered what it would take to get more men to attend workshops like these. From my experience, the yoga classes that I would see more men at had names like “Yoga for Rock Climbers” or “Power and Strength Yoga.” Do we need to trick them? “I think they have to see more men,” Johnson says. “They have to feel like they’re not going to be the only male in the room.”

Representation is something that I can understand. As a visible minority, I know firsthand the power of representation — the “permission” one gets when they see someone they identify with in a space that doesn’t typically include people who look like them. “It used to be (that) men would come to the events that their wives brought them,” Johnson says. “Usually their wives didn’t tell them the whole story and they would drag them along. And then it became more and more that men were coming and they were identifying. I used to see one or two men in a group, now some of our events are 25 percent male. That’s a big shift.”

So there’s hope.

Outdoor on-shore yoga with Chopra Swan Hellenic wellness cruise

Photo: Carlo Alcos

I asked Johnson what this world might look like if more men led self-examined lives. “I don’t think there would be as much war, as much fighting if we could all have compassion and come together,” she says. “The most amazing men are men that can get vulnerable. They’re going to have the best relationships. They’re probably going to be great at their work or anything they decide to do because they can touch in and use that to be the catalyst for whatever their creation is.”

For my part, I will continue to show up. Maybe I’ll be the man that someone else sees, that makes them feel less awkward about being there. When I think about that man I was who forced himself to stop crying, I think about how much further he had to go to shed the ridiculous ideas of what it is to be a man. Experiences like this help; they are steps on the journey.

Beyond luxuriating in the comforts, the food, the onboard spa, and the wellness retreat, it was the relationships that I witnessed being formed among the guests that struck me the most. When it was time to say goodbye there were many hugs and tears between people who bonded over their shared humanity. I wondered if there was something special about offering a Chopra wellness retreat on a cruise because it seems an unlikely combination.

“It’s just such an opportunity for connection in a different way,” Johnson says. “You’re allowing yourself to be taken care of, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable. There’s nothing else to do but just experience being alive.”

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