Skip to content

What is a ‘darkness retreat’ and why you should try it

In the weird and wonderful world of wellness, people are now creating ‘darkness retreats’ where they literally sit in pitch black for days on end to find mental clarity.

At GLAMOUR, we've written about and tested out practically everything to better our mental health, but the latest trend might just be one step too far.

Spending time in the dark - and its effect on our mind - is a hot topic right now with Beatriz Flamini emerging from 500 days in a cave and American Football star Aaron Rodgers recently embarking on a darkness retreat.

Darkness retreats are aimed at making individuals confront unpleasant thoughts. They prevent you from distracting your thoughts and avoiding discomfort, as when forced to sit in pitch blackness, with nothing but a yoga mat, there is no option but to sit with these thoughts, resulting in a profound impact on self-development.

As Dating and Personal Development Coach, Minnie Lane, who embarked on her own, explains: “A dark retreat is a prolonged period of time spent in total pitch black darkness and solitude/isolation. When I say pitch black, I really mean it - you can’t see anything at all the entire time you’re in there, not even your own body, which is a surreal experience in itself.”

It’s an ancient spiritual practice, the purpose of which is sensory deprivation which allows you to more easily reach altered states of consciousness and increase clarity and insights… apparently.

So what are the benefits of sitting in pitch black and twiddling your thumbs? Whilst scientific research into the effects of dark retreats is still in its infancy, evidence does suggest dark retreats can help lower anxiety, depression and stress. It has also been suggested that prolonged exposure to darkness increases melatonin production, promoting deep restorative sleep. It’s also believed that after around 6 days, prolonged exposure to darkness stimulates DMT synthesis in the brain, taking the experiencer on a psychedelic journey of insight.

“Personally, I have experienced huge increases in clarity, focus and insight during my darkness retreats,” claims Minnie. “I notice I always look super healthy and rested when I emerge and people often comment that there is a glow to my skin tone afterwards and my energy is very light and free. I feel the real benefit to practices like this is a deepened intimate connection with my true self, which helps me live more authentically and attract/develop more authentic relationships with others.”

Celebrities are paying thousands to attend darkness retreats (NFL hero Aaron Rodgers spent days at the Sky Cave Retreats in southern Oregon), but if you're on a budget (hi!), you can actually create your own darkness retreat at home.

As Minnie explains: “I discovered you can totally blackout a normal bedroom using bin bags and gaffer tape. Be sure to get extra thick bin bags as we had limited options during lockdown and I’m pretty sure our local shop owner thought we were psychopaths by the fourth visit to the shops that day, requesting yet more bin bags and gaffer tape.”

Things you need to think about are:

Air supply - completely blacking out a room means it’s going to be pretty much airtight too so the oxygen will likely only last a few days. You need a way to ventilate and get fresh air in if you're staying for a while.

Toilet/washing - I was lucky that my bedroom was en-suite, so I simply blacked out my bathroom too, but a good quality eye mask and a nearby accessible bathroom could work just as well.

Feeding - similar to the above, you will need a lightproof feeding system. I simply moved to the bathroom with the door shut and an eye mask on while my sister entered, left food and opened a Velux window for a bit to refresh the air. It was quite a big job though as she had to re black out the window and door each time, which took a good 10 minutes each time before I could come back out.

Temperature - make sure settings like maintaining an even temperature are considered beforehand as you won’t be able to change them once you’re in. My sister nearly boiled me alive on day 10 when she accidentally put the heating on full blast on the hottest day of the year and went out for a walk. Not fun when you’re stuck in an airtight loft room, trust me!

Before you start, also make sure any essential items are placed by easily findable landmarks as it’s a nightmare trying to find things you’ve misplaced. I accidentally had a rogue pair of open scissors somewhere on the floor at one point, which wasn’t ideal. Simple things like keeping your toothbrush and toothpaste in the sink can help a lot.

There are no official known dangers to prolonged exposure to darkness, however, they are not to be taken lightly. It can be very challenging when difficult feelings, thoughts or memories arise, as there is no escape. “In normal life we develop so many habitual ways of distracting ourselves from processing pain and trauma, but in the dark there is only really the option to face everything head on, which is what draws me to the practice,” says Minnie.

Of course, the door is only locked from the inside, so you are technically free to leave at any point. However, what people often don’t realise is that walking straight out isn't really an option because your eyes become super sensitive, so transitioning back to normal life needs to be a gradual process. On that note, it’s very important to take dark glasses with you to wear when you emerge, and ideally come out at night or before sunrise to allow your eyes to slowly adjust.

“People are always very curious as to why I would want to sit in the dark, but I think the inverse question is also very interesting,” says Minnie. “If the thought of being alone with nothing but yourself scares you (which is very common) it can be interesting to ask yourself why. Knowing that you are comfortable in your own skin and enjoy your own company enough to leave everything else behind for a while has been a really valuable experience and realisation.”

If you are interested but not ready for a long retreat just yet, Minnie suggests challenging yourself with just an hour or so without any distractions first and see what comes up for you.

"Dark retreats really showed me how much our experience of reality is just interpretation and projection of our inner world and past conditioning of the mind. When you’re in the dark, nothing actually happens, yet you still experience an emotional journey similar to being in real life, which I think is very interesting. "

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

Share this article: