Alive Retreats

Revitalize yourself with a deep dive into holistic wellness

by Sara Stapleton

It is a warm and sunny late morning, and I am sitting with Karla Downing, founder of ALIVE Retreats, talking over fresh pressed celery juice and Bieler's Broth, a healing, restorative soup that works to achieve the ideal acid and alkaline balance in our bodies. Our conversation moves fluidly as we discuss food, family, and the joy in facilitating healing— the roots of ALIVE Retreats. It is instantly apparent upon meeting that this is truly Karla’s passion, and she, alongside a host of other compassionate practitioners, comprise a team committed to guiding us back to our deepest health and wellbeing. The team aims to give people the space to “know what we already know,” to come home to our innate wisdom and instinct, because we already hold much of the knowledge that we need to heal ourselves. We often just need the opportunity to slow down and truly tune in. Through a retreat, you are not alone. They provide compassionate support as you dive in.

With the belief that health is holistic, the retreats are multifaceted and offer many different healing modalities in depth. The first, and one of the most essential to our daily wellness, is that of whole and healthful foods. Karla’s son, Jamil, and his wife, Rosemary, prepare nourishing meals that incorporate a vibrant bounty of living foods—fresh juices, vegetables, ferments, and sprouts, as well as their delicious award-winning raw crackers. These snacks and meals decrease inflammation and allow the digestive system to rest while aiding in the restoration of its function, as well as allow attendees to cut out processed foods and refined sugars. The aim is to wake up the tastebuds and leave with a new relationship to food.

Karla's son, Kalin, with her grandson TaiTashi Zlakat.

Karla's son, Kalin, with her grandson TaiTashi Zlakat.

While Jamil brings his deep love for food, Rosemary brings her understanding of healing herbs, and Karla’s husband, Rik Halstead, brings his passion for meditation, QiGong, and acupuncture, with many years of experience and a master’s degree in Chinese medicine. Rik uses acupuncture to treat folks for a wide range of disorders including gut and digestive challenges, which he considers to be the core of a healthy, vibrant physical body. Doctor Nicole Yezman offers her expertise in Naturopathic Medicine. She also specializes in gastrointestinal health and will speak on the subject, as well as be available for private appointments during the retreat. Nicole helps people identify the root of health issues and trace symptoms back to their original source, “allowing for true change and healing to occur.” Nourishing the microbiome is an important key to wellness that will be emphasized and explored, allowing students to utilize new knowledge through everyday habits.

With the emphasis on holistic health, there are as many offerings to soothe the soul as there are to soothe the body. Barbara Juniper offers deep sound healing and Robin Winn a wide breadth of inspiring and empowering mind and spirit-based tools and teachings. Robin uses Qigong, NeuroMovement, and the template of Human Design as well as her “infectious enthusiasm and inspired curiosity” during the retreats to connect attendees to their inner guidance—to meet yourself with new eyes and navigate the path to living at a higher level of coherence. Attendees will practice iRest, or Integrative Restoration Meditation, inquiry, and compassionate listening in addition to having time to reflect and relish in all that they are gaining through these varied experiences.

It's not just the food that's delightful during these retreats. The natural settings—like Leonard Lake in Redwood Valley or Karla and Rik's serene property in Willits overlooking mountains and valleys out to the North coast—feed the eyes and rest the soul. The picturesque locations are intentional. This year’s summer retreat at Four Springs, in the forest just north of Napa Valley, will allow attendees to ground their awareness and feel at peace in their surroundings.

“Being in nature connects us to something bigger than ourselves, giving us the perspective that we are not separate, but an integral part of the natural world,” says Karla. And that is really the idea of it all—in being our best selves, we are able to give our best to others and to our world in whatever way, big or small. May we, like Karla and Rik, dedicate our days and thoughts to the benefit of all beings. May we cultivate wellness, and kindness, through the support of our communities!

ALIVE Retreats won an Iron Chef-style food competition at the Wild Willits Fest last October. They stole the show with a raw vegan apple slaw with hummus on a raw cracker, and were awarded this article for their prize.

Join ALIVE Retreats this summer, Saturday June 29th to Sunday July 7th, at Four Springs Retreat Center, or for one of their single-day retreats in Willits on select days throughout the year. Karla will soon be offering weekend-long New Parent Empowerment retreats once a month as well. They can be found at /

Sara Stapleton lives high upon Greenwood Ridge and feels most at home in the tall trees, alongside meandering streams and birdsong. She is a passionate eater, seeking out local food wherever she goes. You can find her serving