Yoga retreats with a Spanish twist: CofC alum promotes mindfulness abroad

Katie Williamson, founder of Sacred Retreats Peru, performs a hand stand at Machu Picchu after completing the Inca Trail.

Katie Williamson, founder of Sacred Retreats Peru, performs a headstand at Machu Picchu after completing the Inca Trail. (Photo courtesy of Katie Williamson)

Katie Williamson was by all conventional measures on the fast track to success after graduating from the College of Charleston in 2011 with a double major in Spanish and accounting. She earned 4.0s in both of her majors, arranged to take her CPA exam that summer and already lined up a job with an auditing firm in Washington, D.C. Everyone was telling her that she was on the right track, but something about this perfect plan for success didn’t seem so perfect to her. She thought to herself, “I’m going to be working eighty hour work weeks. I want to have some fun before I start that.”

Williamson, a pre-professional dancer in high school and an avid yoga practitioner in college, was always a “mover.” Before coming to Charleston, she took a gap year in Spain to learn Spanish and to think about what she wanted to do in college. This time around, a three-week solo backpacking trip in Peru was in order. “I have had so many chances, opportunities and blessings to travel,” she said.

With space to contemplate the life ahead of her, she realized that her purpose was not to sit at a desk her whole life. At the same time, the magic of Peru inspired a new drive in her. Shortly after she returned to her home in New Orleans, she inquired about volunteering at an orphanage in Lima. Instead of finding a volunteer position, she was interviewed, trained and hired as the orphanage’s Boys Town Program Director. In less than two months, she was living full-time in Peru.

“It’s a sacred place,” Williamson said. According to Williamson, Peru’s incredible biodiversity, ancient ruins and vibrant cultural traditions make it important to the world. After serving at the orphanage in Lima and later studying as a yoga instructor in Brazil, she returned to the States and started her own business to help others find themselves in Peru as she did.

Introducing: Sacred Retreats Peru.

With Sacred Retreats Peru, Williamson hopes to offer unique trips that are not just about yoga. This summer, she is organizing a Spanish immersion trip, during which participants will take Spanish lessons, attend yoga class, visit ruins and volunteer with a nonprofit organization – all without a single word of English. As a nutritional therapist and a chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which promotes “ancestral diets,” Williamson will also lead a trip focusing on the culinary traditions of Peru and women’s health. In both of these trips, she plans to incorporate the spiritual side of Peru.

Williamson’s path may have diverged dramatically from where it seemed to be taking her during college, but she does not see her time here as lost. “This is your time to ask questions. Learn as much as you can from everybody that you meet, whether or not it contributes to your numbers,” she advised. “This might seem a little controversial, but the tools you need to succeed in college might not be the tools you need to succeed in the rest of your life.”

Williamson said that she loved all four of her years here, but that stressing out about grades was not a good use of energy. “Yoga really did save me for sure during college, because I was so tough on myself,” she said. During her time in Charleston, she practiced yoga five times per week. Now, she emphasizes the importance of establishing some sort of mindfulness practice. According to Williamson, taking a moment to be still amid the seemingly endless list of things that need to be done is a skill and a habit that students can use to help confront the chaos and stress of life, both at college and beyond graduation.

This summer, Williamson’s spanish immersion trip and yoga retreat will surely offer yogis and spanish speakers alike the opportunity to practice their own mindfulness in a very unique way. And who knows what comes next for Williamson herself.

“Whatever you want to happen, you’ve got to make it happen,” she said.

To learn more about Sacred Retreats Peru and Katie Williamson’s mission, visit www.sacredretreatsperu.com.

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