Aaron Rodgers: What is a dark haven and does it work?

Aaron Rodgers: What is a dark haven and does it work?
Aaron Rodgers: What is a dark haven and does it work?

(CNN) For four days this week, the home of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a pitch-black room. There were no phones, no TV, no lights or distractions. Just Rodgers, alone with his thoughts, in a cabin built specifically for prolonged isolation in the dark.

When the four-time NFL MVP announced earlier this month plans to contemplate his NFL future in isolation in a “dark retreat,” many were left scratching their heads.

“It’s just sitting in isolation, meditating, dealing with your thoughts,” Rodgers said earlier this month. “We rarely turn off the phone or close the blinds to sleep in the dark. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Rodgers is no stranger to alternative therapies. He credits psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca for helping to alleviate the fear of death and deepen a sense of self-love. The football star said he has been doing “a lot of meditation and yoga retreats” lately and defended his decision to try dark therapy as one of several practices “that have stimulated my mind and helped me get into a better headspace and have a greater peace in my life.”

But what really happens in a dark haven? And is it just a new age fad or perhaps something that can be of use to the rest of us?

What happens in the dark

A dark retreat is exactly what it sounds like: an extended stay in a room completely devoid of light. One of the centers offering the practice is Sky Cave Retreats, located in the Cascade-Siskiyou Wilderness, in Southern Oregon, near Klamath Falls.

The cabins are built specifically for long-term isolation in the dark.

“The reasons for doing this range from people who want to know themselves more, to people who want to rest, reset and relax, to those who want to explore awareness and deepen their meditation practice,” said Scott Berman, who owns Sky Cave Retreats Together With his wife Jill, adding darkness helps illuminate what really matters by removing the constant bombardment of sensory input and stimulation many people experience in their hectic modern lives.

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“When someone goes into the darkness, all these things that were important to them like money, fame, power, status, being worthy — all become insignificant and meaningless in the darkness,” Berman said. “In the darkness, all you have is the present moment that reveals what is truly meaningful—whether it’s love, forgiveness, peace—and it begins to transform you when you truly touch what is most important to you.”

The center currently operates three free-standing cabins built specifically for long-term isolation in the dark — earth-protected caves, which on the outside look a bit like a Hobbit home. Each space contains a bed, a toilet, sink and a bathtub, as well as a low table for eating and a carpeted area for yoga and meditation. Attendees can leave at any time — the doors are never locked — and there’s an emergency light switch that’s protected by a childproof guard so it won’t be accidentally turned on.

The price includes three meals a day, which Berman personally delivers once in the evening (through a light-tight double-sided lunch box) to minimize disruption. This is when participants have an opportunity for a conversation, which can be 10 seconds or 30 minutes, according to Berman, depending on the person’s needs.

Participants typically spend three to four days in the dark at a cost of $250 per night and are encouraged to take an extra day before and after to integrate the experience.

Each space contains a bed, a toilet, sink and a bathtub, as well as a low table for eating and a carpeted area for yoga and meditation.

Burak Dalcik, a 27-year-old salesman from Arlington, Virginia, said the four days he spent in the dark at Sky Caves Retreats in January gave him clarity about his priorities. He found that he no longer labeled experiences as positive or negative, but rather let them come and go, which led to less stress and anxiety at work and in his personal life. He also said he started calling his mother, who lives back in Turkey, more often.

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“It really trims all the unnecessary fat and allows you to focus on some of the most important things and allows you to really understand who you are,” Dalcik said. “There’s nothing New Age about this – it boils down to can you just sit alone with yourself? And if you can’t, you should probably be pretty curious as to why.”

Berman cautions that retreat is not for everyone, nor should it be seen as a quick fix to one’s problems.

“It’s not like this magical, mind-blowing, amazing experience — it can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable,” Berman said. “But in the dark, discomfort is the door to transformation. There is an acceptance and a deep love that people begin to experience when they no longer resist that part of themselves.”

A therapeutic tool or junk science?

Currently, there is limited research on how dark retreats affect the human brain and body. Some centers claim that the experience can help heal trauma or activate the pineal gland, another claim is dark therapy increases melatonin production in the brain.

“It’s completely wrong,” said Dr. David Blask, head of the Laboratory of Chrono-Neuroendocrine Oncology at Tulane University School of Medicine. “There may be some psychological benefits that people get from a dark refuge that they feel are important to them, but certainly not from a strictly endocrine neuroendocrine or biochemical physiological standpoint.”

Dr. Marek Malůš, a psychologist at the University of Ostrava in the Czech Republic who has been studying dark therapies since 2010, sees the technique as a promising therapeutic tool.

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“Your thoughts, memories, feelings, inner world and mental processes become much more balanced and integrated,” Malůš said.

As he and his colleagues work to secure funding for further studies, Malůš said preliminary research showed that just four days in a darkroom was enough to help increase attention and self-confidence, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, while improving the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system. , which helps with stress management and reduces burnout symptoms. Subjects reported feeling the benefits three weeks after the experience.

Berman said he hopes to see more scientific research on the benefits of darkness retreats, but cautions against anyone who wants to use the retreat as some kind of natural holiday.

“If someone comes here because they want to have a so-called DMT experience, you’ve come to the wrong place,” he said. “But there are many benefits to not looking outside ourselves for confirmation of our worth and using the darkness to illuminate our true nature.”

For those who aren’t able to spend the time or money on a retreat in the dark but want a taste of some of the benefits, Berman suggests starting small at home.

“It’s about getting used to authentically slowing down, putting down the phone, turning off the lights, closing the blinds and just resting,” he said. “Not to get somewhere, not to heal, but just to be curious about what’s actually going on inside yourself.”

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