Katie Sandler wants you to be content.
Inspired by her own personal struggles early in life, she developed an interest in the link between mental health and physical healing. Delving deeper, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in mental health counseling before becoming a psychiatric and neuropsychiatric research assistant at Johns Hopkins and, finally, a therapist in private practice.
Still, she felt that something was missing from her work as a traditional therapist. That’s when she was awakened to the power of meditation, mindfulness and yoga—particularly in concert with coaching and counseling.
Ultimately, she founded The Impact Retreat, an immersive, luxury, three-to-five-day retreat experience that may be one-on-one or in a group, with the goal of changing lives and shepherding clients to essential, transformative realizations. Essentially, she helps people get unstuck.
Here, Sandler gives us the lowdown on her upcoming group retreats in Anguilla and Tuscany (for which she welcomes individuals and groups of friends) and explains why happiness is no match for contentment:
Live The Process: In what way were the early challenges in your life formative?
Katie Sandler: Growing up, I endured quite a few obstacles that have really impacted my life. In fact, looking back, I realize that two of the biggest challenges I faced were catalysts for who I am today and the life path I have chosen.
To start, I was born without my left ear. As a child, I went through many reconstructive surgeries during which doctors pulled cartilage from other areas of my body to sculpt my ear. This was one of the first challenges I faced in my life—and one that prepared me for what was to come. My favorite memory as a little girl was of my mom pulling back my hair for school every day. It taught me to be tough, but, most importantly, to accept and love myself as I am. It helped me cope with being unique at a young age.
When I was about 17, I encountered another challenge: I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a condition caused by inflammation of the spinal cord; and, as a result, I was paralyzed from the waist down. With help from doctors at Johns Hopkins, I defeated this condition, which often leaves patients with limited to no mobility.
This experience really triggered my passion for mental health awareness. While I was being treated, I began my research into what mentally helps a patient overcome an illness. What I found was that patients with a higher level of purpose would face and/or overcome an illness with much more resilience.
LTP: What inspired you to begin fusing your extensive background in mental health and neuropsychology with wellness practices like yoga and meditation?
KS: As a result of my personal experiences, my curiosity about the mind-body connection was sparked at a very young age. The notion that exercise is good for mental health was just about all we really heard when it came to mind-body health; that only scratched the surface.
When I was in my early twenties, a friend asked me to join her on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica for two weeks. Though I’ve had a personal mindfulness practice since I was young, I’d only participated in formal yoga a few times in my life. I also have a connective tissue disorder, which makes stretching somewhat of an enemy. But I joined her on this retreat and was open to giving it my all.
To date, it was one of the most pivotal experiences of my life: It quickly became obvious that the key to overall well-being lies in breath, movement, mindfulness, being present and the cohesive effect of these practices. That’s not to belittle the power of medications, talk therapy, self-help books and/or seminars; those are necessary in certain cases, as well. It’s just to say that—unless you are practicing in a physical way that’s not beneficial to you—you cannot go wrong with a yoga, meditation or mindfulness practice. It’s science.
Of course, yoga is the oldest and most tried-and-true method of self-care; and self-care now has empirically validated biological benefits.
LTP: What inspired you to found the Impact Retreat? And what makes it different than other retreat and/or therapy experience?
KS: I started my career as a therapist in private practice, providing a more traditional form of treatment. I believe that traditional therapy is a great tool for many people, but I started to notice a few years in that some clients’ needs weren’t being met during classic 60-minute therapy sessions—and probably never would be.
I saw a gap between the traditional therapeutic methods and the people who just needed a nudge in the right direction. These clients almost always had the same thing in common: they were happy in life, but felt like there was something missing. That is ultimately what led me to create the Impact Retreat.
The Impact Retreat is unlike any other form of therapy or life coaching. It’s a luxury, completely-tailored retreat designed to change my clients’ lives in three to five days by giving them the tools to achieve personal and professional transformation. I specifically focus on helping them in their careers and/or personal lives to reach their “a-ha!” moment and, most importantly, positively impact the lives of others.
LTP: Can you tell us about any upcoming retreats?
KS: I have two annual Group Impact Retreats—one in the fall and one in spring. They are the Anguilla Group Series and the Tuscany Group Series.
In general, The Impact Retreat Group Series brings clients around the world to luxury destinations for full mind, body and spirit experiences. Each trip is tailored to the location and can include excursions such as culinary workshops by master chefs, yoga retreats led by gurus, immersion onto breathtaking environments, condensed one-on-one impact sessions with me and much more.
The Impact Retreat Group Series is for the curious individual, who loves travel and wants to discover new destinations and gain self-awareness through experience.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
KS: Seeing as it’s a fleeting emotion, I believe it’s confusing and often frustrating to strive for happiness. Often, happiness becomes a paradoxical experience: When you realize you are unhappy, it leads to greater unhappiness—but the same is not true in the opposite direction. When you realize you’re happy, it doesn’t make you happier—quite often, it makes you anticipate the decline of your happy moment. Happiness is balance, and balance is to be content. I don’t look for the highs, therefore, my lows tend to not be so low. For that reason, let’s use the word “content” because I think it’s bigger.
For me, being content looks like feeling purposeful while practicing tremendous self-love and compassion. Achieving at least 80 percent of what I set out to accomplish every day, every week and every month, and then being nurturing and understanding with myself when I don’t hit the benchmark. Being content, for me, also means caring for my friendships, while not taking things too personally; spending time with family, while keeping healthy boundaries. It means living with purpose and making a positive impact, as often as possible.
And, of course, it means occasionally binge-watching Netflix, while indulging in a gorgeous cheese board and snuggling with my dogs or taking client meetings while sitting outside and soaking up nature.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live the Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
KS: To “Live The Process” is to be aware of your highs and lows and accept them as they come. The best way to do this is to simply be more aware of your emotions. Ask yourself why a situation makes you happy, sad, confused, angry, etc. While I believe it is important to embrace being sad, you also need to identify your support system, so you can successfully cope, learn, grow and move on.
Photo by Dimitri Jean Selme