ČELADNÁ, Czech Republic—The Beskid Rehabilitation Center sits on a rolling plot of land in the boomerang-shaped Beskid mountain range, a stretch of the Carpathians reaching from the Czech Republic across Poland and Slovakia, fading into western Ukraine and the Transylvanian Alps. Full of “alternative” therapies, the BRC is the kind of place you might visit if you were feeling fine, but wanted to feel great, or if you were suffering from a low-level chronic ailment that standard Western medicine had failed to resolve. There’s a cryotherapy chamber kept at a brisk -184 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s an open-air “healing pyramid,” a bare-bones wooden-beam structure said to have healing properties. (“Research shows that pyramid energy, thanks to its deeply relaxing effects, harmonizes the psyche,” the website alleges.) And famously, there’s Vila Mátma, or “My Darkness Villa,” where clients spend seven days or longer alone and in complete absence of light.
Many modern-day practitioners of what Czechs now call terapie tmou, or “darkness therapy,” point to a 49-day Tibetan retreat called yang-ti as its most important forebear. In the modern West, the therapy was promulgated in the 1960s by the German anthropologist Holger Kalweit as Dunkeltherapie (literally: “dark therapy”). The concept has particularly taken hold in the Czech Republic, where darkness-therapy centers now can be found across the country to serve a population of just 10.6 million, according to Marek Malůš, a psychologist who researches the technique. Staff at the best-known of these centers, the Vila Mátma at the BRC, say that prospective clientele will now spend two years on its waiting list. On its website, the BRC alleges that darkness therapy is “very effective” in preventing “lifestyle diseases,” including cancer and metabolic disorders, and that it sharpens the senses, stimulates creativity, and most notably, “regenerates the psyche.”