Before readers jump the gun and tell us we have the wrong holiday featured on our cover, let’s get one thing clear: While turkeys are feeding your gut this season, rabbits are feeding your minds and souls. Just ask Jenny Yarborough of White Rabbit Trips—which combines meditation, art, yoga, adventure, and all things in between to help people find their purpose and happiness in the world.
“Our mantra: The only way out is in,” says Yarborough, a.k.a. Mama Rabbit. She launched White Rabbit Trips officially last May, but the weekend of Dec. 1-3, she and a group of local lady business owners are hosting their first retreat: Soul Sisters Sleepover. The two-day gathering will focus on yoga classes, DIY art projects, and panel discussions that take on simple questions like, “Who does your taxes,” to more in-depth topics like, “How did you decide to start your own business?”
The women’s retreat is geared toward reigniting passions, dreams and talents women have put off or all but forgotten since youth. Yarborough wants to reverse the process, and have retreaters look at their lives as adults, and summon the magic of wonderment and possibility they had during childhood sleepovers.
“We forget our purpose,” she reminds. “[The rabbit masks] help people visualize our mission. We wear our own masks, due to things we’ve been told, traumas we’ve been through, as a means of acceptance, and we bury the person we were when we were children—our most authentic selves.”
Yarborough knows the disconnect well. A UNCW grad in creative writing, she worked as a journalist for Lumina News out of college in 2008. She loved interviewing folks from all walks of life and learning their stories. From cancer survivors to professional dancers, mayors to nonprofit directors, musicians and artists; it helped shape her.
“If everyone had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with these people, like I did, they would probably have a different perspective on the world, on themselves,” she remembers. “Each person I interviewed helped me understand my own life in a different light.”
Once the recession hit, it became taxing on her to continue working in the newspaper industry, which was taking a massive hit. So she took her life in a different direction. She wanted to continue telling stories but hoped to try her hand at doing so in a different way: marketing. She applied for a job at the Blockade Runner.
“My first Easter there, they had a tradition where the newest manager had to dress up like the Easter Bunny for the annual brunch and egg hunt,” Yarborough tells. “It’s funny to look back on now, since my first retreat will be held at the [hotel]—where I seriously did dress like a white rabbit before I founded White Rabbit Trips.”
Once she realized being in the hospitality business meant missing all major holidays with her family, she started soul searching again. She began doing yoga and meditating. Around that time she found a job posting for marketing at a yoga studio, which happened to be located behind a house she just bought. Serendipity intervened and opened up the universe, and Yarborough began working at the studio and doing training classes to become a teacher. She also helped with their annual fundraiser for a nonprofit, Homes of Hope Orphanages in India—which Yarborough had reported on years before at Lumina News. “That was so special to me,” she says. “It felt like I was coming full circle—like I went from being the storyteller of these girls to being a person who was actually raising money for them.”
However, Yarborough was laid off after two years. Devastated, she had to take a hard look at herself and dig deep to find her passions once again. “It took me to a dark place,” she remembers. “But, for the first time in my life, since I was born, I felt like I had a blank slate. I could do anything. It was scary. It was exhausting. But it was exactly what I needed. I needed to feel like I was thrown out in order to dig deep, to dive down the rabbit hole of my mind and ask: Who are you? Why are you here? What is your purpose?”
She began freelance marketing successfully and made connections with other yogis in town. Over dinner one night at a beach house named “White Rabbit,” under a full moon over the ocean, an idea sparked. She pondered the symbolism of the name of the house, where she had been in life, the rush of society, and how it slowed down for her when she looked within to search for her calling. “When we’re rushing around, we’re missing everything that matters,” Yarborough tells. “Here, at White Rabbit, [my friends and I] began to erase time through meditation. I began to let go. I began to feed my head.”
She announced to her friends, “We should do White Rabbit Trips!”
One of her pals, JJ Cook, responded, “Yeah, the only way out is in.”
And so her journey began.
In its first year of business, the White Rabbit family consists of 17 teachers, all of whom do yoga but have other specialities, ranging from free-diving to painting, music to papermaking. They also aren’t a traditional company with a brick and mortar.
“We don’t belong to a physical space,” Yarborough clarifies. “I don’t believe in being confined to a place or time for 40 hours a week, and I don’t want the teachers who work with me to feel caged either. This is the magic behind the bunny biz. The world is ours. We can be here, there and everywhere. . . . The main goal: to connect you and I and I and you and us with the world.”
While the majority of teachers are from Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, she also has teachers in Jacksonville, Raleigh, Charlotte, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, and Costa Rica. Take Alex Llinas, for example. “He used to be an engineer in Wilmington for years,” she says. “But he was tired of the typical American life—where we tend to work most of our waking hours and not get to the things we love. So he moved to Puerto Rico to teach free-diving. When you free dive, not only are you diving deep physically, you’re also diving deep mentally. You’re using many of the same techniques you use in yoga to push yourself further into the belly of the ocean, to experience something new. This is exactly what we’re all about: Diving into the mind.”
White Rabbit will host a deep dive and yoga trip in 2019, led by Llinas. Yarborough wants to expand into other countries and cities, and even envisions upstarting a festival at some point. White Rabbit will teach anywhere, as long as they bridge the gap between meditation and people who don’t think they can do yoga. Both go hand in hand, as the mind-body-spirit connection is the most important outcome—not how flexible one is or how many poses he or she can accomplish. Yarborough explains it as an art form as simple as breathing. “It looks like your breath on a cold day,” she details. “When you exhale and all of a sudden you see it, and you recognize the gift you were given.”
Soul Sisters Sleepover will feature 16 lady leaders on a panel, including Rebekah Todd (singer/songwriter and artist), Catherine Hawksworth (owner of Modern Legend), Beth Princiotta (owner of Penny Lane Boutique), Jenn Vanderfleet (owner of Third Generation Herbal), Jess Reedy (owner/yoga instructor and potter of Pineapple Studios), Kristen Crouch (artist and founder of gooseink), Logan Thompson (executive director of Welcome Home Angel), and others. “The pow-wow on Saturday morning will not have stages or podiums,” Yarborough clarifies. “The intent is to be casual and fun and accessible, not serious and boring.”
All participants who register are asked to send in a question to be discussed, which helps moderate the panel. Participants will receive hand-crafted flower crowns made by Shelly Shi of Beauty Crew Mobile. As well, the weekend retreat includes dinner from Wrightsville Beach Brewery and Tama Tea, plus breakfast, and live music. There will be DIY workshops in journaling and smudging, and yoga everyday, among other activities. Folks who can’t attend the whole weekend can buy a Party Crashers Pass, which will gain them access to yoga classes and the 10:30 a.m. pow-wow on Saturday.
“It’s time to stir the soul, to get rid of negative thoughts and take us back to our authentic selves,” Yarborough says. “Winter is the perfect time to do that: to plan, to inspire.”