We love this article by Sara, written after we hosted her and her wonderful yoga students last week. Looking forward to seeing you again next year Sara!
You’ve seen ads for them in all of the big yoga magazines. There are thousands of them happening worldwide on any given day. What on Earth makes yoga retreats such a hot commodity?
Having just led my first, of what will be many, yoga retreats in Italy, I can tell you exactly why.
First, yoga teachers are accustomed to providing space for students to grow, change, and discover—both their inner selves and their outer world. A vacation or retreat specifically dedicated to that process, to the holding open of that safe space, is a gift on which a monetary value really can’t be placed. Nowhere else, especially in our fast-paced, do-it-yesterday culture, do we truly get to let go of “doing” and revel in “being.”
Second, yoga teachers understand the importance of an inspiring, beautiful environment when facing the potentially daunting task of personal growth. (Yoga is, at its roots, a method for achieving enlightenment, which is the ultimate personal growth experience; it’s not just a method to get more flexible hips!) Retreats take place in some of the most gorgeous places in the world, from Costa Rican rainforests, to coastal resorts in Bali, to my favorite of all retreat locations, the southern coast of Italy. In places such as these, there is nothing to disrupt your experience of a healthier, more joyous you.
Third, above all else, yoga teachers are dedicated to your health and wellbeing, and we take those priorities seriously when we’re designing your retreat experience. Most retreats are fully catered with vegetarian food. At my recent retreat in Puglia, we were served three organic, vegetarian meals per day, plus one outstanding homemade Indian meal from a local expert chef. Even if you’re not vegetarian going into a retreat, you might just realize (as my guests did) that your body feels great after a week without meat.
Fourth, there is nothing like the consistent, personal attention of a highly qualified yoga teacher for five to seven consecutive days to enrich and deepen your personal yoga practice. At my retreat, which was designed to accommodate only five pampered guests, we began each morning with 30-40 minutes of instruction in and practice of pranayama (breathing) and meditation. Then, before dinner, we practiced a complete asana (posture) class geared specifically toward guests’ requests. Would my guests have known how to engage in daily pranayama or how to design their own favorite yoga classes at home if they just kept going to their favorite, crowded yoga classes every week in their home town? No way! Nothing beats the individual care and attention of a dedicated yoga teacher, especially in an environment in which your only responsibility is to honor your own health and vitality.
Finally, many yoga retreats are designed to not only give you the option of daily practice, but they include cultural and “touristic” experiences as well. Therefore, you can get your daily yoga practice under the care of an expert teacher and feel free to explore the larger community in which the retreat takes place. I ask you, if you went to Rome for a “normal” vacation, how likely is it you’d practice yoga every day for at least an hour? During a yoga retreat, you get the best of both worlds.
Now that you understand just why yoga retreats are the ideal choice for your future vacations, it’s best that you know just how to pick the right one for you. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.
- Retreats can range from very disciplined, structured yoga courses to very relaxing, chilled-out affairs. Be sure you fully investigate the daily schedule of events before you sign up for any yoga retreat. For example, I made it clear to my guests that we would not be starting each day before 8:30 a.m., and that all classes were entirely optional. This is definitely not the case for many retreats. Know your personal energy requirements (are you a morning or night person?) and honor those needs by choosing a retreat that suits your body’s natural rhythms.
- Know your lodging preferences. Retreat locations can range from extremely rustic (picture campgrounds and sleeping bags) to extremely luxurious (imagine a 5-star resort). If you prefer sleeping in a comfortable bed in your own room and enjoying a daily hot shower, you’d be well served to investigate retreat options designed more to honor your need for comfort, rather than those designed to help you practice Karma yoga by tidying up the campsite after other guests have prepared breakfast. In other words, know your comfort level regarding lodging and stick with it for now. Your daily yoga practice will give you enough opportunities to stretch your boundaries and experience ease in the midst of discomfort. You needn’t find such challenges in your accommodation as well.
- Look for a teacher who comes recommended by students or other teachers, and ask him/her as many specific questions as you can about the retreat, accommodations, teaching style, and expectations before you pay a deposit. It takes a special, student-centered teacher to lead a yoga retreat. If answers to your questions are not forthcoming, or if you don’t feel that the teacher will go above and beyond in service to your wellbeing, it’s time to trust your gut and find a different retreat.
One final thing I will mention is that cost is the least important thing to consider when selecting your next yoga retreat. When you find the right mix of teacher personality, retreat structure/options, and opportunities for personal growth, you’ll know. The ticket price will seem a bargain, no matter what.
Namaste, and enjoy your yoga, everyone!