Yoga Retreats are similar to Yoga Teacher Trainings, in the sense that they are offered in all corners of the world and with all styles and themes: traditional meditation retreats in the Himalayas to partner acro-yoga retreats in Hawaii. Although there are thousands of yoga retreats to choose from, the concept of retreat is similar no matter what the unique style or teacher. Retreat is defined as 'withdrawal to a quiet or secluded place'. A yoga retreat should give you space to do this: a chance to go deeper within your practice and essentially yourself.
Below is my advice on how to choose the right retreat for you...
1. Why go on a yoga retreat?
Seclusion, Nature & Immersion are 3 important themes:
Seclusion: A retreat experience offers us the chance to let go of our daily responsibilities (family, friends, children, work) and instead focus 100% on ourselves. You will not have to worry about getting back to work after your deeply relaxing savasana. You can enjoy a coffee without the interruption of your child or pet. A retreat offers us a period of seclusion for the purpose of prayer, meditation and transformation, through holistic practices and routine with few external interruptions. A retreat is designed to nourish you through a secluded yet supportive atmosphere. You may experience new lifestyle patterns: regulated and deep sleep, healthy meals and daily yoga. It can be an awakening to unhealthy habits or addictions, and has the power to shine light on positive habits you can take home with you to incorporate into your daily life. A retreat can be the kickstart and discipline you need to help you lead a more healthy and happy life.
Nature: Most yoga retreats will have a focus on nature (especially as most retreats are led in beautiful, serene and clean areas) which is essential for relaxation and connection to your body, mind and spirit. Nature brings us back to our 'roots' the intrinsic state of our existence, living organically and harmoniously with all things around us: the sun/moon, trees, oceans, animals - which can very often be overlooked in the business of daily life at home.
Immersion: A yoga retreat is a full immersion into yoga, providing us a specific style/focus/theme therefore an opportunity to explore postures, breathing or meditation in an intimate atmosphere where you can feel comfortable with other students and the teacher(s). You will receive personalized attention in this type of environment and may see more changes in your practice with the dedication from the same teacher(s) daily. Most important any immersion provides a platform for learning and aids us in continual personal growth and expanding our consciousness.
2. Choose a yoga retreat that resonates with you:
Are you interested in learning more about yoga philosophy or alignment? Do you love rock climbing? Have you always wanted to travel to Cambodia to visit the temples of Angkor Wat? Do you crave stillness and contemplation through daily meditation? With the endless possibilities of yoga retreats, teachers and styles we have the ability to choose a retreat which will suit our needs in this very moment. Any retreat you choose will have a focus or theme (even if it has multiple focuses) which should be a topic or activity you are interested in immersing yourself in. Throughout our lives we are constantly evolving (physically, mentally and spiritually) and you may find this year you need to rest and detox with a restorative yoga + massage retreat on a secluded beach, while next year you would like a more adventurous retreat which leads you through National Parks, enjoying yoga classes admist group hikes. Listen to your intuition when researching a retreat and choose one which will offer you the exact holiday your body & mind needs.
3. How to choose an affordable yoga retreat?
Accommodation, location and teacher(s) are usually the key aspects in price differences.
Accommodation: Most of the time when people think of a 'yoga retreat' they automatically assume an exotic location, celebrity chefs, luxury accommodation with infinity pools and expensive plane tickets. While for some this is accessible and their choice of a yoga holiday, it is important to remember that this is not vital for a successful and transformative retreat experience. Sometimes our biggest transformations are when we are faced with gentle challenges (letting go of social media or cutting back on our caffeine) so I would actually encourage someone to choose a retreat with accommodation that isn't extremely luxurious. Less luxurious accommodation can allow us to reconnect with ourselves on a deeper level without the distraction of unrealistic pleasures (of course it is okay to enjoy all these pleasures as long as you do not become attached or fixated on the idea of needing them for your happiness). Less luxurious accommodation can be the perfect opportunity to detox from our modern day comforts and technology - and once you return home you may realize you don't actually need them for your well-being!
Most retreats will always have 3 key components: comfortable + relaxing accommodation, delicious food and inspiring yoga so hopefully you will find you are fufilled and satisfied, even without the thermal spa hot tub on a private island spa in Fiji. Personally, I have found the most nourishing accommodations/locations are ones that are intimate, charming and family run...they offer the most attention to detail and truly care about each guest in order to create the most ideal atmosphere for the retreat.
Location: A yoga retreat is often more affordable the closer it is to your home because it will allow you to save on transportation costs. If your dream yoga retreat is across the world than I would encourage you to save for it and enjoy it thoroughly. However, I would also encourage you to experience a more local retreat (maybe in a neighboring city or country) in order to keep your yoga practice inspired and feed your wanderlust. You may actually discover that you are more deeply relaxed once returning home when your retreat doesn't involve intense travel across the globe. Of course it is a beautiful experience to find ourselves practicing yoga in a new and exotic location, however if it means giving yourself the gift of a retreat once every 5 years instead of annually, then this may not be the wisest decision. Again, a retreat is anyplace that will give you relaxation, inspiration and time out from your daily life - you can find this anywhere that allows you space to reconnect with yourself, even if it's at a nearby national park with a local teacher for the weekend.
Teacher(s): One of the most important factors in any good retreat is a good leader, not just a good teacher. Teachers of all levels, styles and ages are now offering retreats which means you need to do a bit of homework. More experienced yoga teachers are easily able to charge more for their retreats. Personally, I believe this is worth spending the money on if they can offer you unique practices and an honest experience. However, be aware that just because a yoga teacher is popular in their big city studio, it may not mean they are the best option. Again, follow your intuitive feelings, notice the energy of the teacher and if it is someone you would like to spend extended amounts of time with. Look for a teacher who is knowledgeable and authentic in their teachings for the retreat, one that will actually provide teachings and tips for pranayama if that is a part of the retreat program. While it may be desired to know your teacher before going on retreat with them, it is also important to keep your mind open and try someone new that may come recommended to you from a friend. If it is not possible to meet with the teacher before the retreat then you can still make a connection through email or Skype which will give you a good indication of their personality and intentions.
Equally as important as an authentic teacher is one who is kind, supportive and willing to create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. This is when the teacher becomes a 'leader', one who can easily connect and communicate with everyone despite their yoga level, age or nationality. This is important as it will truly make everyone feel at home and encourage all participants in the group to do the same, creating positive group energy. Along with a leader who is happy and healthy themselves, look for a leader who can help you with your travels and will make sure your retreat experience is smooth before, during and after the holiday. Again, most of this you will can feel from the beginning when you communicate with the 'teacher' - tap into your internal wisdom and notice signs of a true 'leader', someone who will enhance the entire retreat experience.
4. How long should a retreat be?
A retreat can be any amount of time. A retreat is an opportunity to leave your daily routine by enjoying time away from your daily responsibilities. If you can afford to do this for 2 weeks, go for it. If you can only afford to do this for 2 days, then still go for it! Any amount of time you can devote to yourself through yoga, nature and your passions will be beneficial.
A final note...leading retreats around the world for the past 3 years I have many unique experiences (depending on the individuals who attend, the location and nature, the teachings and collective group energy) however, a common theme in all retreat experiences is the space that is created for everyone to move deeper within their unique selves. I witness students from all walks of life come to a retreat with a different Sankalpa (their intention, dedication, focus) for the retreat...maybe it's softening into poses with breath, kicking up into handstand, sitting still and finding comfort during meditation or nourishing through rest and relaxation. We all have our own physical, mental and emotional boundaries we are working on...and yoga gifts us the balance of awareness, strength and ease to come closer to our thresholds, so we can ultimately expand beyond them and evolve. These individual experiences the teacher and students have in their body & mind during the retreat help to create a kula (community, family) as they support one another through the entire journey. We are taught to surpass our personal perspectives, struggles and egos and learn to become open minded towards others. We begin to see the beauty and sweetness that is always present in ourselves, others and that which is all around us.
This is the purpose of our yoga practice.
A retreat can offer the space and intimacy to experience life through the lens of a yogi, one that experiences balance and divine love...all while in a beautiful part of the world with like-minded people.
LAUREN LEE is passionate about holistic health, exploring the world and empowering others to live vibrant and happy lives. Founder of Raise Your Beat, dedicated yogini and sun seeker, she lives for creating connection and enjoying simple pleasures. Read more about her here