Yoga Retreats

If you’re serious about yoga and want to improve further, you should consider a yoga retreat. Dedicating a long weekend, a whole week or even two to your yoga practice can bring about major changes in your physical condition, overall wellness and peace of mind. But yoga retreats don’t come cheap. As well as the cost of the trip, you are committing a chunk of your time and precious vacation. Most importantly, you are entrusting your body and mind to this process, so how do you find the yoga retreat that is right for you?

Yoga retreats are pervasive. Everyone seems to offer them. There is an abundance of retreat centers appearing around the world, each one vying to attract any group that will increase their occupancy levels using a variety of approaches. Before committing to a retreat, consider the teacher, program and location of the yoga retreat.

Choose the Teacher Carefully

The first and most important step is to find a teacher with whom you resonate. It is often said that, when ready, the student finds the teacher-and not a moment before.

The quest for a yoga teacher reminds me of the origin of the word Guru — a term that has many uncomfortable connotations in the West but is used liberally in India to denote a teacher. In Sanskrit the term “Gu” means darkness, the term “Ru” means light. Hence a Guru leads one from darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge). Unfortunately, there are far too many yoga “rugus” and “rurus,” many of whom offer retreats to the inexperienced world of new yoga enthusiasts.

There are many “big-name” teachers that you will read about in the press. They have established their names as outstanding practitioners who have adopted the yogi ethos and can repeat it ad nauseam. Alas, many are far from great teachers. In the same group you will find select teachers that are so highly refined in their own practice and knowledge that they are incomprehensible to all but the most advanced initiates-these are the teacher’s teachers. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the “wannabes”, who have taken a teacher training or two, are caught up in their own enthusiasm, passion and glory, but who lack the compassion, skill and experience to communicate effectively and teach. These people are dangerous and unless they are carefully supervised can cause real harm.

Somewhere in the middle you’ll find some exceptional individuals who see teaching as a vocation, not a path to stardom. They’ll be clear, firm and fair. They’ll expect you to work hard and in return will enable you to develop in ways you never imagined. They will nurture you and help you grow. Furthermore:

  • They will have been teaching for many years-probably double-digits.
  • They will have their own daily yoga practice-and not just when they are teaching class.
  • They will have regular students that constantly test and hone their teaching skills and will most likely own a studio or be the most senior/popular teacher.
  • Most importantly, they will be exceptional communicators that have a remarkable ability to say the right thing to you at just the right time and make a real difference.

So how do you check out the teacher? Take a class and experience the teacher first hand. If that’s not possible, ask people you know and trust for their recommendation. If that is not an option, check out testimonials or try to speak to a student of the teacher you are considering.

Make Sure the Program Is Realistic for You

Next, you should look at the program. How much yoga is there? What styles and what time of the day classes are offered? Here you are looking for a balanced program. One that will stretch you, certainly, but also one that gives you time to absorb the yoga and to relax and enjoy your vacation as well will be the best fit. Many people who attend yoga conferences return aching and burnt-out because they’ve packed too much in and had no time to assimilate the benefits. A yoga retreat must be paced well enough for the process to have its effect-neither jamming in too much nor providing too little.

Many programs also include other activities, and it is important to make sure that these fit well around the yoga and are complimentary endeavors. Kick-boxing, sport fishing or computer gaming are poor companions, but, surprisingly, hiking, water sports and even rock-climbing complement yoga well.

Choose the Right Location

Once you have decided upon your teacher and the program, you are left to consider the location. Whether you are going for a tropical beach, a mountaintop lodge or a retreat deep in the countryside, you need a location where everything is at hand. The real benefit of a retreat is that you have nothing to worry about and can simply dissolve into your “yoga zone.” You don’t want to have any distractions and really want to leave your busy life behind. That means no cell phones, no email, no television, and no car.

Make sure that the accommodations are comfortable. If you prefer not to share a room and/or bathroom, make sure to ask for details on the rooming options in advance and confirm that there is a choice that will suit your needs. Ideally everything should be set up within a comfortable walking distance – shala, restaurant, amenities etc.

Check that the yoga shala is a dedicated room that is properly set-up for yoga. It must be enclosed and private, not in the open – exposed to the elements and the public. Although a ‘rope wall’ is always preferable, it must at least contain sufficient props (blocks, straps, blankets etc.) to meet the requirements of the students.

Food is important. Many yoga retreats will offer vegetarian options only, but whether this is the case or not, the food must be fresh, healthy and plentiful. When you are exercising deeply your body needs good sustenance to recover well. If you have any special dietary requirements, make sure the center can accommodate your needs. Plenty of liquids need to be available at all times (clean water, teas, etc.) because dehydration can occur quickly with exercise, especially when you are out of your normal environment and your body is making some adjustments (e.g. jet lag, climate change or altitude).

Ensure that the center has the facilities you require. If you’d like to complement your yoga with massage, make sure there are spa treatments available. If you are combining the retreat with a detox, check that the center is set up to support your needs and can keep temptation out of your way. The whole purpose of checking everything thoroughly beforehand is to avoid having anything to worry about when you are there.

Be Prepared

Last but not least, have a checklist of what to take with you but remember to leave out the expectations. If you’ve done your homework well, you’ll have one of the greatest experiences of your life. But if you go loaded with expectations-well, the yoga will take care of that!

The following is an example checklist that might help you prepare for your yoga retreat:

  • comfortable clothing for yoga*
  • lightweight, long-sleeve top for early morning yoga*
  • yoga mat
  • large towel (can double as a yoga rug)*
  • casual attire for dinner*
  • lightweight sweater, shawl or jacket for cooler evenings
  • lightweight rain cover
  • sandals
  • hat
  • refillable water bottle
  • small flashlight
  • alarm clock
  • personal items, including toiletries, vitamins, medications, etc.
  • location gear (e.g. sunglasses, bathing suit, sun block, insect repellent)
  • activity gear (e.g. mask