It’s easy to imagine yourself confidently stretching your arms over your head and folding your legs in some intense yoga pose on a sandy Bali beach, but going on a yoga retreat requires more preparation than a once over of Eat, Pray, Love.
Why Take a Yoga Retreat:
“Yoga retreats are for everyone,” says Ganga Grace, the director of the Himalayan Yoga Institute in London. People usually go on yoga retreats to relax; it is a vacation after all. The main goal of a yoga retreat is relaxation and rejuvenation of your body, mind, and spirit, as well as learning healthier habits and improving your yoga and meditation skills with like-minded people. Participants must be willing to make a complete break from their daily life to engage in healthy activities and should reintegrate these habits into their lives back home. Yoga retreats are an ideal environment for healing and change because there is ample opportunity to reflect and to restore health. Simply connecting with like-minded people can help your renewal.
Know What You Want:
When picking a yoga retreat the first question you should ask yourself is: what are you looking? “If a particular retreat is offering a heavy, grueling schedule with long posture sessions, but you want a physically relaxing experience, it may not be a good fit,” says Andrew Thompson, founder of Inspirational Works, which holds yoga and meditation retreats in Toronto. “If you want a significant relaxation and meditation component, make sure your retreat offers that.” It is also crucial to consider your skill level when planning a yoga retreat. While some yoga retreats may not require any prior experience, others may be strictly suited for advanced yogis. For amateurs, practicing with advanced yogis can be uncomfortable, even physically dangerous. Details such as sleeping arrangements and vegetarian menus should also be considered if you are uncomfortable “roughing it” and prefer a more lavish environment. Grace considers some of the best destinations for retreats North India, Costa Rica, Spain, Croatia, and Greece.
Rely On Who You Know:
“Word of mouth testimonials are key,” Thompson says. Try asking your favorite instructor for a recommendation; local instructors often teach at retreats or know of instructors with similar styles. You can also visit travel websites like Escape to Shape and Yoga Journal to view comprehensive listings and to read travelers’ reviews. Another way to select your retreat’s location is to start off by picking a destination you have always wanted to visit and then searching for a retreat in that area. Once you’ve done some preliminary research (almost all yoga retreats have websites), narrow down your choices. Also explore prearranged packages, which can be particularly useful when traveling to developing countries.
Before booking a flight or sending a program deposit, contact the retreats’ administrators to confirm they have room during your desired time frame. Also ask any additional questions that their websites do not answer, such as how many hours you’ll be practicing yoga daily and how many people will be in each class. Take time to ask logistical questions about menus, email access, and sharing a room or a bathroom. If you have any special requests, now is the time to ask. You can also request they email or fax over an itinerary. “Make sure you have a very clear idea of what you are getting into,” says Thompson.
Book your flight online with an airline you trust or ask the retreat for an airline recommendation. Book your retreat directly with the operator, online or via telephone. Thompson recommends “making sure you have transportation from the airport to the destination and ensuring you see your doctor for the required medical supplies or shots if you are going into an unfamiliar part of the world.”
What to Pack:
Always pack stretchy clothes you feel comfortable in; yoga tops and pants, a sweatshirt, flip-flops, and nicer clothes for dinner at a more luxurious retreats. Stash at least one yoga outfit in your carry-on luggage is case of a luggage delay. You can also bring your yoga mat, although some programs provide them. Thompson recommends bringing “first and foremost an open mind and the desire to benefit from the experience…a journal would also come in handy to record and work through any issues that might surface.” Grace also suggests bringing earplugs “to shut out noisy roommates,” a torchlight for “visits to the bathroom during the night,” and mosquito repellant.
Make Friends (or Don’t):
The introspective and reflective nature of yoga retreats makes them ideal for solo travelers. However, if you find it difficult to spend a week with strangers, consider organizing a group of friends. If you do choose this option, be sure to join communal activities for the full retreat experience.
What to Avoid:
On the retreat you should always work within your comfort zone. “Avoid pushing yourself too hard or overdoing things,” Thompson says, as injuring yourself can easily ruin the entire trip. Thompson also advises pacing yourself mentally: “A lot of what yoga does to make you feel better takes place underneath the surface,” he says.
Thompson believes the key to a successful yoga retreat is “finding one that has a good balance between yoga postures and other related activities like breathing, meditation and activities that will help with emotional healing.” Grounding activities like walking or hiking in nature help when taking a break from yoga and retreat activities. “In the end, it is an amazing opportunity to really let go of life’s stresses and to find that inner spiritual connection and harmony that can come from immersing ourselves fully in the healing experience that a yoga retreat can offer.”