Once upon a time there was a person referred to as a travel agent. Not only would they book the best routes and times for journeys, they knew exactly what information would be pertinent for particular destinations and scenarios. Nowadays not as many of us call on travel agents to book our travel (hello web searches) but this may sometimes make life more difficult as we search for the intel on where to go and what to do, particularly if our urge to retreat (literally!) sends us looking for the perfect combination of practice, community, and destination for a yoga retreat.
For all the yogis out there grappling with a sense of wanderlust who are contemplating mixing yoga with travel, we want to assist you on your quest, so we’ve turned to experts who know a thing or two about this journey. Get ready for yoga retreat clarity!
Why Go On Retreat?
Likely, most yogis have their own, individual answers for this. Need another rationalization? Here’s one from YogaWorks and InYoga Center teacher Joe Kara, whose schedule frequently includes leading international yoga retreats. “Yoga retreats can be powerful experiences, assisting in reset, refocus, and the feeding of the soul,” he says. “They’re opportunities for self-inquiry, connection, and a focused look at some aspect of our ourselves and our practice.”
Yes, its true, if so desired, there can be more to a yoga retreat than asanas and meditations. Do you have a personal mission in mind? A getaway can be the perfect place to disconnect from the day-to-day in order to clarify your visions or jump-start your goals.
Even better, some retreats are geared with this purpose in mind. “I led a New Year’s Eve yoga retreat one year where all 26 of us outlined our goals: what we wanted to release and create in the year ahead,” teacher Elise Joan reflects. “It was magical to witness all the emotions and vulnerability.”
As the year progressed, retreat attendees were able to monitor one another’s progress through regular email correspondence Elise faciliated. “From ending bad relationships to quitting dead-end jobs, everyone had created space for new opportunities,” Joan says. “People credited the yoga retreat with helping them feel empowered.”
Is It All About the Asanas?
Yes, it’s a yoga retreat, but is it also a vacation? Asking yourself this question is a great starting point when narrowing down the right choice of yoga retreat. “Most yoga retreats provide a container for a transformative, relaxing and/or inspiring week where you don’t have to do all the planning,” says One Yoga Global owner Laura Forsyth. “Typically, lodging, meals and yoga classes are included, plus some additional group activities for exploring surroundings.”
If you’re thinking of relaxation, or yearning for adventure, checking the retreat’s schedule is imperative.
Here are some questions to consider:
Are you looking to deepen your practice via multiple classes a day?
Do you need to unplug and let go of daily to-dos to regain balance?
Or is WiFi a must?
How important is time for meditation? In a group or alone?
What’s most important to you: Bonding with friends or alone time?
Do you prefer a mix of other physical activities along with yoga?
Do spa treatments beckon?
Are you seeking a retreat full of the thrill of adventure?
Are you looking for a cleanse?
For Ayurvedic or special diet menus?
Or is this a foodie trip or an opportunity to sample the famous local cuisine?
Are you yearning for an early-to-bed/early-to-rise kind of experience to finally catch up on your sleep?
Or are you more the late night dancing paired with mid-morning meditation variety of retreat-goer?
Once you have reflected on your goals or desires for this particular trip, it becomes easier to pinpoint the perfect fit of terms of a yoga retreat. Remember that your goals and desires may change based on what you need in your life in any particular moment.
So if last year was the social trip and you need seclusion this time, embrace it!
Let go of any preconceived notions of what you need now.
To Group or not to Group?
Another question to make sure to ask yourself: Are you looking for a guided group experience or do you need some time to practice solo? One of the bennies of a retreat is the opportunity to luxuriate in an opportunity to allow a teacher to take the reins and hold the space for you during a retreat. Allowing yourself to settle into a schedule where you don’t have to make all the choices can be a restorative act of surrender in and of itself. Of course, teachers aren’t one-size-fits-all, so it’s equally important to find the right fit in a leader, as it is a yoga retreat.
You may decide to travel with your tried-and-true instructor, someone you know there’s a connection, but you may also decide to practice with someone outside your usual routine. When making the decision, “a little research helps you get to know the teacher and what styles they offer,” Kara recommends. “Reach out to them via social media, or the contact info on their website.”
Setting the Scene
Have a bucket list destination tugging at your heart? (See the top 10 destinations on many a wish list.) No? Take noted retreat leader and teacher Shiva Rea’s advice and feel carefully to discern the destination for you. “Try to feel where you’re being called, then let the calling begin to transform you in the months or weeks before a retreat.”
When planning where you are going, weigh the pros and cons of staying close to home (convenience and time-saving) versus going somewhere far-flung with a total change of scenery. “Some retreats are focused on extended yoga programs and the inner journey,” Forsyth says. “Others bring in aspects of the surrounds, using yoga as a backdrop to experience the country’s culture.”
Forsyth tends to select the latter. “I’ve found so much magic in combining the yoga practice with a spectacular destination where you’re able to become immersed in a different people, customs, and foods.”
To Roommate or Not to Roommate?
This is where the above solitude question again comes to the fore. Yogaglo and YogaWorks Kundalini teacher and international retreat leader Kia Miller is all about sharing the retreat experience. “I find rooming at retreats with friends great for bonding time,” she explains. “If I’m flying solo, I leave it to destiny to see who I end sharing a room with. This approach — open mind/open heart — often creates new, long-lasting friendships.”
How to Prepare
First, remember the obvious. If you’re traveling overseas, make sure your passport is valid for months beyond your trip (this matters depending on the destination). Pack clothing for modesty and different activities and different times of day, and take just a little less than you might need.
Packing aside, Rea has an important pre-travel prescription. “Rest, practice and relax.” That being said, don’t skimp on your workouts leading up to a retreat; think about it as pre-training for what can be similar to a marathon for the mind and body. Warns Rea, “If you arrive having forgone your practice, then dive into a five- to seven-hour yoga class or adventure sports, you’ll spend half of your retreat sore.”
Think about your destination when it comes to preparation as well; for example, Miller recommends a special herbal program as part of her pre-travel prep for yoga retreat participants going to India.
Bringing It Home
The same preparation for departing on a yoga retreat is also highly advised for the return so that you can extract the most out of the experience. Approach the “re-entry period” with these bits of wisdom, and the benefits of the trip can become part of a regular routine.
“Even if it’s only for five minutes a day, come home with a practice and follow it for at least 40 days,” Miller advises. “This will help further integrate the retreat experience and continue elevating energy.”
What kind of impact can yogis expect to have from embarking on a retreat? “After over 150 retreats around the world, I’ve learned you can find the sacred within you anywhere,” Shiva Rea says. “Yet there are experiences we have on this extraordinary planet that fertilize in ways beyond our imagination.”