With winter approaching, many of us daydream about escaping on a sunny yoga vacation or retreat. Retreat literally means “withdraw,” and the idea is to withdraw from one’s daily life, whether that means a mix of asana and adventure at a luxury resort, a week living like a sannyasin in an ashram setting, or an at-home sadhana of asana, meditation, and cleansing.
Setting aside everyday distractions allows you to refocus and re-energize. Thus, a retreat can help you shed old habits and establish new routines, explore something in greater depth (such as chanting, Vedic astrology, the yoga sutras), or rejuvenate your practice by immersing yourself in a yogic lifestyle.
Retreats come in a variety of tempting flavors, and the hardest part may be defining your preferences. Do you want to study with a well-known teacher? Or maybe a local teacher with whom you’re familiar? Is an exotic locale a must? Is a particular style of yoga important to you? Do you prefer to be social or to have private time for inner reflection? Whatever flavor you choose, honor your experience level: It’s good to stretch yourself (pun intended), but not if it means introducing anxiety to an experience that’s meant to be a break from daily stress. Look over the retreat schedule to see if the balance of activity and rest is right for you.
Some retreats are all-inclusive, while others offer only the basics, leaving it up to you to supplement from a menu of additional fee-based services. To compare programs, you can add up total costs—including travel, accommodations, and meals—and divide it by the number of days you’ll be gone. But even if you’re on a strict budget, costs shouldn’t be your only consideration. Check the cancellation policy, and research the retreat leader/s experience level. Ask for referrals from previous participants.
A retreat can be a transformative experience. To make the most of your time, confirm your travel arrangements and pack ahead so that you arrive at your destination relaxed and receptive. Leave work behind and, if you must check in at home while you’re away, limit your conversations. Tell your friends and family that you’ll look forward to reconnecting with them after your return. Think of your retreat as an opportunity for svadhyaya. This niyama (observance) is often considered to be the study of yoga literature but is also translated as seeing one’s true self. Whether you escape to a sun-drenched beach or stay at home for a week of meditation and reflection, the newfound perspective and clarity you’ll gain will endure much longer than any winter tan.
What’s your idea of the perfect yoga retreat?