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When I became a yoga teacher, I was fascinated by those teachers who had been in the field for a while and now lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle that allowed them not only to “just” teach yoga for a living, but gave them the space to travel and take groups with them—hosting workshops and yoga and meditation retreats.
A couple of years into hosting my own retreats, I still have not attended one as a participant, mainly because once yoga retreats became mainstream, they seemed to be just another privilege for those who have both the luxury of time and money, making it unattainable to the rest of us.
In truth, what many people attend these days are more like luxury yoga vacations where the focus is often on traveling to an “exotic location,” doing a little yoga asana on a paradisiac beach, hitting the tourist spots, and, of course, going on a sunset horseback riding with loads of photo opportunities by beautiful waterfalls. It sounds fun, I know. Yet, not a retreat, in my opinion.
As the logophile that I am (lover of words, that is), I thought I’d check what Merriam-Webster defines as a retreat.
It, of course, speaks of troops retreating from an enemy or an advanced position, but what caught my attention were the other two definitions:
1. A place of privacy or safety: refuge
2. A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director
A place of privacy or safety: a refuge. That’s more like it.
A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction. Yes.
Just like with everything else, there are offerings for everyone, yet I find that when we’re on a yogic path, it may be relevant to, at one point or another, to go on a retreat, to find a place of refuge that can give us some space to gain perspective, to learn, and to grow.
The best part is that you don’t need to travel far or spend thousands of dollars to do so. If you are looking to spend some time away from your daily life and delve into self-reflection, you may find that there are retreats that are being held within a few miles of where you live, often at prices that are more accessible, as well as scholarships that some teachers will offer to their communities as an effort to continue to bring equity.
If yoga retreats have ever piqued your interest but you’re undecided or unsure of how to choose the right one for you, here is a little guide, if you will, to find one that is suited to what you need and want.
The most effective way to choose the right retreat for you is by knowing your reason for wanting to attend one.
Perhaps the following reasons to attend a yoga retreat can help you get a better understanding:
1. Change of scenery and pace
One of the main benefits of going on a yoga and meditation retreat is the opportunity to find yourself in a different environment than the spaces you inhabit daily.
For some, it is important to go to a different place every time they choose to go on retreat, others like visiting the same region or center again and again.
Being able to change our environment can allow our minds to let go of the daily stresses and worries even if just for a little bit, creating an opportunity to take a step back from our routines. The pace in a retreat is often a lot slower than what we may experience in our regular day-to-day, creating more space to truly observe life rather than move through the motions from one obligation to the next.
When going on a retreat, it is important to remember that others will be there, too.
Often, retreats will include a certain amount of interaction with the other participants, yet others, like silent retreats, will bring you more opportunities to connect to yourself.
In my own Spring retreats, for example, there is a lot more interaction and outward communication than in my Autumn retreats, where we focus more on introspection and going inward, just attuning to the energy of the time of the year.
So ask yourself, how much space you want for interaction, introspection, and alone time before you commit to attending a retreat.
Just like in yoga classes, you can find many that stay on the surface level, where the inquiry is more about the physical body, fitness, and you can also find classes completely on the other end of the spectrum, filled with philosophy and energetic bodywork, as well as a plethora of classes that fall right in between.
The same goes for retreats. Some retreats include a couple of hours of yoga a day, perhaps a morning meditation, and a space for you to do as you please between meals, while there are others that are planned for you to go on a journey of exploration and growth.
So know what you need, know what you have the capacity for, and what would be too much. I had a participant once who came to my retreat with the intention to sleep in, practice asana while taking pics of themselves, and drink wine all weekend, only to find out that they signed up for a weekend of self-inquiry, yogic philosophy, and introspective work.
Moral of the story? Ask questions. Read the things, get to know the retreat leaders and what they’re about before you embark. Not everything is for everyone.
4. Finding space to share
One of the most beautiful things I get to watch when leading yoga retreats is the friendships and the energetic exchange that happens with the group of humans who show up. Some of them often know each other from coming to class or having met at a previous retreat, but the majority of the group usually has never met before.
You’ll be able to share as little or as much as you like with the group of humans who also took this time to reset and redirect their energy, yet everyone shows up with their intentions, their baggage, their knowledge, and their flaws.
By the end of the weekend, I can see the relationships of love and trust that have formed amongst people from all different walks of life, and many of those relationships expand and continue beyond the container of the retreat.
5. Finding space to be
Another wonderful reason to attend a retreat is to find space to just be. As mentioned, retreats will create space for you to share, but hopefully, they will also allow space for you to do nothing.
Perhaps you have a job where deadlines are important and you’re used to high stress, or you are a mum of three, always on the go and fulfilling everyone else’s needs but your own.
In a yoga and meditation retreat, you will certainly find time to go for a walk, meditate, journal, or simply be.
6. Deepening your practice or redefining your path
One of the most exciting opportunities of going on a yoga retreat is often the opportunity to experience other aspects of yoga that are often difficult to layer into a standard 60 to 75-minute studio class.
When on a retreat, be ready to go a bit deeper.
Retreats will have physical practice components that will satisfy those who love the physical aspect of yoga, yet be prepared to be in spaces of learning, workshops that will intertwine journaling with yogic philosophy. You may learn about aspects of yoga that you weren’t aware of before, or you may even find yourself unlearning things as well.
There are many other reasons why attending a yoga retreat can be highly beneficial and sometimes life-changing, if we let it. The things that may arise when we set time aside for ourselves are limitless, and yoga retreats are an incredible space for transformation and reigniting your life.
There are also some reasons why attending a yoga retreat is not such a good idea, though, and here is one:
Visiting another country
If your main reason to go on a yoga retreat is to visit another country, please consider if that is reason enough.
Keep in mind that many of the paradisiac locations that are becoming increasingly popular (think Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Bali) were originally chosen by the facilitators because they were more affordable than other places in their country of origin. Perhaps they found a unique or charming place, or a combination of the two.
The growth in popularity of these luxury yoga vacations has promoted gentrification and is depleting those lands of natural resources that the inhabitants need to survive, while not necessarily supporting the local economy but rather harming it.
So if you choose to go on retreat in a foreign location, perhaps consider attending a retreat that is run by locals and that supports the locals instead of spaces rented by “expats” who are more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.
There are so many yoga retreats out there nowadays. So when you’re ready to book one, just as you would do with anything that truly matters, I encourage you to take the time to do research, to learn more about who leads it, what their philosophy is, what their ethics are, what their purpose is, but only after you’ve asked yourself those same questions.
I hope you find a retreat that changes your perspective, or who knows, maybe your life.