What to really expect at a yoga retreat

With new year’s resolutions at the top of mind, a yoga retreat may seem like the perfect way to work towards a healthier, happier you.

But what is a yoga retreat really like?

That’s the question I got asked repeatedly when I returned from my first retreat in Bali a few months ago. Do you do yoga all day? Are you restricted to a vegan diet? Are you shamed if you can’t do a headstand? This made me realise that while yoga retreats are growing in popularity, they remain as mystical as the practice of yoga itself.

After a week-long getaway led by Susan White, I discovered that yoga retreats are much more laidback than you would think, while still enhancing your health and happiness in ways you could have never imagined. Instead of coming home from vacation with souvenirs and a sunburn, you come home with a fresh outlook on life and motivation to live in a way that honours your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Downward dog all over the world

In its most basic definition, yoga means achieving oneness with the universe, which is much easier to do when you’re soaking up the natural beauty of the Himalayas in the holy city of Rishikesh. India and Ubud are classic choices because they’re intimately linked to the ancient practice of yoga, but you can find a retreat pretty much anywhere. Like we needed another excuse to travel!

Breathe in, chill out.

We’ve all heard the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation,” a depressing testament to the fact that most people don’t actually slow down when they’re on holiday. But yoga retreats are designed for deep, sustained relaxation, so that you actually go back to the real world feeling refreshed and recharged.

You don’t have to be a yoga expert.

Don’t know your baby grasshopper from your baby cobra? That’s okay! While yoga retreats are great for seasoned yogis who want to deepen their understanding of yoga, they also offer a focused, supportive environment for beginners to jump-start their practice. Retreats are welcoming by nature so there’s no need to be intimidated by headstands or side planks.

They’re not always as strict as you’d expect.

It’s not all health food and digital detoxes. Yoga retreats have varying levels of intensity, and some feel more like a vacation than a bootcamp. I even found myself pregaming for a restorative yoga session with a few glasses of rosé. But of course you are welcome to take a more wholesome approach to kick your health into high gear.

You don’t spend all day doing yoga.

While they’re all structured differently, the average yoga retreat offers two to three yoga sessions a day, giving you plenty of down time to relax, explore, or hit up the spa for a reiki massage. Many retreats will also weave in things like meditation, crafts, full moon ceremonies, or organised group excursions.

Early to bed, early to rise.

No matter the intensity of your yoga retreat, you can expect one thing: early mornings. Even if you’re the kind of person who likes to hit their snooze button a few times, you’ll learn to love the peace you can only find at dawn. Plus, nothing beats starting your day with a sunrise flow!

You’ll form lifelong friends.

Travel is the ultimate bonding experience, but a yoga retreat takes connection to the next level as it brings together like-minded people on a transformational journey. That said, we recommend joining a retreat through a local studio so that you can maintain this community back home.

Mastering the mind-body connection.

Yoga retreats are not all physical. Yes, you will gain flexibility and master new poses, but the biggest transformation will happen in your mind. Without the distractions of daily life, a yoga retreat promotes mindfulness and introspection that can help you see the world with an enhanced sense of positivity and balance.

You get out what you put in.

Yoga is a deeply personal practice, which is honoured in every retreat. Just like you set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class, you’ll want to go into a retreat with a purpose. This could be reducing stress, letting go of something that weighs heavy on you, meeting like-minded friends, or simply taking some time for yourself. Whatever it is, you have the power to make a yoga retreat your own. Just remember, where attention goes, energy flows.

A few things to consider before booking your retreat:

Budget. Retreats vary greatly from basic accommodation to all-inclusive service at a 5-star resort. No matter how much you spend, the key is to be comfortable so that you can focus on yourself and your practice – even if that means a little splurging.

Time. Can you jet off to the other side of the world for a 10-day pilgrimage, or is a weekend escape more realistic? If it’s your first retreat, you may want to test the waters at a shorter, more local retreat.

Intensity. Do you shudder at the idea of “no electronics” or do you want a lot of structure to keep you on track? Do your research to find the ideal level of scheduling and restrictions that works best for you.

Teacher. A retreat leader can make or break the experience. If possible, we recommend joining a retreat with a teacher you already know, so that you know are familiar with their style and vibe. At the very least, meet them in person and take a few classes prior to signing up for a retreat.

Yoga types. Vinyasa, bikram, hatha… every retreat offers a different mix of styles, so make sure the one you pick aligns with your preference. However, a retreat is also a great opportunity to revitalize your practice by trying new styles!

Company. Should you go alone, or bring a friend? While sharing the experience with a loved one is wonderful, a solo trip can open you up to opportunities and revelations that would not be possible if you’re balancing your needs with those of someone else.

Destination. The most important question of all – where in the world do you want to go? The possibilities are endless.

Follow @movement.lab.sue to hear about her upcoming retreats!

Shannon Valdes Leiderman

Shannon is a true Southern California girl at heart with an insatiable love for bikinis, craft beer, and Mexican food. While she’s typically on the hunt for sun & sand, she’s also a snowboard powder hound and an aspiring ice cream sandwich connoisseur.

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