Yoga Retreats A twist on Wellness Travel

Imagine this: you return from your vacation renewed and refreshed, like you really had some time off. At work, you have a stronger sense of purpose, a feeling of authenticity that permeates all of your professional relationships.

At home, you are more the person you want to be: strong, energetic and aware. It sounds like you just returned from a retreat at a center specializing in meditation and body soothing yoga. Think clean air, good simple food, no clutter, no telephones... and time to unwind and get reacquainted with yourself and loved ones.

Far from being a "new age" junket, yoga retreats are a way to reconnect with the simple process of being. When all goes as planned, you not only return home feeling on top of the world - as though you really have had a holiday - you will return with knowledge on how to maintain your newly centered feeling when back in the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.

Breathe slowly and deeply and relax into the thought of blissful peace and tranquility. Forget the mass market cruises, the theme parks and the mad rush of too much in too little time. A meditation retreat does not mean that you HAVE to go to India, or sit unmoving in a cold cave at the top of a remote mountain. Meditation, yoga, taiji, and similar mind/body experiences, encompassing anything from spiritual to philosophical, are available in almost every corner of the world from Buddhist retreats in Africa to yoga centers in Taiwan and Zendos in Switzerland. While this article focuses on yoga, many of the same opportunities exist for combining travel and other body/mind disciplines.

With a few structured searches and a visit to your travel professional, you will be able to plan a relaxing trip to the retreat of your choice and combine a wonderful vacation with the study of a relaxing, spiritual discipline - long before your incense stick has burned all the way down.

Choosing a Retreat

There is a mind-boggling array of retreat options from which to choose. As always, the best place to start is a careful consideration of your interests and the destinations that coincide with your interests. If you already have a particular yoga style that you follow or you know of a teacher or instructor with whom you would like to study, you have successfully narrowed your choices! If, however, you are open to a variety of options, there are yoga retreats in hundreds of locations and venues: castles, beaches, ashrams and city parks. You can choose tropical locations in Hawaii, practice yoga in the Alps, classes in Peru among ancient ruins or salute the sun in a monastery in California. Because yoga is so widely practiced and because every village, hamlet, town and city has a multitude of schools and styles available, it is not an exaggeration to say that anywhere you desire to visit, there you will find an opportunity to practice yoga with an instruction.

The more interesting challenge will be to determine whether you are looking for a resort type of experience or a deeper, more intensive experience. Most resorts provide some opportunity for yoga practice, so with informal classes and other with more formal instruction. The resort experience typically ensures that you will stay limber and toned while enjoying a more traditional vacation experience. Resorts offer flexibility and chance to practice while vacationing with others who may be non-practitioners.

Yoga retreats and ashrams, on the other hand, focus on yoga as the reason for attending. At a yoga retreat, you are immersed in the world of yoga: new positions, philosophies, styles and practices. Those around you are practitioners and your instructors are advance adepts. Your time is structured your meals planned, your activities centered on yoga practice. You experience yoga as part of a community in a sanctuary of like-minded individuals.

When choosing your own yoga vacation experience, find a point on the spectrum of opportunities with which you and any traveling companions will be comfortable. Will everyone in your group be happy with your choice? Do you want to commit to hours of practice each day or would a class in the morning followed by your own choice of activities be more to your liking? Do you want a structured environment? How much of each day is given over to actual practice and how much to other activities? Is the yoga style one with which you are comfortable? Inquire about daily routines. Do participants rise at dawn or are classes available on a regular schedule throughout the day. When are meals? Are there opportunities for non-scheduled activities or is the routine regimented? In general, what are the ambiance and the rhythm of the retreat you have under consideration?

When evaluating a range of possible retreats, consider the demographics of the retreat"s typical client. Does the retreat host a range of yoga practitioner skills, or does it focus on the novice or advanced practitioner? What is the age range and gender of a typical client? Finding yourself out of your skill level or mixed with others with whom you have little in common will likely result in disappointment. Also, inquire about the number of students that will be present during your visit. Too small a group results in little interaction with a variety of people while too many students means less interaction with instructors.

Diet and food are often very important aspects of a yoga retreat"s amenities. Again, inquire with regard to the dietary philosophies and food preparations during your planning stages. Most will provide a range of foods and diets, from vegan to full cuisine, from raw food diets and all manner of specialty culinary experiences in between. Make sure that your own goals match closely the dietary offerings of the center you will be visiting. Note too, most facilities on the more intensive side of the spectrum do not allow caffeine or alcohol and may restrict other substances as well. A week or more of a highly specialized diet can either be a blessing or a burden, so choose with care.

In providing your travel arrangements, travel professionals can access a large array of travel options and discounts not available to the public at large, as well as excellent pre- and post- visits. Travel advisors work with tour operators to package air travel, accommodations and land transportations at large discounts from the retail purchase of those same components.

Your travel costs and opportunities, as well as the climate of your preference may have a lot to do with the season during which you choose to visit your yoga center. Ask your travel consultant to price both peak and off-peak travel seasons to provide you with some insight into the range of travel opportunities available to you.

If you've not done this sort of thing before, do expect to be stretched - if not (ever so gently) in a physical manner with controlled yoga or flowing taiji exercises, then mentally as your perceptions of reality are questioned - often through silence, sometimes through very simple, but revealing exercises.

If you are contemplating some serious training - albeit in yoga, taiji or mediation - do some practice to get into shape both mentally and physically. Some basic stretching, conditioning and toning for yoga, leg strength and taiji training for taiji and some sitting practice for meditation.

Now pack your mat and hit the road.