Whether you're a yoga retreat virgin or a retreat junkie, yoga teacher and retreat leader, Judy Hirsh reveals 10 things you need to know to ensure you're sitting comfortably ...
So what does the word "retreat" mean to you?
Removing yourself from society?
Escaping from a situation or person?
Resting and healing?
A pampering holiday?
Or putting them all in the blender to make the perfect great cocktail with an umbrella on the side?
And what would you imagine doing on a yoga retreat?
If you have conjured up an image of austere conditions, strict schedules, ashram dormitories and chanting with the guru at dawn – that might be just what you’re looking for.
But these days, there are so many options, and most upmarket resorts have "yoga in residence" alongside the spa. On a sliding scale from 1 = ashram life to 10 = abundant luxury, it is helpful to decide where along that scale you’d like to be.
Also think about what kind of experience would be helpful to you at this time? And it's not about what you "should" be doing, but what would give you most joy.
Here’s ten things you need to ask yourself, (and then ask the organiser) to find the perfect yoga retreat:
1. What do I need right now?
A pampering treat, some personal development, a spiritual awakening, a time for healing, a cleansing detox, a holiday with like-minded people for company!
2. Familiar or unfamiliar?
Do you need a safe, relaxed time with a teacher you know, or are you looking for a completely new experience with places and practices that lead you into unchartered waters? And if so, are you dipping your toe in, or diving in, without checking the temperature of the water?
3. How many hours of practice each day?
If you are going with your own teacher, ask what kind of practices you will be doing, how many hours of yoga per day and if you are expected to participate in all the classes.
Ask if they have led retreats before, or been to this particular venue and if they have anyone to support them on the trip. And are there any days off?
4. Has anyone you know been?
Ask if anyone else in your regular yoga class has been on retreat with your teacher so you can get information from someone with first-hand knowledge, and not the teacher her/himself
5. Call the organiser.
If you don’t know the teacher, you may start with some dates, or a budget, or a country that you’d like to visit, and do your research based on that.
Call the organiser with some questions based on the information in this article
6. How much do you like to know in advance?
Do you like to have a print out of the full itinerary in advance and plan your matching yoga mats/outfits/shoes/handbags, or are you happy just to go with the flow and trust you are being drawn to the right teacher at the right time, in the right place without any expectations
7. What’s the venue like?
It’s useful to find out if the venue is exclusively a yoga retreat centre, who runs it – independent yogis, a trustworthy yoga organisation, the guru in residence, or the hotel chain itself?
Ask who the yoga teacher is and if the yoga is your main reason for going, can you can speak to the teacher directly?
8. What is the accommodation like?
Are there different categories to choose from or is it all shared rooms? Is there air- conditioning, fridge, mini bar, room with a view.
Remember, what’s important is that you relax and sleep well, so make sure you know your comfort level, it may be a case you do so much activity during the day, you could conk out before you hit your sleeping bag!
9. What’s the food like?
You may like to take the opportunity to live on a vegetarian diet with no alcohol and coffee, or if this is your idea of hell, ask if the food is pure vegetarian or meat served and check if alcohol is served/allowed on the premises? (Notice your judgments around this and what that means to you ...)
10. Can you extend your stay?
If you are going long-haul, ask if there are any options to extend your trip.
I think it’s always a good idea to arrive at least a few days early so you can acclimatise before the yoga begins, do some sightseeing, and prepare yourself so you don’t feel you "have to" do too much during the retreat itself.
I have been running yoga retreats and holidays for years, mostly in India, and I have found people so different in their expectations – some people love the idea of sticking a pin in a map, being spontaneous, and book with no expectations at all.
Others need the safety of knowing that they’re choosing the right teacher, venue, and it’s at their level of comfort. I have found that the people who are really not sure about coming to India and have some fear around it, are often the ones who have the best time and their transformation is the most noticeable.
So don’t rule anything out! Keep an open mind. When you’ve decided where you’re going, and you’ve paid your deposit, don’t forget to check if you need a visa before you travel.
Check your passport is valid for at least 6 months, any vaccinations you need are booked at least 10 days before you travel, and please please, check you’ve booked the right flight on the right date – or you might be "retreating" straight back home!