couple in white sitting in a lotus positionI was fortunate to be able to take some time off and travel across Southeast Asia. After three weeks of exploring Myanmar I realized I needed some time to calm down and find stillness—not that the opportunities for being still are lacking during solo travel. So I was looking for a place to find calm from the distractions of booking the next bus ticket, visiting the next place and worrying about the next step. During a Yoga retreat, I thought I would have a break and could focus fully on myself, immerse myself in the practice in such a way that I could connect more authentically with my experience of travelling.

Reasons to do a Yoga retreat

In theory, a Yoga retreat is a safe environment (especially when travelling solo) that could be a good way to connect with like-minded people. In the past, retreats had offered me the structure I needed to feel taken care of and to not worry. A well-organized yoga retreat provides consistency of meals and bedtime—simple things that help build the necessary routine to ground ourselves without constriction.

I’m vegetarian and sometimes travelling can become a challenge from a dietary point of view, especially when trying to remain healthy. During a retreat, nourishing food is generally provided and the environment encourages us to really sit and savour. Savour not only food, but the present moment by unplugging from computers and smartphones.

When I booked the retreat I was filled with excitement. I couldn’t wait to delve back into my Yoga practice after a few weeks without. I thought I was headed to an oasis. Unfortunately, that was not my experience. The centre was hardly the peaceful place away from the noise of Siem Reap, Cambodia and a mindful zone free from judgement that was advertised. This was not a place to progress and deepen through relaxation—to let go of distractions and worries. I wanted to leave the moment I arrived. I lasted four days, constantly debating with myself whether to stay one more day or not. I felt uninspired and unmotivated. I had forgotten why I enjoy Yoga.

It is, as such, crucial to navigate the abundant offers of the “retreat system.” Here’s my checklist before committing to a Yoga retreat.

Yoga retreat checklist

  1. Practice Yoga at home – The first step is to try Yoga before going to any retreat. Understand what style suits you the most and know what to expect. Then check the retreats that match your preferred style. 
  2. Remember the meaning of Yoga: union and integration – Yoga is often reduced to just physical exercise, neglecting its core as an integration practice where meaning and philosophy play an important role. Any respectable centre should have these principles at their foundation to support your personal journey towards integration. Read the reviews about the retreat centre, especially the bad ones, and the responses to those by their management. This will give you a feel of their intentions. It can be hard to remain mindful in the face of negative feedback. Do they practice the mindfulness they preach?
  3. Location, Location, Location – Research the location of the retreat, the country and the culture. Think about your preference of climate too. The last thing you want is to be uncomfortable while trying to find balance.
  4. Background check – Do your homework by researching the Yoga teachers. It’s important you feel supported and comfortable around them. Ideally, you want to attend a retreat organized by a teacher you already know or that somebody you trust has referred. See if they have a website and check what other people say about them online. Trust in the teacher is fundamental to fully experiencing the benefits of Yoga.
  5. The schedule and level of classes – The schedule should be an organic flow that allows relaxation and does not exhaust you. You need discipline and enough pause time to rest. The level of classes offered is also important. Do not accept “all level open classes” especially if you’re looking to deepen your practice. All levels or too many students are not supportive of an environment that’s focused on you and your experience. It’s your practice and it should give you the most benefit physically, mentally and spiritually.
  6. Intention – Lastly, the most important thing when choosing a Yoga retreat is your own intention. Ask yourself why you’re going and what your expectations are. Only when you’ve answered these questions you can find your best match.

Do not go simply because it’s cool. If it does not match your intention, leave. And, my last piece of advice? Check their refund policy, which should be transparent and guarantee a certain level of protection that you’re comfortable with.

Are you ready for your Yoga retreat?

by Fateme Banishoeib

image: Couple in white sitting in lotus pose via Shutterstock

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