The first time I went on a yoga retreat I was living in Chicago and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. I had learned about the retreat from an Iyengar studio where I had taken some classes and I just needed a break from graduate school. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the teacher, Roger Eischens, nor had I ever been to the location in Wisconsin. I just knew I needed to get away and wanted to be around healthy choices.
It was one of the best decisions I made. I developed very dear friends, found a yoga haven where I returned a number of times, and met a teacher who had a huge impact on my life.
The next time I went on a retreat I was living in Washington DC, filled with overwork, minimal exercise and needing a good dose of rest. I went to Sivananda’s ashram in the Catskills thinking it would be lovely to be in the mountains and to be around healthy choices. This time, it was not the best thing for me. We had to get up at 5:30 in the morning and there was no caffeine or any form of sugar. We did yoga in a freezing barn and the food was sparse. I really liked the people and the yoga, but I wasn’t ready for the cold-turkey austerity. I needed coffee, a glass of wine with dinner, a warm yoga space and lots of time to sleep. I left early and learned my lesson to do a bit more research, with a newfound respect for the Sivananda tradition.
Years later I was living in Los Angeles and struggling with my job and course of life. I went to White Lotus outside of Santa Barbara to study with Ganga White and Tracey Rich. Saul David Rae was one of the participants and since he had recently finished training for Thai bodywork, he gave a special class to us. I cried through most of the retreat, even in the poses, releasing pent up disappointment in my life and the direction that it was taking. Soon after that, I chose to leave that job and take my first yoga teacher training which would begin the path of a full-time yoga teacher and a career.
Since becoming a yoga teacher, I have continued to give myself the gift of a yoga retreat, even though my budget has been limited. What I gain in new wisdom, new connections, dear friends and positive influences has paid for the retreat many times over. Each retreat has given me so much in the opportunity to see areas that I would not otherwise explore on my own. For me, to travel and have a “vacation” that also includes yoga and healthy food is the ideal method of getting away and rejuvenating. A “vacation” without this healthy complement does not feel like a vacation anymore.
My reasons for going on yoga retreats are varied. Sometimes I just want a break that is set in a healthy environment. Sometimes I want to study further with a teacher. Sometimes I want to see a new culture or land and this is safer than me exploring on my own. The more exotic or removed the location, the more complicated are the steps to arrange travel and accommodations. It has been helpful to lean on resources from those who manage retreats for guidance, from the best methods for travel to navigating through foreign lands. I know that I would have made more mistakes without the help of these professionals to guide me. Each retreat experience has helped me become a better yogi and a more insightful teacher.
As I now grow to lead retreats around the globe, I still continue to join retreats as a student and participant. It is so valuable to be in the private environment with a teacher and learn how to be a yogi by being in their presence. I have enjoyed getting to know my teachers on a more personal level. As a teacher leading retreats, I always try to give some one-on-one time with each participant to get to know them and learn about their gifts. It is harder to devote such focused attention on students when we are in our urban environment and juggling the household responsibilities as well as the various responsibilities of our job.
So, why go on a yoga retreat?
Good retreats not only give the student a chance to rest and renew, but offer some insight or new habit to take home and weave into their busy schedule. When we get new practices or new information on how to do a pose or even new recipes on how to eat healthier, the rest of our life benefits from this pause. I hope more people can realize that a yoga retreat is not just about the yoga poses. It’s about making best friends, learning new perspectives and learning new ways of living the yoga. It’s a chance to reconnect to your soul, which is a priceless gift.