Hip or Hype?

“Removing ourselves from our familiar surroundings and busy schedules, retreats afford us the opportunity to see accumulated habits of distraction. Retreats help us soften and remove those habits not supportive of living awake and present, and show us new ways to deeply appreciate our daily living.”

Does this commentary make you want to sign up straightaway? Or are you left scratching your head, wondering what this retreat is about?

Most of us dance with the idea of a yoga retreat at some time. Perhaps we dream of becoming more flexible, supple, more aware or just break from the daily grind.

Your instincts are king when it comes to deciding which retreat. Here are some tips to hone that instinct.  And believe me, honing those instincts is important – google hits are 3.2 million for yoga retreats!!

1. Don’t get caught in the hyperbole

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“Treat yourself to a yogic lifestyle retreat on the beautiful island of (name inserted)… where love and play intermingle”

Us yogis love a sweeping statement, linking yoga to all things universally gorgeous, and full of life and purpose.

Generally, the grander the opening statement, the more likely the yoga is going to be more of the same you get on the mat at your studio. The pool and relaxation areas are guaranteed to be pretty impressive, though.

Look for specific words in their marketing about how you will feel, and what you will experience. If you want meditation, make sure it is mentioned, don’t assume it will be just because it is a yoga retreat.

2. The schedule tells all

Do you feel like a yoga retreat with one or two doses of yoga a day? Something else more intensive, or adventuresome? More laid back?

Remember, when you took your first holiday overseas and saw 5 countries in 4 days? If the agenda is yoga morning and evening, with nothing else offered, you are going to either spend a lot of

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Om… and impressive pool

time finding out what to do before you get there, or you will be lying by that impressive pool. Laid back might be cool on paper but you may find yourself frustrated by day 3 of a 5 day retreat.  Particularly, if you are in the middle of nowhere, searching for your inner peace.  Some of us like having open plans, some of us like to have options provided to us. Be clear about which one of these you really are, not the person you think you are going to be when you get out of the retreat.

And if you are looking for a retreat where all you do every day is practice your handstands, or whatever physical yoga technique speciality you are crazy about, have a really good look at the schedule for the way the work is sequenced, the breaks. Step back from your enthusiasm and assess practically the impact on your body, mind and soul.

I love a good bed – and I don’t share too well, either

Do you?  Don’t fool yourself or let others fool you into thinking you can have deep yoga practice and still lie down every night in the Westin heavenly bed. There is an inverse relationship between accommodation quality and the depth of yoga practice. This might change in the future, but it hasn’t for the past 60 years or so.

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This was a good example of a middle of the road bed with a comfortable set of yoga practices for a retreat

The more impressive the accommodation, the more likely yoga practice will keep to what you know, maybe some headstands or less scary inversions, a quick dip into breathing. Maybe beginner meditation practices.

And the reverse example:  Over the years I have been on a few yoga treats, experimenting (dear reader, you will be pleased to know that my suggestions have come from my hard won experience), including vipassna immersions. Vipassna is a type of meditation, involving long periods of silence and sitting on your backside for hours. This is one of my most favourite retreats, and Vipassna is considered ‘deep’ yoga practice (although I consider it more part of my Buddhist practice). The retreat accommodation was always forgettable (read no hot water, and a bed that doesn’t bear describing).The experience however was always life changing.

Sharing is caring – but only if you really can do both.  If you are going to a retreat on your own, and can’t choose your own bunk buddy, be warned – being a yogi doesn’t mean no snoring or farting. If you are going solo, and don’t want the extra expense of your own room (or maybe the retreat doesn’t offer it), look yourself in the mirror and assess just how much ‘sharing’ experience you have really had.

Teacher credentials – “a badge doesn’t make you a policeman”

I have to confess as a starting out yoga teacher, being super impressed with credentials, because I had no clue what they really meant. Now I do and I tell a big secret – just because someone wears a badge, doesn’t make them a policeman, my grandfather used to say. The lack of agreement in the yoga industry over any external independent policing of yoga skills means that you really have to know the people who are teaching, and understand deeply the type of yoga practice you are doing. Unfortunately, this tends to happen in retrospect, as you gain experience as a yoga teacher.

If they cannot describe how they work, the style they teach without heading into full blown hyperbole (yoga teachers are more prone to this than anyone else I know), ask yourself – would you trust your mind, body and soul to this someone? They don’t need to say a lot, but if you cannot ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the person as you read their statements, they could be hiding from you, and still themselves, I suspect.

And see if you can find someone who has been guided by them.  No one is going to post a recommendation for a retreat which says, the teacher was only OK.


 

Conclusion

There is a yoga retreat for everyone, from newbie to advanced yogi practitioner. Use your instincts, and with a healthy dose of pragmatism (like my tips) make the best choice for yourself, where you are right now. And you will become, like me, a discerning raving fan of many styles of retreats!

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