Many people view vacation as escapism, to get away from their day-to-day lives. But a great yoga retreat helps you discover ways to make your day-to-day life the one you want to live, the place you want to be.
Yoga definitely helps add a sacred element to the mundane, and that is available daily to everyone in some way. On retreat, we focus on ways you can infuse your daily life with what is sacred to you, with yoga being the foundation.
At first glance, this might seem self-serving of me: I run a yoga retreat business. But while I’d love for you to come on one of my retreats, there are lots of great options out there to choose from. The biggest reward of investing in a yoga retreat goes way beyond a nice vacation. I’m sharing my observations from over 8 seasons of leading retreats, on how to capture some of that yoga retreat magic for yourself.
Getting away from your routine and your daily demands lends perspective and provides inspiration. You’ve taken the leap to do what can be challenging at home – giving yourself a time out. We seek this on our mats, on a walk, in whatever daily downtime we can give ourselves, and it can certainly happen there too – but physical distance (for example, getting on a plane to Montana) and a long weekend or week dedicated to personal wellbeing significantly amplifies the rewards. The investment pays big dividends, so view it less like a luxury and more like a necessity. Look at it as a gift to your family, colleagues, friends, loved ones and pets – taking time out and away results in a happier, healthier you. Which is good for everyone!
There’s an ancient yoga sutra that goes, Sthira sukham asanam: the yoga posture should be both steady and comfortable; a balance between effort and ease that feels delicious and challenging at the same time. A good yoga retreat balances effort and ease. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful, while becoming relaxed along the way. There’s a flow of activity and downtime that I’ve seen result in the euphoria of freedom. By the time dinner rolls around, you’re basking in the present moment. You’re awake and alive. You want to do it all again tomorrow.
If you just want to lie on the beach, that’s a very different scene from an active vacation. And don’t be concerned about multiple yoga classes each day; you’re right, typically you wouldn’t do that at home, but that’s the whole point. You’ll be amazed at how your body and mind respond to pushing your yoga practice and physical activity level. We’re made to move, as a recent retreater of ours and author of Move Your DNA will tell you. (And by the way, here’s a yoga retreat secret: the best thing for being sore from yoga is more yoga.)
I once attended a yoga retreat in a gorgeous, exotic location, where we barely got outside. We could have been doing yoga anywhere. The benefits of yoga multiply exponentially when combined with nature. This doesn’t mean you need to practice outdoors; however, look for a retreat that takes full advantage of the location, in addition to all the fabulous yoga you’re signing up for.
After moving to Montana from a big city, I was amazed by how connected to nature I felt here. I wanted to share that with our retreaters, so Big Sky Yoga Retreats was born – yoga and outdoor fitness, in Montana Big Sky Country. Get your yoga fix, and then giddy up outside with the horses on Cowgirl Yoga; hit your mat before and after an epic hike in the mountains on Yoga & Hiking; let the natural harmony of Yellowstone National Park weave its way into your yoga practice on Yoga & Yellowstone. And don’t despair if the weather isn’t “perfect” or comfortable (if that’s what you’re looking for, there’s that beach vacation I mentioned earlier) – part of the beauty and exhilaration of being outside can come from what I call weather drama. Which we get plenty of in Montana, year-round. Rain on your face, wind in your hair, clean mountain air!
Read The Nature Principle – Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age for more on why you need what author Richard Louv calls the “mind/body/nature” connection.
And I don’t mean on Facebook (well, maybe post-retreat). Sometimes people are worried about signing up for a group vacation, especially if they are coming on their own. They worry about being the one eating dinner alone. I have never, and I mean never, seen that happen. You already have so much common ground with others on your trip, just by way of signing up for the same thing. We have people who meet on retreat come back together on another. Ask about the group size; for us the magic number has been 10-12. I’ve been on a yoga retreat with over 100 people; it’s a less connected experience when you’re just a number.
You are sharing a powerful bonding experience together – the experience of delving deeper into your own health and wellbeing. You meet under these circumstances, vs., say, work. We crave human connection on levels that aren’t as valued anymore, given our faster-is-better culture. Connection is the craving behind all human existence. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing.” We’re healthy when we connect with others in meaningful ways and when we connect with animals, nature, and what’s going on inside ourselves.
Despite the Internet, Facebook, etc., we live in a disconnected culture. In an ironic twist, technology has caused us to become disconnected from ourselves in ways that threaten our humanity. Whether we realize it or not, we crave connection on a more simple, primal level. This means enriching our lives by spending time with other people, spending time in nature, and reveling in the basic processes of moving and breathing – as we do in a yoga practice.
Ask yourself this before you go: what do I hope to bring home from this experience? A yoga retreat shouldn’t be an escape from your daily life – it should inspire your daily life. You should be excited to go home and try it all out. Set intentions that will prove your wellbeing, but are also realistic.
Did you really connect with a fellow retreater? Keep in touch with them to remind yourself how friendships sustain our soul. Here’s where Facebook comes in; we often create retreat groups for easy post-retreat connection.
Even if you don’t regularly write in a journal, keep one on retreat so that later you can tap into the moments of inspiration and reflection you enjoyed. Or a yoga pose you never tried before, a recipe that you want to make at home. Our retreats are a trifecta of gourmet food, yoga and the outdoors! (No tofu in Montana.) Perhaps it’s also meditation, finding joy in nature, creating a mutually beneficial relationship with horses. It’s about recognizing what you are passionate about, what matters most to you, and how that can help you live the most fulfilling life possible on a daily basis.
A yoga retreat should give you the best souvenir ever – the tools to transform your health.
Happy retreating! Yeehaw & Namaste.
Margaret Burns Vap is the founder of Big Sky Yoga Retreats and creator of Cowgirl Yoga™. Her relationship with yoga began more than a decade ago, when she began attending Jivamukti Yoga. A few years and several hundred down dogs later, she traded in her designer duds for yoga pants, and has been teaching yoga ever since, first in Washington, D.C. and now Bozeman, Montana, where she developed a one-of-a-kind retreat experience that welcomes women to enjoy calm, refreshing, and vigorous yoga with an unforgettable Montana backdrop. Margaret’s students have included celebrities and DC luminaries to wheelchair-bound seniors, beginner yogis to other experienced yoga instructors – and everyone in between.