Is a Yoga Retreat Just a Holiday?
Yoga retreats. You’ve heard of them. You’ve probably been encouraged to go on a yoga retreat — by a friend, a teacher, or by social media marketing. And all of that encouragement is peppered with claims about the way a retreat will change your life, transform your state of mind and strengthen your body.
But isn’t a yoga retreat really just a holiday? And how can a holiday change your life?
Different Retreats Are…Different
The short answer to the first question is: it depends.
It depends on the teachers; the content of the retreat; the venue; the intensity, frequency and duration of practice. When I say intensity I don’t mean whether or not you’re doing hot and sweaty power yoga or slower yin or restorative styles. I mean the intensity of focus — the commitment that students and teacher bring to the exploration of body and self within each practice, and during the retreat as a whole.
‘Yoga holiday’ style retreats often include a range of other activities and trips, as well as plenty of free time. These lighter-touch retreats may be more like holidays with added yoga — and many retreats providers directly advertise their offerings as ‘yoga holidays’ or ‘yoga vacations’. Whereas a more practice-focused retreat, which carries the intention of a deeper experience of yoga, is likely to have a fuller timetable of yoga, meditation and related workshops.
But even the more chilled out yoga holidays can be genuinely beneficial — and, dare I say it, possibly transformative — for lots of people. Because how often do we truly get to relax? How easy is it for the majority of busy, stressed out people to calm down and feel the connection between body, breath and emotions? Do we even know how to relax on a normal day?
If you’re interested in going on a retreat because you want to:
- Have a comprehensive introduction to a particular style of yoga
- Expand and deepen your existing practice with the guidance and support of a teacher who knows how to help you get more from your time on the mat
- Create — or build on — a solid technical foundation for your physical practice
- Go deeper into meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques
- Explore the potential for continuous change and self-understanding that lies within yoga
- Have an immersive experience completely different from everyday life
Then you can choose a yoga retreat which doesn’t feel like a holiday at all. This kind of retreat is work — perhaps not what most of us imagine when we think of work, but…a different kind of work.
A practice-intensive retreat can be rich with discipline, concentration and discovery. It’s unlike practicing in class once a week because you have the time to find your rhythm. To sink below the surface of your experience. See different perspectives. Notice the relationships between things. And over the course of, for example, a week long retreat, you will be able to see — or feel — your progress.
It Depends On You, Too
Your experience of a retreat also has a lot to do with you. Your intentions will have an impact on your practice. You could go on the most laid back yoga holiday ever created and have a profound experience or significantly develop your practice if you committed yourself. Or you could go on an intensive yoga training and treat it like a holiday.
It’s just as valid to want a relaxing holiday as it is to want a focused learning experience. But either way, if you’re clear about what you want then you will be able to choose a retreat that can fulfil those intentions well — and you’ll get more out of it once you’re there.
Will it Change Your Life?
Honestly? Probably not.
Because yoga is a practice which means…practice. Hopefully, you can maintain your relationship with yoga — as much as it might change over the years — for the rest of your life.
So a brief immersion into yoga on a retreat, no matter how insightful and well taught, isn’t going to transform everything. You won’t go home a completely different person. It’s possible to go through some big changes in a short space of time, for sure; but if you go away expecting to be transformed you might be disappointed.
What a yoga retreat can do is equip you with the knowledge and, more importantly, an experiential understanding of the value of consistent practice, that will allow you to keep practicing. It can inspire you to carry on even on the days you don’t feel it. A retreat can help you establish a dedication to your practice — and that can change your life.
About the author-
Izzy Arcoleo is a yoga and meditation teacher with a background in Anthropology, currently in the process of opening a centre for yoga workshops and creative residencies in the south of France. She's also a freelance writer with a focus on wellbeing and personal development, and is committed to her own lifetime exploration of yoga and consciousness.