5 Tips for Finding the Right Yoga Retreat for You

Apr 1, 2019

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The Points & Miles Backpacker is a weekly column appearing every Monday. TPG Contributor Brian Biros, who has backpacked the globe for the past 15 years, discusses how to fund this adventurous, budgeted and increasingly popular form of travel with points and miles. He’ll also explore all things backpacking-related. Read his story here and his high-level approach here.

I’m writing this column from the Bodhi Tree Resort in Nosara, Costa Rica. This is my current view:

The office.

While this resort is beautiful, I didn’t specifically come here for the jungle setting, nearby ocean, warm weather or even the monkeys that leap around the tree tops (and these aren’t thieving pests like those in other destinations). I’m here for a yoga retreat.

For the third consecutive year, I’ve joined my favorite yoga studio, The Yoga Dojo, on their annual destination retreat. It’s been more than three years since I briefly lived in Richmond, Virginia, and two since I stepped into their actual studio, but the connection I have with the studio and instructors keeps me coming to their retreat.

I swear the Dojo retreats really are fun.
I swear The Yoga Dojo retreats really are fun.

If you practice yoga, you know a class can provide balance in a stressful life or be a great reset to your day or week. Yoga retreats take that to the next level. But with so many flyers hanging in studios and posts on Instagram, how do you know which one to pick? Through these amazing retreats, others I’ve attended and many conversations with instructors and attendees, I’ve put together the following tips for selecting and attending a successful yoga retreat.

1. Commit to Going

It may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how often people sigh and tell me how much they could use a yoga retreat when I talk about mine. Make the decision that your next trip will be a yoga retreat. And if you don’t have time with your busy life and work schedule, my suggestion to attend a yoga retreat is even more serious.

While a yoga retreat can and should be enjoyable — just like a relaxing beach vacation, backpacking adventure or music festival — an additional consideration should be the payoff. After a retreat filled with internal reflection and physical practice, I emerge refreshed and motivated to continue my path or take on my next challenge in life. Compare that to the days after a VIP music festival when all I want to do is curl up in my bed.

2. Find the Right Instructors

The most important consideration when choosing a retreat should be how well you connect with the instructor(s). The best retreat you can attend is one led by a favorite instructor you follow around a city or the one whose classes you try to attend at your regular studio.

If you haven’t yet taken his or her class, make every attempt to do so before signing up for their retreat. Some instructors you’ll completely vibe with and with others, you just won’t click. This varies greatly for everyone. If attending their class isn’t possible, schedule a phone or video call to to discuss details of the retreat. Tell them exactly what you hope to get out of it, and ask how the retreat can help you meet those goals.

A trustworthy friend recommended a yoga retreat in Israel led by the renowned Lauren Taus. I was intrigued and knew of her on Instagram, but I wasn’t willing to blindly commit. But after a 90-minute phone call, I felt completely comfortable with her leading my retreat. And two years later, she remains my guru, and very good friend.

Israel wouldn't be the first place I'd think of for a yoga retreat location, but a relaxing day floating in the Dead Sea isn't an excursion you'll find elsewhere.
Israel isn’t the first place I’d think of for a yoga retreat, but you can’t beat a relaxing day floating in the Dead Sea.

Another notable exception is if you are specifically looking to further your practice in a certain discipline. Are you trying to increase flexibility? Perfect your hand balances? All instructors have different teaching approaches and some resonate more than others. With a new instructor, you may find new techniques and breakthroughs. So that yogi you follow on Instagram may very well work out for you, but be sure to have a phone call first.

3. Consider Other Factors

Instructors may one of the most important factors, but they’re not the only element of a retreat you need to consider. There are a handful of questions you need to answer before booking. Some questions are for the instructor, while others you’ll need to research on your own.

  • Does the resort where the retreat is being held have good reviews?
  • Has the instructor hosted a retreat at that resort before? If not, have they visited the location?
  • What type of yoga will be practiced?
  • Is the setting (beach, jungle, mountains) and available activities what you are looking for?
  • Will the food satisfy your diet?
  • What will the weather be the time of year you are going?
Looking to perfect your handstands? A retreat with a hand balance expert like Adrian McCavitt of The Yoga Dojo can help.

Many issues that arise during retreats tend to be logistical issues between the resort and retreat hosts. If the hosts have held a retreat at that location before or, at the very least, scouted out the grounds themselves, that’s much less likely to happen.

As for weather, if you have visions of a Thailand beach vacation but the retreat is in the middle of rainy season, you may not see the sun the entire time you are there.

4. Check the Price Tag

Yoga retreats are a fairly substantial monetary investment — typically at least $200 a day for an all-inclusive destination retreat — so you want to guarantee a good return on that investment. However, a more expensive retreat doesn’t always equate to a better one. High profile yogis and resorts tend to command a higher price tag. Other studios or instructors host retreats solely out of love and make very little profit. Don’t worry too much about cost comparisons or make a judgement based on sticker price alone.

The Yoga Dojo's retreats are on the lower end of the price scale, and do you need a better setting than this?
The Yoga Dojo’s retreats are on the lower end of the price scale, and do you need a better setting than this?

A better approach is to look at all that is included in the retreat (lodging, meals, classes, excursions, transfers, tips, etcetera). Factor in the costs of anything that is not included. Is the end cost within your budget, and does the retreat meet all the above criteria? If the answer is yes, you’ll know the retreat offers a good value.

5. Avoid Unnecessary Resort Excursions

Even in all-inclusive retreats, external excursions are usually an additional fee. These excursions are normally offered by the resort at a premium, especially in budget countries. It’s entirely possible you can visit the same destinations or figure out a similar excursion independently and pay only a fraction of the price.

Last year, on my retreat to Tulum, Mexico with The Yoga Dojo, a few other attendees rented passenger vans for the week. Rather than have every individual pay a large lump sum to join an organized tour, our group pitched in for gas and the rental fee and put together our own day trip to the cenotes.

We didn't need an expensive guided tour to take us to this cenote.
We didn’t need an expensive guided tour to take us to this cenote.

But most importantly, you should be empowered to do as much — or as little — as you’d like during the retreat. And what you want may can change from day to day. Don’t try to fill up a calendar in advance and cram everything in. Play it by ear, and leave flexibility in your calendar and time to decompress when you need it, because that’s most likely what you are here for in the first place.

If you’re looking to back that pack up and get some guidance, send your questions to backpacker@thepointsguy.com!

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