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How to choose the right retreat for you

I made a commitment to myself a couple of years back to go on a retreat once a year (at least). The primary reason is for my own personal benefit: to take some time and space for myself, to reconnect to my inner world and uncover or remind myself of what my true needs are.

In choosing a retreat, I am therefore seeking a safe space to dive beyond the conscious chatter of thoughts to discern what is real and what is just conditioning, limiting beliefs or other people's expectations.

The second reason is that as a retreat host myself, I believe that I need to walk the talk. To do all of the things described above, so that I speak from experience when I recommend that people invest in themselves by going on a retreat. But also to experience what it is like to be a participant on a retreat, so that I can see what works and what doesn't.

There are two options when seeking out a (yoga or meditation) retreat: to go to a permanent retreat centre that offers year-round programs, or to attend a bespoke retreat offered by a specific teacher(s) or studio.

The main advantage of a retreat centre is that you can go whenever it suits you: just pick a date and find a program that appeals and book yourself in. I recently attended Billabong Retreat just outside of Sydney. (Unfortunately for us Tasmanians, there are no permanent retreat centres in the State).

Here's what I enjoyed about the retreat:

  • A great program that balanced scheduled activities with free time

  • A choice of more active and passive yoga classes or the option to do both

  • Amazing food and beautiful surrounds

  • Highly experienced staff and hosts: running retreats is their day job

  • Access to a range of additional treatments such as massage and reiki

Below are a few things I consider to be a disadvantage of retreat centres:

  • In order to pay for what must be enormous overhead costs of running a retreat centre, expect a LOT of people. On my recent retreat there were 40 other guests. Not ideal if you are looking to escape crowds. And it also means that the connections you make are likely to be a little more superficial, as you will be split into different classes, have staggered meal times and will likely sit with different people at every meal.

  • It's much harder for a retreat host to "hold space" on this scale. I've been to retreat centres where the host does a welcome but then you are passed to different teachers at every different activity. Or you only see them when they are running the activity but then they disappear. Or they are interacting with guests over meals but can only sit on one table at a time, so you don't get an opportunity to ask questions that have arisen during your stay.

The other choice is to find a bespoke retreat being offered by a yoga teacher (or meditation, or similar) or studio. Here are some considerations:

The main disadvantage is that the planets will need to align. In other words, you will be limited to what is being offered at the time that you can get away and at a location that you can access.

Another disadvantage might be the skill or experience level of the host. Teaching a yoga class is one thing: the ability to hold space on a retreat is a completely different level. It is worth doing your research if you are choosing to go on a retreat with a teacher you don't know. How many retreats have they run before? Do they have testimonials from past retreat participants? Does their approach to yoga - asana, philosophy, style, values etc - align with your own?

The greatest advantage, from my perspective, is the scale of a bespoke retreat. Likely to be between 8-14 people (at least it is in Tasmania), this provides a much better container for deeper and more heartfelt connections with the host and other participants. It will feel like a "safe space" to really let your innermost thoughts, feelings and desires come to the forefront.

I've been to some truly transformational retreats at retreat centres: one visit gave me the clarity and push needed to quit my day job and move to Tasmania and create Santosha Yoga Australia. I've also been to a bespoke retreat that was a nice weekend away, but did not give me the safe feeling of being "hosted" due to the inexperience of the retreat leader. So both options have their pros and cons: the most important thing is to be clear on what you want from a retreat, and to then do your homework.



Footnote: I've been running several retreats a year for 6 years now. All retreats are intimate, rejuvenating and set in stunning locations with fabulous people. If you would like to experience a retreat with me, there are a couple of spots left on my next retreat:

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