Resolution (made in earnest in 2009): I will take better care of myself this year
Action (scheduled for Monday a.m.): Book a yoga retreat, the ultimate self-improving, self-care vacation
Realization (now): Um, why are there so many? Which one should I do?
Somewhere between the faithful, yet fairly rustic, retreat centers like Omega or Kripalu and a week in a Balinese villa with yoga super-stars like Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee are a thousand spas and teachers offering a yoga retreat meant to perfect your poses in Costa Rica, get you in the game in Guatemala, or chill you out on the Mayan Riviera. How to pick the one that’s right for you? Here are a few ways to make sure you get the retreat you want before you lay down your deposit.
Test-drive the teacher
It might sound obvious, but the most important aspect of a yoga retreat is the teacher—not the exotic location. So take his or her class in town first, not when you’ve forked over $2,500 plus a flight to the Caribbean only to spend four hours a day in a yoga pavilion together along with 30 other like-minded disciples of a style you hate.
Nudge a teacher you love
As we suggest above, class levels, yoga styles, and teaching philosophies vary. Don’t be shy about asking a teacher whose style works for you if they’re planning a retreat. They may be hosting one independently or through another studio, or need to know there’s interest.
Consider that you may be star struck
You have her DVDs, and everyone at your studio sort-of secretly worships this yogi, who lives in, say, Los Angeles. Go, but know that big names can equal big price tags, and you may one of a hundred students on the retreat. Be sure to ask how many guests the retreat allows. And beginners take note: unless the retreat is targeted to basics, you’re better off finding one that is.
Go with a satellite studio
Kula Yoga Project was one of the first NYC studios to open a own home away from home in Panama, the latest Central American hot spot. And a number of Exhale outposts are opening in resort locations like the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos and the chainlet’s very own spa hotel at the Traymore in Miami Beach is slated to open any minute. These retreats may be less of a gamble, since their flagships (and complaint departments, should you have any) are right here in town.
Three-day-weekend yoga getaways held in the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills are an economical way to see if you like spending 72 hours with other yogis. Plus the travel costs and vacation days required are minimal. Some of NYC’s best instructors host retreats at Grow in the Garden, an 18th century house near Beacon, and the Waterfall House in the Catskills.
Investigate your surf and your turf
Yoga-surfing trips in Costa Rica and Hawaii are all the rage. But do double the diligence to make sure your yoga and surfing instruction is top notch. A travel editor we know vouches for Kelea Surf Spa, which caters specifically to women and offers solid surf and yoga instruction, plus good facials and body treatments.
Don’t be wooed by just any spa
Spas often cater to first-time yogis, and instruction can be seriously uneven place to place. In fact, if you have a regular practice at home, you may know more than the spa’s resident or on-call yoga teacher. So look for a spa that proudly provides teacher bios, has a regular schedule of yoga classes (often it’s for local members), or a great visiting teacher.
Don’t expect alone time
Most of us aren’t used to traveling with groups of relative strangers. So realize that togetherness is a big part of the retreat lifestyle (4 hours of yoga a day, plus meals at group tables, etc.), and that you won’t always be able to do your own thing. Ask yourself, are you interested in making new friends? Or are you really interested in a silent meditation retreat?
Got a tip for taking a yoga retreat we didn’t include? Tell us, here!