The growth in fitness holidays and wellness retreats is massive and shows no sign of slowing up. More of us than ever looking for a different experience on our breaks and to make the most of our free time by truly charging our batteries. But before you book a yoga retreat there are some important questions you need to ask yourself – and the holiday provider…
You love hanging at your yoga studio or you pre-book onto all the yoga classes in your gym – but that doesn’t mean a yoga retreat is definitely going to be for you. Practicing yoga a few times a week in one hour classes is very different from the more concentrated experience you will find on a yoga holiday. Certainly these more intense experience can really ignite a passion for the practice but to begin with its worth booking onto a weekend break rather than signing up for a week away up a mountain somewhere. After the weekend you will have more clarity about what you are looking for in a yoga focused holiday.
It is important to understand what level your yoga practice is and also what level the retreat you are considering is pitched at. If you aren’t sure then check with a regular teacher that you have. Then find out from the holiday company what level they work at – many are not aimed at beginners or improvers. “We take two instructors on our retreats,” says Jill Simpson who runs the Ebb and Flow yoga retreats. “One for the beginners and one for intermediate/advanced practitioners.” But this is not the norm so it’s important to check. “There are some retreats that tailor themselves for all levels but it’s best to check they accept beginners, if that’s what you are looking for,” adds Jill.
“I liken getting to know the variety in yoga styles nowadays to that of going into a coffee shop and ordering from their menu, or the specials board at a restaurant… you get that feeling of “what does that mean” there are so many styles of yoga and often can get confusing,” says Jill. If you aren’t sure what category your favourite yoga style fits into then check with your teacher in the UK, “For example a number of different ‘types’ of yoga can be considered as Vinyasa – some of these are; Ashtanga, Baptiste Yoga, Jivamukti, Power Yoga and Prana Flow etc.” If you prefer a more restorative practice then booking on to a dynamic hot yoga holiday is unlikely to feel relaxing to you!
If you have tried a weekend break and loved it and want to go for a longer holiday then check out how much time you will be practicing – equally if you want to enjoy a reasonable number of sessions but also the chance to opt out and do something a little different it’s important to think about where the retreat is based (is it cut off or could you easily explore from it) and how that fits in with the timetable. “Our retreat students have the option of attending a morning meditation practice before the first class of the day and have free time after breakfast to explore the surroundings, visit attractions or spend time taking a well-earned break with a book in hand,” says Jill.
There are so many retreats out there and many in far flung (gorgeous) locations with local instructors. While this is understandable, it’s worth researching those teachers to check their teaching style and also their qualifications. How were they trained? How long have they been practicing? This will have you stay safe and learn good practice while you are away. If you can go to a retreat with a teacher you already know that’s fantastic but if you can’t then a little research can go a long way.
“There are many places worldwide now that offer teacher training programmes meaning there is a lot of qualified Yoga teachers to choose from, so it is very important to suss out your teacher,” says Jill. “Not only by their qualification but also by their reviews, where are they teaching regularly, are they on a timetable at a busy and well thought of studio, check out their social media following, the comments and how many times have they offered this retreat or other retreats before. Our retreats are only hosted by our instructors, so we have a constant procedure to ensure all their yoga qualifications, first aid and the insurance checks are up to date.” Insurance for the retreat itself is worth checking, just in case you do get hurt.
Some retreats are high luxury, others a more basic experience. In many cases attendees are travelling alone and so sharing a room with someone else, probably a stranger, is common. It’s worth checking how many people you will be sharing with and having a good think about how you feel about that. If you are a light sleeper used to being in your own room or prefer your own space find out if there is the opportunity to pay extra for your own room. “On the whole most yoga retreats offer twin rooms only, they sometimes have single occupancy and are often more of a basic standard of room, but it’s more about the way the venues layout the rooms,” explains Jill. “Some venues don’t have an ensuite, so beware, you may be offered a fab room but with a shared bathroom.”
Better to think this through before you get there rather than when you are about to unpack your suitcase! Also check the standard of the accommodation fits with your expectations. Where will the workshops take place? Is there a pool or area to relax aside from your room? This will all help you make the most out of your stay.
Some more retreats, especially if they have big name teachers or social media influencers running the classes need to get bums on mats to recoup their costs. But a higher student to teacher ratio means you will get less individual help and attention. “Be wary of having more than 20 people for one instructor – that’s a lot of students to look after on your own!” says Jill.
Food. A really important topic and one which can make or break a holiday for some! Depending on the focus and style of the retreat you could be fasting or on a juice only plan or indulging in fine wines and rich foods – get them muddled and you could be miserable! “Most retreats like us offer vegetarian and/or vegan menus. But smoothies, green juices and healthy snacks with complimentary herbal teas and fruit infused waters on tap are included on our retreats too, making for the important peckish times when you feel like an energy boost.” On some retreats no lunch is the norm, which is no good if you find yourself ravenous and in a idyllic location no where near shops to buy snacks to tide you over. Find out what meals are included but also what is available at an additional cost through the day. And if a holiday isn’t a holiday without a glass of wine with your dinner, find out beforehand if your retreat is dry or not.