Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yoga Retreats - How to Choose The Right One

As a leader of tropical yoga retreats in Hawaii and Mexico, I’ve researched numerous resorts and retreat centers to find the locations most suitable for the clientele I want to draw. Retreat centers range from the rustic to the luxurious, from mountain to beach settings, and from remote to city center. Below are some considerations for what to look for in your search for the ideal yoga retreat.

Know what you want. Do you want to retreat into yourself or have a social outdoor adventure? Some centers have several groups intermingling at meals, at the pool, dance parties, or are centrally located in a town with street noise, music, etc. Others have space for only one group, or are in remote locations with no cars in sight. Many are in between. I’ve found that even if there are plenty of extra activities offered, one can always choose to abstain, stay quiet, take naps, receive bodywork, etc, as long as the setting is tranquil.
Creature Comforts:
Are you wanting an exclusive resort/5-Star hotel experience, or do you prefer the somewhat rustic or low-budget experience? Yoga retreats cover the full range and are usually priced accordingly. Spend some time researching what is offered and the quality of the accommodations before you sign up.
Is the retreat located at a center that caters to yoga retreats?
If not, they may not be equipped with yoga props or have the familiarity with how to best serve the yoga group’s unique needs.
Is it located at a retreat center or at a hotel?
Depending on what you’re wanting from your retreat, one of these is better for you. Would you rather be removed from the daily distractions of shopping, driving, internet and busy streets, or would you prefer to be in town where you can walk, bike, drive or bus to local attractions? Being at a retreat center where there’s plenty of acreage isolating it from the outside world can be very conducive to going inwards and focusing on your practice, personal well-being, rest and relaxation. Many retreat centers offer both, where you can choose to stay exclusively on their campus or you can elect to attend excursions to explore the local environment and attractions.
Are all meals included
? I have found that sharing meals with my retreat participants is a very bonding experience for the group. It’s a time when we can get to know each other and strengthen our connections. It is also a treat not to have to fuss with money and tips at each meal when it’s all-inclusive. However, if you’re more of the adventurous or solitary type, you may prefer a retreat not including all meals where you can go off to explore the local fare.

Are extra sight seeing trips included in the retreat price? Again, depending on your goals for your retreat, you may prefer extra adventures are included. If they are, you can be sure you’re paying for them, whether you attend them or not. If you want to explore the area around your retreat, then the extra adventures can be a blast and another great way to bond with your group while deepening your understanding of the local culture and environment. On our retreats, we like to make these extras optional and then the participants can decide which trips they’d like to attend and the facility will still offer a reduced rate for minimum group sizes. Some centers may have more than one group staying at a time, and they offer a different adventure each day for whoever wishes to attend.
What kind of yoga is being offered?
There are so many styles of hatha yoga taught these days, that it is important to know what style you prefer in order to avoid getting stuck with a teacher or style that is extremely challenging or unsuited to your nature. Most ideal is if you know the teacher you’re signing up to spend your week with. Next best is if you at least know that you like the style of yoga that they teach.

Best of luck and have a great retreat!

Robyn Smith, E-RYT is a certified Anusara Yoga instructor and teacher trainer from Arcata, California. She offers winter week-long yoga retreats in Yelapa, Mexico and Hawaii’s Big Island, and weekend summer retreats by the rivers of northern California. http://innerfreedomyoga.com/retreats.php

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Printed in the Arcata Eye newspaper on Nov. 25, 2009

Have you been meaning to start yoga for the last 5 - 25 years? Have your friends been telling you how great they feel after yoga class and nudging you to come along? Are you afraid you’ll be too tight to do it “right?” If you replied yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Although millions of people are now incorporating yoga practice into their daily lives, many more millions are still interested but too intimidated to start for several reasons. As a certified Hatha Yoga instructor teaching in Humboldt County for the last 15 years, I have heard many of them. But mostly, I hear how much better people feel when they finally begin classes. I’d like to help you enjoy yoga by dispelling some of the myths out there that are just not true.

The Myths:

Yoga hurts

Yoga is for flexible people/pretzels

Yoga is standing on your head

Yoga is a religion that will conflict with my current beliefs

Yoga classes are too easy and I need a workout

Yoga is too hard and I just want to relax

Branches of Yoga

Let’s begin by clarifying that the kind of yoga we’re discussing here is called Hatha Yoga. It’s the physical branch of yoga incorporating postures and breath. Originally practiced as a way to open and clear the energetic channels of the body in order to achieve higher states of consciousness, it is now more commonly practiced as a form of exercise and as a great way to achieve optimum overall mind-body health. Some other branches of yoga are Karma Yoga (the yoga of service, ex. Mother Theresa), Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotional love, ex. the Hari Krishnas), Jnana Yoga (the yoga of Self-knowledge, meditation). Within Hatha Yoga, there are numerous styles, based on the wisdom of the individuals who developed them. Many of these are mentioned below.

Unlocking the Myths

Yoga hurts. If yoga hurts you, you are either pushing too hard, you are in a level that is too advanced, or you are not getting enough instruction to stay safe. In choosing a style and teacher, choose one that can address your physical limitations. In Anusara Yoga, we are highly trained to teach with good alignment and to offer modifications to those who need them. Iyengar Yoga also emphasizes proper alignment and the use of props to modify poses. More gentle styles of yoga are Viniyoga, Bliss Yoga, and Restorative Yoga. If you have injuries or pain in your body, consider some privates with a qualified teacher, or starting with Yoga Therapy Workshops to start unwinding your tension before you step into regular classes.

Yoga is for pretzels. Yoga will make you more flexible and relieve your stiffness. Sure, you may never be able to tie you legs behind your head like some people, but you will certainly find more ease in your body if you start going regularly. In our classes, we have a full range of flexibility levels, from the circus-acrobat teenager to the 70-something senior. Again, finding the right style, level and teacher who can help you with your limits is key to finding joy and relief in yoga.

Yoga is standing on your head. There are hundreds of postures that we can do with our bodies besides standing on our heads, from various standing poses, to sitting, to lying down, bending forwards and backwards and twisting. Inversions (going upside down) are not for everybody although they can be extremely therapeutic. You are always welcome to skip any poses that are not appropriate for you.

Yoga is a religion. Although it comes from India where Hinduism reins,

yoga is not a religion. It is a science and a philosophy for harmonizing our body, mind and spirit. It teaches what most religions share: there is a deeper essence that is bigger than our individual identity, and through the practices, we can connect more fully to that essence, or Self, which is eternal. Yoga, which often translates as union or to yoke or join, is about unifying the individual with that universal source/essence/spirit (or whatever you choose to call it). By opening, aligning, and clearing the body/temple, Hatha Yoga helps us to feel whole and to realize this great inner truth.

Yoga classes are too easy and I need a workout: Oh, not to worry! There are many styles of yoga that will ask you to work muscles you have never felt before. Some will make you hold poses longer, some will flow you more quickly from pose to pose, often with music, working your whole body, from shoulders and back to legs, hips and buttocks. Many people work up a great sweat in practice and have to bring a towel to dry off! Some styles that offer more of a workout: Anusara, Ashtanga, Bikram/Hot, Flow, Iyengar. Just start with the most basic level and make sure you are getting good alignment instructions, as when we don’t align our joints properly, injuries can occur.

Yoga is too hard and I just want to relax: Try Restorative, Yin, or Bliss Yoga. They are more gentle or completely geared for relaxation, holding poses (often supported with props) for 5 minutes each or longer. Just remember to find a qualified teacher who brings in good alignment.

Just as we each have our favorite flavor of ice cream, we will each find our favorite style of yoga, if we’re willing to do a taste test. And not only do we test the style, but we test the teacher. Ultimately, we will find that we must resonate most with the teacher and their unique presentation of their style. We may also find that on some days we prefer a more gentle yoga while on others, we crave more of a workout, or that as we mature in our practice, our needs change and we seek out a new style or teacher to fit those needs.

Yoga has been gaining popularity all over the world in the last decade because it works. It has helped millions of people improve their health and well being at very little cost. Overall, yogis notice feeling less pain, increased flexibility, more strength, reduced stiffness, less stress, more energy, more inner ease and joy, increased immunity and so much more. Now are you ready to start classes? Just find a level and a time that works for your schedule and take the leap into a new adventure!

Robyn Smith, owner of Inner Freedom Yoga, is a certified Anusara Yoga Instructor and Teacher Trainer who is fascinated with the body and its ability to heal and transform. She has a keen eye for alignment and loves to weave poetry and spiritual contemplations into her classes. She offers classes, workshops, trainings, Yoga Therapy and retreats in Arcata, Westhaven, and beyond. Find out more at www.innerfreedomyoga.com.