Sept. 17, 2008 -- As summer winds down, longer office hours resume and daylight fades, now is the time for getting the mind and body in shape. One of the best ways to regain focus, boost your energy and keep that summer-high feeling going through the winter is with a yoga retreat.
Unlike an exercise "boot camp" or weekend at the beach, a yoga break takes a holistic approach to improving the health of your whole body.
Whether you're a diehard yogi or just looking for a healthy way to deal with stress, the benefits of practicing yoga include "peace of mind, better concentration, self-confidence, enfoldment of the personality, awakening and development of spirituality," according to Paramhans Swami Maheshwaranda (Swamiji), the world-renowned yoga guru and founder of Yoga in Daily Life.
Thanks to the growing popularity of retreats, travelers can now choose from a full-range of options, from bare bones ashrams to ultra-luxe spas, depending on their specific goals and needs.
Mothers with children, for instance, can enjoy down time at D-lite Yoga Retreat in Ibiza, Spain. Outdoor-loving athletic-types can sign up for Adventure Yoga Retreats, which combines adventure trips, such as a safari in Tanzania or hiking in Machu Picchu. For those wanting to indulge in high-end, blissed-out pampering, there's the Ananda spa in the Himalays.
Many facilities also offer special events with visiting "masters," such as a week with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman at the Como Shambala retreat in Bali, Indonesia, or carefully programmed itineraries for specific results, such as the Mind, Body, Spirit package at Maya Tulum in Mexico.
Know Before You Go
To find the right fit for your yoga retreat, travel adviser Melissa Bradley recommends doing your homework and being realistic about your goal.
"Don't be shy about getting as much information as possible about everything from the accommodations to the level of fitness to the food," Bradley says. "When traveling with a friend, that also means making sure you both have the same expectations."
"The first thing is to figure out what your real goal is," she says. "Do you want a relaxing vacation and to get a little better, or do you want a monastic experience? If you've never done one before, go somewhere closer to home and see if it's something you love," says Bradley, who runs Indagare.com, a high-end membership-based travel website and helps clients plan their dream trips.
So if your cubicle has your muscles a bit creaky and you'd like to take a few days to zen out, check out one of these excellent retreat options for a total-body boost -- physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Maya Tulum, Mexico
Located on a gorgeous beach in the Yucatan, just an hour south of Cancun, Maya Tulum Resort offers a classic yoga and wellness retreat for those who are serious about their practice -- but also look forward to a sunset margarita. Rooms are set in simple, yet comfortable Mayan-style thatched roof cabanas, facing either the Caribbean Sea or the Mexican jungle.
One of the most-popular packages is the five- or seven-day Mind, Body & Spirit program. Classes follow the Hatha Yoga tradition and are open to all levels.
In between classes, check out one of the eco-tours, enjoy swimming or snorkeling in the nearby coral reef, or visit the historic Mayan ruins. Ultimately MBS hopes to transform your sense of well-being by "balancing the inward journey with outward adventure."
Rates start at $1,450 for a single and $980 for a double. This includes two yoga classes and three healthy meals a day, as well as spa treatments and a tour of the area.
D-lite Yoga Retreat, Ibiza
Tucked in a pine forest on the hippy Spanish island of Ibiza, D-Lite Yoga is an elite retreat for the whole yoga family. "It's very popular with posh English moms who bring their kids," Bradley says. D-lite offers unique packages for mother and baby, weekend getaways and even a weight loss plan that promises you can lose 18 inches in four days.
Accommodation is spread out on the private estate, with most rooms set in a 400-year-old farmhouse that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Children up to age 5 are welcome free of charge, and there are a range of yoga, meditation and activities for them, as well as babysitting if needed.
D-lite concentrates on Shivananda yoga and dynamic Ashtanga, and offers group or private instruction for all levels. During downtime, guests can relax by the pool, take a jeep to tour the island or enjoy horseback riding through nearby fruit orchards.
Packages start at $1,252 (700 pounds) per person, including breakfast. The three-night mother and baby package starts at $2,431 (1,360 pounds) and includes yoga classes, spa therapies with nanny and even organic baby food.
Como Shambhala Estate, Bali
Built into the jungle of Bali, the Como Shambhala Estate feels like an escape to another world. Their award-winning residential health retreat draws stylish travelers from around the world, as well as internationally renowned yogis, such as Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman.
Though the spa offers first-rate facials, hydrotherapies and ayurvedic treatments, Como Shambhala is not just for pampering. Instead, the tranquil spot places a strong emphasis on learning skills and behavioral therapies to help guests gain new perspective and make lasting changes in their life. Activities include everything from martial arts and meditation to guided hikes and Pranayama breathing.
This fall, from Nov. 16-22, Yee and Saidman will lead a special retreat, "The Balance of Yoga." Other retreat programs include cleansing, fitness, rejuvenation and stress management. In addition to the each regimen, guests can also take advantage of cultural trips to nearby Ubud and even a personal assistant to help clear your mind.
Rates start at $275 per night for a single or double room. Packages begin at $1,400 for a single three-night stay and include a wellness consultation, ayuverdic treatments, yoga and more. The "Balance of Yoga" costs $3,650 for a single, and $5,640 for a double. All rates include breakfast, airport transfers and the personal assistant.
Adventure Yoga Retreats
For thrill-seeking outdoor lovers, Adventure Yoga Retreats offers once-in-a-lifetime trips, packed with yoga practice to exotic locations around the world. If you have a group you'd like to go with, or a destination in mind, Adventure Yoga Retreats will help you plan an unforgettable custom trip, or you can sign up for one of the pre-programmed itineraries.
Founder Ted MacDonald, a former endurance athlete, just got back from leading a 10-day trip to the Inca Valley that included hiking the Machu Picchu trail and visits to a local orphanage. Plans for future trips this fall and winter include safaris to Kenya and Tanzania, as well as weekends snowboarding in Vermont.
Adventure Yoga Retreats specializes in an energetic Vinyasa flow, but the practice also depends on the specific leader and group. Prices vary widely depending on the destination and length of the trip, but packages start at about $2,000.
Ananda Spa, Himalayas
For yoga purists looking for a little luxury, there's no better place than the Ananda Spa. Perched in Himalayas in the Rishikesh region where yoga was born, the Ananda offers wellness retreats and detox programs that combine ancient ayurvedic treatments with modern Eastern and Western holistic health principles.
The spa is known for its outstanding yoga teachers and meditation or healing masters, who all emphasize total body well-being. In the unlikely case you tire of the pampering, Anada also offers an assortment of outdoor adventure and cultural activities from trekking to kayaking in the Ganges.
Guests rave about the spiritual power of the setting, the quality of the yoga classes and the spa's delicious organic food. Ananda has won Conde Nast Traveler's Best Destination Spa Award for the past three years.
Packages start at $3,200 for five nights single occupancy. All rates include meals and a variety of massages, scrubs and healing consultations to get you started.
Mii amo specializes in spa treatments and energy work based on Native American principles. Fitness classes include Chinese Rejuvenation, Vortex walk, Qigong, aqua aerobics, yoga, as well as pilates; mountain biking, meditation, even cooking classes are also available. Once you've worked up a sweat, indulge at the AAA four-diamond restaurant, with its award-winning wine list. Last year Mii amo won Travel and Leisure's Best Destination Spa.
Yoga instructors regularly lead three-day retreats to Mii amo. In October, Ian Lopatin & Vanessa Lee of One Yoga will host "Journey through Consciousness Yoga." Other packages include five-night healthy lifestyle, rejuvenation, de-stress, spirituality exploration and ayurvedic balance.
Rates start at approximately $2,200 for a three-night package. Day passes are also available, starting at $429.