With summer in full-swing, it's hard not to be thinking about your next travel destination and a yoga retreat might just be the most relaxing and empowering experience you'll have yet. Even for experienced yogis, a retreat can be a little intimidating for anyone. First off, you'll be practicing with people you don't know and chances are, you've only heard of one or two of the wide variety of yoga styles on offer. You also want to make sure you find the balance between feeling like you've had a holiday (and most importantly, some rest) while still pushing yourself enough to make progress on your yoga practice.
COMO Shambhala hosts some of the most exclusive wellness retreats around the world in places such as Bhutan, the Maldives and Bali. Ahead of their five-day yoga retreat at COMO Uma Part and COMO Uma Punakha in Bhutan this August, we spoke to two of Asia's most renowned yoga instructors Lynn Yeo and Sumei Shum to get their tips on how to pick a yoga retreat:
[Yoga retreats are] an opportunity to travel, visit new places and still get some exercise and a grounding practice. There are also a lot more yoga practitioners these days so it makes sense for them to want to maintain their yoga practice on their travels. Instead of looking for a local yoga studio, which was what we did when we went travelling, you now have yoga brought and catered to you.
As teachers and organisers of our own yoga retreats, we have chosen places where we ourselves would like to visit or where there is a nice resort with yoga facilities. Further, we want our retreats to be in resorts which we know and trust can accommodate all our requirements to ensure a memorable experience for all our retreat participants. COMO Hotels have never let us down. Our participants leave wanting more. This is an indication of how important the location, organisation and teaching are so that the overall experience is exceptional.
The Bhutan retreat is what we call a destination yoga retreat where you actually explore parts of the country, enjoy the outdoors, visit monasteries and other places of interest. Trekking up to Tiger’s Nest is a highlight of the retreat. You’re challenged mentally and physically but once you get up there, you are not only rewarded with a sense of achievement but you also feel a strong spiritual connection to this sacred place perched on the mountainside that was built with faith and devotion and has survived a big fire.
Yoga is a complement to and yet an integral part of the retreat. On days where we have lots of activities – hiking, trekking, walks – the yoga restores and helps you stretch tired muscles. On days where we have a bit of travelling, the yoga starts off the day on a positive note and helps you get more limber and prepared for the drives. This yoga retreat invites you to explore yourself and also the country and the people.
I think it really depends on their individual wants and needs. Some only go for retreats with their favourite yoga teachers or teachers that they might be interested in learning from, some want a serious full-on retreat where there is some element of training in the yoga practice, some want to visit a new place and if there’s yoga thrown in, all the better. Some want luxury, some want good food and wine, others want a detox while they are on retreat, some want to go vegetarian, some want hiking and yoga, others want surf and yoga, some want a quiet getaway, the list goes on – there are so many different types of yoga retreats out there – hard to pick one unless you start with knowing what you want.
There are also all sorts of themed yoga retreats or a combination of yoga and other activities ... Goat yoga(seriously!) is something which we’ve seen lately – we’re not sure how that works – poor goats! Frankly, if you are planning to spend time and money on a yoga retreat, then it makes sense to go to one which you know will cater to what you generally want unless your goal is to be surprised.
The last thing we want (personally and for our guests) is to practice group yoga in an air-conditioned function room on a grimy carpeted floor or on a rooftop/lawn/beach where it might be too hot or where you can’t have a session if it rains. At the COMO resorts, we have the choice of practising outdoors if the weather is perfect and yet have the assurance of having a properly equipped yoga studio.
Find out more about the style and level of the yoga taught and also how the yoga teacher teaches so you’re not completely surprised. Again, we also encourage anyone who wants to attend our retreat to come for a couple of classes with us so that they get to meet us and get a taste of how we teach. This minimises the risk of any unwanted surprises, unmet expectations, and increases the chance of a good yoga retreat experience
If you're new to yoga, take a few classes locally first (preferably with the teacher who is leading the retreat so at least you know who you are going with, if you resonate with them and their yoga style. This way there is a better chance of enjoying the company and the yoga. You may also want to look for a yoga retreat which encourages beginner-level yoga practitioners or at least teachers who are aware and accept first-timer yoga practitioners.