Yoga Retreat, or Yoga Treat?

When I was in fourth grade, our teacher left the room for a bit, and told us to be very quiet as we were now on retreat. Another teacher came in, and I proudly wrote her a note saying that we couldn’t talk because we were having a treat!

I can chuckle now…. yet maybe a period when everyone is quiet is a treat.

Still Confused

Several years ago, I and a colleague jointly decided to give a Yoga Retreat at a lovely venue in the rainforest of northern Queensland.  Well, it was so confusing. I expected everyone to be up to meditate for an hour at dawn, and again at dusk, to present for sessions on inner work and investigation of one’s own illusions and obstructive patterns, and to have a quiet sense of awareness about the ups and downs of the day..

Not so the attendees – nor my colleague, either.  Apparently they thought it was about one yoga class a day, and then off to the beach and sussing out the tourist goodies of the area. Not so keen on my work plan for them.

My earliest retreats

My notion of “retreat” had been formed in my Catholic schooling, where we would be sent off for a couple of days at a time to  meditate, contemplate, and reach a spiritual sense of ourselves. Imagine my surprise to find there were heaps of  “Yoga Retreats” that didn’t have much to do with my experience at all.

Wikipedia describes the alternative

In modern Yoga retreat is often used to advertise a recreational holiday. In this context retreat means to leave everyday business for a few days … to let go of daily stress and problems, …..doing Asanas instead of pure meditation.Often retreats are offered as organised travels abroad.

These Yoga retreats seem much more aimed as a pampering holiday, with up-market accommodation and many indulgences..  They are for “renewal”, or “healing”. or “invigorating body, mind and spirit”.


Getting clear about it

It took us a few goes to get clear about it. First of all, Sally, my lovely colleague, and I had to discover what each of us really meant. We were equally surprised to find that we had differing concepts of what a retreat was. Because she is a great Yogi, she accepted that a Yoga retreat could be about something deeper than the “modern Yoga” notion.

But the next problem was, how to communicate to people fixed on “Retreat = Yoga Holiday”. If a person reads, “Yoga Retreat” and thinks, “Holiday; yoga class; lots of recreation and pleasure – then I’ll feel really good about myself” it is pretty hard to penetrate the mind-set by inviting them to a Yoga Retreat in the Rainforest.

Not for the faint-hearted or self-indulgent

Haha, how’s that for a publicity header for a Yoga Retreat?  How many do you suppose will front up? But maybe that really is the difference between a retreat and a holiday.  In the deep retreat mode, you really look at some prickly aspects of your life – like, “How do I create my sense of personal self?”  Exploring that takes you to deep underlying processes, such as,”How do I handle discomfort? Physically, socially, emotionally?  When I feel discomfort, does that not point to some ego pattern that I don’t want to become aware of? If I feel challenged, by situational factors, or by a glimpse that someone sees something in me that I might not like, does that not point to something wriggling inside that could be investigated?”  And isn’t quiet stillness a prerequisite for retreating into awareness, away from the rollercoaster of personal reactions?

Gosh, putting all that on a flyer?  What about this then? “Ego Stroking or Ego Exploring?”

Is there room for both?

Certainly. Of course, it is fine to have a holiday with some Yoga included. It’s a treat, and undoubtedly you will feel refreshed when you get home. Nothing more than that, but at least that.  But someone please, help me find a way of describing the benefits of a deep Yoga retreat, where you really get back something for the money you spend on it, and it is not gone the moment you get home.


Meanwhile, this is certain, the retreats I lead are not for the faint-hearted or self-indulgent. Sorry.




About Mataji

I have been practising still-mind meditation since 1982, teaching still-mind meditation since 1989, and training teachers since 1999. The greatest life change for me has been a steady easefulness with its ups and downs, and an ability to love the difficult folks as well as the easy ones. The more profound changes aren't so easy to put into words.
This entry was posted in Conversations with the Swami, Philosphy of Yoga, Reality-Based Spirituality, Self-Enquiry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *