I’ve wanted to go on a yoga retreat for years but never got around to it. Recently I started to have the feeling that a rigorous week-long retreat just might be beyond my physical capacity. I decide it had to be now or never. And I’m glad I did, because I learned: there’s always a yoga retreat with your name on it.
For any of you who imagine you’re too old or too stiff, or with any doubts at all, I can only say, fear no more. There are many, many yoga retreat centers throughout the world. You will find one to match your wishes among them. Seriously, all you need is to know how to find it.
Know what kind of retreat you want
It all begins by knowing what you want from your retreat. What were my wishes?
- First, I wanted the yoga taught in English. By now I’ve taken quite a few yoga classes taught in Spanish but I still spend way too much time twisting my head (and straining my neck) to see if I interpreted the instructions correctly. Maybe next year my language skills will be ready for a Spanish language retreat.
- Second, I wanted meals included and while I could work around the vegetarian meals many retreats offer, vegan meals would be so much better.
- Third, there was the yoga. After all, that’s why I was going in the first place! I wanted a choice of yoga classes while enjoying the experience of learning something new. Ideally, the center would offer restorative yoga or a more relaxing yoga in the evening.
- Fourth, I wanted to be in a small group. That means different things to different people but I considered 12-15 to be about the right size for me.
- Fifth, I wanted to go someplace new and it needed to be a pretty place, preferably in nature or by the sea. The setting was so, so important to the whole vision I had for my retreat.
How to match your wish list to available retreats
I took my wishes and started shopping on the website called Book Yoga Retreats (BYR). Once you’ve identified your criteria, BYR is the Real McCoy for finding and comparing yoga retreats. You can shop by location, yoga styles, cost, and other features that are important to you. For example, maybe you want a pool or hot tub…or spa treatments. Maybe you want to self cater.
Maybe you want something in addition to yoga. I found centers that offer yoga along with other forms of exercise like tai chi, dance, and barre which might be ideal if you are planning a trip with a partner or friend with different interests.
I seriously considered one retreat that offered three hours of Spanish language study sandwiched between morning and early evening yoga classes. Then I came to my senses and realized that cramming on irregular Spanish verb tenses sort of defeats the idea of a mentally relaxing retreat. Whew, that was a close one.
I didn’t have a personal referral to a retreat center in Spain (or anywhere else for that matter), so I took a chance on Yoga Sutra Shala in Benissiva, Spain. After I found them on Book Yoga Retreats, I continued my investigation reading several positive reviews on Trip Advisor and on a personal blog site. What really sold me in the end was finding out Yoga Sutra Shala showed up on the Responsible Travel website.
Yoga Sutra Shala, matches values important to both Jamie and me. They really strive to keep their waste and footprint low with group check-in and departures, arranged shuttles to the airport/train station, recycling, and low use of plastics. Even the water bottles provided for our hikes were aluminum. And, of course, all food was plant based.
My retreat worked out even better than expected
Let me just say...this retreat exceeded my expectations. The length (5 nights and 6 full days) was just enough to become fully restored and feeling my best. In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt better physically or mentally. Most of my retreat companions were escaping their busy work and family lives with a little me-time. As a retiree, I no longer have the same stressors but there is no one who doesn’t benefit from a week of pampering.
Here’s how my retreat at Yoga Sutra Shala exceeded my expectations:
The Yoga Was Ideal
Our 13 participants split into two groups, a gentle hatha yoga group and a more challenging vinyasa group. Both groups were offered yin yoga classes in the late afternoon.
- There were workshops almost every day (including yoga specialty classes like “Blocks and Props” and “Alignment.”
- We had at least two meditation sessions daily where we learned different meditation philosophies like Yoga Nidra or Chakra Meditation.
The Shala Is Relaxed and Charming
There was only one other guest on my shuttle coming from Valencia (most came from Alicante) and when we arrived there were already peals of laughter and chatter spilling out of the Shala. I knew we were in for a good time. Everyone was crowded around the lunch table and warming the room with their introductions and stories. We had a couple from Barcelona, a mother/daughter from Cornwall, two friends from London and the remaining seven guests were strangers to each other, but not for long. Two guests came from Switzerland, three from England, and one man was born in Santander but living and working for many years in Berlin. I was the only American.
Once we finished lunch and introductions, Vale, an employee from Italy, took us for a village and property tour. We learned about the eight villages linked together via a walking path, where we would find an ATM if needed, and how the locals live (mostly farming of oranges, lemons, limes, cherries, and almonds).
The covered terrace and pool terrace were really just the beginning of a lovely property. Those who wanted even more privacy or quiet could enjoy tables and chairs or hammock scattered throughout the garden and orchard. We were all encouraged to add our wish to the thousands of wishes on a special wishing tree.
The Shala was clean, homey, and comfortable. It's not a posh place. The furniture is mismatched and well used but the retreat price is certainly fair. The inside yoga studio is set up for only eight stations and the inside dining room is a little crowded when the Shala is fully booked but I imagine that the space accommodates the low season guests quite well. We happened to have a full house, a spring break week, and chilly weather collide.
The dining terrace and pool patio as well as garden space are ideal for yoga, meditation, and general relaxation during warmer weather. We discovered their true beauty on our last day when the weather gods favored us.
During our daily quiet times (and nights), the peaceful, quiet surroundings were a true blessing.
Meals Were a Delight
I only eat a plant based diet and I loved the food. But the highest recommendation comes from those guests who eat a standard western diet. Yes, a few of them missed their morning eggs and yes, a few of them found their bellies were a little grumbly the first couple of days as their digestive system got used to new and different ingredients. Still, everyone ate heartily and enjoyed 95 percent of the dishes offered. And we all looked forward to the menu boards prepared before every meal introducing us to the health benefits of various ingredients.
On our final day, Friday, we were served brunch. It was a real opportunity for some gourmet treats and my favorites were the spelt pancakes with bananas and apples and a choice of chocolate or peanut sauce. I also adored the miso roasted mushrooms. Surprisingly, I think the biggest hit for the group was the rosemary roasted potatoes. People love their potatoes (just like my husband) and they loved the taste of salt.
Yoga Sutra freely shares their recipes with their guests and on their website and blogsite. I've already made the Vegetable Birianyi and the Chia Pudding with lime zest and kiwis. Those spelt pancakes are next on my list.
We were treated as valued guests but encouraged to make ourselves at home too. We even had a guest kitchen where snacks were available all day and you could make a tea or coffee for yourself.
The selection of herbal teas was almost as expansive as a tea store. My new friend Judy and I discovered the licorice tea among the 30 or more teas available (my favorite tea but new to her) and we exhausted the supply mid week. It was refilled the next day so I could continue getting my fix.
A Variety of Opportunities to “Get Out”
To get out in the fresh air and elevate our heart rate, we had two guided mountain hikes and time to take other walks or hikes as we chose. It's a popular cycling area as well.
I will return
I’m not exactly sure what made me feel like a million bucks, or even better, like I was 20 years old again. Was it the combination of organic, vegan food carefully prepared to supply all the daily nutrients we need? The gallons of licorice tea with health properties like eliminating heartburn and reducing stress? Twice daily meditation practice? Twice daily yoga practice (and especially the daily class of yin yoga which was new to me)? Laughing? Friendships? Mountain hiking? Eight or more hours of undisturbed sleeping? Or the lack of alcohol?
Even though I am retired and pretty much stress free, it is going to be hard to replicate all of this at home every day. But, I’m sure going to try. And I know one thing for sure. I’ll be heading back to Yoga Sutra Shala.
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Susan Carey retired in 2017 after a long business career most recently in animal welfare leadership. She writes about her experiences as a recent retiree living in Spain. Susan lives in Valencia, Spain with her husband, Jamie, and the senior pets they brought with them from the United States.