Wondering How to Choose a Yoga Retreat? 44 Important Questions to Ask First.
PHOTO: ralph ravi kayden VIA UNSPLASH
Yoga retreats are real-life adventures brimming with potential for physical, mental, and emotional growth; so it's important to choose wisely. Knowing what questions to ask before you go and how to choose a yoga retreat that's right for you will help ensure you get the extraordinary experience you're looking for.
But with 5,294 yoga retreats listed on just one of the major booking platforms - and so many more offerings from independent instructors - where does a retreat-seeking practitioner begin?
In this piece, we cover the five the most important factors (and 44 specific questions) to consider when choosing a yoga retreat, one surprising retreat option that’s gaining serious traction, and a few things to keep in mind upon your return.
Use the table of contents below to jump to a particular section of interest or, to make sure you tick off all the boxes, scroll on!
How to Choose a Yoga Retreat Factor 1: Purpose
Why are you going on a retreat?
Getting clear on why you are looking to go on a yoga retreat in the first place is arguably the most important step in your decision-making process. Not only does taking the time to really zero in on what you’re wanting out of a retreat quickly narrow your options, it helps ensure that you’ll have a great (and maybe even life-changing) time.
Are you looking to go on a retreat to improve your access to more challenging poses? In that case, a retreat that includes workshops on backbends or inversions might be something to consider.
Would you like to learn more about yoga philosophy and history? Then a retreat that weaves yoga principles and foundations might top your list.
Are you looking for a retreat to do double-duty as a vacation? Then factors like location, scenery, and opportunities for cultural immersion might rank high in your search.
Maybe you’re looking to pair your retreat with a soul search of sorts. In that case, retreats with personal growth themes should probably carry heavy weight as your mull over your options.
Here's a quick exercise that might help get clarity on the purpose of your retreat:
4-Steps to Yoga Retreat Clarity
...a pen and pad of paper, then settle down with a cup of tea.
Set a 5-minute Timer
Scribble down all of the reasons why you want to go on a yoga retreat. Don’t fret with penmanship here, just take pen to paper and let those reasons fly!
When 5-Minutes is Up...
Tear off your brainstorm sheet, then make a 2-sided table that looks like the one below. Assign each reason to just one side of your table.
Keep Your List Close
As you search for potential retreats, use your Must-haves list help you create a shortlist of possible retreats, then use your Nice-to-haves to help you make your final determination.
How to Choose a Yoga Retreat Factor 2: Place
Is your heart already set on a specific location?
If so, you might breeze through this section. But, if you don’t have your eye on a specific dot on the map or if you want to make sure you’ve really thought through all place-based retreat implications, then consider the following:
Domestic or Abroad?
If you’re eyeing a retreat outside your country of residence, be sure to factor in currency conversion (which may have unexpected impacts on your budget), language barriers, and whether your passport is up to date (which may impact your travel timeline).
It’s also wise to check with your health insurance carrier with respect to what your policy covers when traveling abroad.
What Would Happen in the Event of Inclement Weather and/or Aggravating Insects?
I’ve always wanted to include one of my all-time favorite lyrics/life mantras in a blog post and, ladies and gents, I am thrilled to announce: that moment has arrived!
“You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” – from Ms. Jackson by Outkast
At some point, we’ve all planned a pretty picnic that howling winds or torrential rains ruined.
While you can certainly decrease the chances that your retreat will be impacted by crummy weather by checking out whether the retreat dates align nicely with monthly historical temperatures at your location, it’s worth looking really closely at the retreat venue and format to make sure that the planned activities can still go on in the even in uncooperative weather.
And, while you’re checking the temperatures, there are two other metrics to keep an eye on: humidity and air quality.
Depending on where you’re going, humidity can be a strong indicator of whether unexpected retreat-goers might be in your midst, i.e. bugs.
If you have asthma, allergies, or another respiratory condition, air quality can be a significant factor in how comfortable you will be on your retreat.
Are There Safety Issues?
Whether you’re traveling with a group or alone, it’s smart to check into the current socio-political status of your destination. Sociopolitical unrest can impact the overall safety of the retreat and even access to and the cost of basic needs like food, water, travel, and fuel. The US Department of State provides up-to-date travel advisories and even a color-coded, world at-a-glance map that can help inform your travels.
Isolated or In The Heart of it All?
There are retreats all over the world, which means you can get as far away from it all or in the thick of it all as you’d like. Before you book, consider whether you’re looking for an experience that feels removed from hustle and bustle or a more lively experience with extracurriculars to immerse yourself in.
And, if the latter sounds good, find out whether extracurriculars like cultural immersion or sports-like activities are included in the retreat itinerary. If they aren’t, it’s possible the retreat hosts have connections to guides in the area.
Whether they do or not, you still might have to arrange your own transportation for any off-site activities if you don’t have access to a vehicle.
Lux or Rustic?
What kind of venue or you looking for? Does it matter whether the accommodations are high-touch and super cushy or are you comfortable in a community bunkhouse?
This particular consideration will likely have a big impact on your budget. Keep in mind though, that you can play around with retreat length and location to get what you’re looking for. For example, if a weeklong super-luxe retreat across the country will bust the budget, maybe a weekend-long retreat within driving distance of your home will come in at the right price.
And speaking of price…
How to Choose a Yoga Retreat Factor 3: Price
Have you figured our your budget yet?
Another way to quickly whittle down your “which retreat is right for me” search is to commit to a specific budget range. Keyword: commit. Nothing can suck the wind out of your “I just got back from this amazing retreat!” sails than the hard realization that you will be paying that retreat off for the rest of the year.
To make sure there is no retreater’s remorse in your experience, be sure to get answers to the following questions for each retreat you’ve got your eye on:
If you’re looking to save money, here are a few more questions you might ask:
How long – and when - can you go?
Another key question to ask yourself is “ How long can I really be away for and when can I be away?”
While your budget and the time you can get away from work will largely limit which specific retreats you can go on, they won’t necessarily limit your options for a great retreat experience by much. Why?
Because there are retreats ranging from as short as a day to as long as a month that are held all over the world and with varying retreat formats and intentions. No matter how long you can go for or when you can go, there will be something just right for you.
How to Choose a Yoga Retreat Factor 4: Format
What can you find out about the feel and flow of the retreat?
In terms of the overall experience, the retreat format is a big one. This has to do with everything from class style and itinerary to the number of students and instructors.
So, circle back to your brainstorm on your reasons for wanting to go on a retreat, because that comes into play here.
Some retreats are designed for beginners.
Some retreats are focused on helping attendees make progress in certain poses like backends or inversions.
Some retreats are focused on a single yoga style like Asthanga or Yin, whereas others offer mixed disciplines.
Some retreats dedicate serious itinerary time to yoga history and philosophy.
And, again, some will be centered on personal growth themes like self-discovery, self-love, or working through grief.
Dig deep into the details on the retreat offering to make sure it’s going to offer you what you’ve come searching for.
Other considerations here include:
What’s the estimated number of attendees and is there an attendee cap?
Put some serious thought into how many attendees you’d be comfortable sharing this experience with. Maybe you’re a beginner with a “the more is merrier” perspective because you feel like you can get comfortably lost in the milieu.
Or, maybe you’re a beginner who wants a smaller group so they’ll get lots of opportunities for hands-on guidance. This all depends on your personality and, again, what you’ve come looking for.
How many instructors will there be?
For reasons similar to those listed in the previous consideration, it’s good to go in with knowledge of how many instructors will be hosting the retreat.
Will there be meditation and chanting?
And, if so, are you comfortable with that? Can you get comfortable with that?
Is the retreat secular in nature or will there be religious references?
And, do you have a preference between the two?
Will there be downtime for relaxing or for extra-curricular activities?
Some retreats are more insular in nature, meaning retreat-goers are really there for one thing and one thing alone – the retreat. Others weave other options into the retreat experience.
How to Choose a Yoga Retreat Factor 5: People
We’ll break this one down into two sub-considerations: Instructor(s) and Attendee(s).
Someone who has a leading role in your retreat experience is, of course, the instructor. Now, maybe your favorite instructor is hosting a retreat and s/he is the reason you are going on it. Great! Then you’re going into your retreat with a good idea of what to expect in terms of teaching style, personality, and tone.
If your favorite instructor doesn’t host retreats, you can ask him or her or the studio they teach at if they have any instructors in their network that they know and trust who are hosting retreats.
Now, maybe you don’t have a favorite instructor or a home studio, but you know you want to go on a retreat. Before you book, do some digging into the hosting instructor(s).
If they have a YouTube channel, Facebook page or Instagram account, you can spend some time on those outlets to get a feel for the instructor’s personality and philosophy.
You can reach out to hosting instructors directly to ask for referrals or even for a quick chat. During that chat, you can get answers to some of the questions we’ve covered so far, questions like:
Ladies and gentlemen, if I may once again point your attention to the sage wisdom of Outkast:
“You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”
What I’m getting at here is this: while you might be able to get a good feel for your instructor prior to your retreat, what you can only find out when you arrive is who else you will be sharing your experience with. It’s something entirely out of your control, so it's probably not best to worry much.
Just know that, just like anywhere else in life, there will likely be other attendees that you hit it off with right away and others that you identify as someone you might not need to spend too much downtime with.
Come what – or who – may, stay positive; be kind and be patient; and, if all else fails, tell anyone who’s killing your retreat vibe that you’ve taken a vow of silence to enhance your retreat experience.
Where Can I Start Looking for Yoga Retreats?
There are three main places to look for retreat options.
First, you have online clearinghouses like Book Yoga Retreats
and Book Retreats. These offer easy-to-use search engines and features like free, personalized recommendations and the ability to create a retreat Wishlist.
Should you choose to limit your search to online clearinghouses, however, you might miss out on retreats hosted by smaller studios and independent instructors. More on these now…
Option two is through a studio. Studios often support or even co-host retreats with instructors. This is a great way to find a retreat where you might already know the instructors and perhaps even some of the attendees!
Last, we have independent retreats, retreats hosted by instructors who are not affiliated with a studio or online engine. These instructors often run their own yoga businesses and can often be found via their YouTube channel, Instagram or blogs like this one!
THIS Type of Yoga Retreat is Growing in Popularity
Did you know, there are amazing, affordable retreats that you can go on, like, immediately after you read this guide?
The world of online instruction grew exponentially in the COVID-era and made educational opportunities and truly transformative experiences – yoga retreats included - that were once far off available to us in our own homes.
But, I can’t get the same results from an in-person retreat at home, can I?
It might be surprising to hear, but lately, 8 in 10 practitioners are practicing yoga at home using online or streamed services.
A 2021 survey of nearly 11,000 yoga practitioners from over 120 countries found that some of the reasons why practitioners actually prefer doing yoga at home include convenience (71%), cost (46%), and privacy (33%). (SOURCE: DoYou Yoga)
And there are more reasons why practicing at home might even make for a more meaningful practice...
On retreats, there is a physical distance, a sense of “I am away” which makes it a bit easier to feel relaxed and find a sense of peace. We have few, if any, responsibilities during a retreat.
But, when we get back home to our real lives where the conditions aren’t so accommodating, it’s really easy for some of that transformation - that yoga retreat glow- to begin to fade.
Within days or weeks of coming home, we might find ourselves back in the grip of that anxiousness and unease we feel in our day-to-day lives.
During an at-home retreat, you are practicing where you actually live and under the conditions in which you actually live. Ultimately, the transformation is happening right where you need it to in order for it to last – at home.
So, what’s an example of an online yoga retreat?
I’m biased, for sure, but I offer The Anxiety Relief Retreat.
The Anxiety Relief Retreat is an eight-hour, stay-at-home, go at your own pace retreat designed specifically to soothe an anxious soul. In it, we use three modern-day survivor tools—yoga, mindfulness meditation and journaling—to manage and recover from anxious moments.
Why I created The Anxiety Relief Retreat:
I wanted to share this retreat because it’s the same one I put together in my own home to help me re-find my peace and purpose, and, honestly, gave me my sense of self and excitement for my life back.
I wanted to help others – yogis and newcomers alike – by providing them with a resource that not only offers an opportunity to put their anxiety on pause but also helps them lay the foundation for long-term, sustainable anxiety relief.
And I wanted to help them achieve that in a faster and repeatable way so that when life gets unpredictable, they already have a familiar and reliable path to return to.
And that’s another thing that’s so beautiful about many online retreats like this one. Once you buy them, you have continuing access to them. You can return to them again and again, essentially taking a retreat once a month, or more often, if you need it.
Ok! I understand the factors I need to consider AND where I can find retreat options. Now...
How Do I Choose the Best Retreat FOR ME?
Start by using your Must-haves and your research on each of the five key retreat factors to come up with a short list of less than ten retreats. Then, use your Nice-to-haves to narrow your list further, ideally to three or fewer options.
At that point, there are two completely legitimate ways to make your final determination.
Go with your Gut!
Got an inexplicable feeling that one retreat on your list is The One? Then book it! Don't look back. Have an amazing time and send me a postcard (or just tag me on the 'gram).
Make a Priority Pyramid
If you like your intuition served with a heaping side of analytics, then you might like to try making a Priority Pyramid.
This looks like prioritizing your retreat wants and needs in a visual way that helps you compare retreats. It works best when you’ve narrowed your retreat options down to five or less. Here’s how to do it:
How to Make a Priority Pyramid
Review the 5 Factors
Have another look at this list of the considerations we’ve covered: Purpose, Place, Price, Format, and People.
Choose Priority 1 and 2
Decide which are the most important one or two factors in your search, place those as 'blocks' on the base of your pyramid. Hint: friend to friend, one of these should be Purpose.
Repeat and Factor in Sub-Factors
Choose the next one or two most important factors and place those blocks on the next tier of your pyramid. If a sub-factor ranks high on your list, for example, Climate under Place or Number of Attendees under Format, you can give that sub-factor its own block in your pyramid.
Finish Your Pyramid
Keep going until you’ve built a Pyramid, with the least-pressing nice-to-have on the top.
When you are done, your Priority Pyramid might look like this:
With your Priority Pyramid in hand, work through each priority block and pencil in each retreat on your shortlist that meets that priority. In effect, the retreat whose name is written the most on your priority pyramid will likely be a great option for you.
Notes on Returning Home From a Retreat
If you’ve never been on a retreat before, there are some things you should know about coming back.
First, you may not experience the life reboot you were looking for. This can be hard. My advice here is two-fold.
One, keep your expectations for your retreat optimistic and realistic. And, two, cherish the experience for what it was and what it wasn’t.
Maybe you didn’t find clarity on the thing you really needed it on, but maybe you make two wonderful new friends. Maybe a backbend remains out of your practice for now, but you learned a new meditation that will help you fall asleep faster.
Second, you might actually experience the life reboot you were looking for. This can be hard, too.
Maybe you did find clarity and perspective that you will need to follow up on back home. In this instance, take your time in that follow up and make a thoughtful plan for acting on those discoveries in due time.
Holding on to that Zen Feeling: Yourself
You might be frustrated to find that you have lost that Zen feeling once you settle back into your real life or maybe you have difficulty maintaining your progress or learnings. That is okay. Be patient with yourself.
While a yoga retreat can certainly facilitate growth in areas you’ve been wanting to work on mentally, emotionally, and physically, it doesn’t work like a light switch.
And, yes, while you can expect a yoga retreat to throw several healthy logs on your yoga-life fire, you can't expect that fuel to last forever. Your yoga practice will always be just that, practice. Meaning, you will have to continue to fuel it.
So take your yoga retreat learnings and let them smolder for a bit. You might think the flame of progress or insight has flickered out, but it's all there, a hot bed of embers waiting to connect with whatever form of fuel you feed it next - waiting for something to ignite.
Holding on to that Zen Feeling: Your Surroundings
It's true, when you return home, you might not be the "same" person you were when you left. You may feel a disconnect from the people and places in your day-to-day life. That disconnection? It can feel anything but Zen. One way to extend the Zen is to practice applying the same principles upon your return as you did upon arrival at your retreat: stay positive, be kind, and be patient.
You might want to desperately explain your experience - or maybe even your transformation - to others and for them to understand it. And they might not get it. This, too, is okay. Remind yourself that, you went on a life-changing trip, they didn't.
Aside from being positive, kind, and patient, what you can do is hope that by sharing just a few of the highlights of your adventure, you will inspire others to strike out on their own.
Questions? Experiences to Share? Enter them here.
I’m so glad you’re thinking about joining a yoga retreat. My wildest hope for this piece on how to choose a yoga retreat is that it helps you find a yoga adventure that will inspire you to take many, many more.
If there are additional questions you have, please enter them into the comments below.
Seasoned retreat takers - please share your best bits of yoga retreat advice there, too!
PHOTO CREDIT, TOP TO BOTTOM: LAKE BY IAN KEEFE VIA UNSPLASH; WOMAN MEDITATING AT SUNSET BY JARED RICE VIA UNSPLASH; WOMAN IN HALF MOON POSE BY JADE STEPHENS VIA UNSPLASH; MAN MEDITATING NEAR LAPTOP BY WINDOWS VIA UNSPLASH; WOMAN IN CHILD'S POSE BY LUNA ACTIVE FITNESS VIA UNSPLASH