Bend and Balance: Top Yoga Retreats

Follow your inner yogi to one of these top five retreats, each with different programs and amenities (or lack thereof) to suit your yoga vacation needs.
By Natalia Mironova
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Yoga in the Bahamas
FREE YOUR MIND (and the rest will follow): Stretch your limits on a yoga retreat  (courtesy, Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat)

The clanging of the wake-up bell jolts me out of deep sleep at 5:30 in the morning. At this time, most of God's creatures (and especially those of God's creatures lucky enough to be on vacation) are in the middle of their sweetest dreams featuring palm trees and fluffy clouds—or whatever else you're meant to be dreaming of at 5:30 in the morning while on holiday in the Caribbean. I rationalize that perhaps I've dreamt the jarring banging noise, too, and turn over in my spartan, but rather comfortable bed. But no—15 minutes later the ungodly noise begins again, reminding me that I only have 15 minutes to get out of bed and drag my barely conscious self to the mandatory meditation session. As I sit in a dark, hot, incense-scented room surrounded by candles and fellow yogis, I discover the only good thing about meditating in the dark at six in the morning: For the first hour everyone is trying to quiet their thoughts, so if you balance just right on your meditation pillow you may catch another hour or so of precious sleep.

My yoga vacation really did start out like a dream: I had traveled to a remote ashram on a beautiful island in the Caribbean, checked my New York City stress and neurosis at the door, and expected to emerge six days later a tan, poised, fit yoga goddess brimming with inner peace. Ever since I'd read Elizabeth Gilbert's bestseller Eat, Pray, Love I'd been dreaming of that relaxing mind-and-body-shaping yoga vacation. I could see myself shedding the tightness in my muscles and the extra pounds around my waste. I would take relaxing walks on the beach and perfect my chaturanga during daily yoga classes. Sure, I did read that the ashram experience might also involve scrubbing the floor in the temple and meditating at the wee hours of the morning, but those parts of the book didn't quite stick as much as the part about the girl nabbing the handsome Brazilian bachelor in the end and attaining complete happiness and peace. So when the grey haired taxi driver who dropped me off at the dock asked with a mischievous grin whether I really wanted to go to the ashram, I didn't quite know what he meant. Why wouldn't I?

I'd soon find out that if you expect to spend a week taking it easy and reveling in all the creature comforts you cherish in your everyday life at home, you may not exactly view an ashram experience as a perfect vacation. The shared bathrooms and sparse accommodations may not quite be your cup of herbal tea. Having survived my yoga camp experience, I have to say I did reach enlightenment on one thing—before you decide to embark on a yoga vacation, take some time to determine which type of yogi you truly are, and then pick the retreat accordingly.

Published: 12 Sep 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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