Are Yoga Retreats Worth It? My Experience In Costa Rica
The lush green landscape welcomed me with a blast of thick humidity as I stepped outside of the airport situated in Liberia, Costa Rica. A man stood ahead of me with a sign that read: Eco Lodge: Marina & Maria. I managed a small smile; dragging luggage around various airports for the last several hours was finally catching up to me.
If you had asked me (and my mom) a year or two ago if we had ever imagined ourselves journeying to Central America for a yoga retreat, we probably would have laughed.
At this point, my mom had been practicing yoga for well over three years. I was a fresher yogi, only really having dived into hot flows and various vinyasas for the past year and a half, but the more I did it, the more I went, and the more I loved it.
It seemed perfect when, in the summer of 2019, one of our favorite instructors posted that he was going to host a retreat in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, a destination that I had always been very interested in traveling to.
Fast forward a couple of months, and we were being transported via shuttle from the Liberia airport to our Eco Lodge, where we would spend the next seven days practicing yoga for three hours a day.
I had ventured on this trip with a completely open mind, and I was ready to let the week take me where it may.
Disclaimer: This yoga retreat took place in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This article was also written before most international travel was restricted. With places around the world slowly re-opening, we wanted to publish this article so you could get some information about yoga retreats so you are equipped for planning one in the future.
Make sure to check out Summer Travel During a Pandemic: What Now? for more insights.
First Things First: Make Sure to Manage Your Expectations
I usually travel 1-2 times per year. That being said, I’ve learned that it’s essential to manage expectations when going on any type of trip (retreat included).
Yes, I’m sure you want to snap all of the best photos. I’m sure you want to nail that yoga pose you’ve been trying to master for months, and I’m definitely sure you’re expecting everything to go perfectly.
Here’s my advice: it’s probably not in your best interest to go on a yoga retreat expecting some level of mental or physical transformation. There are many retreats that are marketed that way, and I’m sure that does happen for some people, but not for all, and that’s okay.
The reason I bring up expectations is that many times, when you have some sort of vision for “how things are going to go” planned out in your mind, more often than not, the reality just doesn’t live up to it. I believe the reason so many people are let down after traveling (and spending a decent sum of money) to go to a retreat is because their vision of what they “thought” was going to happen does not get fulfilled.
Now, I’m not saying your yoga retreat won’t be amazing! I’m just saying to go into an experience like this with an open mind, and remind yourself that you’re traveling to a beautiful destination to practice yoga. What can really be so bad about any of that? It’s up to you to make the most of it.
Okay, now that we have that part out of the way, let’s dive into some more details.
How Practicing Yoga At A Retreat is Different Than At Home
When it comes to practicing yoga at home, it’s usually squished in before or after a long workday (at least for me it is). The wonderful part about being on a retreat focused on yoga is that you can really disconnect from all those other day-to-day distractions and responsibilities that you would otherwise have to deal with.
I actually pushed myself more than I usually would in my yoga practice during this retreat.
I knew that if I pulled a muscle, or felt sore afterward, I wouldn’t have to sit in a desk and hammer away on a computer the next day. This was my time to really push my limits, and get outside of my comfort zone when it came to certain poses.
This retreat also opened me up to different styles of yoga that I wouldn’t normally practice at home. My go-to classes at my local studio are hot flows, but each class we were exposed to during this retreat was a slightly different style of yoga. Here are a few we engaged in:
There were also a number of modified classes, which I also enjoyed. One of our last classes simply consisted of 74 variations of different backbends, which is definitely not something I would have ever done if it was not a class included in the retreat!
Make sure to check out: How to Bring Your Yoga Studio Practice Into Your Home
My Yoga Retreat Schedule
The schedule was pretty consistent throughout each day: the morning yoga class began at 7 am sharp in the open yoga chalet situated down a cobblestone path leading away from the main lodge. We were able to enjoy stunning views of palm trees and cascading mountains. This class lasted for an hour and a half, followed by a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, coffee, eggs, and rice and beans.
After that, we were always free to do whatever we wanted, which was fantastic.
Our Eco Lodge sat high up on a hill, so it was quite private. Hammocks were strung throughout the open-air, communal lodge, and a pool with a gorgeous view of various greenery was ours to swim in, and lounge around. We were also able to arrange shuttles to beaches, and other places around Guanacaste.
A nice benefit of this retreat (and most of the yoga retreats out there!), is that there were a number of activities that were included in the overall cost such as:
- A self-guided “Monkey Walk” in the jungle area behind our lodge (we didn’t actually see any monkeys, but we were still able to enjoy a 2-hour hike!).
- A shuttle to Tamarindo for the day, a popular tourist town with a beach.
- A shuttle to Playa Avellanas, a stunning beach with a beautiful restaurant situated on it called Lola’s.
The second yoga class usually began at 5:30 pm, again lasting an hour and a half. Afterward, we were served dinner, which consisted of whatever vegetarian meal the Eco Lodge chef felt like creating that evening.
In my day-to-day life, I am not a vegetarian, but it was nice to be able to try out this type of meal plan for the entire retreat. Has this convinced me to give up meat in any way? No, I love my chicken and steak, but the resident chef really knew how to make mouthwatering meals.
The Benefits Of My Yoga Retreat
I was able to disconnect
A yoga retreat gives you a chance to step away from things such as social media. There was no way I was going to be sitting around scrolling on my phone for hours on end when there was so much beauty around me!
I loved waking up early and going straight to a yoga class without having to think about anything else that might be going on online, or back home.
It really gave me a chance to be present, whether that was during one of my classes, reading a book in a hammock, or watching the sunset on a stunning beach.
I was able to reflect and look inwards
It might sound cliche, but I came away from this yoga retreat with new understandings about myself. In total, I spent over 15 hours engaging in yoga, and as a result of that, I had an ample amount of time to really reflect and look inwards.
Without the “noise” of my regular life, I was able to more fully connect to some of my untapped emotions, and work out some things mentally. I feel like I know myself better than I did before I went on this retreat, which is an amazing gift to come away with.
I now view the “hustle and bustle” of typical North American life a little differently; I know that if I can pull on that internal peace within myself, external stressors won’t seem as detrimental.
I was able to deepen my yoga practice
I mentioned this a little bit already, but dedicating yourself to a yoga retreat, and all of those extra hours for your practice, is really going to deepen your overall skills.
I can more easily backbend. My inversions have immensely improved. I can more confidently go through a flow and hold a number of different poses.
More importantly, above all of the physical benefits, I was truly able to connect more deeply to the mind and soul benefits of yoga as well. It is even more important to me that I spend time in my everyday life on this essential form of self-care more than ever before.
I was able to meet people with similar interests
One of the best parts of this whole trip was how many different, amazing people we got to meet. There were around thirteen of us in total who came on this retreat, and all of us were from the same city. It was so amazing to get to know everyone, and hear their stories.
Beyond the people who actually signed up for the retreat, we were also able to meet and get to know the lovely people who actually worked at the Eco Lodge. I can now say I have friends in Costa Rica.
I was able to gain unique experiences and memories
Costa Rica was absolutely a bucket list destination for both my mom and I, and we can now both say that this is something that we were able to experience together, which is so special. I will never forget the pure beauty of this country, and I will definitely be back.
Should You Go On a Yoga Retreat?
In short, my answer would be yes.
I didn’t expect to enhance my yoga practice so immensely on this trip, but because I came with a very open mind and willingness to try anything, I was able to do this with the help of my instructor, and the talented people around me.
There are two essential tips I would recommend following before you go ahead and book your own yoga retreat:
- Research and choose your instructor wisely - this makes a huge difference!
- Pick a destination that you can get excited about visiting.
And really, if for no other reason, you should go on a yoga retreat because you deserve it.
Obviously times are a bit different right now, and you most likely won’t be traveling very far for a yoga retreat in the near future. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t think about all of these things, and start planning ahead for when you can do this!
Life is hectic, and there is never a “good time” to choose to do something. Time is precious and fleeting, and you can never get more of it back. So go ahead, take the leap, and get your yoga on.
Related article: Yoga Flow for Strength: Turn Up Your Power