Are 'Exotic' Yoga Retreats Worth Your Time and Money?

Yoga retreats in exotic locations are attracting a new generation of wellness enthusiasts.
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Are 'Exotic' Yoga Retreats Worth Your Time and Money?

Wellness retreats promise a luxurious space away from the chaos of home, where attendees can nourish themselves — inside and out. As international travel becomes more accessible and social media generates buzz around exotic locations, more of these retreats are popping up all over the globe. The skeptical among us might raise our eyebrows: do you really need to fly halfway around the world to find... yourself?

To understand what draws so many people to this experience, I spoke with San Francisco native Emily, who recently returned from a week at Bali’s Floating Leaf eco-luxury retreat.

Why You Should Be a Jetsetting Yogi (At Least Once in Your Life)

Ah, Bali. The lush island that was immortalized in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Eat, Pray, Love is now the stuff of Instagram dreams. Nearly 5 million tourists flocked to the tiny Indonesian province in 2016, many of them with wellness in mind.

Emily explained that she was inspired to register for a week at Floating Leaf after a particularly tumultuous year. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend of three years and was facing mounting pressure at her startup job.

After experiencing one first-hand, she challenges the glamorous media portrayal of yoga getaways: “I don’t think people should glorify meditation or yoga retreats. When you see the photos on Instagram, it looks amazing: this beautiful place where you’re just pampering yourself and forgetting the world. The reality is a little different, or at least it was for me.”

At Floating Leaf, attendees woke before 6 a.m. each morning for an intense outdoor session of meditation and yoga. They flowed through sun salutations in the sweltering heat, struggling to stay alert and fend off swarms of hungry mosquitoes. The routine can be physically and emotionally draining as much as it is nourishing. It calls for constant introspection, focus, and dedication to something outside of yourself.

“What I gained from the experience was this sense of having better control over my own mind,” Emily reflected. “In the meditation exercises, we focused a lot on breathing. It sounds so simple, but it made me aware of just how much my mind wanders. Even if I wanted to check my work email or text friends, I had to commit to the practice because I was surrounded by people who were going to hold me accountable if I didn’t. So I worked on strengthening that part of my mind that kept wanting to drift off somewhere else. And I’ve taken this sense of mindfulness back with me.”

Better control over one's thoughts is something most of us spend a lifetime striving for. Do we all need to go to a tropical island to find it? Absolutely not. But it's clear that a change of scenery can be a big help if you find yourself in a rut at home. And as I learned more about Emily's experience, I realized that this isn't the only perk of pursuing wellness abroad. 

She told me about her Balinese tour guide, who couldn't wrap his head around the fact that foreigners walk past one another without any acknowledgment. He explained to her that Balinese culture is rooted in a sense of community. People are born into tightly knit networks of relatives and neighbors. They spend a lifetime nurturing these connections, and in return, count on their networks for support at every stage in life.

Coming from the bustling metropolis of San Francisco, it was eye-opening to experience a culture where people smile at strangers on the street and take the time to build meaningful relationships.

“It sounds cheesy, but in a way, I went to Bali to ‘find myself.’ Instead, I ended up realizing that I crave this sense of community and belonging. Seeing the way Balinese people interact with each other made me want to build stronger relationships with people at work, reach out to old friends, and be more connected to my social circle in general.”

So… Is It Worth It?

The decision to invest time and money in a retreat is a deeply personal one. It might not be right for you now. But if you ever find yourself wanting to take a step back from normal life to reassess your inner and outer worlds, you might find that it’s just what you need. Think of it this way: you’re not just paying for a one-time experience. You’re paying for access to a community that will help you build new habits and perspectives. It’s almost ironic to call them “retreats,” when for people like Emily, they’re really about learning how to immerse yourself more fully in the world around you.

Ready to start planning your own wellness trip? This resource will introduce you to some of the top yoga destinations around the world, from Bali to Ibiza.

If you’d love to try a retreat but can’t make the financial or time commitment this year, don’t worry! Exotic locations might not be accessible to everyone, but yoga — and the sense of community and self it fosters — is. Some of the best wellness and yoga centers are in the United States. If you want to be even kinder to your wallet and get creative in the process, check out this guide on how to DIY your own yoga retreat.

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