Yoga isn't only asana. And practice doesn't only happen in the studio. Yogis have been wagging their finger about this for a while, watching the exponential growth of postural-focused yoga across the West. After all, yoga is an eight-armed philosophy that involves a lot more than gentle stretching; it's meditation, acts of service, self-discipline, and so much more. Perhaps we've been listening, because something big is happening in wellness tourism. The yoga retreat bubble has burst. Dedicated yoga retreat centers are diversifying. That means retreat weekends are offering yoga alongside everything from gardening to contemporary dance. Maybe it's over-saturation. Maybe it's our short attention spans. Whatever the reason, you'll see fewer hatha and vinyasa intensives, and more multidisciplinary programming. Sure, we could chalk it up to market differentiation -- but maybe it's something deeper. Perhaps it's a reflection of our integration of yoga into other areas of life.
This spring Australasia has some of the most diverse and creative retreat programming to date. It's an opportunity to take yoga off the mat and into the garden, the kitchen, your relationships, and even your gym workout. I've been traveling across New Zealand and Australia for the past year visiting stunning yoga venues and hidden mountaintop ashrams -- and I can assure you, this region has some of the most amazing spaces to explore and deepen your practice.
Here are my picks for the most interesting and surprising offerings to bring healing, renewal, and lots of learning this season.
More than Asana: The Most Creative Yoga Retreats This Spring
Yoga + Gardening
Permaculture Design & Yoga Retreat
Anahata Retreat Center, Golden Bay, New Zealand
Upon completion of this 17-day course, you'll not only earn your Permaculture Design Certificate issued by The Institute of Earthcare Education Aotearoa, you'll also visit inspirational permaculture properties, and design a comprehensive land-use project. Yoga, deep relaxation, and meditation are woven into the daily schedule. Anahata director Swami Karma Karuna Saraswati says the blending of the two curricula, "brings you a unique combination of inner ecology (yoga) with the outer ecology (permaculture)."
The daily schedule is packed with lessons in organic gardening, grey water systems, and permaculture implementation -- with morning and evenings incorporating hatha yoga, Sanscrit chanting, and kirtan. Karma Karuna describes it as an exploration of "deep ecology", or "the connection to nature and element-themed yoga practices aimed at enhancing personal sustainability that extends out into the wider community."
And the Anahata team members practice what they preach. Located in Golden Bay near New Zealand's Abel Tasman National Park, the center itself runs on solar power, has four different examples of straw bale and earth buildings, an extensive natural waste water system, and organic gardens and orchards.
Yoga + Mountaineering
Wellness Adventure Retreat
Aro Hā Retreat, Queenstown, New Zealand
This six-day retreat incorporates outdoor adventure and cross training with yoga and nourishing clean eating. Aro Hā has a team of activity-specific experts to mentor you through the daily schedule, ranging from yoga teachers to alpine tramping guides. It may sound like an adult summer camp, but it's luxuriously appointed, outfitted with a five-star chefs and a sumptuous spa. A six-day package with a king suite overlooking the Southern Alps will run you $6K, but for those who have the disposable income, this resort spares no expense to keep its clients comfortable and its business environmentally sustainable.
"Expect your body to become lean, strong, and flexible, as your mind becomes calm, clear, and present," says owner and program director Damian Chaparro. Think sunrise vinyasa, 10k sub-alpine hikes, strength training, massage, restorative yoga, and mindfulness meditation. "Most who come to Aro Hā aren't looking for just one aspect of health; they're looking for an adventure that addresses the neglected parts," Chaparro says. "Maybe it's physical, maybe it's spiritual, maybe it's just a nature deficit. It's hard to know what we are missing until we've found it."
See a sample schedule and more info here.
Yoga + Live Music
Wanderlust Festival - Sunshine Coast
Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
The epitome of the diversified yoga trend, Wanderlust festivals are traveling the world with a lineup of live music, sustainable food, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking. However, yoga remains the steadfast main attraction. Over three days the festival showcases world-class teachers from all over the world, as well as the newest and most creative yoga fusions like acroyoga, slackline yoga and SUP yoga. A veritable smorgasbord of different yogic traditions - kundalini, hatha, vinyasa, yin - Wanderlust is the perfect opportunity to taste test different techniques. "Wanderlust is for people starting out, or for those who want to advance their journey," says Jonnie Halstead, Festival Director, "it's a gateway to explore a richer, deeper level of the yoga and mindfulness experience."
Each night of the festival is capped with a full-scale live performance--this year's headliner is none other than Aussie heartthrob Xavier Rudd.
Located on the gold sand beaches of Australia's Sunshine Coast, this festival offers some of the most beautiful scenery and diverse programming anywhere in Australasia.
Check out the lineup here.
Yoga + Silence
Mini Silent Meditation Retreat
Ohui Retreat, Whangamata, New Zealand
If a 10-day silent vipassana retreat sounds a bit too intimidating (or if you've signed up and chickened out multiple times, like me), consider a softer initiation. Ashram Yoga offers three and five-day silent retreats at Ohui Resort that are powerful without being overwhelming. "The beauty of the silent mediation retreat at Ohui is that it combines Raja yoga meditation practices with asana classes, pranayama, yogic relaxation and kirtan, to create a holistic experience and support the long meditation sessions," says Ashram Yoga director Atma Okan.
Located at Opoutere Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, Ohui is a family-run ashram-style center set on a 20-acre property of native bush and private beaches. The warmth of the community and shared accommodation ensures you won't feel isolated or alone during the stillness of silence.
"Being in silence also gives people an opportunity to perceive the more subtle energies and aspects of themselves," says Okan, "allowing a deeply creative and inspiring understanding to arise from within."
Yoga + Dance
Bare Bones Dance Meditation Weekend
Mana Retreat, Coromandel town, New Zealand
This weekend retreat combines dance and meditation to deeply shake up your self-awareness. The practice is said to "build muscular intelligence"--that is, kinesthetic awareness, or the understanding of how your body moves through space, as a tool for cultivating a present mind. The completely judgement-free, body-positive environment allows you not only to sweat out anxieties and stress, but also find a liberation from self-criticism and inhibition. Lucie Nerot, one of the founding members of Open Floor International, describes the environment as, "a place where you can be and move exactly as you are. As we expand our movement vocabulary, our emotional and relational skills expand, and we learn to use our minds in new and creative ways."
Held at the Mana Retreat Center on the tip of the Coromandel peninsula, lodge-style accommodation is cozy and comfortable, and the vegetarian cuisine is hearty and garden-fresh. The glass-walled temple and practice space gives panoramic views of the island-studded sea.
Yoga + Massage
Castaway Yoga Retreat
Sanctuary Retreat Center, Mission Beach, Australia
This five-day retreat is hidden on a mountaintop in the Australian rain forest. A four-wheel drive truck picks you up from the bus stop and hauls you up the steep hill to the yoga sanctuary overlooking the ocean. This retreat is a decided departure from the disciplined routine of ashram life, and is most suited for the less traditional yogi looking for contemporary fusions and creative interpretations. Teachers Jules Ashby and Angelina La Miette combine their expertise in acroyoga, Iyengar, Thai massage, and circus arts to create what Ashby hopes will, "enliven and motivate people to connect, take flight, and most of all play."
Morning and evenings are scheduled with vinyasa and meditation, followed by workshops covering acroyoga and massage, as well as self-actualization exercises like vision boarding and stream-of-consciousness journaling. The loose and customizable schedule allows for free time to hike, swim, or even snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.
Find more information here.
The retreat bubble has burst, and there's only one thing to do about it: attend a wider range of yoga events! Here's to a more dynamic and creative lineup of retreats this season, and for many seasons to come.