Retreat Yoga vs. Studio Yoga – What’s Better?

By: Courtney Gable, Fitness Instructor, Abington YMCA           Posted on: 03.08.2017

While physical location does not dictate your entire experience, it definitely plays an important role in it.  Since Yoga is about bringing yourself more fully into the world, into the present moment – to Here and Now, where you are at any given moment is, naturally, a part of that.

I’ve been a yoga instructor for 15 years and this past year, I had the pleasure of leading classes held at the Y’s beautiful Camp Speers in the Poconos. I witnessed firsthand how the different environment impacted classes.

In Yoga we aspire to come to the mat with a “beginner’s mind”, with discovery and wonder. This is true for all levels, from absolute beginner to advanced, and everyone in between.  A new place to practice, with new sounds, smells and views can lift that beginner’s mind higher into our conscious experience.

Being on a retreat can help us to let go of things we otherwise hold onto and allow us to focus on the present moment in a way that is different from our “regular” practice. That newness can be a wellspring. It is not the environment that makes it happen, the space merely helps you create the opportunity for yourself to expand your practice. It informs your experience and can be a phenomenal catalyst for greater awareness.

When you are on a retreat, it is not only about the things you get to do — it is also about the things you don’t (and can’t) do…on a retreat, your usual routine or distractions are gone (or at least greatly diminished). If, for example, you are in a geographic locale with intermittent mobile phone service, you may be more likely to turn off your phone altogether. You can, both figuratively and literally, unplug and get present, which is a gift in itself!

Also, with a ‘retreat mindset’ you may set for yourself a clearer intention, feeling as if you want to get the most out of your time there, and so you allow yourself to dive in deeper than you typically do when you’re in your familiar surroundings. You can more easily give yourself permission to be present.

A retreat, by virtue of its nature, is finite. Having that impermanence present as part of the practice can allow us to embrace and celebrate the present moment.

So… If all of these benefits come from a retreat setting, then why practice in the ‘regular’ studio at all? Well, that’s where the solid foundation of your practice is built and upon which you can truly blossom.

The real gift of a retreat is that you get to take what you’ve gleaned from your new experience, along with all of that discovery and wonder, and bring them back into your ‘regular’ routine – so that when you return to the same yoga classes that you have in the past, you can hear your teacher differently, listen to your thoughts differently, and explore your practice on the mat differently.

So…what’s better? The studio or the retreat? Truthfully, they are different, and mutually beneficial. Rather than getting caught up in the where of your practice, attend to the how of it.  As far as I’m concerned, more Yoga is better regardless of where it is practiced — it is better to have an attitude of exploration rather than Dogma about what your practice should be that really allows you to sink in and grow in and with the practice. There is always more to learn about Yoga and yourself. Explore as you can, when you can, where you can.

Yoga is a practice, and therefore, like anything that is a practice, it requires repetition. Commitment and consistency together are key for growth and development, and those take place in your ‘regular’ practice. It is your bedrock.

Namaste.  Courtney

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