What Your Meditation Retreat Will Really Be Like

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So you’re booked for a meditation retreat. Don’t worry about how you got to this point — whether it was your wife, colleague, or a hangover-inspired promise — in all likelihood you’re going to be better for it. Meditation is great for you (research agrees). And let’s face it, you know what a booze-filled weekend at a Caribbean resort holds. Still anxious? Here’s what to expect.  

Cushions. But also hiking.

“Just like there are so many types of trails and campgrounds, there are many different styles of retreat centers,” says Larissa Hall Carlson, yoga instructor and Ayurveda wellness expert at the Kripalu Center of Yoga and Health, so do your research and choose wisely. Worth noting: You may see a lot of meditation classes on the retreat schedule and expect to be sitting on a cushion for eight hours a day in complete silence. Actually, a lot of retreats focus on walking meditation classes (many of which where you'll be strolling outdoors), sound meditation classes, mindfulness lectures, and more, so you won't be glued to a cushion all day.  

Music, yoga, art, and a bunch of stuff that doesn’t look like meditation.

“There are lots of meditation techniques, and it’s so important to taste test and find which one you connect with best,” Hall Carlson says. “It’s like taking on a new job or trying a new sport—commit to a technique and develop the skill.” This means, you may be participating in an intense yoga class or lying down in a "sound meditation" session where an instructor plays a variety of vibrating tonal instruments. You can meditate while hiking if you like to focus on landscape or wildlife. Injured? Try yoga nidra meditation, which is done lying down and allows you to imagine yourself coming back from your injury, which research has shown can actually help recovery

Pretty great food.

Most centers aren’t vegetarian only, so you won't be eating veggie scraps and brown rice all week if that's what you envisioned. But they do have a focus on clean, light eating — so don’t expect a steak and whiskey for dinner. “Eating a lighter diet allows your body to experience a sort of detox through the length of the retreat,” Keith Mitchell, former NFL Pro-Bowl linebacker and founder of the Light It Up mindfulness foundation, says. 

Young people, mostly women, and, yes, people in transition.

Most retreats will have a nice mix of age. Millennials, people who are in mid-life transition, or even seniors who took up meditation for health are all retreat-goers. Age or gender doesn’t give any clue as to how long someone has been meditating or if this is their first retreat. Statistically, there are usually more women, but there is always a good show of men, too. “Retreats are just for people seeking out ways to feel better,” Hall Carlson says. “No need to worry about level of experience or your state of being. Everyone there is in the same boat as you, and they are welcoming and guiding so you can feel successful.”

Massages, wildlife excursions, and even booze.

Choose a center where you've got plenty of options to do your own thing. Some solid bets include Menla in New York's Catskills' (think "R&R Hiking Getaways" with plenty of trails-time, afternoon spa sessions or swimming, early evening wine receptions, and nighttime bonfires); Ghost Ranch in New Mexico (where you can book rafting, kayaking, or horseback trail-riding excursions); Kripalu in Massachusetts (private lakefront beach, hiking trails on property, and BYOB OK'd); and Deer Lake Lodge in Texas (spa treatments, acupuncture, and ample woodlands). Wherever you've wound up, carve out time daily to enjoy activities you do during your regular life like swimming or running. This will keep the retreat from feeling rigid and will help you practice fitting meditation into your daily life when you're back at home longing for long runs in summer rain, chirping crickets, and trying not to crack up over that one teacher who took crystal healing too seriously.