A Yoga Holiday in Thailand: Vikasa Yoga Retreat
I’ve always been interested in the idea of a yoga retreat. I’ve practiced on and off over the years, and have spent the odd day at yoga retreats in Nepal and India, but have never taken [made] the time to commit to dedicated practice, so when I did have the time and opportunity at the beginning of the year, I was booked up before you could say ‘downward dog’!
We were heading to Koh Samui, Thailand, for a holiday, and decided to explore the options available for a dedicated yoga retreat. We were planning to be in Fisherman’s Village for the start of the trip and so didn’t want to travel too far, so we limited our search to within an hour ‘s travel time. We were not looking for anything extreme – no mud eating or mandatory colonics – just somewhere we could work on our poses, learn to meditate, and nourish our bodies and minds with clean living for five days.
Vikasa’s offering was not the traditional yoga retreat format, whereby you join a group of individuals on a set date for an organised programme. They offered an alternative for those looking to follow their own programme with some degree of flexibility. We booked a retreat package for two people for five days, which provided us with a five night stay at the cliff-top resort including a healthy breakfast and dinner buffet, one-on-one yoga tuition daily, as well as unlimited group classes, use of the gym and pool, and a relaxing massage.
We met with our instructor, Betti, the day before our programme started. She took the time to get to know us and find out our interests, experiences and challenges, before pulling together a tailored plan, designed to help us both achieve our goals and overcome our difficulties. For me physically, this entailed lots of work to release my hip flexors, and mentally, the challenge was to quiet my mind and think less.
The programme looked pretty straightforward, but in reality was fairly demanding! As requested by Betti, we were up everyday at 6am (which at least had the benefit of ensuring we saw the sunrise). We would then walk to the yoga pavilion for the early morning group session which was 1.5 hours of breathing exercises, meditation and yoga, to wake us all up. Breakfast had already started by the time we finished, so we would walk back up the cliff to dive into a delicious buffet of fresh juice, herbal tea, omelette/eggs, salads, grains/pulses, fresh fruit, clean pancakes and a chia breakfast bowl of some sort. It was absolutely delicious and more than enough to set us up for the day. We took our time to enjoy a long breakfast, and then had just about enough time to go back to the room and freshen up before heading back to the pavilion for our one-on-one with Betti at 11am.
I thought our time with Betti would be used to improve our techniques and posture, however the yoga was not really the focus of the session. Each day was different, but over the course of the week, Betti talked us through, and had us practicing, a variety of different breathing exercises for different purposes. She had highlighted that yin yoga would be particularly effective for us as do a lot of weight training, and introduced us to the poses that would be most beneficial to us both, which we practiced everyday. (For those who are unfamiliar, yin yoga isn’t a flow, it’s a passive practice where you get into a stretch position and relax into for 3-4 minutes – which sounds easy, but these poses are not easy, the challenge is to feel the stretch and pulling and not tense up, just to breathe through and release). She also talked us through the background of yoga and meditation, and we tried many different meditation techniques over the week to see what would work best for us.
After our 1-1.5 hours with Betti, we would return to the room, very hot and sticky (we were in an outdoor yoga pavilion and the weather was particularly warm!) and we would normally then have a couple of hours spare to either duck in the pool, have a siesta, or walk down the road to the beach. The next group class that we were recommended was generally at 4pm or 6pm, and it was a varied programme – we tried pilates, group yin yoga, and group hatha yoga – each being around 1.5 hours to wind us down at the end of the day. After which, we would walk straight back up to the restaurant again for a delicious healthy buffet dinner. It took us four days before we realised we hadn’t actually eaten any meat – there were seafood and fish options, but generally we had been eating vegetarian – it had just been so wholesome and delicious, we hadn’t noticed anything was missing! On the days where we had the earlier class and therefore an earlier dinner, we joined a group meditation session in the evening – gong meditation and singing bowl meditation – although to be honest, these were a little late for me, with all the early starts and active days, I was falling asleep by 9pm when the classes started! Generally we were in bed and falling asleep by 9.30pm – certainly a very different holiday from what we’re both used to!!
The setting of Vikasa Yoga Retreat is very impressive, and the week was rounded off perfectly by an open air massage on the clifftop to the sound of the waves crashing beneath, which was also a part of the package.
On our last session with Betti, she talked us through recommendations to sustain our practice, photographed us in the poses so that we wouldn’t forget – and sent us everything by email to take away, along with recommendations of books to read and YouTube videos to watch. She was a fantastic support and inspiration to us, and has continued to be supportive since we left. She challenged us to 30 days of daily practice when we left (if we missed a day we had to start from day 1 again) and I was really pleased that I managed to weave it into my daily routine, so that I get up and do the breathing exercise and meditation that Betti recommended for me before I go about my day, plus I found a yin yoga class that I can join.
Admittedly now a couple of months has passed, maybe I’m not practicing every day still, but I have definitely incorporated a lot of the learnings into my daily life. I read the books Betti had recommended and definitely feel I have a deeper understanding and ability to work on myself physically and emotionally, and I’ll definitely be looking into more yoga retreats in the future. I’d highly recommend it for a short break, if you want to come back feeling refreshed and inspired – and if you are planning on going, make sure you look Betti up and say hi from us!