Getting to the Heart of Retreats


“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.”  Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

When I think of retreats, I imagine practicing early-morning yoga, living virtuously on a plant-based diet for two weeks while detoxing my mind and body on a beach in Mexico. Even though my shoulders relax from up near my ears and my eyes widen at the prospect of such a retreat and some desperately needed time out, as I slowly exhale I return to the reality that yoga retreats are often way out of my budget. I also rarely have the opportunity to take a week off from running my business. I’d guess that this is the case for most people in recovery; we are often recovering from financial ruin and are barely getting by, never mind having the disposable income to book luxury retreats around the world.

But before dismissing the idea of a retreat because they are out of your budget, I want to get to the heart of what a retreat is seeking to offer. From this fresh perspective, I believe you can find a way to retreat, whatever your budget is. This might mean breaking away from the stereotypical yoga retreat and getting creative, but there is something out there for everyone to benefit from.

What is a retreat?

In its most basic meaning, “retreat” means to withdraw, or draw back. A scheduled retreat can be either time alone, or as part of a community experience where ideas and reflections are shared. Retreats are often held in rural or remote locations. In essence, they allow dedicated time for reflection, prayer, pilgrimage, or meditation. And you don’t need to be on a beach in Mexico to achieve this!

Retreats can have spiritual and religious meanings. For example, they are popular among Christians, who understand the purpose of a retreat to be an important part of their spiritual formation: dedicating time outside of one’s normal routine to commune with God. Many Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians organize retreats every year.

Spiritual retreats are an important part of many Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi communities too. A meditative retreat is an integral practice of Sufism, the mystical path of Islam. In Buddhist traditions many retreats are held in silence, and in some advanced practices they are held in darkness. They are considered an essential part of Buddhism.

So when you actually break it down, retreats are less about the luxury destination you travel to and more about the experience you are seeking to achieve: silence, rest, and reflection. Whether you are religious or not, by dedicating this time to retreat, you make an effort to step aside from your day-to-day responsibilities and go to a quiet place where you become more mindful and conscious.

A retreat experience gives you the space to pause, and come back to you; it helps clear the dust of your mind, reorder your priorities, and ground yourself in what is important in your life. You can step back into the world feeling refreshed, with more focus. And you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to achieve that! You don’t even need to leave your home.

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Alternative retreat ideas

Whether you’re traveling away from home or not, there are lots of ways for you to retreat within your budget.

Retreat ideas at home

  • Find a new hiking trail. Take a picnic, and spend 30 minutes to destress by meditating.
  • Go skiing/snowboarding. If you are lucky enough to live near a mountain, go snowboarding. Take the opportunity to be completely in the moment. This will give you a fresh perspective when you return to life off the mountain.
  • At-home sanctuary. Create an oasis at home: block out an evening on your calendar. Set aside a couple of hours where you turn off the TV and your phone, pull the curtains closed, play some meditation or easy-listening music, light some candles and put your favorite essential oils in a diffuser, and breathe. Take ten long deep inhales and exhales before meditating for a short while. Try to imagine you’re on a beach, by a river, or in any other setting that you may find relaxing. Afterwards, write some reflections in your journal and revisit your goals for the year. I try to practice this most days, and it’s a really great way to center yourself for the day.
  • Sharing circle. Visit a local park with a group of close friends and a picnic. Create a sharing circle where you check in with how you feel, what you’ve enjoyed about the year so far, and anything that you’re struggling with. Try not to offer suggestions or to “fix” others problems. Instead, create a space where your friends can feel heard and supported.
  • Organized adventures. Try an escape room activity or an obstacle course. They’re a great way to keep you in the present and focus your mind, as well as giving you the benefits of a physical workout!

Inexpensive retreats away from home

While these do cost money, they are relatively inexpensive compared to yoga and other wellness retreats around the world. The list ranges from as little as $6 per night to $620 for a week away (not including the plane fare).

  • Eco Venao retreat. Located on the Azuero Peninsula, Playa Venao, Panama. For just $6 per night, you can stay at this eco-friendly hostel located within a reforestation project. They have low-impact accommodations to suit everyone’s needs and budgets. You can take part in lots of activities like horseback riding, fishing, trekking, snorkeling, kayaking, or just unwinding on the beach.
  • Sivananda Ashram Yoga retreat. Located on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, this low-cost retreat has prices as low as $69 per night for camping. You can join this ashram for 6 a.m. meditations followed by hours of yoga, or simply relax in the retreats tropical gardens.
  • Caveland Hostel. Located in Santorini, Greece, this retreat is super affordable at just $18 per night. Choose from same-gender caves, spacious dorms, or historic apartments — there is something to meet your needs and your budget. Activities include movie nights, volcano and hot springs tours, and organized trips to sample the local cuisine. Prices start around $22 for shared dorms.
  • Black Mountain Retreat Center. Located in northern California, this center has a range of offerings including a silent retreat, qi-gong and tai chi classes, and an energetic outdoor workshop. They welcome people in recovery and offer 12-step workshops. Prices start at $59 per night.
  • Gratitude Cruises. These fellowship-centered sober cruises are the ideal way of taking a vacation with the support of a traveling convention. You’ll find 24-hour fellowship stations, AA and Al-Anon meetings, group excursions, and keynote speakers. There are two or three cruises to pick from each year, and you can expect to cruise around Asia, the Bahamas, Europe, and the Caribbean.
  • The Meditation Lodge Retreat. Nestled among the countryside, hills, and mountains near Alicante, Spain, this retreat center offers a quiet place for people in recovery to come and decompress. They provide guided meditations, visualizations, tai chi, yoga, and a range of other holistic treatments. Prices start around $615 for five nights and six days, excluding travel.
  • Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Located on the East Coast, Kripalu is a retreat that offers group stays or solo do-it-yourself retreats. Choose from hiking, yoga classes, or resting by the private lakefront beach. Prices start at $85 per day, including three meals.
  • SHE RECOVERS Creating Connection Tours. Dedicated to providing retreats for women, SHE RECOVERS has created more accessible tours in North America throughout 2019. Host cities have included Chicago, Toronto, Nashville, Vancouver, NYC, Seattle, and San Diego. Tickets are available on a sliding scale pricing from $60 to $80 for the day-long event. Attendees also have the option to contribute toward helping those who can’t afford the full price.
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Having been on a range of retreats throughout my recovery — from SHE RECOVERS events, to writing retreats in Canada — I can attest to how revitalizing retreats are. Not only do you get some much-needed rest, but you gain a fresh perspective which is restorative for the mind and body. I almost always return home feeling energized, and with lots of new ideas for creative projects. If you want to enhance your experiences in recovery, seek to retreat.

Note: Unless otherwise stated, some of these retreats are not geared specifically toward people in recovery, but instead are focused on overall wellness. That means that there may be people there who are dedicated to achieving wellness, but may not be in recovery and may drink, or that alcohol may be available.

Olivia Pennelle is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery.

Last Updated on May 30, 2024

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