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Take A Yoga Retreat That Scares the Heck Out of You

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If you think of yoga retreats as a way to escape the stresses of everyday life, you’re not alone. They can be a chance to unwind and let go of our worries. While there is certainly value in taking time to relax and recharge, a retreat can also be an opportunity to shake yourself up a bit. When you push yourself beyond your perceived limitations and face your fears head on, you may come away from the experience feeling exhilarated and energized. In fact, some of your most profound personal growth can emerge from doing things that unnerve you.

Why is that? The answer lies in our brain chemistry. When we confront a fear or challenge, our brain releases a surge of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin. These are often referred to as “feel good” hormones. Although we may not think of fear as a pleasant feeling, this rush of chemicals invigorates us, and makes us feel alert and ready to take on the world.

The benefits of facing something that frightens us go far beyond the immediate rush of adrenaline. R. Y. Langham, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Impulse Therapy, stresses the “importance of stepping out of our comfort zones to foster personal growth and development.” According to recent research, individuals who regularly engaged in “disruptive” activities,” such as trying new foods or traveling to unfamiliar places, reported greater personal growth and a stronger sense of identity than those who stuck to familiar activities.

Attending a yoga retreat may be an act embracing the unknown and engaging in new practices, but adding an extra element of challenge can be another way to push your boundaries.

“Often retreats are a good starting point to push past deeply embedded limits while also being supported by others who are on similar healing journeys,” says psychologist and health/lifestyle coach Laura Chandler. “The more you practice stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging in the social behaviors you might typically avoid, the easier it gets.”

It’s Okay to Ask For Support

While pushing your limits can be rewarding, knowing where to draw the line is an important part of travel. For example, if you get very seasick, a week-long sailing or kayaking trip may not be for you. It’s fine to take small steps to “build up your bravery;” advance as you become more comfortable.

A solo retreat in a far-away destination after a breakup may feel empowering or it may send you deeper into grief. Know yourself and plan something that won’t feel too overwhelming. If you suspect an activity will be emotionally challenging for you, make sure you have the support you need. You may want to consider scheduling time with your therapist before your retreat to gather some coping tools. Or travel with someone you trust to share the experience with.

When you’re stepping into discomfort, there will be challenges along the way—that’s the point of stretching yourself this way. But set yourself up for success, so you can emerge from your retreat feeling exhilarated.

Here are some ideas for reaching outside of your usual self-ascribed boundaries.


Go Far From Home

Venturing far from home exposes you to novel environments and cultures, enhancing cognitive flexibility and creativity, says Langham. Visiting a place that’s geographically or culturally distant from your regular environment can broaden your horizons in ways that are not only eye-opening but also life-changing. A trip to the southern hemisphere, such as Patagonia or New Zealand, might bring you closer to nature and give you a new perspective.

Build Up Your Bravery: Visit a neighborhood or a nearby town you’ve never been to.

(Photo: courtesy of Pure Pods, New Zealand)

Go Alone

Studies have shown that time spent alone leads to increased self-awareness and self-discovery. So if you’re someone who always travels as half of a couple or part of a group, book a solo retreat. 

“One of the first barriers in going on this self-explorative journey is the fear of doing it alone,” says Chandler. Going solo doesn’t mean you have to be completely isolated. Choose a location that allows you to do activities on your own or with others. At Alila Ventana in Big Sur, California, you can practice morning yoga, then take a solo hike around the property. You can also sign up for a gratitude sound journey, astrology reading, or cosmic yoga where you can explore the stars while you connect with your own body and mind.

Build Up Your Bravery: If it feels like too much to take an entire trip on your own, start small. Consider making reservations for one at your favorite local restaurant.

Go Where You Don’t Speak the Language

Studying yoga’s roots in India can be incredibly enriching, perhaps especially so if you’re also learning one of the country’s many languages. “Immersing yourself in a foreign language can improve your cognitive functions, such as memory and problem-solving skills,” states Langham. Plus, it’s a way to connect with people from different backgrounds. You don’t necessarily need to visit India to find a yoga retreat in another language; consider a trip to Greece or Thailand to connect to your yoga practice while immersing yourself in a different culture.

Build Up Your Bravery: If you’re not ready to jet-set off, consider taking a language class or downloading an app to learn the language of a country you intend to visit.

Swim With Sharks

Confronting your fears can help build resilience and self-efficacy. If you’re nervous in the water–or afraid of what’s in the water—try swimming with reef sharks and docile manta rays at Joali Being the Maldives. If you are afraid of insects, practice beekeeping at Carmel Valley Ranch, CA or book a bee venom facial at La Valise Tulum, which begins with a sound bowl healing and meditation. Feeling a bit uneasy in the dark? Consider exploring a dark retreat experience, which is said to offer an opportunity for enhanced clarity and deeper introspection. By immersing yourself in this environment, you may discover new insights and gain a sense of heightened awareness.

Build Up Your Bravery: Not ready to jump into the full experience? Find a Glow-ga class near you where you can flow in the dark while illuminated by glow stick necklaces.

Get Quiet

A silent meditation retreat can be challenging and even unnerving for some people. Spending time in silence has been found to promote self-regulation, stress reduction, and improved mental health, says Langham. It can be a powerful way to reconnect with your inner self. If you combine your silent journey with a few hours of forest bathing such as the experience at Spruce Peak in Stowe, VT, you can immerse yourself in the sounds of nature.

Build Up Your Bravery:  Spend an afternoon in a quiet place—the park, a museum, a comfy chair in your own home—with your phone turned off.

A woman in a white dress with blue flowers swings over the jungle in Bali.
(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)

Fly High in the Sky

Embarking on adrenaline-releasing experiences teaches us to manage anxiety and cope with stress more effectively. Get your heart pumping on a yoga retreat while swinging over the jungle in Bali or ziplining in St. Maarten. Feeling even more like a daredevil? Rappel the historic Queen Juliana Bridge in Curaçao.

Build up your Bravery: Start building your tolerance for being airborne with an aerial yoga or acro yoga class.

Push Your Body to the Edge

Your body is capable of incredible feats and exploring its potential can be transformative. Why else do we challenge ourselves with handstands and arm balances? “Challenging yourself with intense physical activities boosts self-esteem, confidence, and overall well-being,” Langham says. A combination of surfing and yoga can challenge your balance. A freediving intensive at the Four Seasons Haulālai could help you take your pranayama practice to another level.

Build Up Your Bravery: Take a scuba class that starts you in the pool before your instructor teaches you to scuba in open water.

Follow Your Dreams

Following your dreams and participating in activities aligned with our values fosters a sense of purpose and well-being, says Langham. Look for a retreat that allows you to immerse yourself in something you’ve always wanted to learn or do. Attend a writers’ retreat, enroll in a theater workshop, or join a wine-tasting getaway. There are all sorts of creative retreats that include an element of yoga or meditation, such as a Photography & Yoga Retreat, Stone Sculpting & Yoga Retreat or Yoga and Yarn Spinning. Depending on your interest, you can combine yoga with any type of creative activity from jewelry making to sketching.

Build up your Bravery: Start with a creative online class from home.


About Our Contributor

An internal medicine physician and yoga therapist, Ingrid Yang has been teaching yoga for more than 20 years and leads trainings and retreats all over the world.  She is also the author of the books Adaptive Yoga and Hatha Yoga Asanas. Find out more at

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