Meditation retreats can help you slow down, immerse yourself in stillness, and recharge your body and mind.
Whether you’re brand new to meditation or interested in enhancing your practice, you may wish to consider a meditation retreat.
Before you book a retreat, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with what to expect so you can make the most of your experience.
Meditation retreats can offer a period of rest and recovery from the busyness of everyday life. They allow you to immerse yourself in a peaceful, tranquil setting, where you may explore your inner world without all of the usual distractions.
“Meditation retreats consist of periods of time set aside to reset, rejuvenate, and examine the inner workings of your mind,” says Leah Silverman, a certified holistic wellness coach and registered yoga teacher in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area.
Kristina Lopez, MFA, a certified mindfulness teacher and death doula in New York City, adds that meditation retreats may help deepen your mindfulness practice by providing extra time to connect with your innermost self.
Meditation retreats happen all over the United States in areas such as:
- New Mexico
- New York
In other parts of the world, meditation retreats often take place in tropical locations like:
- Bali, Indonesia
- Costa Rica
Your accommodations will vary based on your destination and the specific retreat. You might lodge in a shared or private dorm, cabin, cabana or casita, tent space, or hotel.
When packing for a meditation retreat, you may wish to include the following essentials:
- comfortable clothing
- yoga or exercise clothing
- personal medications, if you take any
- any other necessary personal items
In addition, you may wish to bring other items for sleep and comfort, depending on your accommodations. If you’re staying in a hotel or meditation center, they will likely provide your basic sleep essentials.
“Many times bedding is included as well as towels and such, [but] sometimes not,” says Anne-Marie Emanuelli, the creative director of Mindful Frontiers, a meditation center in northern New Mexico.
It’s a good idea to research what will be provided for you on the retreat before you leave, so you can pack accordingly.
Meditation retreats vary in length, lasting anywhere from a weekend to a full week, month, or more.
According to Silverman, classic Vipassana (silent) retreats traditionally last 10 days but can be as short as 3 days.
Silverman suggests setting aside at least 5 to 7 days, if possible, to give yourself the chance to fully immerse yourself and relax.
The cost of a meditation retreat varies wildly. Among other facts, the cost depends on:
- the retreat’s location
- how long the retreat lasts
- the luxury status of the meditation center or retreat accommodations
The experience can range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Of course, many meditation retreats are expensive, making them inaccessible for lots of folks. If the price tag poses a barrier for you, there are other low cost ways to get the benefits of meditation.
Some cost-effective or free options include:
- listening to guided meditations
- using meditation apps
- streaming virtual seminars
- watching meditation videos
While you can certainly expect to meditate at a meditation retreat, you can often choose to do other activities as well. Every retreat will offer different programs and itineraries, but you can expect some common themes and activities.
Silverman says a typical schedule might include:
- meditation practices (e.g., morning yoga, breathing exercises, guided meditations)
- journaling breaks
- nature activities (e.g., sitting in gardens, walking through labyrinths, biking, hiking, swimming)
- lively activities (e.g., song circles, dancing, group ceremonies, local travel excursions)
- meditation philosophy (e.g., teaching sessions with guidance, background on the art of meditation, different meditation techniques, and answers to common questions)
Emanuelli adds that each retreat usually has its own overall theme. Some common themes include:
- meditation in nature
- Women of Color
- Buddhist philosophy
- social justice
- mental health
You might also spend time creating art if the retreat has musical, writing, or other artistic themes.
Or you could spend time in silence, contemplating or resting — especially if you go on a silent meditation retreat. Books, journals, phones, and other electronic devices are typically discouraged at silent retreats.
You can expect to eat healthy and delicious meals, too. Depending on your dietary preferences and whether you have any restrictions, you may have access to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, as well as organic fruits and veggies to enjoy.
Going on a meditation retreat may offer several wellness benefits, including:
- spiritual growth
- mental clarity
- a refreshed sense of well-being
- improved sleep quality
A key benefit of going on a meditation retreat is that it allows you to unplug and unwind. Other benefits may include:
- retreating from your daily routine
- rejuvenating and recharging
- deepening a personal meditation or mindfulness practice
- learning about new philosophies or spiritual traditions
- exploring different meditation perspectives and traditions
- reflecting on your relationships and yourself
- meeting people who share your values and interests
“We spend so much of our time glued to our screens or existing amidst media, advertisements, social media, texts, and emails,” Silverman says. “Meditation retreats give you a chance to experience time outside of the chaos of everyday life — the absence of noise allows you space for reflection, rest, and flickers of presence.”
Are the benefits backed by science?
Research supports the benefits of meditation retreats.
For instance, a
These results include:
- increased mindfulness
- lower levels of fatigue
- higher levels of overall well-being
In addition, a 2016 study on different types of meditation retreats suggests the following benefits:
- Intensive retreats lasting 1 week may improve task-based function and attention.
- Yoga and meditation retreats lasting 3 months may improve sensory function.
- Meditation retreats lasting 3 months may increase mindfulness and decrease cortisol.
- Metta meditation retreats lasting 1 week may improve compassion and resilience.
Before you go on a meditation retreat, here are a few things to consider to help you make the most of your trip.
What is your ultimate goal?
You might ask yourself what you want to take away from the experience. Your answer may help steer you toward a meditation retreat that’s right for you.
If you need further guidance, Silverman offers the following suggestions as you do your research:
- If you’re up for a challenge and want to embark on a daring journey into radio silence, you might want to look into silent retreats.
- If you’re seeking encouragement or wisdom, you could go on a retreat that includes philosophy lessons and discourse.
- If you want to find joy and playfulness alongside spaciousness of mind, you may opt for a meditation retreat that incorporates fun activities like song, dance, art, or group ceremonies.
- If you hope for adventure and culture, you might want to scope out retreats in exotic destinations you’ve always wanted to visit.
Try to keep an open mind
Emanuelli says that attending a meditation retreat with a “beginner’s mind” can be helpful, whether you’re a beginner meditator or not.
“Be open and willing to explore your inner self and the outer environment without expectation or goals,” she says.
Regardless of your skill level, every meditation session is unique and might bring up different experiences for you.
“Just know that in choosing to take the time to sit with yourself and witness yourself through meditation, you’re giving yourself an immense gift — even if your experiences don’t feel linear,” Silverman says.
During meditation, you may experience any of the following:
- total relaxation and peace
- intense waves of emotions
- old memories
- new insight
- a shift in perspective
Do your research
Research is an important starting point for any travel experience. Before you book a meditation retreat on a whim, it can be helpful to find out whether the retreat aligns with your needs, interests, comfort levels, and goals.
“Everyone is different and every retreat center has its own personality,” Emanuelli says.
It’s also a good idea to read online reviews and recommendations, as well as the teachers’ bios and credentials, especially if it’s your first retreat. Of course, the retreat should also feel right to you, so it may be helpful to listen to your intuition.
If you’re traveling to another country for the retreat, you may wish to find out whether:
- the retreat offers transportation to and from the airport
- the water is safe to drink
- the area is generally considered safe for tourists
You’ll also want to be mindful of any health concerns you have and ensure that you’re properly prepared.
“If there’s an underlying mental health issue present, the retreat could bring it up more strongly,” Emanuelli says. “If the participant is getting therapy, clearance from a doctor may be a good idea before going on a silent retreat.”
Not all retreats will have a medical or mental health professional on site. Using coping skills or speaking with a therapist virtually can help if there are no therapists or doctors at the retreat.
Plus, some retreats are designed specifically for folks with mental health conditions. These include:
- Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress Wellness Retreat in North Carolina
- Anti-Anxiety & Stress Relief Retreat in Florida
- The Wisdom of Loss & Trauma Women’s Retreat in Minnesota
And as with other retreats, these may come at a high cost. But you can always opt for free or more affordable options instead or seek the help of a therapist who specializes in holistic treatments like meditation.
Above all else, it helps to keep in mind that a meditation retreat is also a vacation.
“Meditation is a tool to bring you back to the moment so you can experience life with ease and in full color,” Silverman says. “Stay compassionate toward yourself, and in times of growth or struggle, remind yourself why you chose to take this journey.”
Take the leap
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not it’s a smart decision to go, you may wish to just take the leap if you can swing it financially.
“It’ll be unlike any experience you have had before,” Silverman says. “Unplug, detach, and see who you are when you step out of the context of the world around you. If this is something you feel called to do, it’s absolutely worth trying.”
If you decide that you can’t afford a meditation retreat right now or you choose not to go for another reason, that’s OK. Here are some ways to create a meditative experience at home for little to no cost:
- find online meditation courses
- try guided meditations
- use a meditation app
- join a free online seminar
- watch meditation videos on YouTube
- attend local workshops
- do yoga at home or at a local studio
A meditation retreat is a great way to deepen your mindfulness practice to improve your overall well-being by tapping into the power of the present moment.
“Meditation is a deep and impactful practice,” Silverman says. “You’ll likely face many emotions and gain insight into the inner workings of your mind [and] at some points you may feel intensely present and connected to the world around you,” she says.
When researching meditation retreats, you’ll want to factor in time, costs, and other logistics. It also helps to get familiar with the available offerings before you book your trip.
If you’re still wondering whether a meditation retreat is worth it, well, you won’t really know until you try it for yourself.