What is a retreat?

“the act of total self-abandonment in desire…”


In religion or in a spiritual sense retreats can be defined as withdrawing from others to a peaceful place in order to pray, study, reflect or to meditate. Thanks to retreats people can be engaged in religious exercises, adoration, becoming closer to what their concept of higher power is, or simply devote their time of solitude to soul searching, looking inward, self-awareness or finding their purpose in life. 

Spiritual retreats are an important part of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, as well as Sufi (Islamic) communities though they have different meanings in these different religions. Retreats in Christianity are defined as “a definite time (from a few hours in length to a month) spent away from one’s normal life for the purpose of reconnecting, usually in prayer, with God.” As an essential component of Buddhism and Hinduism, “meditation retreats are seen by some as an intimate way of deepening powers of concentration and insight”. Sufi retreats or spiritual khalwa (“khalwa” is “seclusion” or “separation” in Arabic) is “the act of total self-abandonment in desire for the Divine Presence” (Wikipedia). 

the benefits of retreats

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, retreats may offer long-term physical, emotional and psychological benefits. Spiritual retreat helps you de-stress your body, heal it from injuries, feel relaxed and rejuvenated, commit to healthy eating, truly relax and restore your energy. It also helps you deal with emotional and mental problems you may be having, overcome stress, worries & anxieties, improve your performance, concentration and focus in daily life, find your inner peace and happiness. What is more, it helps you clear your mind and have a positive outlook on life. For many people a retreat is a way to meet people with similar interests, get friends, join a community or practice faith in a supportive environment.

Retreats are also distinguished by themes. The most popular of them are spiritual, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and fitness retreats. They can be aimed at faith, new beginnings, closeness to God, healing, moving beyond struggles, getting de-stressed, focusing on life, etc. Cleanse or body detox retreats, adventure retreats, rebalancing retreat  or yoga for athletes are gaining popularity too. Other popular types of retreat are combinations of yoga and Ayurveda or yoga and nutrition. There are also retreats for men, women, youth, family, even for employees.

finding and affording a retreat

The right duration for your retreat depends on your individual needs and on how much time you can afford. Retreats range anywhere between one night to weeks, though the recommended minimum retreat stay is two nights. Retreats of three or more night duration are ideal. Many organizations offer facilities of retreat like hermitages, cabins, and other places for spiritual reflection.

Well, now you’re sure you want a retreat instead of a vacation, but there’s still an important question left: how much it will cost you? Of course it depends on the duration, location, conditions and other aspects of your retreat. You can search for many affordable options on the web. There are also other ways of affording your desired retreat. There is financial aid available, including spiritual scholarships. Another option is meditation fellowships at a meditation center. Or you can go a free Vipassana retreat (your first retreat through the Vipassana Meditation Center, which has nearly 180 locations around the world, is  free, excluding airfare). Or you can simply save money, use other income streams, or crowdsource funds.

So, with a big commitment to your retreat you may have fears that you may not be able to retain the benefits once you’re back to reality. First of all, turn your learnings into life-long habits (the more days you’ve allotted for your retreat, the easier it will be for you to keep up your new practices).  Read, spend some of your time in nature, pray, meditate, do yoga or your other spiritual practices daily. Keep on eating healthy food. Stay connected with people you met during your retreat. Maintain the friendships you’ve established and create a supportive community by surrounding yourself with people who are interested in doing the same.