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Downward Facing Margaritas

Yoga vacations, the new American tradition?



Don’t kid yourself, kiddo.

Serious yogis don’t do premium tequila tastings. Serious yogis don’t get Brazilian waxes and mani-pedis after a candlelight vinyasa class by the pool with a mai tai, a copy of Vanity Fair and an over-pampered sigh.

This “yoga vacation” thing? The increasingly popular, shamelessly Westernized trend of traipsing off to a high-end spa/resort somewhere in Mexico, or Belize, or Hawaii, or Spain or any of a hundred other beach-kissed abodes where they pamper the living daylights out of you and your bank account with all the premium, first-world, would-you-like-amassage- with-that-pinot-noir accoutrements you can handle?

And then oh-by-the-way, they frame it all with some mildly vigorous yoga and upbeat philosophy to help you burn off a few of the artisan bourbon cupcakes you shared in the hot tub at sunset?

Try not to be shocked when I tell you this. But that’s not technically a yoga retreat. Sorry.

It’s OK . I’m guessing you already knew. What’s more, you probably don’t really care. And you know what? Neither do I. Hell, I’m all for the half-wonderful, half-ridiculous new trend of yoga-as-vacation.

This much I’ve learned in my 12-plus years teaching yoga classes and leading workshops and retreats: It just doesn’t matter that much. Why? Because there’s room for everything. Because variety is the spice of utkatasana. Because capitalism almost always trumps asceticism.

And because grumbling about the West’s brazen addiction to appropriating traditional Eastern spiritual practices is like bitching about teenage girls with breast implants. This is America, baby. This is what we do.

But above all — let’s just be honest — there are far worse things than replacing the lazy gluttony of a “normal” American vacation with some nourishing yogic perspective and clear-eyed discipline. Don’t you think?

So then, with all these options, which do you choose? In the past five years alone, there’s been an explosion of these hybrid vacations, from a long weekender at Esalen or maybe Kripalu to hone the chakras to dashing off to India for two weeks of temple-hopping and not drinking the water.

In between is the ever-popular Bali, in which the lush island of Ubud alone is home to no fewer than half a dozen fine ’n’ fertile centers catering to a decidedly Western Eat, Pray, Love demographic.

As you probably guessed, my preferred retreats are the ones that take the yoga slightly more seriously than the wine pairings. But your mileage, and your intention, will vary.

If you’re considering one of these vacations, here’s my suggestion: Choose your retreat based on three crucial criteria: teacher, practice level and locale. In that order.

The retreat leader sets the tone and atmosphere far more than the country or the cuisine does. Find someone who inspires you, whose practice and energy you feel connected with. Already have a favorite teacher? You’re halfway there.

Second, matching a retreat’s yoga style to your true ability and fitness level will make everyone happier. Most retreats simplify the asana (physical) portion of the vacation to the mellower basics, so anyone but the most absolute of beginners can attend with ease. You say you’re an advanced yogi looking for something more serious and challenging? Wrong article. Move along, grasshopper.

Locale is least important, because nearly all getaways in this newfound category are fairly swank and luscious and you can’t really choose poorly. Italy or Mexico? Hawaii or France? Costa Rica or Argentina? I mean, please.

Personally, I base my choices on teachers I admire and have practiced with, most from the Bay Area. As such, Janet Stone’s retreats will rock the soul of your world. Local yoga deity Rusty Wells is as adored a teacher as they come. And funny/funky Les Leventhal is all over the map — literally — offering retreats from Bali to Hawaii.

Seeking a slightly more serious, karmabased practice? You might like a Sivananda retreat in either the Bahamas or Kerala, India. Or maybe a week at Watsonville’s much-loved

Got cash to burn? Elena Brower’s wildly expensive getaway to Parrot Cay looks, um, sorta nice. Amanda and Nick (MC Yogi) Giacometti of Point Reyes’ Yoga Toes will charm your socks off in Costa Rica. Then there’s yoga legend David Swenson, who sometimes does his master Ashtanga thing at the Four Seasons in Maui. I mean, seriously? How could that possibly suck?

That said, I’d avoid teachers who are all fluff and dazzle, who gleefully reference how many times they’ve been praised in yoga magazines or how many celebrities they’ve taught. Also, unless there’s a Sanskrit scholar or guru involved, any mention of Tantra is almost always just marketing bullshit. Trust me.

Then again, I’m certainly not immune to self-promotion. Hell, if I weren’t so humble, I’d tell you to come with me to Bali in June 2013, for 10 days of yoga/writing workshop/cultural exploration like no other. But I’m far too modest to say that (markmorfordyoga.com). Ahem.

I know! And this is just a tiny sample. Shameless and divine choices abound. Ain’t yoga amazing? Ain’t that America?

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