Spa + Wellness

Zen Dens: Yoga Retreats

by Adam Skolnick

ESALEN INSTITUTE
Where: Big Sur, California

Guru says: A New Age hot spot since the '60s, the institute grows its own vegetarian food, has basic rooms with a view, and hosts workshops in everything from African dance to Tantric sex. The time freeze means you kinda expect John Lennon to drop in at any moment. The yoga classes are led by internationally renowned figures such as Mark Whitwell and Shiva Rea. Too granola for you? Well, the property is outrageously beautiful, as it's balanced on the edge of the Pacific cliffs. And the coed naked hot-spring tubs—50 feet above the swirling, crashing Pacific—are pretty nifty. Some are exposed to the elements, others are sheltered beneath dynamic cantilevered ceilings; each sucks the stress from bones and souls.

Classmates: Flower children and their ilk. Whoever they are, you'll be seeing a lot of them. Public displays of self-assured nudity are rampant—height, weight, and body fat be damned.

Om factor: Esalen is fervently committed to a set of spiritual and ecological ideals, and attracts visitors of like minds. So it's high on pious sanctimony and low on collective sense of humor. Which, in a way, is sort of funny.

Prerequisites: Sun salutations, the central series in vinyasa or flow yoga practice.

Extracurricular: Workshop schedules are pretty packed, but you'll find time to comb the beach, enjoy a massage, and dip in the hot springs—if you know what's good for you.

When to go: Hit Shiva Rea's high-energy Thanksgiving weekend retreat, November 24–26 ($655), or learn how to develop a daily practice in Mark Whitwell's more introspective and gentler Flow Workshop, December 10–15 ($1,120).

Weekend retreats, $655 per person, including yoga workshop, accommodations, meals, and access to hot springs; weeklong retreats $1,120

Esalen Institute
Tel: 831 667 3005

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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