If you’ve decided to embark on a yoga or meditation retreat, congratulations! You’ve already taken the most important step on a transformative journey toward self-discovery. Now comes the next challenge: packing.
If you’re looking at an empty bag, a heap of belongings, and an overwhelmed mind, you’re not alone. Luckily, most retreat centers provide a basic packing list based on their unique environments and schedules. However, apart from the essentials, the following tips will help you to fully embrace retreat life with comfort and ease, regardless of where your path takes you.
1. Comfortable Clothing
The key word here is comfortable. Although retreat is not the time in life to make a fashion statement, your clothing will indeed make a big difference in your experience – especially if you plan to spend a significant amount of time in seated meditation. (In my opinion, if something isn’t comfy enough to sleep in, I don’t want to wear it during retreat!)
Specific clothing recommendations will vary depending on the location and season of your retreat, but in general, it’s hard to go wrong with loose clothing and lightweight layers.
Tip: While traveling, I generally prefer to wear long skirts or dresses. However, for yoga, my favorite bottoms are “Buddha” or “harem” pants, which provide the freedom of a skirt while allowing for a full range of leg motion without offending others. These drop crotch pants allow you freedom of movement without feeling constricted and are a great alternative if you feel a little self-conscious in skin-tight clothing.
2. Personal Cushion and/or Mat
Although I’ve never attended a retreat that didn’t provide meditation cushions or yoga mats, if you have your own props that feel like an integral part of your practice, don’t be hesitant to bring them along.
In seated meditation, it’s important to find a position that allows for stability and a straight spine. Packing a cushion or bench that offers you support will save you the step of pillow selection and stacking during each retreat session. Similarly, packing a mat that provides a level of padding and grip that you prefer might be easier than sliding around on a random rectangle of plastic or rubber.
Apart from this, the places where we practice carry energy, and it’s nice to build up our own as we move through places and experiences.
Tip: If traveling with a yoga mat doesn’t make sense, but you don’t like the idea of resting your face on someone else’s, a yoga towel provides a less cumbersome option and a practice space that is “yours.”
3. Journal or Sketchbook
Meditation and yoga retreats provide a context for the internal focus that allows us to set genuine goals or intentions, release harmful behaviors and thought patterns, and inspire creative flow in different aspects of our lives. In fact, our most powerful thoughts often come to us during times when we’re actively trying to avoid the process of thinking.
With the exception of intense Vipassana-style meditation retreats that don’t allow for reading, writing, or any other distractions, it can be helpful to journal, draw, or document experiences gained and lessons learned throughout the retreat experience.
Tip: I recommend an empty, unlined journal or sketchbook and a set of colored pens or pencils as light-weight supplies for creative expression.
4. Something Cozy
If you don’t pack something to snuggle up with during your retreat, you’ll risk being envious of those who did. For cooler environments, consider bringing a small blanket or heavy shawl for added warmth during meditation or longer holds of relaxing yoga postures.
However, even if your retreat climate is tropical, a large lightweight shawl will provide protection from wind, sun, and insects during your practice. A scarf can also serve as an eye mask, sarong, towel, picnic blanket, makeshift pillow, and more.
Tip: A warm pair of socks or slippers might not seem necessary in a lot of places, but I’ve ended up grateful for thick, knitted footwear in southern India, the Costa Rican rainforest, the Cambodian countryside and nearly everywhere else I’ve traveled.
Meditation and yoga help us to understand that happiness isn’t derived from sensory pleasures. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating life’s pleasures – especially while taking time for retreat.
“Nourishment” varies from person to person, but in general, it’s nice to keep something in your bag that can provide a moment of pleasure and gratitude. This could be anything from healthy snacks for between meals or a bar of dark chocolate as a special treat to essential oils for aromatherapy or self-massage. Nourishment could also be artwork, inspiring quotes, or photos of your loved ones to personalize a barren room.
Tip: If your preferred form of nourishment is edible, please check with your retreat center to make sure that storing snacks in your room is allowed. If it’s not, it’s usually for a practical (insect or other animal-related) reason.
6. Water Bottle
On an energetic level, yoga and meditation serve to increase and move prana, our life force energy. When we begin to practice regularly, our bodies naturally experience a period of detoxification as energy circulates through the breath and body. We can facilitate this process and reduce its side effects by staying hydrated.
Although there’s nothing wrong with a stainless steel, copper, or BPA-free plastic bottle, changing to an insulated bottle that can keep herbal tea hot in cold weather and room temperature water from becoming hot in warmer water is a worthwhile upgrade.
Tip: It’s helpful to have a non-breakable bottle (even if you’re not a clumsy person, your neighbor might be…) that can hold at least 750mL of liquid.
7. An Open Mind
The most valuable resource you can bring on any journey is an open-minded approach to new experiences – in the outside world and within yourself. Retreat is a unique opportunity for personal growth and healing as it provides a safe and inspiring environment where we can exchange typical daily drama for moment-to-moment presence.
Tip: Instead of packing a set of ideas, expectations, and goals, approach your retreat with anticipation, excitement, and a flexible mindset ready for a life-changing adventure. Happy packing; enjoy your retreat!