Yoga enthusiasts work out at the Lotus Room’s Lotus Pond in Tampa.
Visitors to Florida today want more than relaxation: They want inner peace. And here in Florida, the blossoming of the humble Eastern practice of movement and meditation, rhythmic breathing and restraint has stretched its petals into the leisure industry as well: From the beaches of South Walton to the posh grounds of Amelia Island Plantation, there are yoga teachers who can make yoga the core of a Florida vacation or weekend getaways.
Bliss is not cheap, though: Group yoga classes at small private centers may be only $15 in the workaday world, but a full day can cost $200 and a weekend retreat $1,000 or more.
The hamam, or aroma steam room, at The Standard resort, located on a residential isle in Biscayne Bay.
Because yoga is intensely personal, for students and teachers, choosing a retreat takes care, especially for the beginner. Over the centuries the practices of Hindus and then Buddhists have spawned more than a hundred systems and paths that require and reward different levels of strength, stamina and consciousness. They have diversified still more in modern America.
In all, the teacher or guide is crucial, whether a revered yogi from Asia or a former personal trainer certified at a U.S. ashram. Does she emphasize the physical or spiritual? Does he take time to work with each student? Does she play transcendental sitar or zumba salsa?
Choosing from a distance can be difficult. It matters less if yoga is only a feel-good extra in a weekend of pampering, but if yoga is the main element, make sure it’s a good match. Intense yoga workouts are strenuous and can be dangerous for the unprepared.
Many private instructors who teach daily classes in your town also host out-of-town retreats during the year at private homes or parks. In Tampa, Val Spies expanded her Lotus Room studio to add the Lotus Pond on wooded acreage for meditative retreats and “executive havens.” Outside Ocala, Mike Sokol converted Camp Shalom, the sleepaway summer camp his parents had started, into Orange Springs Retreat Center the rest of the year and found yoga and wellness groups the bulk of his first customers. They bring instructors and mantras; Sokol provides the open air, pool, bunks for 200 and a camp cook who does vegan as easily as kosher. (He now hosts team-building and church groups, too.)