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Yoga Retreats in Florida

Yoga
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.)

Yoga Lingo
yoga Yoga has many ways, many teachers and many words from Hindu and Buddhist practice and the customs of India, Thailand, Tibet and beyond.

» Gentle: A starting place for people
of any age and condition to learn positions, alignment and attitude
» Flow: Faster practice in which postures change quickly with little rest; emphasis on fitness
» Ayurvedic: Practices that emphasize healing
» Bikram: Yoga conducted in a hot room, named for its founder, a Beverly Hills yogi
» Kripalu: A Massachusetts swami’s teaching of alignment and breathing for relaxation and spiritual growth
» Hatha: Combines mental and physical health and moral growth
» Ashtanga Vishnaya: Less structured movement focused on meditation and restoration
» Namaste: A salutation with hands pressed together and a slight bow that ends most yoga sessions

There also are smaller purely yoga retreats, from Gainesville to the green seclusion of Rasayana Cove’s rustic cabins with ayurvedic treatments and natural foods, a long hour east of Sarasota and the maddening interstate.

For more cosseted serenity, every hotel worth its $300 rack rate has an ever-expanding spa program that often includes a yoga class. Newer hotels have installed destination spas with extensive beauty and fitness treatments. Canyon Ranch, the pioneer Arizona spa, has extensive facilities at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee and will open a full-fledged spa complex in Miami this October with 100 rooms and 400 condo units. All have access to green tea facials, hot stone massages, yoga in groups or one-on-one instruction, and since it’s Miami, CR serves alcohol.

Many resorts are designed or redesigned with such feng shui that the architecture itself massages the guest. Lobbies, kitchens and bars of basalt, cool white canvas and tropical woods provide places of repose so peaceful you could skip yoga class and the spa.

One such is the Setai, which a Singapore hotelier has refashioned from an old Art Deco mass in the crowded heart of Miami Beach into a stack of spaces that unfold like an endless series of origami. Such serenity and humility is also one of the most expensive in town.

A more intimate — and affordable — combination of rejuvenating environment and full yoga schedule is offered at The Standard, a small ’50s motel suspended on a residential isle in Biscayne Bay. The renovation has turned it into a hip temple of minimalism, natural fabrics, mineral pools and Turkish baths. The restaurant serves chamomile teas, mahi cioppino and ginger-chocolate torte; and there’s an h2-OM party Friday nights, bathed in hip music and rejuvenating waters.