Relieve stress, stay centred and build inner peace. There are multiple benefits of a meditation practice that you would have heard about. Meditation has become popular to relieve stress, stay centred, and build inner peace. Unsurprisingly, many successful business leaders, celebrities, and regular people worldwide have incorporated it into their daily lives.
In Asia, several highly-rated meditation retreats offer a peaceful and supportive environment for people to disconnect from the stresses of daily life and focus on themselves. These retreats have become increasingly popular thanks to social media and the internet, making mediation more culturally accepted and raising awareness of its many benefits.
A wellness retreat, for example, is likely to offer some aspect of a meditation retreat. But before highlighting several of the top meditation retreats in Asia, let’s take an in-depth look at this contemplative inner practice and the ways of beings expected at these retreats. As always, it pays to be prepared before embarking on what is likely to be a transformative and enriching travel experience.
Meditation to Relieve Stress
The popularity of meditation retreats can be attributed to a growing interest in holistic health practices, increased cultural acceptance of meditation, and a need for stress relief in modern society. In addition, meditation is a way to look inward and gain insights into our thought patterns.
This is described as self-awareness, and according to the popular mindfulness-meditation app, Headspace, an awareness of thoughts and feelings and a better understanding of why we think and feel the way we do allows for more choice in responses and actions. This reduces stress, increases happiness, improves relationships, and an overall richer existence.
Mediation retreats offer an immersive and intensive experience in meditation. These retreats can be as short as a few hours to several weeks, even months. Each retreat may focus on a particular style of meditation, such as mindfulness, Zen or Vipassana (which means to see things as they are).
All faiths are welcome, and many secular meditation retreats focus on mindfulness and other forms of meditation that do not have a specific religious or spiritual affiliation. Some retreats, such as those established by monks, will offer Buddhist dharma teachings, as mediation has been integral to Buddhist practices for thousands of years.
If you are a beginner, a retreat gives you space, time and resources to experience meditation. On the other hand, suppose you’re a practitioner with vast experience. In that case, deciding to go on retreat will significantly help you go deeper into your practice and learn more advanced techniques. Finally, if you haven’t meditated for a while, a retreat helps to kick-start your practice.
Meditation retreat: What to expect
A meditation retreat offers an opportunity to spend time away from normal daily activities in a “spiritual or contemplative” environment. This enables participants to step back from their daily routine and regain a sense of calm and perspective. Retreats follow a structured daily schedule with several hours of meditation practice interspersed with breaks for meals and rest. The program may begin early morning, and participants are expected to follow closely.
Most meditation retreats are silent, and you’re often asked not to speak with other participants. An exception is a “question and answer” session when you can ask the teacher questions. In addition, some meditation retreats are designed to be more of a wellness retreat and offer other supplemental treatments and activities such as colon cleanses, massages, yoga, Pilates and sound baths. This provides a different experience from the more simple mindfulness meditation retreat.
Some retreats will ask participants to perform activities involved in the centre’s daily operations voluntarily. This could be cooking, administrative duties, housekeeping or gardening. Others retreats will provide for everything. However, all retreats will ask that you observe specific codes of behaviour that respect the mediation practice and practitioners.
You are encouraged to turn all electronic devices off and maybe even surrender these items during registration. This means no mobile phone, laptop or iPad. You will also be asked to abstain from smoking, drinking alcohol, using stimulants and drugs, overtly sexual behaviours and eating certain foods.
Food-wise, most retreats prepare clean, local, healthy foods. Dishes are usually organic, vegan and vegetarian dishes, although special diets are generally accommodated. A good practice is to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants before the retreat, as these can interfere with your meditation practice.
Meditation Retreat: Top Places in Asia
Plum Village, Thailand
Plum Village is an organisation founded by the late Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most influential Buddhist monks in the world. It has retreats worldwide. In Asia, Plum Village is located in the rural countryside of Thailand, about 90 minutes from Bangkok.
Plum Village Thailand aims to help participants deepen their practice of mindfulness, meditation, and other Buddhist teachings, in a peaceful and supportive environment. A unique feature of Plum Village is its emphasis on “engaged Buddhism,” which emphasises social and environmental activism. Plum village has established several humanitarian and ecological projects in Thailand and other countries, and participants are encouraged to get involved in these activities as part of their practice.
During a typical retreat at Plum Village, participants wake up early for meditation and other practices, such as walking meditation, mindful eating, and Dharma talks. There is also time for personal reflection and relaxation and to connect with other participants and the monks.
Silent Retreat, Bali
Bali Silent Retreat is an off-the-grid-eco-sanctuary committed to sustainable principles. Unlike most meditation retreats, Bali Silent Retreat allows participants to create schedules. You can choose how long you stay and what you spend your time here doing, so long as you follow the mandate to respect the art of doing nothing. This centre is about an hour north of Ubud and two hours north of Denpasar. It is at the base of the holy mountain Batu Karu and in the heart of Tabanan’s rice terraces. The rules include no talking, detoxing from technology, and being mindful of everything around you. Practising the art of doing ‘nothing’ is prescribed, but the retreat also curates daily mindfulness programs – such as meditation and yoga classes, Balinese cultural discussions and tours, and sustainability lessons.
You can stay elsewhere and obtain day passes to Bali Silent Retreat. This gives you access to three organic buffets, programmes, classes, scheduled events, and all facilities. For those that want to stay in the retreat, there are different accommodation options to suit different budgets and styles.
Vipassana International Academy, Dhammagiri, Igatpuri
The Vipassana International Academy is a highly respected meditation centre based on the teachings of S. N Goenka, a well-known vipassana meditation teacher. Courses here are based on his teachings and are open to people of all backgrounds and religions.
This is one of the world’s largest Vipassana centres and attracts practitioners worldwide. The staple course is ten days long and held throughout the year. Participants follow a schedule that includes 7 to 8 hours of meditation, both sitting and walking meditation in noble silents (refrain from speaking).
Those that have completed this course say Days 2, 4 and 6 are usually the most difficult. Accommodation is much like hostel rooms, and vegetarian meals are provided. This is a donation-based meditation retreat, so pay based on what you can afford and the value you received from the course. The Vipassana International Academy is located in Dhammagiri, near Igatpuri in Maharashtra, India. There is typically a two to three-month waiting period, so be sure to plan.
Bliss Sanctuary for Women, Bali
Women-only wellness retreats are designed to help women attain some much-needed peace and change for the better holistically. The Women’s Sanctuary in Bali is the perfect getaway for a woman’s solo sojourn or an all-girl detox holiday. This is more of a wellness retreat, meaning you can access sightseeing experiences, spa treatments, unlimited healthy local food and wi-fi facilities, a rarity in conventional meditation retreats.
The tailored, individual meditation retreat experience where you learn one-on-one with a yoga cum meditation teacher. You can meditate, combine the session with yoga or skip the meditation altogether. This approach to learning meditation is suitable for all levels, including beginners who have never meditated before and want to learn how.
While you opt for the mediation programme, your lady friends and family members can choose from various packages such as thrill seekers, fab foodie, eat pray love, ultra-fit and detox and cultural retreat. But you are not restricted within your package. If desired, you can swap and choose activities from any other package anytime.
Meditation Retreat: Survival tips
To help you plan for a meditation retreat, here are HuffPost’s top survival tips for your first meditation retreat:
- Come prepared with your favourite meditation gear eg comfortable clothing, a favourite cushion etc.
- Give silence a chance. Chances are you will get used to not talking very quickly. Since there will be occasions for group meditation sessions at most retreats, you will learn how to relate to others on a nonverbal level.
- Take care of your body. Long hours of sitting meditation can be brutal on your body. So learn some gentle stretches that will help ease the aches and pain.
- Be kind to yourself. You want to remain as mindful as possible but don’t try too hard or you may overstrain. Let the breath, body sensations, sounds, emotions, or thoughts, come into your awareness, naturally. Also, do not be harsh on yourself, and compare yourself unfavourably to others. The mere fact that you have come to the retreat and have made it so far, is a huge accomplishment.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. You may encounter a noisy roommate or a faulty toilet. Communication at silent meditation retreats is usually done on a designated bulletin board in the common area.
Meditation retreats offer a unique opportunity for individuals seeking inner peace and stress relief in Asia. From the lush greenery of Bali to the serene surroundings of Thailand, the continent offers a variety of options for those looking to engage in meditation and deepen their practice.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced meditator, these retreats offer a chance to disconnect from daily routines and engage in self-care. They also offer a chance to connect with like-minded individuals and tap into the power of mindfulness. By incorporating meditation into your daily routine, you can lead a happier and healthier life, and these retreats provide the perfect setting to start your journey.
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