Temples, teachers, self enquiry. If you’re looking to gain spiritual understanding, growth and practice or simply experience a place that is thriving in it, the world does not fall short in these 5 places.
From the Himalayas to the hilltops of Rishikesh, the holy Ganges river to the sacred retreats scattered densly across the country. There’s a reason why my smiling yoga philosophy teacher convincingly said:
“Once you visit India, its vibration will keep on bringing you back”
This is a country where diving into the depths of understanding oneself has been practiced for thousands of years. Like walking into a room which is only used for prayer or meditation, over and over again, it holds this indescribable energetic field. Whether you’re looking for your guru, a retreat into the mind or practicing your poses in the home of yoga, India’s stark contrasts leave a lasting scent on all of the spiritual senses. (I’ve been about 18 times – so it’s safe to say, I’m hooked!)
What put this on my list, was the ancient technique of Vipassana Meditation which is known famously for its 10 days of silence. Though it originated in India, it was carried north and developed in here. Around 90% of the population practice Buddhism and merit-making, which is the practice of good deeds, acts and thoughts.
I wonder whether it was the morning rituals for every sunrise over Bagan’s temples or all the overnight bus travels and early nights, but I’ve never felt like I’ve been on more of a ‘rehab-esque’ retreat than in Myanmar. As it only recently opened up for tourism, there is not heaps of distraction to keep you up in the evening which leaves plenty of time for a wholesome dessert of reflection after dinner.
There are so many sides to experience this country and sometimes the headlines of boozy beaches means it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. In many ways, one of my most profound spiritual experiences was at a ‘Mindfulness Project’ in Kohn Kaen, led by a life changing and thought provoking ex-Buddhist monk.
There are also a lot of sustainable living eco projects which offer food and board for exchange of time. You get to learn skills and knowledge in the process! Win-win. If you’re looking for calm, Chiang Mai and Pai in the mountains but if islands are more your thing, a little tip is that even the full moon party island, Koh Phangan, is steeped spiritual retreats – up north of the island!
The food, the people, the culture. Indonesia is an eclectic mix of religions and spiritual traditions. I spent most of my time at a meditation centre in Java and though there are lots of Instagram worthy touristy spots to hit (avoid!) along the coast, there is nothing I appreciated more than my visit to Ubud.
A calm town caved in jungle, hosting the most divine tranquillity. It costs next to nothing to walk along the main street and find a cosy bamboo hut with pool, to join one of the many spiritual classes, sound healings and free dancing around town. The Yoga Barn is your go-to for all of these things!
After spending some energy, indulge in the healing health foods, enticingly presented at one of the café’s or restaurants. Everything in Bali, was made to be beautiful.
Suprise! Unfortunately, this isn’t a magical new land offering enlightenment but it’s a place that is visa-free and important to mention. There’s no doubt that all the places above, offered me the perspective, the teachers and the lessons which have developed my spiritual understanding and practices. But if I was to share one of the most important lessons I learnt along this path of travel, it is this:
“There is nowhere a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind…so constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.
I left the best until last because there truly is no better place to find spirituality than in yourself, your home, your body, your mind and your soul.
And sometimes, in the bid to go ‘soul-searching’ by hopping on a plane, we forget, the best lessons are learnt by the heart, no matter where you are.
I’ve covered East, but I’d love to hear – what are your favourite spiritual retreat countries?