Image: The Tides in Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Courtesy of The Tides
A yoga vacation at The Tides in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, also includes a massage, healthy meal plan and a beach bonfire party.
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updated 3/12/2009 10:02:03 AM ET 2009-03-12T14:02:03

The night that we helped the baby turtles make their mad dash into the sea, it all came together: It was turtle birthing season along the Pacific Coast where The Tides Zihuatanejo spreads its cabanas along the shoreline. We had just spent five days practicing yoga twice daily in a shady pavilion on the same beach where these tiny babies hatched. Each evening at sunset, as we were facing the sea in Warrior One pose, female turtles dug their nests in the sand, just as we burrow down to our daily routines.

Most people who do yoga agree that it is a long process of slowly getting stronger, steadier and lengthier. Every class is a new chance to perfect a pose or go deeper, but it can take an intense focus on your practice to open new doors of awareness, and opting for a yoga retreat is the best way to do that. When you combine all of this with luxuriant spa treatments and gourmet meals in a beautiful destination, the holiday not only relaxes but might give birth to a new you.

There are plenty of new yoga retreats every season, but planning a yoga vacation requires discernment. Many luxury resorts, like The Tides, are now hosting various retreats, and the huge differences are the quality of spa services and the level of accommodations. After an intense day of yoga, the last thing you want to do is share a bunk bed with a snoring fellow participant. Rather, at The Tides, I awoke each morning to hot coffee and freshly baked chocolate croissants before the morning session and then returned to my palapa-covered villa to take a dip in the private plunge pool.

Shannon McClatchey, a marketing manager and long-time yoga enthusiast, initially chose MayaTulum because of a specific instructor, but valued the level of comfort at the resort, including the spa treatments.

"Don't even think of coming here without booking something… the Mayan Clay massage is not to be missed," she says.

But it's not just the big differences that sort the good yoga vacations from the mind-blowing ones — the details count a lot, too.

"The grounds are meticulously maintained — I walked barefoot everywhere, including the dining room," McClatchey says. "The food is fantastic. You can order off the menu if you want, but otherwise I have nothing but praise for the healthy, mostly vegetarian (except for fish) cuisine."

From the yoga bar breakfast spread of fresh tropical fruit and juices, homemade granola, yogurt and other goodies to the verbena-scented cool towels handed to you after class, The Tides ensured a seamless retreat. Not to mention the in-room massages — the airy cabanas are so peaceful that when the massage therapist came to my room, he set up the table and aromatherapy candles, immediately transforming it into a treatment room.

For many, a retreat is also a communal experience. Each night, the 20 or so participants dine together, and on the final night there's a beach bonfire party with special cocktails and live music.

Many in The Tides retreat group were regular students of Tom Morley, an L.A.-based instructor with a Brentwood studio and various private celebrity clients. Individual yoga teachers affect the dynamic of the class, and Morley's style mixes a sense of childlike freedom with the discovery of a deep spiritual connection to yourself. It was easy to feel relaxed in the non-competitive environment he created, which can be summed up by a Ramana Maharishi quote he asked us to think about: "It is your duty to Be, not be this or that."

It's pretty common for students to follow a particular instructor on a retreat, but it's not necessary at yoga resorts that have ongoing yoga instruction, like Haramara in Sayulita, Mexico, or SwaSwara in India. As noted, a yoga vacation doesn't have to be austere, and in fact, indulging all the senses may be the surest path to nirvana.

So if you have the chance, say yes to the multi-course gourmet meals at a Big Sky Yoga Retreat or the tequila tasting at The Tides Zihuatanejo. Add a day of windsurfing along Mexico's Pacific Coast or hiking in the Montana mountains, and the immersion in your surroundings may help you achieve that tricky combination of awareness and relaxation.

Every yoga vacation is going to be life-changing, whether it's volunteering with the Shreyas Retreat's community outreach or focusing for a week on the yogic breathing of pranayama on the Caribbean's most blissful island.

Of course, at times the retreat will be physically and mentally challenging, but right when your muscles begin shaking with every pose and you have broken through emotional boundaries, you can surrender to a lava rock massage and a cooling kelp body masque.

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