There’s yoga and then there is Cathy Daley’s adventure yoga.
There’s a boat.
But not just any boat. It’s a Mediterranean gulet with huge, billowing sails and a long, wide, wooden deck. The Mediterranean sea glitters against the Croatian shoreline as it weaves its way through the Dalmatian Islands.
It’s a picture of peace and just one of the adventure yoga retreats Cathy Daley offers through her studio, Alive with Yoga.
The trips started 14 years ago. A native of South Africa, Daley thought it would be fun to bring Americans to Africa.
“So I did a safari yoga,” Daley said. “I kind of put it out there and there was so much interest … We went through wine country and doing yoga in the bush basically, which was super.”
Based on the popularity of yoga among his clients, Sarasota psychologist Daniel Van Ingen isn’t surprised by the level of interest in the retreats.
“If you’re going to learn about a culture or visit a beautiful place and that’s part of the experience, then that can just add to the multifaceted experience,” he said. “I’ve never met someone who left a yoga retreat and felt worse.”
He says that yoga has two important mental health benefits: It reduces stress and it increases happiness.
“Stress just builds up, and it’s sort of like that Jenga game — there’s an accumulated stress and … soon the Jenga blocks start to fall,” he said. “One of the things that it (yoga) can do is produce a calm state and stop the Jenga blocks from getting higher and higher and reset their emotional state. It reduces a lot of the symptoms that you see with anxiety like chest palpitations and shakiness.”
Van Ingen said people who go on yoga retreats typically come home feeling more hopeful because they have a renewed vision, new sense of optimism and a greater sense of purpose. This is largely due to a natural increase in serotonin, the chemical that regulates anxiety, happiness and mood, that occurs during yoga practice.
Daley’s first yoga retreat was a success, but she found that only about half the people on the trip were interested in the yoga aspect of the adventure. Her yoga students brought friends and family, some of whom were more interested in the destination.
“What I discovered … is there is so much to do,” Daley said. “So we sort of squeezed yoga in, and half the people that came weren’t interested in yoga.”
But that didn’t bother Daley. In fact, she said it makes the trips more inclusive.
“It’s really nice yoga environments, but then there is also a lot of things to do — kayaking, hiking. It’s sort of like yoga in the morning and evening and all these other things you can do when you want to do them,” Daley said.
It’s been over a decade since Daley launched her retreats. As the destinations have become more varied, including Costa Rica, Guatemala and Croatia, the trips have garnered a following.
“I have people now who say whatever you do, just put me down,” Daley said.
The trips run between $1,800 and $7,000 depending on the destination. Daley handles all the logistics except airfare. But once your feet touch the ground, you’re under Daley’s stewardship.
“There hasn’t been one thing that I haven’t enjoyed, and there is nothing I can complain,” said Denise Baker.
Baker has been on two of Daley’s yoga-cations to Costa Rica and will be attending a retreat to Guatemala in September.
Some might argue that spending thousands of dollars to do yoga seems silly. After all, you can do yoga in Sarasota. But Baker said there is something special about being confronted by nature.
“I think really it’s that time you allow yourself to be with nature and others and you forget about news and structure and all the trappings that stress us,” Baker said. “We all want the same things, really. We want to be joyful. We want to be calm. We want to be loved and sometimes we need to get away to do it.”
But for Baker it’s not just about the destinations. It’s about the people.
“A bunch of us now have become connected as friends because you spend the week with people and you really get to know them,” Baker said. “You listen to howler monkeys and watch birds and you figure out some things about yourself that you’re joyful about that you didn’t think about before.”
Daley understands how the idea of a yoga retreat could be intimidating to some — whether the source is the idea of going to a different country or culture or a lack of yoga experience.
However, she said she believes the experience boils down to one thing.
“Just have some trust,” Daley said. “Just trust.”