Feel at “om” on the road

Forget the cottage or family resort. This summer, how about a yoga vacation?

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Last spring, as I struggled to come up with a summer vacation plan for my family, inspiration sprinted home in the form of my eight-year-old son, Luca. Unusually excited about school, he chattered on and on about the Cobra, Frog and Fish—yoga poses he’d learned in gym class. As he bubbled with enthusiasm, I was struck by a new idea: what about a yoga vacation?

I had been taking a weekly yoga class at my local gym for several years—and read with interest about weekend and week-long yoga getaways. A retreat would give our family a chance to spend time together and get far, far away from the noisy urban hustle that surrounds us during the year.

We decided to spend a week at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp in Val-Morin, Que., an hour’s drive north of Montreal. Nestled in the Laurentian Mountains and surrounded by trees, the ashram was peace personified. I was surprised how quickly Luca and my 12-year-old daughter, Laura, took to the place. At first, I could see them trying desperately not to giggle during our daily meditation session. But, as they saw the group start to relax, they, too, got lost in their own thoughts.

Much to my husband Carlo’s relief, we weren’t forced to sit in pretzel shapes or chant “om” all day long. Aside from a few mandatory sessions of meditation and yoga, we could do as much or as little as we liked. The emphasis, as with most ashrams, was on quietly improving our health rather than preaching spirituality. Yoga aficionados point to medical evidence that shows a daily regimen of yoga poses improves strength, balance and endurance, lowers blood pressure and improves flexibility.

Our fellow guests were a mixed lot: singles, couples and families. Some had studied yoga extensively; others, in-cluding our family, were novices. Accommodation options included campsites, shared dorm-style rooms with communal bathrooms, private suites and small wooden cabins. We opted for our own suite. It was sparsely furnished with two sets of bunk beds but we had a bathroom all to ourselves. The cost, including meals and activities, was $70 a day per adult and $35 per kid per day, which is what you can expect to pay at most North American retreats. We were never bored or wishing for more activities because we had the option of adding canoeing, mountain biking and rock climbing to our yogic fare. (Skating and cross-country skiing are available in winter.) Those who preferred less structure were free to swim in a crystal clear pool, go for discovery walks or read. Again, most family oriented retreats offer similar activities.

The only drawback to our vacation was the food. Don’t get me wrong: our two daily vegetarian meals (a late large breakfast at 10 a.m. and bountiful dinner at 6 p.m.) were so delicious, we almost didn’t miss the meat. Almost. On the last night of our stay, cravings got the better of us and we drove to the local pizza place a few kilometres down the road. Veal cutlet sandwiches and root beer all around, please. We drove back to the ashram, tummies full, and no one was any the wiser.

Carnivorous transgressions notwithstanding, my whole family agreed that you won’t find a more relaxing holiday. Sure, you can unwind with a pina colada at a resort, but chances are your first day back at work will wind you right back up again. A yoga vacation teaches you how to manage stress and keep it at bay. To me, that’s worth more than all the umbrella drinks in the Caribbean.

Adapted from an article that appeared in MoneySense magazine (www.moneysense.ca).