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What Types of Retreats Are There?

Updated: Mar 6

Part 1 - Religious & Spiritual Retreats

Types of Retreats Cover Photo

Table of Contents

About the Author - Lisa Dunford Dickman


Introduction

So you want to recharge and reconnect with yourself, or with something greater than yourself. Or maybe you’re looking to delve deeper into your creativity, or have a transformative adventure? 


Diving deeper into self-awareness and personal growth on retreat has benefits at any age. Midlife can be an especially fertile time for self-exploration. Life changes are happening and you may find you have more time for yourself.


The kids may be grown and you’re faced with an empty nest. Or you may be looking towards retirement and wondering what comes next. These are both excellent questions to explore on retreat. 


Also, making friends at midlife can be a challenge, and attending a retreat is good way to connect with new people as well.


I've personally benefited from attending several different types of retreats. And as a life coach I lead my own transformational retreat, Open to the Magic, in South Africa! 


Whatever your purpose for a personal retreat, there are many options to choose from. So what types of retreats are available?

Types of Retreats Intro Photo - Wendy

Types of Retreats 

The idea of withdrawing for contemplation has ancient, religious roots: The desert mothers and fathers of early Christianity withdrew in solitude to hear the call of God. Siddhartha sat underneath a Bodhi tree to reach enlightenment and become known as the Buddha. 


Some retreats today are still tied to religion, but many more are not. A great number of retreats fall into the more general “Spiritual” category. Health and wellness retreats are also hugely popular, as are activity-related retreats.


For our purposes, I’ve divided retreats into those four broad categories: Religious, Spiritual, Health & Wellness and Activity Related. Part 1 in this series focuses on Religious & Spiritual Retreats. (You can find Part 2 here.)


Do note that there can be considerable crossover in these types of retreats. A primarily sport-oriented surfing retreat may include a spiritual meditation and a Muslim retreat may also offer yoga and healthy eating, for example.

 

My definition of a retreat is simple: any purposeful time set aside to mindfully withdraw from your everyday life with the intention to reflect, reinvigorate or transform. 


Self-directed retreats or travel with purpose are entirely possible. You can even just take introspective baby steps by trying new things and slowing time down.


In this two-part series, however, we are looking at organized personal retreats only. Self-directed retreats, corporate/business retreats and couples/family retreats lie beyond this scope.                               

                                                                                                                                  

Types of Retreats - Religious

Many world religions have a contemplative, retreat tradition. I’ve highlighted just a few examples of types of retreats related to religion below. If you’re interested in a retreat attached to your own particular denomination, be sure to ask a leader in your religious community to help direct you. 

Types of Retreats - Buddhist Retreats

Buddhist Retreats

Along with a daily practice, the different branches of Buddhism all generally advocate for individual retreats. The intention being to have dedicated time to get quiet with your mind, body and breath. 


Buddhist Retreats focus on self-awareness through mindfulness and meditation practices. Dharma talks (discussions on the teachings of the Buddha) are another common element. 


How much of the day is spent in different forms of meditation depends on the branch of Buddhism and the focus of a particular retreat. A Vipassana retreat, for example, is a completely silent retreat intended for intense introspection.


Participants do not always need to be practicing community members to attend Buddhist Retreats. I’m a big fan of American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron’s teachings and I’ve considered doing a silent retreat myself (albeit a very short one!) as a way to detox from the daily onslaught of communication. 

Types of Retreats - Catholic Retreats

Catholic Retreats

Catholicism has a long tradition of structured retreats for spiritual and personal development. Back in the 16th century St Ignatius wrote a retreat handbook entitled “Spiritual Exercises,” which is still used as a model today. 


A structured Catholic retreat generally includes time for silent prayer, spiritual reading or talks, daily mass and the opportunity for confession. Many dioceses operate their own retreat centers for just this purpose. 


Catholic Monasteries may also welcome the general public on retreat, allowing lay people to participate in structured monastic daily life. Curious? Poet and author Kathleen Norris writes about her intriguing experiences on retreat with the Benedictines in her book “Cloister Walk."

Types of Retreats - Other Christian Retreats

Other Christian Retreats

Most other Christian denominations, as well as non-denominational churches, also offer retreats. As in other religious retreats, these retreats share the intention of rekindling and deepening one’s relationship with self and God, in this case Jesus Christ. 


The variety of offerings ranges widely. Christian retreats may be specific to a topic or to a season. They might be held by one church or a larger retreat center might host several communities.


Some Christian retreats may feel a little like summer camp, providing various activities in addition to prayer. Big name Christian writers host mega “retreats” that seem more like conferences. The common factor here is  the shared belief system. 

Women’s and men’s retreats are a noteworthy subsection of Christian and most other other religious retreats. My daughter-in-law recently traveled to Louisiana for a women’s retreat. Fellowship combined with friendship was a big part of what attracted them. 

Types of Retreats - Jewish

Jewish Retreats

Similar to other religious retreats, Jewish retreats offer community members time for self-reflection and deepening religious learning and practice. 


In addition to prayer, meditation and studying ancient text, community building is often a focus. Participating in games, singing songs, attending workshops and doing other activities is common.


Again, each retreat is unique, but Jewish retreats may also be held in celebration of specific holidays. A Shabbaton (weekend) retreat, for example, would include Friday evening Sabbath services and focus on the principle of rest.  

Types of Retreats - Muslim Retreats

Muslim Retreats

The holy month of Ramadan for the Muslim community is a type of retreat in itself. Ritual fasting takes place during the daylight hours and certain activities are refrained from to foster reflection and spiritual growth. 


As in other religions, modern Muslim retreat centers and mosques also offer personal retreats that include self-reflection and prayer, which may be combined with wellness activities. Note that some retreats may be restricted to women or men only.


Types of Retreats - Spiritual

Connecting to something greater than yourself doesn’t always fall within the confines of strict guidelines. Ask people today and many will say they are more “spiritual” than “religious.” Retreat offerings reflect this trend. 


In the Spiritual Retreat category offerings may or may not be tied to ancient or indigenous traditions. Some connect to new age ideals. The modalities used range from common place to completely esoteric. How wonderfully woo you want to get is completely up to you!

Types of Retreats - Divine Feminine Retreat

Divine Feminine Retreats

Famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung described a masculine and feminine aspect within each of us. Eastern traditions call this the Yin and the Yang. 


Today, discovering, honoring and healing of the feminine within is big retreat business. Retreat Guru, a popular retreat booking site, includes listings for nearly 1500 Divine Feminine retreats worldwide!


Cultures that worship or worshiped a Great Mother, or a female goddess or goddesses, inspire many Divine Feminine retreat offerings. Connecting more deeply to Mother Earth (Pacha Mama in South America) or to generative creativity may also be a focus. 


In general, on the agenda of Divine Feminine retreats is honoring a soft-but-strong, nourishing, nurturing side, which is often neglected in a typically male-dominated societal structure. 


If you’re interested in this type of retreat, you might also search for “Goddess Retreat” or “Healing the Witch Wound” (the idea that women’s feminine strength has been made wrong and derided through history.) 

Types of Retreats - Energy Healing Retreats

Energy Healing Retreats

Sound baths, crystals, energy vortexes, light codes, salt therapy, aroma therapy, chakra clearing: Working with some or all of these may be on the menu at an energy healing retreat. 


Energy practices are frequently also used in other types of retreats, but, at specific energy healing retreats, you can choose to narrowly focus your time specifically on the healing modalities in which you are most interested. 


If you’re interested in trying more than one type of energy healing, retreat centers like Golden Hill, north of Houston in Coldspring, TX, offer several different modalities. Trybe Member Wendy Lee hosts regular Heal the Hustle Restorative Retreats at Golden Hill. 

Types of Retreats - Shamanic Retreats

Shamanistic Retreats

Indigenous traditions have much to teach us in our modern world. Reconnecting with nature and the essence of the earth and her animals can be life changing. 


Shamanistic practitioners and their students hold retreats around the world and in the US. 


The form Shamanic retreats take depends on the tradition. Plant medicines, such as ayahuasca from South America, are sometimes used to assist in reaching a trance-like or transcendent state. 


If plant medicine interests you, make sure to do extensive research and get personal referrals. Substances like this are not controlled and can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Types of Retreats - Yoga Retreats

Yoga & Movement Retreats

Though yoga is a physical activity, it can also be a spiritual discipline. The original purpose behind developing the body and mind in yoga was to be able to access higher consciousness, to become a stronger conduit for the divine.


Yoga-focused retreats can be found all over the US, all over the world really. Not every yogic retreat is spiritual in nature. Some yoga retreats may be more purely exercise-oriented rather than spiritual, so ask about the focus if this is important to you. 


In addition to regular asana (yogic poses) practice, a spiritual yoga retreat is likely to focus on transformation and growth, with time for group sharing or journaling. Breathwork and chanting go hand in hand with this ancient practice. Healthy meals and outdoor activities are usually included.


Retreats highlighting other movement and body-based traditions such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi also have strong spiritual components. Trybe member Cherie Clark-Moore regularly leads Body & Brain Yoga Tai Chi-related retreats, based on a Korean energy system.


Final Thoughts

Religious and spiritual retreats can help you deepen your relationship with yourself and the divine, aid in introspection, and serve as a break from the everyday world and so you can recharge. Taking mindful time away from our routine is always worthwhile! 


Remember, I’ve only skimmed the surface here. No matter what your flavor of religion or spirituality, you will likely be able find an organized retreat related to it. 


Part 2 of this Types of Retreats Series focuses on the hugely popular health and wellness retreats.


About the Author

Lisa Dunford Dickman is a transformational coach, a traveler, a writer and a retreat leader. She helps women take big, bold steps towards their dreams, even when they don’t know what those dreams are - yet!


Before becoming a coach, Lisa traveled the globe for 15 years writing Lonely Planet guidebooks. She's lived in five foreign countries and speaks four languages (five if you count Texan! ;)  Lisa’s greatest joy is leading her annual sea-to-safari, “Open to the Magic!” transformational retreats in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.


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