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What's the Difference Between a Yoga Holiday and a Yoga Retreat?

by Peter Browne

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Well as a writer and a yogi I don't really know. Are there more chants and Oms or more josh sticks and Buddha's plastered everywhere? Do 2 sessions of yoga daily make it a retreat? Does it have to be in silence with the only spoken words be in Sanskrit to be considered a yoga retreat?

I have been invited to a yoga vacation at The Chalet Iris by Jemski for a week of mindfulness, well-being and, yes, you guessed it, the ubiquitous two daily sessions of yoga. This already feels more like a retreat than just a holiday. My initial thoughts are good due to only a relatively short flight of just over two hours from the UK and then the most stunningly visual transfer while passing Lake Annecy, followed by a steady 1500-meter climb.

The location of Chalet Iris in the village of Nancroix is simply stunning. In fact, I cannot think of a more simplistic superlative. Absolutely stunning views over to Mt. Blanc! On arrival, we were met by Jem, John & the Jemski team without a chant or Mula Bandha in sight; we were offered freshly pressed juice though! It's really starting to feel like a retreat, I thought.

We settled into our spacious 3-persons dorm room. There are also three doubles for couples or extremely close friends! Now it's feeling more like a yoga holiday. Goodness, this is confusing.

yoga retreat in France

There was a total of fifteen jolly eager students and me, and one lady referred to herself as a Swami. At 5.00 pm, with my fellow practitioners having safely arrived, it was time for our inaugural practice (that's what we yogi's call a session). The location for our evening practice was literally on our doorstep, bathing in the glory of what the Alps offer. John is an extremely well-qualified yoga teacher and we commenced an invigorating practice which was of a Vinyasa style with Zoe assisting and adjusting throughout. Finishing with our Savasana was enlightening in the early evening alpine air.

Dinner was about to be served and I was looking forward to getting to know my fellow yoga lovers.

The firsts night dinner was a joy. It was great to be part of such an effervescent, unpretentious and grounded group of people. Often at these types of gatherings, it's a competition as to who has practiced the longest and under which prominent guru/swami. But no, I didn't hear once ''when I was in Pune''… 

The next morning, I woke having had one of the best night’s sleep in years. The quietness and serenity undoubtedly assisted my normally convoluted mind to calm, ''and the mountain air helps you too'', my teacher John reminded me. Our morning practice was a revelation! Saluting the sun as it rises over Mont Blanc whilst engaging in ujjayi breathing was tremendous, I have never felt more fulfilled. Our practice was mindful, peaceful and set us perfectly up for the day ahead.  

yoga retreat in the mountains

Breakfast was a grand affair. Homemade granola and fresh loaves of bread from the patisserie and freshly squeezed juices with many of us opting to prepare our own special concoctions.

That day’s activities included a bracing mountain exploration which was led by Jem. He had spent many years getting to know his way around this particular area of the Alps and most of us opted to be with him. Two of my fellow yogis choose to spend the day leaning to paraglide, not for the faint-hearted!

This first day proved to be the perfect mixture of exhilaration at meeting new like-minded friends and really getting to know each other which can only really occur in locations such as here in the Alps and particularly the stunningly beautiful village of Nancroix.

Our incredible teacher for the week was John. He is a highly experienced teacher who has been practicing for over 30 years, 10 of them in the Alps. Our evening practice was a subtler session taking into account some of the sore limbs from a bracing hike with the indomitable Jem. Without question, this mountain air was making me feel years younger.

yoga and hiking retreat

Additional activities throughout the week included foraging, laughing yoga (not my bag) and even facial yoga. I had read about facial yoga before and was a little doubtful of it. I'm still not totally won over but certainly, as my years' progress and looks begin to fail, I'll take another look. Also, some of my new friends spent time white water rafting and climbing. I chose to spend my free time enjoying a book, soaking up the views and mountain air.

In conclusion, my week was filled with what can only be described sheer joy. Jem, John, and the team literally move mountains to accommodate every whim and request of their guests, nothing is too much trouble. The quality and freshness of the meals were superb and my fondness for juices will stay with me.

Jem & John have carefully picked a team of caring individuals who are all passionate yogis. They all worked within the yoga industry on many continents in various capacities and know their stuff incredibly well. I can wholeheartedly say that this week has been terrific on so many levels. My fellow yogis (now friends) have all bonded and plans are already afoot for a reunion.

The high points for me were the clean and fresh mountain air, stunning views and an incredibly high level of instruction from John and Jem's mountain leadership. Our morning practice which took place at the La Vache location took my breath away!

This was definitely a retreat! And an incredibly good one.

I highly recommend you get in touch with Jem and book your own idyllic retreat, you won't be disappointed!

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