I lay flat on my back on my paddleboard, eyes closed, face and palms turned toward the sun, breathing deeply of the salt-tinged air. A light breeze stirred just enough movement in the water to create a gentle rocking effect; otherwise, all was still.
This marsh meditation was the culmination of a stand-up paddle-board (SUP) excursion to Little Tybee Island, an undeveloped State Heritage Site off Georgia’s barrier island coastline. The three-hour tour followed a flat-water route through a protected estuary zone, providing a safe and challenging environment for a beginning paddler like me.
Our guide, Marsha Henson of Sea Kayak Georgia, directed us in some thoughtful meditation before leading us to this Shavasana, the relaxation pose typically used at the end of a yoga session. My body ached already in that rewarding way you feel only after a good workout, and I relished this opportunity to rest and reflect. I felt strong. I felt thankful.
WEEKEND TO BREATHE
It was a sentiment shared by the other women in my group, who had all traveled to Tybee from North Georgia for Weekend to Breathe, a wellness retreat hosted by Lana Rader of Breathe Pilates and Barre in Woodstock. For one long weekend, we had all left behind the work and responsibilities of our everyday lives to move our bodies and minds differently. It wasn’t a relaxing vacation of lounging on the beach all day—though we certainly made some time for that, too—yet we walked away from the weekend feeling truly restored nonetheless in body, mind and soul.
“I went on my first retreat [several years ago] as an attendee,” Rader says. As a busy working mom, she couldn’t justify an expensive, far-off destination, but wanted to do something for herself, so she found a retreat in Big Canoe.“It was amazing … I came home completely refreshed,” she says. Soon after, Rader teamed up with another local instructor for a few retreats before branching off to host her own. “I had this vision of exactly what I wanted it to be,” she says—an all-inclusive escape from everyday life for busy women just like herself, filled with physical activity, good food, crafts and, most of all, community.
“To me, there’s something really special about women getting together in [this kind of ] environment, where you can move and meditate together, and eat and create together,” Rader says. Her retreats max out at 15 attendees, and while some women sign up in pairs, most leave with many newfound friendships. For Rader, the magic that took place as our group paddle to Little Tybee is part of the reason she hosts these retreats each fall. “We were all there helping each other,” she recalls.
“We were doing something really hard, we were challenging ourselves, we were living in the moment, and I was watching these relationships form between women.”
Details for the 2021 Weekend to Breathe are still pending, though past destinations have included both Tybee Island and Blue Ridge. Rader is also planning a few day-retreats this summer to recreate the unique environment for women who cannot commit to a full weekend. In the meantime, you can sample a bit of the experience with paddle classes on Little River or Lake Allatoona, as well as pilates and barre in Breathe’s Woodstock studio. Visit breathestudiobarre.com for a full schedule.
While the beach certainly makes a breathtaking backdrop for a retreat, North Georgia is ripe with opportunities to prioritize well-ness as well. And perhaps the best way to take advantage of it is through a “yogadventure” with Ashlee Lofton of Yoga Over Blue Ridge.
“When I first started my busi-ness three years ago, I had no studio,” Lofton says. “I had just moved to this beautiful place and wished there were fun yoga events outside like some of the other places I’ve lived and visited.” So, she made it happen. Though Lofton has since opened two studio spaces—one in Blue Ridge and one in Ellijay—she continues to offer yoga in Ellijay’s Harrison Park, paddleboard classes on Lake Blue Ridge, pop-up yoga at Ott Vineyards, Chateau Meichtry and the Cohutta Overlook, and a yoga hike on the Benton McKaye trail.
Lofton’s first full retreat is taking place this October at Heartwood Retreat Center in Blue Ridge, a space created by the Heartwood Community to promote sustainable living and wellness. Though it was sold out at press time, she plans to host two per year in the future and is also available for private yoga parties at your own North Georgia cabin. Visit yogaoverblueridge.com for details.
Because “life is better on the water,” Lake Lanier SUP provides boards for yoga and wellness retreats and also offers classes that can be incorporated into your own retreat, including SUP yoga, SUP fitness, sunrise or sunset paddle and eco-tours.
“I am a personal trainer and health coach, so I work to create a vibe and culture of wellness into our classes,” says owner Brett Radosta. “I believe SUP offers so many physical and mental health benefits. It’s also awesome to see everyone in such a good mood.”
Radosta’s eco-tours start at Don Carter State Park in Gainesville, where the Chattahoochee River leads into Lake Lanier. Tours begin with personal instruction for new paddlers followed by a relaxed exploration of some of Lanier’s most beautiful natural areas. “[Our tours] focus on the lake habitat and ecology that’s so vital to our community,” he says.
His SUP Yoga classes feature instruction by certified instructor Bethany Lord. For details, visit lakelaniersup.com.
If you’re looking to satisfy some true wanderlust with your wellness getaway, Hanalei SUP Yoga can help.
In addition to local retreats and classes on Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier, the Canton-based company orchestrates wellness get-aways to even more far-flung locales. This past spring, owner Jana Rife took a group to Dauphin Island, Alabama; on the horizon are two trips to Arizona this fall and another to Costa Rica next March. Trip costs include yoga, paddle tours, meditation, accommodations and most meals, with the option to add additional activities like bird watching or surfing lessons, depending on the destination.
“I love to travel and explore new places, and I really enjoy sharing my favorites with clients,” Rife says. Her destinations vary but are always near water in warm climates with plenty of outdoor activities available. “My retreats are an opportunity for clients to escape the stresses of daily life,” she says. “They [can] experience the many benefits of yoga and meditation as well as play and connect with new friends.
We usually explore the outdoors and I encourage them to try something new, to push past their fears and feel empowered and strong.” For a complete schedule, visit hanaleisupyoga.com.
YOGA DEL SOUL
Recognizing that true wellness involves not only physical health but mental and emotional too, Yoga del Soul owner Leah Klatzker, a holistic health coach, partners with grief recovery specialist Lanise Shortell for yoga and reflection retreats that focus on transforming grief and moving through trauma. “We want to re-open the heart,” Klatzker says.
“Our weekends will release the burden of unprocessed emotions that hinder the health of tissues in our necks, shoulders, hips, and low back. Focus for the weekend is exploring how our bodies bind and burrow emotions for self-protection as we offer remedies for release and restoration.
”The next local retreat takes place in August at the Atlanta Alpaca Treehouse, a whimsical facility in a beautiful bamboo forest, where llamas and alpacas roam freely to the delight of guests. The all-inclusive weekend features various types of yoga for all skill levels, along with workshops and plant-based foods.
Visit yogadelsoulga.com for details. Wherever your wellness wanderings lead you, may your retreat reward you with all the restorative benefits of self-care. Namaste!
If experiencing nature is a key to wellness, introducing animals into your yoga practice takes it up a notch. Such is the premise behind Love GOGA, which gives guests the unique chance to interact with animals like goats as they flow.
“Marrying my two greatest passions–animals and mindfulness–came very organically,” says owner Cathi Huff. “Each comes with its own benefits, but something magical happens when they are combined.
”The goats—including Annabelle, Daisy, Molly and Jolene—are a playful addition to Love GOGA’s Ashtanga-based Vinyasa yoga sessions. Depending on the pose, you might find a goat on your back or lying next to you while you pet her.“Animals have a profound ability to pull us back in the present moment where we belong, and hold us there–even just for an hour,” Huff says.
Love GOGA offers a variety of outdoor programming at Atlantis Dream Farm in Milton, as well as locations like Halcyon in Forsyth County and Cleveland’s North Georgia Zoo. Visit lovegoga.com for details.