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NM yoga retreats offer focused practice and breathtaking scenery

“Ommmmm.” Twenty-five voices chanted the universal unifying yoga mantra. Natural hot springs warmed our muscles, the moon illuminated our paths, a river offered meditative reflection.

My husband and I recently joined together with couples, singles, mothers and adult daughters for a day-and-a-half yoga retreat nestled within the rocky peaks of the Jemez Mountains.

Our first day’s schedule offered three 1½-hour yoga classes, both rigorous and restorative, with time for relaxing and enjoying delicious vegetarian meals. Early meditation and a soak in the hot springs were a calming morning wake-up before we moved purposefully through our final asanas to the beat of a soothing percussionist.

A 2012 “Yoga in America” study noted that 20.4 million Americans are now practicing yoga. Yoga has become a $27 billion business according to Yoga Journal magazine. Yoga retreats have sprung up throughout the world.

In New Mexico, yoga retreats range from simple tent camping to luxurious lodges.

Under the full moon

Gloria Drayer has been offering her “Full Moon Yoga Retreat” at White Sands National Monument for 15 years. Yogis tent camp on the dunes.

“The full moon yoga retreat is one of my yoga highlights,” says Jutta Lehmer, who has participated in the White Sands retreat three times. “It is a magical place away from everything, nothing else matters, it is a perfect place to do yoga.”

Drayer guides yogis through a mindful class as the sun sets and the full moon rises. “Afterwards we often share a pot luck and walk on the dunes,” says Lehmer, “and then another class at sunrise. It’s nice to do yoga in a community, even if you don’t know many of the people. And yoga at sunrise is an unusual way to start the day!”

Lehmer took her children to the retreat when they were younger and recently celebrated her 50th birthday with friends and a special birthday “om.”

Zoreh Afsarzadeh emailed from Costa Rica, where she was leading one of her many international retreats. Tanned and relaxed back in Albuquerque, we had the chance to chat while we visited at her state-of-the-art High Desert Yoga studio. Afsarzadeh facilitates retreats in New Mexico during the spring and fall in Taos, Jemez and the Gila.

“Retreats allow people to get away from their routine. A lot comes to the surface during a retreat, even for me. We begin to understand what pushes our buttons. By the third or fourth day, there is a sense of clarity, insight and purpose,” she notes. “There is so much transformation in such a short time.

“The New Mexico retreats fill up immediately,” says Afsarzadeh. “We have a lot of repeats and the word spreads quickly.”

Good vibrations

Many yogis follow favorite teachers to retreats. And coupled with the state’s magnificent landscape, yoga retreats in New Mexico can become unforgettable.

Rachel Gutter, a Washington, D.C., executive, travels to New Mexico for her “beloved teacher Shawn Parell. Shawn’s Labor Day retreat has become an annual tradition that draws yogis from all over the country,” says Gutter.

Santa Fe-based Parell holds her retreat at the Vallecitos Retreat Center, a remarkable refuge and ranch surrounded by 300,000 acres of the Carson National Forest. The 1928 lodge is patterned after the lodge at Yellowstone National Park. Comfortable casitas, yurts and tent cabins accommodate guests. A network of trails winds through the ranch and the surrounding landscape, including a stunning section of the national Continental Divide Trail.

“Vallecitos is a sanctuary for the spirit and a rare gift for the senses,” says Parell of the ranch retreat. “The place hums with natural goodness.”

Gutter concurs.

“Vallecitos has a wonderful vibration. It is serene and pristine. My first day there I waked to the little pond where my favorite Mary Oliver poem was tacked to the weather-worn dock and we rowed out to the center of the pond and had a swim,” she says. “Retreats are an opportunity to return to our center, to reconnect with ourselves and our purpose. Vallecitos is a wonderful place for quieting the noise and tuning in.”

A way of life

The Mandala Center outside of Raton is Carrie Leven’s go-to. Leven is an archaeologist with the Carson National Park outside of Taos. She enjoys Monique Parker’s peaceful Svastha Yoga Wellness Retreat.

“It is my vacation from a hectic office and the constant squelch of radio traffic, meetings and my office mates’ telephone conversations. I love the freedom of being treated to excellent meals, staff hospitality, beautiful facilities and hiking trails in a tranquil country setting,” Leven says. “The special attention and generous instruction from Monique is perfect for calming my breath, focusing my mind, strengthening my body, and reconnecting with my soul.”

This is Parker’s sixth year of teaching at the Mandala Center located on the slopes of the Sierra Grande Mountain with sweeping and expansive views of the desert plains and unobstructed views of Capulin Peak.

“Even a beginner would feel comfortable and have a place at Monique’s retreat,” says Debby Halpern of Angel Fire. Halpern, 68, has been practicing yoga since she was 22. “I have my toes in this vast ocean of yoga … it is a way of life, and much deeper than just exercise.”

Ommmm … the sound echoes as we seal our practice. The drum slowly quiets. Our brief day and a half without the distractions of cellphones, computers and a “to-do” list has felt like a relaxing, energizing and transformative full week’s vacation. Namaste.

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