I looked at so many retreats before choosing the Expanding Light (EL). I was looking for a place and program to renew my spirit and bring back some of the optimism I had lost due to some recent stressful events in my life. I needed a break. I looked at places in Hawaii, Arizona, and even Europe, but something kept bringing me back to the EL website. I am a mom of 2, a full-time teacher with a stressful job, an average 40-something woman, and I flew from the East coast to CA alone to visit EL--this trip was not something I normally do, but I NEEDED this retreat, and it was very much worth the trip.
I signed up for their "First Timers Week" because I knew very little about meditation and/or yoga and figured I could not go wrong. One concern I had was the transportation from the airport to the EL--at first the $230 round trip cost of the Foothill Express seemed like a lot, but it was well worth the cost to have door-to-door service. Because I flew from VA to CA, I arrived the evening before and spent the night at a hotel near the airport so I could go to EL the next day without being pressed for time or arriving exhausted.
I was a little concerned about the EL being part of a cult--it is absolutely NOT a cult!!! The people at EL are caring, peaceful people who practice meditation in their own lives and want to share it with others. There is no "religion" or pressure to join anything or buy anything or donate money. Everyone I met there lives a positive, peaceful life, and everyone was extremely patient and kind. The EL is a retreat center, and everyone (guests and employees) is there to meditate, do yoga, and share a peaceful, stress-free environment. The guests who go there are normal, average people--not cultish radicals or zealous environmentalists. It helps to have an open mind, but just about anyone from any belief system would find something good at EL. (They do talk about "God" there, but not in a "religious" way--even if you do not necessarily believe in "God," it would not be uncomfortable.)
The program for the First Timer's Week was fantastic! However, you could go there on personal retreat and attend the classes on meditation/yoga and be just fine, even if you have never meditated or tried yoga before. (In other words, don't worry about choosing a "program" necessarily...personal retreat is wonderful and has plenty of guided activities available that you will not feel lost. ) The First-Timer's program was 5 days long, and I stayed one day before and one day after--if you do a program, I highly recommend staying an extra day. The classes each day were varied and interesting, but I very much enjoyed some time afterward to enjoy the grounds and reflect on everything.
I stayed at Harmony House ("deluxe accommodations"). I knew I was not up for sharing a room/bathroom, and Harmony House was perfect for me. My room provided everything I needed. (Even wi-fi!) I didn't spend lots of time in my room, so it was pretty much a comfortable place to sleep.
The food was good overall--I am a vegetarian anyway,so the lack of meat was not an issue for me. It was nice not to worry about a dish having meat in it! Several non-vegetarian guests said they really didn't miss meat while being at EL because the food is so good. We had homemade bread everyday! The food is simple but beautifully seasoned. Fresh salad is available at lunch and dinner. 2 minor comments about the food: First, they served lots of beans and other foods that may be a little hard on the digestive system--these foods+yoga/silent meditation may require Beano or over-the-counter gas medicine for some(!) Second, for those with a sweet tooth, there is no dessert served. They sell cookies for $1.50, but if you like your sweets, consider bringing some M&M's or favorite sweets with you! Also, the beverages are limited to water and tea. Coffee is served at breakfast and lunch. (I discovered that the Master's Market sells sodas, including Diet Pepsi!)
The grounds are so beautiful there...I enjoyed taking walks and soaking in the peaceful environment. I was skeptical at first about the whole notion that the place had "a peaceful feeling" about it, but it really does!! If you are a woman looking for a safe place to take a retreat, nothing could be safer than EL. Many of the guests there are women there alone.
My week at EL changed my life in so many positive ways. I left there feeling refreshed and happy, having met wonderful people in a beautiful environment. I have carried what I learned there into my life at home/work and plan to continue to practice many of the techniques I learned there. I arrived at EL weak, stressed, and anxious--I left calm, energetic, and optimistic. I plan to return to EL for a personal retreat. I highly recommend the EL to anyone looking for personal renewal and peace of mind!!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC