5 stars because if this specific kind of experience is what you are looking for, you will find it relaxing and uplifting, possibly even transforming. The overall experience far exceeded my expectations.
But first, BE WARNED.
If you are looking for a cheap boutique hotel on the beach, this is most definitely not it. As one strolls 400 yards west from the massive "Las Vegas" style Atlantis hotel, on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, you'll see the Shivanda Yoga Retreat presenting a number of cottages within 100 feet of the beach. There is even a large yoga platform almost on the beach. 'Sure looks like a fine boutique hotel. But traveler beware; it's very far from it. But remember, I give this experience 5 stars, so if you don't check out in the next couple of paragraphs (for good reason) you'll see why.
More like a cross between a Hindu monastery and an adult summer camp. This a great blend if you don't require a private bath with your room or tent (some rooms do have private baths however), don't mind or even enjoy exclusively vegetarian cafeteria-style communal meals at picnic tables. They even offer "mandatory", "semi-required", or "suggested" (I never figured out which, and made my own choice to attend most, but not all of the sessions) meditation and Sanskrit chanting sessions at 6 AM and 8 PM.
Did I mention: no alcohol, no tobacco, no drugs? Yes, that too. No beach chairs, cabanas, or beach bar.
On the other hand, where can you go and observe/participate in the "real deal" Hindu and yogic spiritual and temple rituals, learn yoga and meditation in an immersion context from professional, patient and caring guides, and engage with other spiritual seekers from many different paths from all over the world; all at various points on their journey. And all within a very accepting and upbeat context.
Here's my example:
In early January, I asked my friend Richard (who has travelled widely) where I could go for some beach time without becoming a complete slug; eating, drinking too much, getting sunburned and vacating virtually everything. Doesn't sound bad, but this time I wanted to maintain, or even enhance my "inner work" without completely indulging every whim. He suggested this place, which he has visited a couple of times with his wife. His wife was expecting 4-5 star accommodations and service, so she gives the food and accommodations 2-3 stars, the yoga 4 stars; the beach 5 stars plus.
I enjoy tent camping, and actually prefer to sleep that way rather than in a small confined room. My tent was pitched on a platform, had a light, fan, bedside table, open dresser, bed with foam mattress, wardrobe with hangers. Altogether most elegant for tent camping. My only complaint about the "room"? The bed was too short for my 6-1 frame, and the mattress too thin for my 280 lbs. Yes that's me, XX Large. With multiple sports and career injuries on every limb. I considered requesting another mattress (they are thin) and placing 2 directly on the floor, but was pretty well accustomed by the time my visit ended.
The Yoga: My only prior exposure to yogic practice was a couple of local beginner classes taken a few weeks before my trip. I enrolled in the in 5 day Beginners Class for the first part of my retreat. Our class met for 1 hour of lecture, consisting of a well-presented introduction to the larger context of yoga as a spiritual discipline; the place of asanas (the unusual poses that some might describe as tortuous), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation, and lifestyle choices. The point for me was that the asanas are part of a larger practice.
We also met for a 2 hour "yoga" class which focused on gradually learning the 12 poses and the breathing exercises. During these classes our very capable and experienced instructor showed us numerous modifications to accommodate our specific physical challenges. What was important about the modifications was that the quality of the "perfect pose" was stressed much less than the intent of the pose (both inner and outer). This allowed someone like me, whose physical limitations and injuries required a modification for just about every pose, to gain most of the benefit of the practice. I couldn't imagine a better way or place to learn about or participate in a yogic practice.
The Beach: Oceanside. Almost deserted. Lots of trees along the beach provide excellent shade. Did I say almost deserted?
The People: Many guests; over 200 (including staff and monks) which at times felt a bit crowded. Although I could always find a spot away from it all (often the beach. such hardship). I definitely did not take this trip to meet people, but in spite of myself, I did meet a number of kindred spirits and deep souls.
To summarize: I've been fortunate enough to vacation in several of the finest resorts in the world, spending $20-30k for an amazing, pampered, and "vacating" week or two. Excepting self-guided wilderness camping trips, my week at Shivanada Bahamas was one of my least expensive vacations, but one of the most enriching. I will definitely return. 'Might even take the Beginners Yoga Class again.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Yoga Retreat is a spiritual center & retreat place offering courses and workshops and yoga vacation. The daily schedule includes two yoga classes, two Satsangs (meditation sessions) and two vegetarian meals. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat Hotel Paradise Island
- Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat Bahamas/Paradise Island