I was royally burnt out in August 2018. My interns were witnessing me act like a crazy person and I was just feeling exhausted. I knew that I needed to get away and just write but the timing did not allow me to take more time to travel outside of the country. So while speaking with a colleague and a friend, she told me that I needed to find something close by that combined my two favorite things: Yoga and Wine.
I didn’t think I would be able to find anything but I gave it a try.
I sat up late on a Wednesday and googled “yoga and wine retreats.” Next thing you know, I found the link to Yoga Wine Party with a retreat in the Catskills starting in two days. I was floored. It was like the weekend was designed for me! I emailed them hoping that I would hear quickly that they still had room. Sure enough, I got two emails from Yoga Wine Party and Dina Ivas, the amazing yoga teacher running the retreat. There was room and all I had to do was pay. The process was so easy and I went to work completely excited Thursday morning that I was going to do something both fun and healthy (well at least partly). It was another experience of the Universe providing the perfect opportunity for growth.
I had no idea what to expect and quite frankly I was so exhausted that I simply threw some clothes in a bag and left NYC Thursday afternoon to relax before showing up for a retreat. I’m glad I took a day of self-care before arriving but even with a massage and some sleep, I quickly realized I was exhausted and forgetful. Part of the last minute disorganization was forgetting to bring my vitamins and some wine.
Fear not, I found the best wine store I’ve ever been in on my drive to Heathen Hill Yoga. I literally made a wrong turn and there it was – a super cute small boutique in the middle of a small town in the Catskills. Wild Common Wine was opened in December 2017 by a creative formerly in the film industry who used to live in Brooklyn. Not only was the owner warm and welcoming, she was highly knowledgeable and helpful in the bottle selection process. She and her husband live in their vacation home full time and opening Wild Common was a return to her original roots in the wine industry. Like so many of us, she didn’t imagine that she would be living in the Mountains but is glad to call the Catskills her home.
Armed with some wine (mostly so I didn’t feel like an idiot), I arrived at Heathen Hill Yoga and was immediately greeted with warmth and lots of hospitality by both Dina and her partner Liz Howng. Wine tasting commenced before dinner and I immediately knew that I was in front of a real wine educator – I actually learned more in that one tasting than I’ve ever have hanging out with a sommelier friend of mine. Liz is a Level 3 WSET wine educator and a phenomenal teacher. It was so much fun to actually get a real wine education – an added bonus I did not anticipate.
The real magic of the weekend was not just three amazing yoga classes or three different proper wine tastings, it was in the community that Dina, Liz, and the owners of Heathen Hill cultivated without trying. Meals were set at a long communal dining table that encouraged connection, the blossoming of friendships, and real intimacy. Around the dining room table we learned more of how we were alike than different. We learned that some of us were happily married, divorced or single. We learned that some of us were parents and some of us never wanted children. We learned some of us were in our twenties and some of us had children in their 40s. We learned that we all loved good food and wine. Yet, the biggest lesson for me was to watch how incredibly generous, caring, and loving everyone was toward each other. People shared their gifts of massage, listened with a compassionate ear, and told heartfelt stories. They bought bottles of wine for everyone and truly connected. This was a group of 12 strangers and it was a privilege and an honor to be a part of such an amazing experience. It fueled the beginning of my recovery and I am grateful to each and every one of the people who I had the pleasure of interacting with. I left the weekend on a high and wished it had been one more night longer.
Following this weekend, I went to visit my family and to sit and work on my book. While it is always a good time to see them, I felt that I needed to take some time for myself over the labor day weekend to really focus. I knew I needed complete quiet in natue. Still on my high from Yoga Wine Party, I found another yoga retreat center and booked a yoga vacation. Well actually, it was more of an ashram and I figured the structure and focus on just yoga would be good for me. I arrived and immediately felt like something was off with the energy of the people, not necessarily the center itself. Little did I know, I arrived on the day of a major Hindu holiday and the evening meditation sessions were scheduled to be four hours of chanting. I’m not opposed to kirtan or spirituality but I realized that this would not be a yoga vacation – it was going to be me avoiding a cult-like atmosphere just to find some peace to do my work.
Despite my initial judgments, I encouraged myself to ride things out for a couple of days just to explore. I made a deal with myself that if I could do work and write, I would stay. During the days, that is exactly what I did but during the meals, the negativity of the people working at this ashram seeped into the experience. Rather than being warm, welcoming and open, they were judgmental and closed off. They fostered an “us” versus “them” climate and made several attempts to guilt trip people into helping them in the kitchen as “karma yoga” when most of us were quietly doing karma yoga on our own. For a center whose purpose is to promote love, kindness, and compassion, I found it completely devoid of all three. Connections need to be mindfully cultivated and they were not – a detriment to the entire community.
Yoga is as much fitness as it is a spiritual practice with a very long history. Experiencing both of these retreats in such close proximity highlighted an immense learning lesson: It will never just be the yoga that makes for an amazing experience alone. It will be in the people your heart connects to during yoga that makes the difference.
I believe the founders of Yoga Wine Party have found a winning formula for making that possible for all of us. They are amazing teachers and I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with them.
Dr. Jennifer Rhodes
Licensed Psychologist and Founder of Rapport Relationships
Dr. Jennifer Rhodes is a relationship expert and licensed psychologist. She provides dating strategy, consultation, and date coaching services to clients all over the world. Dr. Rhodes is a frequently sought media expert on the topics of seduction, sensuality, dating, divorce, and relationships. In addition to Rapport Relationships, Dr. Rhodes is the founder of Visual Arts Reimagined (VAR) where she provides services to visual artists interested in entrepreneurship and leadership.