It is hard to imagine a more spectacular place in which to go on a Yoga Retreat than in the Lakes Basin Region of Sierra County – only a two-hour drive from Nevada City. It is a land of pure air, soaring jagged buttes, glorious flora, and super clear mountain lakes that is invigorating and contentment producing.
Amidst this grandeur sits the destination resort of Gray Eagle Lodge, where a Yoga Retreat is planned May 17-19, the weekend before Memorial Day.
The two couldn’t be better suited. “The area around Gray Eagle is the most serene that I have experienced,” says yoga student Brian Vandoski of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “I love the feeling that stays with me (after yoga practice) – a sense of well being, wholeness, and being recharged,” said intermediate-level student Barbara Gage, 59, of Cromberg, California.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s explore more in depth what the retreat and the Lodge have to offer.
To some, the word “yoga” might connote a demand for hard work under Spartan conditions. Wipe that image from your mind. Instead, think of being taken care of, even pampered, in a resort that puts your comfort first, above all else. Spacious, modern cabins, maid service, a comfortable lodge, and terrific food. That’s indoors. Outdoors it’s hiking on great trails to pristine lakes, fishing in the nearby creek, trees, and a multitude of soft-colored wildflowers in season.
Sounds good so far? Now about the retreat itself.
It’s open to everyone – that means all skill levels. The yoga taught is gentle, a combination of Iyengar and Hatha. We’ll explain those terms shortly. And you can be of any, or no, religious persuasion to partake of its benefits.
The retreat is organized around eight hours of yoga teaching and practice with plenty of free time thrown in. There are two half-hour morning meditations included, the better to start off your practice with.
Laurel Boggs, 49, is the teacher. A soft-spoken woman with a warm laugh, Boggs has been teaching yoga for 13 years, although she’s actually practiced it for 23 years. And not only is she experienced in yoga, this will be her fourth Yoga Retreat at Gray Eagle Lodge. She’s not only certified in yoga, but in massage therapy, as well.
“Iyengar yoga,” explains Boggs, “is a method that deals with correct body alignment and precision in the yoga asanas. It uses yoga props, such as bolsters, blocks, straps, and chairs to support the practitioner.” Or, listen to a student describe the experience: “Laurel’s is a slower, easier form of yoga in which you go deeper spiritually,” says 39-year-old Denise Battagin of Taylorsville, California, who considers herself a beginning intermediate. “It’s restorative yoga.”
Check-in and orientation begin Friday afternoon, with the first yoga class scheduled before dinner. And if seclusion is what you’re looking for, the twenty or so yoga guests will have the whole lodge to themselves on the Retreat weekend. Gray Eagle officially opens to the public Memorial Day weekend.
On Saturday, Retreat guests start off with a light breakfast, a brief meditation, and the second yoga class. A word here about skill level. Boggs says “All levels are welcome. This means anyone from a very beginner to the most advanced student will get benefit from the Retreat.” While Boggs is teaching the Warrior Pose to some, a student who is more practiced can do an advanced version of the pose. Boggs also issues the invitation to all ages, saying “Adults are welcome at any age (between) 15 and 100!”
Back to Saturday. After lunch there’s an afternoon of free time. What to do? Well, there’s always sitting on the porch of your cabin to read a great book. Or, like two repeat Retreat guests who always bring their watercolors, you could create something. Perhaps you want to get in touch with nature by going on a hike, either alone, or one guided by wildland biologist Tricia York, who will tell you all sorts of interesting things about the trees, wildflowers, and wildlife found at this invigorating altitude of 5,800 feet.
This area is filled with countless trails that lead to many of the 32 lakes that dot the landscape in a 10-mile radius. While they will be too chilly to swim during May, they offer a beautiful scene to contemplate while eating the bag lunch packed for you at the Lodge.
If you’re lucky you might just see some bear scat, although most folks have hiked this area for years without seeing hide nor hair of a bear. Actually, you probably have a better chance of seeing a California black bear ambling by the window as you have breakfast in the restaurant, says Bret Smith, the 40-year-old owner of Gray Eagle Lodge. “Unfortunately, they’re after our garbage.” One final choice for your free time is receiving a totally relaxing massage from Boggs herself.
A talented lady, Boggs is good at what she does, whether it’s massaging or teaching various yoga poses. One repeat Retreat guest praised her methods: “The first year I was out for the Retreat, Laurel told me that she was going to have me in the Shoulder Stand by the end of the weekend. (By) teaching me how to work and accept how the body was going to work in the pose, she had me up and holding it by Sunday morning.”
Indeed, many students keep coming back to Boggs’ Yoga Retreat – the mark of a good experience for the student guests.
Evenings are an amazing time to be at Gray Eagle. Start with a glass of wine in the Lodge’s living room with its 30-foot vaulted ceiling and big log trusses while lounging on a soft, Cabin-style sofa in front of a blazing fire (Smith is a wine connoisseur of some repute). The 5,000-square-foot Lodge, built in 1923, has rooms upstairs, a game room, and “a continuous puzzle” that you’re free to help construct, invites Smith.
Deliciously creative vegetarian faire is on the menu during the Retreat Weekend at the Firewoods Restaurant, Gray Eagle’s gourmet detached eatery. During its regular season, Firewoods attracts diners from hundreds of miles away with its delicious signature dishes such as trout, duck, and ribs.
After dinner, star gazing in this area of minimal light pollution is truly an awesome experience. Soon a campfire is started, a nightly event that includes a dessert from your youthful camping days – S’mores. Ahhhhhhhh. And then to a deeply refreshing night’s sleep – the kind of sleep that comes after a day of exercise and relaxation in a remote mountainous spot.
Yoga for many is simply a way to remain physically flexible, mentally focused, and emotionally calm. In fact, Boggs reassures students that “yoga is a deep, inner listening – to your breath and what your body is telling you.” Like “I ache” or “Please, I need some rest” or “Oh, that feels wonderful.”
All yoga asks of you is comfortable clothes, a yoga mat or blanket, an attitude of willingness, and the desire to relax the mind and body. And practice, of course. What yoga gives in return is actually quite a bit, as it turns out. It seems to help out with a plethora of bothersome conditions, such as insomnia, high blood pressure, and stiff joints. “It can even,” says Boggs, “slow down the aging process.” This isn’t an idle boast. One of Boggs long time students – real estate business owner Jane Valentine, 66 – claims that people can’t believe she’s even a grandmother of eight, much less an about-to-be-great grandmother.
Even though most participants at the retreats historically have been women, men are most cordially invited. Take Vandoski for example. He has been coming to this retreat for several years, all the way from Wisconsin. “I need to break and renew,” says the resort worker, “…and I usually return to work a new person.” But it isn’t only the Yoga Retreat, the great cozy wooden Lodge, or even the setting, that people are attracted to. It’s the people. Says Battagin, mother of two small children, “The people I meet here are totally inspirational. We have great camaraderie.” “Being with good friends,” “Like family” are words heard over and over again from retreat guests.
And from Smith himself. After all, he’s been running Gray Eagle for 10 years, and as 70% of his guests are return visitors – year after year – he gets to know them. For instance, one couple, who started coming to Gray Eagle Lodge 20 years ago, held their daughter’s wedding there years later. “Now,” says Smith, “they’re planning to celebrate the wife’s 60th birthday with family and friends.” The facilities, by the way, can accommodate up to 75 wedding guests. (“Accommodating” is a good word to use, by the way, for Gray Eagle.
Everyone interviewed used it to describe staff and services.)
Great people aside, this retreat can also be a wonderful time for solitude. “I take this retreat,” says Valentine, who has never missed one, “mainly for myself, to have time alone. I have a very hectic life. This grounds me, and I feel very rested.”
To add to the serenity of the place; and, frankly, says Smith, to get families to interact, the cabins have no TV and no phones. Once people get used to this, it works out fine. The fact that many families, when checking out, actually book their cabins for the year to come – sort of like “same time, next year” – proves this.
If the Spring Yoga Retreat doesn’t fit into your plans, don’t despair, it’s a Gray Eagle staple. The Fall Yoga Retreat – from October 25-27 – is already scheduled. ReNee Soumbeniotis and Bernie Harrison are the teachers, and this Retreat combines yoga with Aston Patterning. “If you have a physical problem, like a problem shoulder,” says Soumbeniotis, “and are having difficulty getting into a particular pose, this can help you.” How to find Gray Eagle Lodge: It’s on Gold Lake Road between Bassett’s and Blairsden. Plan for a 2-hour drive from Nevada City.
How to contact Gray Eagle Lodge:
Phone: 530 836 2511 or 800 635 8778
Web site: You can experience a great tour of the lodge and get information about the Yoga Retreat on Gray Eagle’s web site at http://www.grayeaglelodge.com
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