NEW YORK, May 11 (Reuter Life!) - When the going gets tough, the tough get centered, preferably in paradise.
Retailers may be shutting their doors, banks may be taking stress tests, but yoga retreats are surprisingly popular now even, or especially, among the unemployed, the soon-to-be unemployed, and the fearing-to-be unemployed.
"Several people I've spoken to in the last few weeks have said, 'You know, I just lost my job and I really shouldn't be doing this, but I need this retreat so-o-o badly,'" Wesleigh Roeca, who runs the retreat program at YogaWorks, said in an interview.
"We were in Ojai, California, in March, and we're going to Hawaii in June," said Roeca of the approximately week-long getaways conducted by the California-based national chain.
She also had a sold out retreat planned for Mexico this week, but was forced to cancel it due to the swine flu.
"Just about all of our retreats sell out," she explained, "It's a healing vacation. And in times of economic uncertainty, healing vacations offer people rejuvenation."
Another plus, according to Roeca, is that the retreats are typically all-inclusive one price that includes accommodations, meals, days filled with yoga, and even some excursions.
"A lot of bang for your buck!" she said.
At Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, located in the Berkshires town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, spokesperson Cathy Husid-Shamir agrees that uncertain times have shifted vacation priorities.
"People these days seem uncomfortable, even guilty, about just sitting on a beach," she said. "At our retreat center we teach the art and science of yoga to help people find health and balance. It's a learning vacation in an environment that supports it."
Kripalu, the name means grace, also offers courses on topics like stress management, health challenges, insomnia, and weight loss, as well as saunas, hiking trails, horseback riding and other activities.
As a nod to the times, Kripalu teachers have organized a tuition-free program for people who recently lost their jobs, even as the retreat prepares to open an 80-room expansion annex in June.
"People want to go somewhere where we can truly get away from it all," explained Husid-Shamir.
Nevertheless, Kripalu's policy of no alcohol on the menus, no television in the rooms, and a cuisine "heavy on plant base, with limited seafood and chicken," might deter the more epicurean yogi.
For Billy Asad, a self-described "adventurer-retreat guy," who has been organizing corporate and studio yoga getaways for 10 years, enjoyment trumps asceticism every time.
"Go have a glass of wine! Go have a steak! It's okay!" he said from Los Angeles. "I try to keep my retreats very balanced. And I like to have them in three-, four-, five-star hotels."
Asad typically combines yoga with surfing, hiking and camping adventures in faraway places like Mexico, Australia, and Bali.
He agrees these are boon times for the all-inclusive vacation.
"I book the hotel, I do everything. This idea of 'I don't want to think beyond booking my trip' is becoming more mainstream."
People return from the holidays, he said, relaxed and in a better place.
"With the economy fears, more people are turning toward wellness," he said. "What do you do when you're in fear? Either you accept the change or you fight it."