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Nurture Your Soul with a Zen Retreat
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Make like a monk and unplug from your hectic, always-connected life with a Zen retreat this New Year. Learn how to meditate, fine-tune your yoga practice, or just spend quiet time communing with nature. Here are five great spots to immerse yourself in a day or weekend of reflection and relaxation so you can start the new year calm and centered.

City Center, San Francisco

You don’t have to head to the country or mountains to find inner bliss. City Center, also known as the Beginner’s Mind Temple, is a tranquil Zen oasis in the middle of San Francisco. If you’ve resolved to make 2015 the year you finally learn to mediate, this is a good place to start. City Center’s schedule of mediation and yoga programs includes Zazen (seated Zen meditation) classes for beginners every Saturday morning. In January and February, you can also enroll in one of several four-week classes that will teach you how to establish a regular meditation practice.  

Insider Tip: City Center doesn’t offer overnight retreats, but it has six attractive rooms available for short-term stays if you’d like to taste life in a Buddhist temple.

 

Esalen Institute, Big Sur

From its stunning location on the Big Sur coast, Esalen’s mind-blowing array of workshops and retreats attract spiritual seekers from around the world. Accommodations run the gamut from luxurious ocean-view suites to meeting rooms where up to 12 people can crash in their own sleeping bags.

If the institute’s scheduled retreats don’t appeal to you, or are beyond your budget, create your own. Enjoy everything Esalen has to offer—beautiful grounds and facilities, daily meditation, dance or yoga classes, and those famous swimsuit-optional hot springs—minus the added expense of tuition for a workshop. All retreats include organic meals featuring ingredients from Esalen’s farm.

Insider Tip: Personal retreats are available to Friends of Esalen who make a minimum contribution of $50 to the Esalen Fund.

 

Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, Muir Beach, Marin

Like City Center, Green Gulch Farm is part of the San Francisco Zen Center. Tucked in a valley that ends at Muir Beach, the farm’s lush gardens and organic crops are rimmed by woods and hills laced with trails. In addition to one-day meditation programs, tea gatherings and children’s activities, Green Gulch holds special retreats for everyone from business professionals to experienced meditators. While the peaceful surroundings will feed your spirit, vegetarian meals prepared with bounty from the farm will nourish your body.

Green Gulch also offers personal retreats. Spend a few days following your own agenda of hiking, beach combing, and contemplating. Or try a Guest Practice Retreat: Join the center’s resident Zen students for scheduled work and meditation each morning, then chill out or explore in the afternoon. Housing options include the recently renovated Lindisfarne guesthouse, a 12-room Japanese retreat structure that sits beside a creek.

Insider Tip: Green Gulch is almost finished with a new housing unit, but final work on and around the building will continue in early 2015.

 

Mount Madonna Center, Santa Cruz Mountains

Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains and overlooking Monterey Bay, Mount Madonna Center offers daily yoga and meditation classes as well as a variety of retreats for beginner to advanced yoga students.

Personal retreats are also available. Recharge with a weekend of quiet reflection, hiking, swimming in the on-site lake, reading, and soaking in the hot tub. Accommodations range from rustic cabins with nearby restrooms to basic hotel-style rooms with private or shared bathrooms. The price of your retreat includes vegetarian meals. And if you book a mid-week retreat in January or February, you’ll receive a 20 percent discount.

Insider Tip: Don’t rely on Yahoo Maps, MapQuest, or your GPS to get to Mount Madonna. Follow the directions posted on the center’s website.

 

Spirit Rock, West Marin 

Specializing in teaching Insight Meditation, Spirit Rock is located in the gentle rolling hills of rural West Marin. In addition to an array of ongoing classes, Spirit Rock also offers mindfulness programs tailored to women, families, teens, recovering addicts, writers, and others with special needs or interests.

To truly tune out distractions and turn your focus inward for a few days or even a month, attend one of Spirit Rock’s silent retreats. Fees include a simple but comfortable room—many have views of the grounds—and vegetarian meals. At most of these retreats, you’ll have to refrain from gabbing with your dining companions as the silence-is-golden rule applies during meals, too.

Insider Tip: If you can’t afford a class or a retreat, Spirit Rock allows qualified participants to work off the cost of some programs.