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Om Is Where the Heart Is

Urban yogis create a soul–rejuvenating country retreat that you can recreate at home.

By Molly Culbertson

Fridays find Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan and her husband, Maxwell, packing their bags and heading for Long Island, like so many other Manhattanites. But their decision to restore an early-19th-century barn on their property has turned their weekend home into a unique respite from the trappings of urban existence. Surrounded by bluffs that overlook the Long Island Sound, the barn now houses a kitchen, a dining area, and a spacious yoga studio—a stark contrast from their tiny studio apartment in lower Manhattan and their weekday lives. During the week, Sara Kate works for a nonprofit foundation; Maxwell teaches at a private school. But on weekends, the yoga room awaits them and the many friends who join them for summertime retreats.

On Friday evenings, guests gather for a simple meal created from whatever is fresh from Sara Kate's garden. Then it's early to bed—in cloth-covered yurts that dot the property—so everyone can rise with the sun. Breakfast on Saturday is taken in silence, giving those gathered a chance to transition into a reflective weekend. Yoga is often taught by friend and yoga teacher Alison Novie, who guides the group in vinyasa classes. Time in between yoga sessions, group meditations, and meals is unstructured, allowing the freedom to read, nap, swim, walk, or meditate.

At the end of the day, everyone takes a turn in the outdoor shower and then gathers around a fireplace that Maxwell built. "Evening is a magical time out here," Sara Kate says. "We have the fire outside, dozens of candles burning inside, and so many stars that the sky seems to reflect the candles dozens of times over."

On Sunday, guests pack up to go back to the city just after midday, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. "This is where I feel most at home," Sara Kate says. "So sometimes it's hard to leave. But I know that each weekend I'm here gives me great balance and helps me through the week to come."

Stay-at-Home Getaway

You don't need a second home to host a weekend retreat. Here are some ideas for enjoying a great escape without going anywhere.

Create a yoga space that feels open and uncluttered. Sounds and smells can be deeply soothing, so have CDs and aromatherapy candles at the ready.

Consider hiring a yoga teacher to lead a session or a massage therapist for extra pampering. However you orchestrate the schedule, remember that the goal is to have plenty of time for quiet reflection.

Create an area where guests can choose from yoga and meditation books, magazines, or novels. Ask each friend to bring a favorite book to contribute to the mix.

Simplify meals by making them a community effort. Plan a simple menu and ask your friends to bring specific items to contribute, or give each guest a task to help get the food on the table.

Let other friends and family know that you'll be out of touch unless there's an emergency. Then turn off your cell phone and relish the silence until the designated end of your retreat.

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