The desert in spring is a magical experience. The cacti bloom with red and pink flowers; days are warm, but not hot; rosy sunsets burst over jagged red rocks; cool, clear nights are perfect for campfires and stargazing. With its miles of sandstone mesas, thousands of natural rock arches, wide canyons carved from the Colorado River, and easy access to five national parks, it’s easy to understand why sleepy little Moab, Utah – located in the state’s Southeastern high desert region – attracts over a million visitors a year.
In short, it’s the perfect backdrop for outdoor yoga, quiet reflection, and connecting with the natural stillness of the ancient desert landscape. And I was thrilled to be invited to the first-ever Desert Shakti retreat this past May, hosted by Jayne Gottlieb, founder of the Aspen Shakti in Aspen, Colorado – a destination studio and spa that features Vinyasa, hot yoga, and Buddhi Shakti yoga (a blend of asana, dance, Kundalini kriyas, tantra, cardio, and more)
The Ultimate Glamping Experience
Set at the glamping destination, Moab Under Canvas, the location had an upscale festival vibe thanks to sturdy canvas tents featuring all the comforts of home: king-sized beds, wood-burning stoves, lamps and phone chargers. Some high-luxury tents even include indoor toilets and showers.
Theatrical “Burning Man” touches added a bit of drama to the weekend. Costumes and colorful clothing were encouraged for participants. If you didn’t bring anything wild, you could select from a variety of handmade headwear, called Spirit Crowns designed by artist and shaman Sophie Howell. These whimsical pieces of wearable art were displayed on a table and could be worn or exchanged at anytime during the three days.
“I saw this as the ‘love child’ of a [meditative] retreat and an [art] festival in my mind,” said Gottleib. “I love beauty and making spaces come alive more extraordinarily than you would expect.”
Gottlieb has a natural gift for creating beautiful visual vignettes due to her background in theater. In fact, she moved to Aspen in her early twenties to work in dinner theater, and, shortly thereafter, started a children’s theater company that she ran for several years before becoming a yoga teacher.
Creating a Sacred Space
One sacred space was the gorgeous desert altar on the yoga platform, which served as the heart and soul of the retreat. Draped with faux sheepskins and laid with fresh flowers and big, beautiful crystals, like rose quartz and selenite, the altar was a focal point of each practice and an available to participants as an inspirational meditation space during free time.
Along with daily yoga classes (Vinyasa, Kundalini, and Restorative), the weekend included stand-up paddleboarding on the Colorado River, a nightly fire ceremony, and fresh Ayurvedic meals. Gottleib selected activities to expand the “mind, body, spirit, and community” aspects of our lives.
“The reason I am committed to those tributaries is my whole message is about strengthening the nervous system, so we can live a fully-alive life.”
The retreat ended on Sunday with an ice-cold dip in the Colorado River to reboot the body and mind, an exercise of ishnaan–or hydrotherapy–which is a foundation of Kundalini Yoga and, more recently, is gaining popularity through Wim Hoff and his cold therapy techniques. One by one–or in pairs–we jumped off smooth rock cliffs into the ice cold water, cheered on by the circle of supporters surrounding us. This simple act of courage can truly make you feel alive.
Jayne Gottleib’s next retreat, Harvest Shakti, will be held in Paonia, Colorado from November 7 - 10, 2019. This will be a food-themed weekend, featuring organic farm-to-table meals, wine, daily yoga and meditation classes, in this picturesque wine-producing region in Colorado. Details here.