It’s likely you know someone who’s been on an active retreat. The colleague who comes back from holidays looking tanned and terrific, and swearing they spent their time off working hard and eating clean. Thailand, you say? No Pad Thai and Singhas? Just sun, salt water and cardio? Really?

Active retreats are booming, geared towards those who feel compelled to take their workout obsession to the next level, or who want the dreamy, tropical location but would prefer their poolside routine was a little more challenging than sunset cocktails and paperback thrillers. The idea certainly isn’t new – for many years people have been travelling to boxing and Muay Thai gyms across Asia, or to India to practice yoga. But the way trips are packaged and marketed has changed, and the active retreat is finding favour with a new, Instagram-driven audience.

The active formula
One of the most successful providers of the active retreat is Active Escapes, run by Melbourne’s Zanna Conlan. Conlan started the business in 2012 and has gained a strong following on social media, recruiting popular personal trainers to lead retreats, scouring the globe for idyllic locations and establishing a formula of exercise and leisure time that has seen thousands sign up to the experience.

With week-long retreats in Bali, Thailand, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Costa Rica, Noosa and the Maldives, guests can expect to complete one to two workouts a day, plus yoga, surfing and optional leisure activities such as wakeboarding, ropes and obstacle courses, and snorkelling. “All of our trips are about ‘balance’,” says Conlan, who is a qualified surf lifesaver and surf instructor. “We train daily, but we make sure there’s plenty of relaxation time as well as drinks and social nights out.”

Balance mind, body and soul
Yoga retreats are also incredibly popular with those looking for a slower-paced getaway. Most established studios will offer one to two trips a year where a teacher accompanies a group of students for a week of asana, meditation, clean eating and rest. Amy Leonard-King from Melbourne’s Yoga Corner is currently preparing to lead a group to Bali’s Desa Seni in Canggu, just north of Seminyak.

“Our clients are looking for ways to improve the health, wellbeing and balance in their lives by attending yoga classes at the studio, and coming on retreat is a step beyond that – it’s an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in wellness while stepping away from the daily grind,” says Leonard-King. “On retreat, the daily practices of yoga and meditation sink in on a much deeper level. It’s amazing to see people really start to reap the benefits of moving their bodies and quieting their minds.”

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Sweat over snoozing
So why choose an active-style retreat over a week sitting on a beach, reading a book and looking forward to a daily happy hour? For Leonard-King, yoga retreats offer benefits far beyond just winding down. “The benefits of a daily yoga practice on both the body and mind are well known: balance, stress relief, physical wellbeing and, further down the track, finding a deeper understanding of ourselves. To us, the experience is where you’ll find the proof, and it outweighs a regular beach holiday to no end.”

Megan Gamble is Broadsheet’s “Movement” columnist. She’s a full-time mum to baby Flynn but likes to squeeze freelance writing and yoga teaching into her busy schedule. If in Melbourne, join her classes at Yoga Flame Windsor on Sundays at 5pm (yin yoga) and Yoga Corner on Mondays at 5.30pm and 7pm (vinyasa and hot basics).