(or "Twelve Reasons to go to a Feathered Pipe Ranch Retreat As Soon As You Can" )
Full disclosure. I'm head over heels in love with Feathered Pipe. There is nothing unbiased about what I have to say. I serve on the Feathered Pipe Ranch Foundation board too, but that's only because I love it so much and my feelings about the place and its transformative power run deep.
Disclosures, aside, nothing that I have to say is untrue.
Each July for the past 11 years, I've been making my way to a yoga retreat center called the Feathered Pipe Ranch. It rests smack dab in the middle of millions of acres of national forest outside of Helena, Montana.
Eleven years ago I convinced myself to sign up for one of Erich Schiffmann’s week-long yoga and meditation workshops at the Ranch, despite the prospect of a whole week trapped on a mountain ranch with a congenitally groovy crowd. No doubt a bunch humorless vegans sharing inside Sanskrit jokes and pressing all my “you don’t fit in here either” buttons. I was concerned enough that it might be too unbearably weird to bear that I spent hundreds of dollars renting a car to keep at the Ranch in case I had to make a quick getaway. You know, if I needed a reprieve from a menu of sprouted woo-burgers and a bunch of people who’d found their innermost deepest peace and were going to be totally boring about it.
I had my marked-up copy of Erich’s book, a sleeping bag, the requisite purple yoga mat, a getaway car in case I needed to fetch some emergency white sugar, and a rough working knowledge of spinal anatomy. That would have to do.
Surprise! It wasn’t weird at all. And the woo-burgers were quite tasty since they really know what they’re doing with the spices in the kitchen there.
The Feathered Pipe Ranch is the most magical, mystical, fairy-dusted-forest-blow-your-mind-mountain-beauty place on the planet that I’ve stumbled on to so far. And who knew, but it turns out that the people who come to these gigs are a lot like me. Or you.
They’re dentists and school teachers and farmers and poets and writers and wildlife rescuers and senior judges and singers and dancers and Navy SEALS and forklift operators and parents and business tycoons and photographers and civil servants and painters and we even had a porn star once. A bunch of them ate meat and didn’t even know what a Neti Pot was, for heaven’s sake. I was home.
No, seriously. I was home.
When I was in the 6th grade and hopelessly in love with John Denver, I was confused and intrigued by a line in one of his songs. About coming home to a place he’d never been before. Say what, John (my beloved)? Zero point three four seconds after my feet hit the ground at the Ranch and I saw the mountains and the lake and the lodge and the pines and the air smelled like, well, a mountain lake and pines? The cosmic reset button had been pressed. And all the little subatomic particles of memory in my body of accumulated tension, contraction, ancient grief, fear, sadness, guilt, pain, and regret began to shake loose. How on earth does that happen? But oh the surprising relief of it.
You know how when you have the flu and shivers at work and you’ve felt like crap all day and even your hair is starting to hurt? You come home, sink under the downy comforter your Aunt Esther gave you in college, and the Advil mercifully begins to kick in? Your tortoiseshell cat snuggles up and your beloved kisses your forehead and you remember it’s possible to feel good? The Feathered Pipe Ranch is something like that. Only you don’t need NSAIDs. (Arnica cream will come in handy if you overdo it hiking or asanating, though.)
Its alchemy triggers the the memory in your ancient heart of wholeness and unmitigated joy. So much so that it can almost knock a person down. When English poet William Blake wrote that we are on this earth to “learn to bear the beams of love,” he could easily have been at the Feathered Pipe Ranch.
It was location-love at first sight. Home in a place I’d never been. Plus? There’s almost no humidity, my hair doesn’t frizz, and there are like ZERO mosquitoes at that elevation.
I could go on about me and why I love this place and plan to go there every summer forever if I don't somehow manage to figure out a way to live there for months on end (I'm working on it, believe me).
But this really isn't about me. It's about you, dear reader, and twelve reasons why you might want to consider going there. THIS summer. While there are still openings in some of the workshops. These reasons only touch the tip of a very big iceberg, but in the interests of your time and the fact that I still have a pile of laundry the size of North Dakota awaiting my attention this evening and a day job to consider, I'll try to keep it as short as I can.
I know there are lots of great places around the world to experience a yoga retreat. I'm just saying this is one that should be very high on your list. Very very very high.
1. The setting is gob-smack-yourself-upside-the-head-in-disbelief-at-your-awe exquisitely beautiful.
Have a peek at some of the photos from my trips at the bottom of this page. No camera can capture the full dimension of any experience, but we're talking about a place that has every visual and sensual delight you could ask for to settle into a long overdue exhale of relief at how it's still possible to be completely surrounded by unsullied beauty. Quaking aspens, towering lodge-pole pines that smell like summer, a gorgeous lake in the middle of the Ranch's property, and trails that wind their way through all of it. This place is seriously, sweetly beautiful. Every inch of it.
2. Summer in Montana is awesome.
The days are warm, the nights are delightfully cool for sleeping, the elevation is high enough to keep you and biting mosquitoes far away from each other, and the quality of light in the great West gives the whole place a sparkle that dribbles under your skin and into your bones and muscles and ligaments and tendons and leaves you feeling whole and healed just from doing nothing more complicated than standing awestruck at the idea that, "Wow, it's summer and I'm in Montana and whatever could have made me believe that life was anything but an awesomely magical experience?"
3. You can have as much or as little solitude as suits you.
Ranch retreats are designed to offer you what you need most. If you want to hang out with your new friends or the buddy you came with between classes, you can do that. You can just as easily slip away for an afternoon napping on the lawn, canoeing on the lake, meditating at the stupa, lounging in the hot tub or sauna, or strolling in the woods under the dappled light of the pines.
4. The lodging choices give you all kinds of flexible options to suit your needs and personal preferences.
If you love to hear the sounds of nature at night and love staying alone, there are tipis and tents dotting the landscape. You'll have a cot, a mattress, plenty of snuggly warm bedding, and awesome views of your world from the outdoor lodging choices. There's a beautiful, clean, bath-house to use for showering, sauna-ing, hot-tubbing, getting a massage, or maybe enjoying a pajama party with your lovely new friends. There are also indoor lodging choices with such pretty rooms to share. Clean, beautifully appointed, and supremely comfortable. And yurts! They have yurts!
5. The bathhouse.
Seriously, this bathhouse is the best. Some of my favorite memories from the past summers are of hanging out in the cedar bathhouse letting the hot sauna make amends for winter or waiting for my massage appointment or even just giggling with a friend at the sink when we're both brushing our teeth. There's a special love that happens when you brush your teeth next to someone you only met the day before. Just saying.
6. The food.
Oh. My. Heavens. You have NO idea. This place takes meal preparation seriously. And they pour so much love into the effort. Aside from being technically skilled at creating memorable meals, the staff puts so much care into every dish that you can taste it. Meals are served in a dining hall built a few years ago, just a few steps away from the Main Lodge that houses the beautiful main yoga room. Fill up your plate and relax at a table in the dining hall with your new peeps or toddle off if you'd like some solitude and eat on the sprawling green lawn watching the sunlight dance on the lake. The food is actually so darn great there that they have their own cookbook, which flies off the shelf of the little Shanti Boutique on the Ranch fast, especially for first-timers who get their first taste of the cooking at the Ranch. And? The cooks are the sweetest, funniest, kindest people ever. You've never been so pampered. And if you have a special dietary need, it's not a problem. There will always be something for you to eat that's going to make you very very happy. (Email me privately if you'd like to know how get to where they keep the ice cream or chocolate just in case you get a late night craving and find yourself walking the Ranch with a flashlight under a brilliant starlit sky in search of one last 'something' to make your day even more perfect . . .)
7. The yoga.
It almost goes without saying that over the years the Ranch has hosted some of the finest yoga teachers on the planet. Yeah, the yoga's really good there. Whatever your style or preference, there's a workshop offering that's almost sure to float your boat. This coming season is incredibly strong again. Freedom style yoga. Therapeutic yoga. Iyengar yoga. Shaman studies. Love embodied. Real yoga here. Real yoga.
8. The vibe.
This isn't "just another" place to go for a yoga retreat. It's full of heart. It's accessible to any heart, any being. It's sincere. And its history and its continuing purpose - its reason for being - is, well, it's important. When you support the Feathered Pipe Foundation by attending a retreat, you're supporting their global seva work. You're helping to preserve endangered cultures. You're helping war veterans coping with PTSD. You're helping bring the experience of a retreat to others through scholarships. You heal. The world heals. You can't lose.
9. India Supera and the Elk Story.
See for yourself.
10. It's not hard to get there. In fact, it's easy.
It's a short flight to Helena from major hubs - Denver and Salt Lake City, for example.
11. If you team up with your community you get a price break.
They've got this really cool "Community Discount" program - your studio or organization signs up (for free), and then when anyone registers for a retreat, they automatically get $100 off the cost of tuition. And the community accrues a $100 credit that they can bank to use for someone else in the community. Once five folks register, Feathered Pipe throws in $100 and the benefits grow from there.
12. The bodyworkers.
Sweet merciful heavens. The bodyworkers at Feathered Pipe are over-the-top amazing. Each unique in their style, all the same in their commitment to supporting the retreat experience with loving hands and great care.