A spiritual getaway is the perfect way to clear your mind of city stresses, writes Carolyn Boyd.
WHETHER it's to explore who you are or just learn some relaxation techniques, spiritual weekends promise the chance to wind down and take a different look at life.
In the Blue Mountains, the Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centre is nestled in 53 hectares of bushland near Leura. Among the creeks and bushwalking tracks is a heritage stone cottage that most weekends of the year is the setting for meditation and yoga classes for up to 60 people.
''A lot of people come from Sydney who are tired and exhausted and want to get away from all the noise and want to clear their minds,'' says the co-ordinator of the Leura centre, Sally Segal. ''Their minds are racing, racing, racing.
''Just to come to the Blue Mountains is heaven for them. They really feel like it's another world. And then the meditation on top of that is very good because when they go back they can keep practising [and] can take the Blue Mountains with them in their mind.''
Weekend participants usually arrive on Friday night and begin with a meditation session followed by dinner and a group discussion about what participants hope to get from the weekend.
There is a focus on the individual. ''A retreat really means to go inward, so it's best, if they possibly can, to really spend time with themselves not so much socially with others but really to get to know themselves, because it's more help to them to take away,'' Segal says.
Brahma Kumaris has a variety of retreats. Some are aimed at couples, mothers and their daughters, or students learning advanced meditation. Segal says the accommodation is twin-share and people often attend with a partner or friend.
The food on offer is vegetarian and the retreat includes several bushwalks among the colourful birds and bush wallabies.
There is no set fee for the retreat, as payment is by donation. But Segal says it costs the voluntary organisation $160 a person to provide each retreat.
Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centre also has a retreat in Wilton, south of Sydney. See www.bkwsu.org/au or call (02) 4784 2500.
Around the state there are several Buddhist centres offering retreats, including the Dhammakaya International Society of Australia, which has a meditation centre at Berowra Waters.
The centre has been open since 2003 and resident teacher Satit says a maximum of 12 people can attend on any weekend.
Most of the participants are non-Buddhist, he says.
''Meditation will help them to have a better ability in controlling themselves, they will be more confident and more healthy,'' Satit says. ''They will reduce their stress in their working environment.''
There is no charge for the classes but $250 is requested to cover food and accommodation.
See dhammakaya.org.au or call (02) 9655 1128.
In the Southern Highlands, the Sunnataram Forest Monastery offers retreats. See sunnataram.org.
Another getaway option is Vipassana Meditation, which has 10-day programs in Blackheath and Mullumbimby. See www.dhamma.org.au.