Yogaretreats Balkan

Yoga at special places in Balkan

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Two years ago, our editor Ana visited Serbia to participate in a seven-day yoga retreat in Tara National Park. She was so enthusiastic about her experience that she decided to interview Marija, the founder of My Yogic Adventures. Why did Marija choose yoga, and what is the reason behind organizing retreats in the most remote places in the Balkans?

Marija, you have been organising My Yogic Adventures in the Balkans for a while now. Why Balkans and the more remote places?

‘I think that I know the region quite well and I can say that it is so underestimated as a holiday destination. The situation is changing for the better in the past several years, for sure, but still we can’t say that holidays in the Balkans is something you’d call mainstream. Yet, this region has so much to offer, primarily in terms of natural beauty, but also in terms of unique cultural heritage. But like anywhere else you travel, of course you remember all the beauty that you saw, but what makes the biggest imprint on you are the people that you meet. And I love Balkan people, how generous, hospitable, and authentic they are. And especially so in remote areas. Life in Balkan cities is like in any other city – busy, hectic, less personal, but up there in the mountains you really get the taste of the warmth of the Balkan people’.

Where did your love of yoga originate?

‘Ever since I was a teenager I was drawn to meditation and Buddhism. I remember that I sat to meditate for the first time maybe when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. I don’t even remember how I got this idea – I was living in Serbian countryside, with no internet and certainly no Buddhists around. But this is how everything started, with the question I asked myself during endless idle days one summer break “what would happen if I would just sit still and do nothing for a while”? And I found that first experience of meditation mind blowing, to say the least. I didn’t stick with the habit, I dropped it after a few sessions, but somehow it stuck with me. And later when I moved to the city to study I started buying books on Buddhism, Hinduism, anything esoteric, anything related to India or Nepal. Until at one point it almost became an obsession. So, I can say that I came to the physical practice of yoga (or what we usually simply call “yoga” today) through meditation and philosophy. And for me still the asana practice is just the surface level, the foundations are always in meditation and the philosophical teachings. Otherwise, we’re just stretching’.

Through your retreats you meet people from all over the world. Why do people choose these retreats and what does it bring to them?

‘Mostly people tell me that they decided to come for the retreat because they got the feeling that it would all be an authentic and real experience, without much fluff, just beautiful nature, good food, and lots of yoga and meditation practice. And I also try to keep it that way. Many people are drawn to go for a retreat to a location that is really not considered a typical yoga retreat location. And apart from Croatia and Greece, none of the other countries in the Balkans are typical retreat destinations. I always try to show people several aspects of the region we are visiting – its natural beauty, history, culture, local food and traditions. Whenever possible I try to include as many local people into my program – as guides, cooks, hosts, to buy food from them, visit local farms, etc. It’s important for me to somehow contribute to local communities in these remote places where I bring my groups, even if it’s a very small contribution. At the end of the week, my guests tell me that they feel relaxed, regenerated, that they have learned something new about yoga and more importantly about themselves. And ultimately, that although they knew the Balkans was beautiful, they never though it could be this beautiful. I think this is the sentence I hear most often’.

You’ve organized retreats in many unique places in the Balkans. Which location has surprised you the most and why?

‘I think this is the most difficult question to answer. But if I have to choose, I’ll go with Stolac. It’s a very small town in Bosnia, pretty much unknown, but the beauty of this place and the richness of history and culture of this region are completely enchanting’.

Can you share a hidden gem in the Balkans that many people haven’t discovered yet? Why is it special?

‘My favorite place in the Balkans is the Balkan Mountain Stara Planina (old mountain) in Eastern Serbia. For me this is the place of pure magic. I love everything about this mountain – its forests, meadows, viewpoints. Each trail offers a different experience. I am very interested in edible and medicinal wild plants and wild mushrooms and this is a foraging heaven. Also, the waterfalls you’ll find on this mountain are so spectacular. But my favorite thing about this area are the remote villages and the people that live there and love their mountain and their rivers and their animals more than anything. Unfortunately, the population in these villages is very old, young people have mostly moved to nearby towns, meaning that the villages are destined for doom or in the best case scenario they will become some kind of touristic getaways. So every time I visit, I really feel how precious it is to still have the privilege to witness this real life happening there from day to day. It is a world that will soon disappear forever’.

In 2024, you will be organizing retreats as well, what are you looking forward to?

‘Yes, 2024 will be a busy year for My Yogic Adventure, with a lot of retreats, some of them I have done many times, but I will also have three new destinations. One retreat in Southern Spain in March, another one in Bosnia, in the already mentioned town of Stolac, in July, and a retreat in Georgia in August. I think that all three will be spectacular and I can’t wait to explore these locations with my guests. I’ll also do my all-time favorite yoga trek in the Himalayas, in Nepal, which really is the adventure of lifetime and an experience like no other’.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

‘I enjoy most things about my work, even the nitty-gritty parts of organizing guides, drivers, cooks, tying everything together. But to single something out, it would be scouting for new places and going through these initial phases of designing a retreat, deciding where to take people, finding interesting activities, etc. And then of course, running the retreat itself. I’ve been doing this since 2016 and now in most of my retreats returning guests usually make at least one third of the group, so each retreat also feels like a happy reunion with old friends’.

Where can people follow you for more information about your retreats?

People can find all the information about the retreats on my website but also they can find me on Facebook and Instagram, I post updates and share info regularly.