Omega review | holistic hideaway, USA
Legendary holistic retreat in upstate New York
The quick read: Omega is part university campus, part summer camp, a legendary holistic retreat famous for attracting celebrity instructors like Caroline Myss, Eckhart Tolle, and Harville Hendrix. It opened in 1977 on the grounds of a Yiddish summer camp in Rhinebeck, a rural hamlet in upstate New York, just under 100 miles from Manhattan, and now receives 23,000 visitors each year from May to October. The sprawling 250-acre campus retains visible remnants of the rustic summer camp it once was, but there are many newer buildings and classrooms too. Visitors from around the world come to take part in workshops, all in the name of self-growth. There’s a minimum stay of 2 nights.
Who it’s for: Seekers with an interest in learning something from a specific teacher or workshop, each devoted to topics of personal growth and social change. Coming here is also an incredible opportunity to mingle with hundreds of people from around the world – at our first meal, we sat around the table with a visitor from Capetown, South Africa, a woman from Montreal, another from Toronto, and several visitors from Ireland. About 3% of guests come from European countries (around 1% from Britain) so it’s a well kept secret amongst us.
What you can do: Take workshops on everything to do with personal growth and social change. There are programmes for women’s leadership, social entrepreneurship and sustainable living, standard fare like yoga, meditation, stress management and other healing arts, and unusual and workshops in niche subjects like ‘soul level animal communication’ and past life therapy. Find a pace that works for you, and try to do everything on offer – we advise you attend one of the evening orientations on arrival to understand how the place is run and what is available.
Between times, wander the 250-acre campus, swim or boat in the lake and hunker down for hours at the Ram Dass Library, a proper library with over 7000 volumes on wellness, holistic living, spirituality, and psychology. There’s a wellness centre offering a variety of spa treatments, and you can meditate in the sanctuary in the woods or sit and read in one of the many seating areas scattered throughout the property. In the evening there are talks, movies and concerts should you so choose.
Where you stay: Several tiers of accommodations are available at Omega. Private cabins with ensuite bathrooms are at the high end, and there’s simpler accommodation with single or double rooms – all pleasantly updated from their summer camp origins, with simple furnishings (think IKEA but pretty). We stayed in a single room and enjoyed a comfortable bed and a large window with a view of the trees. Shared bathrooms were clean and appealing, with slate floors and large private shower rooms. For those who want to commune with nature or economize, you can also camp.
How was it for us: Having been mainly to smaller spas and retreats that take a more individualized approach, I did find the size a bit overwhelming and it took time to adjust to the scale of Omega. A very popular workshop was being held the weekend I visited – that one workshop alone had over 200 attendees – but I attended a smaller workshop of about 30 people that focused on reviewing life events and designing a strategy for the next phase.
One of my favourite exercises was to draw a diagram in the shape of a wheel that showed how I used a week’s worth of time. The instructor said he was doing for time what financial planners did with money – that is, showing us where we were spending and what we were spending on. I enjoyed making my weekly time budget. Was I really surfing the web that much? Unfortunately, yes.
There was a lot of small group interaction, during which I got to meet people of all ages and stages or life, and the work was intense with a lot of talking. I found I craved time alone so I visited the lake between class sessions. The woods were beautiful – I was there in October – and the trees were ablaze with colour. Someone had built fairy houses in the tree roots, which was charming and fit in perfectly with the wild forest.
What we took home: My workshop drawing, as a reminder to spend less time online.
Would we go back: Yes, if there was a teacher there whom we really wanted to study with or a subject that we wanted to dig into very deeply.
People watch: Omega attracts some seriously impressive international teachers such as Tara Bennett-Goleman, James van Praagh, Krishna Das, Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Natalie Goldberg and Tara Brach – and that’s just scratching the surface.
Food watch: There is a café serving light meals and snacks all day long, and main meals are served in a huge dining hall with plastic chairs and tables and a decidedly institutional atmosphere. The dining hall is open only at scheduled meal times, and the café is open all day. If you have dietary restriction or allergies, Omega’s got you covered. We counted many kinds of milk – skim, full fat, soy, rice, and almond. There are gluten-free, wheat-free, vegetarian and vegan options at every meal. The food is filling and solid and served in massive quantities, as one would expect at such a large place. Seats are at a premium during busy times, so be prepared to meet lots of new people.
Insider tip: The walkways are lit at night, but only dimly, so bring a torch, as it can be unnerving to walk long distances in the dark. Bring a water bottle too – filtered cold drinking water is available at refilling stations throughout the property.
What’s queenly: The Sanctuary for chilling out – it’s a large Japanese-inspired temple building open daily on top of a hill, approached by a long stone stairway with cairns and a water garden. Inside, you’ll find a large light-flooded room with a wall sculpted of natural stone and lots of comfortable floor cushions and seating.
What’s lowly: The dining hall – it had to serve hundreds of diners at every meal. Class schedules often overlapped, meaning guests all went to eat at the same times and lines could be several dozen deep. The wait times for meals varied. Sometimes there was no line. Other times, we had a 15 minute wait. Though the food was excellent, trays on the lines emptied quickly and were not replenished, which held the line up further.
Price: There’s a minimum stay of 2 nights. It costs $133 per person, per night for a private dorm room (weekdays) and $174 per person, per night for a private dorm room (weekends). There are campsites available for less money, and private rooms with private bathrooms available for more. To enroll in their R&R programme costs $25 per day during the week or $38 per day during the weekend. So for a weekend R&R program, w/a private dorm room (and shared bath) it would cost $462 USD, with all meals, use of facilities, and optional classes included in the price.
Value for money: Everything is included, and we think if there is a teacher you’ve been dying to meet and study with, it’s all certainly worth the price.
Sister retreats: Omega also runs health and healing programmes at the Society for Ethical Culture in central New York, at the Blue Spirit retreat in Costa Rica (check out our review of Blue Spirit), and at the Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville near Monterey in northern California.
Reviewed by Judy Norkin
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