Frequently asked questions

Useful information to help you prepare for your retreat


Please click here to read about our response to covid-19 and how we have adapted our in-house retreats to support a safe retreat environment.


Planning your retreat

Who are Insight Meditation retreats suitable for?
All of us can benefit from exploring and developing greater mindfulness, compassion, and understanding. Silent retreats offer a precious opportunity to commit ourselves to a period of intensive practice in which we can nurture these qualities. They do not necessarily require any previous experience of meditation (though some retreats are appropriate for experienced practitioners only, as indicated in the retreat description).

Mental well-being and silent retreats

While intensive silent meditation retreats can be very nourishing, as they require sustained meditation practice, they also need some stability of psychological health. If you have recently (i.e. within the past year or so) experienced significant trauma or psychiatric illness, or if you are currently experiencing acute emotional distress such as serious depression or anxiety, it may not be the best time for you to attend an intensive retreat in silence. The teachers might not be able to give you the kind of individual or psychological care you might need at this time. It may be more appropriate to practice in a setting where there are more opportunities for interpersonal engagement.

  • If you are currently under the care of a mental health professional, please discuss your attendance with them. You should be in a relatively stable period of mental well-being and have adequate psychological resilience to attend an intensive silent retreat.
  • Please be prepared to offer your mental health professional’s contact information to the teachers on opening day if requested.
  • If you have any questions about the above please contact:
  • If upon reflection of the points above you would like to cancel your retreat, please contact us as soon as possible via the email address above.

How do I book a retreat?
Group retreat places can be booked online, by phone or by post. For further information please see Making a booking.

To book a personal retreat or work retreat, you first need to complete a Retreat Application Form. Once you have received confirmation of your place and dates, you will be asked to pay for your retreat.

What happens if I have to cancel?
Cancelling your retreat will incur a charge. Before booking your retreat, please ensure you have read the information on our Booking & Cancellations page, which provides details of our cancellations fees. You may also like to read a piece from Gaia House trustee and teacher, Stephen Batchelor, on the background to our cancellation policy.



Do you have access for people with disabilities?
It is important to Gaia House to be accessible and inclusive and we welcome people with disabilities.

We have a rambling old house, however the ground floor is mostly accessible for people in wheelchairs and those with restricted mobility. We have an adapted bathroom and ground floor bedroom available. The main meditation hall is accessed via a gentle ramp.

Click here to read our Access information pack with pictures and floor plans of our building.

In some cases a carer may stay free of charge to support a retreatant who needs personal care/support. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this.

If you have specific needs relating to a disability, long-term illness or health condition please send an email to our Retreat Manager on and we will be happy to provide you with more detailed information about the house and discuss your needs whilst on retreat. Alternatively, please phone our Retreat Manager on 01626 333613. We are keen to ensure that the retreat environment can be accessible to all.

We are conscious of our choice of language around ‘disability’, acknowledging that there are differing views on the appropriateness of this term and that language usage is constantly evolving. We are in a continual process of trying to improve our understanding in the area of equality, and make Gaia House more accessible and inclusive. Part of this is ensuring that the language we use across our communications reflects our genuine efforts to do all we can to support everyone to participate in our offerings. If you would like to offer any feedback around this, please feel welcome to email our Director, Devin on

Read more about Inclusion and Diversity at Gaia House.

What happens if I experience difficulties with hearing?

If you experience difficulties with hearing, we encourage you to contact our Retreat Manager via email on to discuss how we can support you to get the most from your retreat at Gaia House.  Our retreats are mostly in silence, but you will also be listening to talks and instructions offered by the teachers on a daily basis.

We do have a Hearing (Induction) Loop facility in the meditation hall, where you will be listening to the teacher talks and instructions. To benefit from the Hearing Loop, your hearing aid must be fitted with a Telecoil, with the necessary settings enabled.  If you are in doubt about whether your hearing aid is set up to receive the Hearing Loop, we recommend you speak with your audiologist to check that your hearing aid is compatible, and also to familiarise yourself with how to switch into (and out of) the T / Loop mode.

There are also some other ways in which we can support you to hear the teachings whilst on retreat if you have hearing loss and do not wear a hearing aid. If you contact us in advance we can arrange to meet you on arrival and offer all the support you may need.

How do I get to Gaia House?
Gaia House is approximately 4 miles from Newton Abbot, located between Exeter and Plymouth in Devon, UK. Newton Abbot is easily accessible by train or coach from Exeter. Please see Getting to Gaia House.

Currently, due to social distancing, it is not possible to facilitate lift sharing.

What time do retreats start and finish?
Group retreats: Registration takes place between 2pm and 5pm on the first day. An arrival slot will be agreed with you in the weeks prior to the start of the retreat. A light evening meal is served at 6pm. The retreat begins at 7.30pm with an opening talk. All retreatants are expected to arrive on the first day and stay for the entire length of the retreat.

Finishing times: Retreats of 2 -3 nights usually end at about 4pm, while longer retreats finish at lunchtime on the last day. You are welcome to stay for lunch on the last day, after the retreat ends. We will inform you by email of any exceptions to our normal times.

Personal & work retreatants: We ask that you arrive in the afternoon if possible. Your room will be available after 2pm. If you are arriving early in the morning or late at night, please let us know. If you have not been to Gaia House before, please aim to arrive before 5pm, when a coordinator will meet you to show you around.

On departure, we request that you vacate your room by 9.30am, leaving it clean so that it is ready for the next arrival.

Can I come for just part of a retreat?
For the benefit of everyone, we ask that all participants commit to attending the entire retreat, arriving for the beginning of the retreat and staying until the end. Your wholehearted commitment supports your fellow retreatants and expresses respect for the retreat teachers and staff who are committed to being here and freely give their time and energy to serve the welfare of all.

Can I stay extra days, before or after my group retreat?
It is not currently possible to stay for any extra days before or after a group retreat.


Being on retreat

What are Gaia House’s retreat guidelines?
Coming on retreat is an opportunity to explore and develop serenity, wisdom and compassion through meditation and mindfulness practice in a caring and supportive environment. To make it possible for us to offer an atmosphere and environment which is conducive to meditation, we ask all retreatants to be aware of these guidelines:

  • Please respect the silent atmosphere in the house and the grounds at all times.
  • We ask you to switch off all electronic devices (mobile phones, iPads, laptops, Kindles etc.) for the duration of your retreat.
  • We recommend that you avoid making phone calls and sending emails/post during your stay.
  • Consumption of drugs (except prescription medications), cigarettes and alcohol is not permitted during your stay at Gaia House.
    • This includes all areas in the house as well as the garden and the grounds.
  • All retreatants are asked to abstain from sexual contact whilst on retreat.
  • Please commit yourself fully to your retreat and stay on the Gaia House premises or within the immediate vicinity, except in an emergency. If you need to leave the retreat please liaise with a coordinator to gain permission from the teacher(s).
  • All retreatants are expected to participate for the full retreat and only shorten a retreat with the permission of a teacher.
  • Everyone is asked to contribute two hours of work to the house daily.
  • We encourage sensitivity towards all living beings and a non-harming relationship to all life.

The Five Precepts

The core ethical principles of Buddhism are known as the ‘Five Precepts’, which we ask all people who live, work and practice at Gaia House to observe whilst within the house and grounds, in order to support a retreat environment of safety, peace, sensitivity and respect. The precepts are not rules or commandments, but ‘principles of training’, which are undertaken freely.

1. Refrain from harming or taking the life of any being.
2. Refrain from taking or using anything that does not belong to you or has not been clearly offered.
3. Refrain from harmful expressions of sexuality.
4. Refrain from harmful expressions of speech.
5. Refrain from the use of intoxicants and substances which cloud the mind.

Thank you for your help with preserving Gaia House’s unique retreat environment for the benefit of all beings.

What I should wear and what should I bring with me?
What I should wear? Please dress modestly, as an expression of respect for this place of spiritual practice – as you would in a church, temple, synagogue or mosque. Comfortable, loose clothes are best for sitting meditation. You’ll need indoor shoes or slippers and good outdoor shoes, boots or wellingtons for walking. If you are coming on a work retreat please make sure you bring sturdy shoes to enable you to work in the house in a variety of departments. Warm clothes are advisable throughout the year – Devon weather can be changeable in any season. A raincoat is essential!

What should I bring with me? Please bring your own towel. Toiletries: unscented, please. Remember to bring any food supplements or medication you regularly take – enough for the length of your stay.

Please bring a watch or clock (which is not your mobile phone). Although there are bells to wake you up and mark activities during the day, having your own watch or clock supports you in turning your mobile phone off.

We have a very small shop containing a small selection of toiletries and first aid supplies, should you run out of these.

All bed linen is provided. Meditation mats, blankets, cushions and benches are also provided, but you are welcome to bring your own if you prefer.


What is the accommodation like?

We offer very simple but comfortable single rooms.

Can I camp at Gaia House while on retreat?
During the summer months we offer a few camping places at a reduced rate for those attending group retreats only. We can only accommodate small one/two-person tents, and each retreatant must have their own tent.

Please be aware that if there is poor weather, we may be unable to accommodate campers in the house.

For information on rates and availability please contact our Reception team.

What food is provided?
We offer a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet that may include eggs and dairy produce.

There is an alternative ‘simple diet’ (consisting of a gluten-free wholegrain, steamed vegetables and plain pulses, egg or tofu) at lunch for those who need to eat simply.

Vegan, dairy-free and wheat/gluten-free options can be requested when you register on arrival.

Breakfast and lunch are substantial meals, with a lighter supper of soup and bread.

For more information please see our food policy.


What work will I be asked to contribute?
We request that everyone offers up to two hours per day, to support our residential service team and help with the running of the house. The work may be washing-up, house cleaning, maintenance, gardening or whatever the house needs at the time.

You are also asked to clean your own room on the day of departure. Gaia House relies on this offering of service to help keep costs down. We are very grateful for your cooperation in this.

If you are unable to do a work session, or can offer only light work, it is important that you let Reception know of your situation when booking.


Are there opportunities or space for other activities?
Mindful movement, such as yoga, tai chi or qi gong, may be practised outdoors at any time, so long as the space of other retreatants is respected. Indoors: please practise only at the designated times and in the designated places – these will be explained on each retreat.

Please refrain from other activities such as playing musical instruments, art and craft work, juggling, acrobatics etc. anywhere on the premises or grounds of Gaia House.

In the spirit of simplicity and silence, group retreatants are asked to refrain from reading and writing during your stay here.

Personal retreatants may read to support your retreat, however you are encouraged to do so with moderation, and only in the library or your bedroom.

Can I go out while I am on retreat?
All retreatants are asked to remain within the tranquil atmosphere found within the vicinity of Gaia House for the duration of the retreat. Walking in the peace of the local countryside is fine. Experience has shown that it can be very disruptive to the intensive practice of meditation – for oneself and for others – to leave the sensitive retreat environment.

If you need to make an unavoidable trip away from the house, please liaise with one of the residential service team to gain permission from the teacher(s).

Can I be contacted by family and friends in the case of an emergency?

In the case of an emergency, a message can be conveyed to you whatever time of day or night. We hope that this will support you in switching off your mobile phone whilst on retreat.

Instructions for contacting a retreatant in case of an emergency can be found on our Contact Us page.



What rates do you offer?

What does the price of the retreat cover?
Our retreat rates cover the cost of food, accommodation and teachers’ travel expenses. They also contribute to our management and support costs, including administration and maintenance of our building and grounds.

In the Buddhist tradition of ‘Dana’ or generosity, all teachings at Gaia House are offered freely. Teachers are not paid for their time and energy, so at the end of your retreat you will be given the opportunity to offer Dana for the teachers who have guided your retreat or practice, for the coordinators who care for our retreatants and retreat space, and for the support of Gaia House. Before you come on retreat please read About Dana.

What is Dana?
In the Buddhist tradition, the teachings are offered freely because they are considered priceless. ‘Dana’ is a Sanskrit/Pali word that connotes the virtue of generosity, and the practice of Dana means offering a donation given from the heart.

During your retreat you will be invited to offer Dana for the teachers who have guided your retreat or practice, for the coordinators who care for our retreatants and retreat space, and for the support of Gaia House. This is an invitation to participate in the spirit of generosity that has sustained the tradition and teachings for around 2,500 years. Find out more.


After your retreat

Are there any meditation groups near where I live?
Please see our list of meditation groups (sitting groups).

If you run a meditation group and your details are not featured, please let us know so we can add you to this list. Please keep us informed of any changes to contact details so that we can keep the list up to date.

Meditation courses and other sangha events:

Sharpham Trust, near Totnes in Devon, also runs a regular programme of meditation and mindfulness evenings, weekend mornings and courses.

London Insight Meditation and Oxford Insight Meditation (formerly Oxford Gaia House) are associated organisations, offering a programme of retreats and meditation groups, based in the Insight (Vipassana) Meditation tradition.

Are recordings of Gaia House talks available?
You can listen to a selection of Dharma talks from Gaia House teachers from our library of over 2,000 – available on-line or on CD. Please make a small donation to cover the basic costs of production and administration.


Contact us

Who do I contact if I have more questions?
Our Reception team will be pleased to answer your questions and help in any way we can. Contact us on +44 (0)1626 333613 or email Reception is open Monday – Saturday and the best time to call is between 9.30am and 12.30pm. If we don’t answer the phone, please do leave a message and we will do our best to respond within 24 hours.

How do I opt in or out of your mailing list?
Gaia House NewsletterGaia House Newsletters are available to read online, with regular features and articles of interest.

We also offer news, articles and opportunities to get involved with Gaia House fundraising and activities via email, post and phone.

You can opt in online; email; tick the box on the registration form when you book a retreat; or send us your name and address, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope.

If you no longer wish to be on our mailing list, every e-news we send includes an unsubscribe button, or you can email or write to us.

Please tell us if your contact details change, so that we can keep our mailing list up-to-date.

We protect your privacy – your details are kept on a secure database. Gaia House complies with the General Data Protection Regulation and does not supply any information to third parties without your prior consent.
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