People often ask me what it means to go on a yoga or meditation retreat.
The answer to this question depends on who is asking. It can be as simple as taking a weekend to follow a more disciplined schedule of practice. It can mean traveling to a peaceful location to join a group for a period of intensive study, perhaps with periods of practice in silence. For seasoned practitioners, retreat can mean 3 years of solitary meditation, silence and seclusion. Admittedly, this last option is a bit extreme, and not for everyone. There are endless variations in-between.
The aim of retreat, however, is a reconnection with the basic intelligence of the mind, that mine of wisdom that guides us in our journey toward our full unfolding into vibrant, joyful human beings. The emphasis here is on recognizing that we are human “beings” as opposed to human “doings.” Part of this includes connecting with a community.
Have you ever noticed yourself striving to get somewhere, or attain something and feeling frustrated by the (lack of) result? What would happen if you simply stopped? The universe responds to a calm state of mind more readily that it does to an eager, frantic one. What a relief that all it takes is learning to relax.
Here’s the big lesson I’ve learned in 20 years of practicing yoga and meditation: Relaxing is the key to doing anything well. The reason? When you are relaxed, you become fully present. Being fully present is the key to manifesting whatever you choose. When you take time out for a yoga retreat, you learn practices that train you to do just that.
It is easy to get so caught up in your goals so that you miss what is actually happening NOW. It is much easier to practice being present when you are in a relaxed state of mind, with a healthy body.
You may simply be inspired to start yoga because you want a healthier body, but even this shift will introduce a new dynamic in your life. As you inhabit a healthier body, your mindset/awareness will shift, and you will begin to radiate a sense of well being. You’ll move differently, make smarter decisions and be drawn to healthier relationships. As the practice evolves, you may feel inspired to go deeper. Retreat allows for this deepening.
It works like this: the asana and pranayama practices of Ashtanga yoga help to clear and calm the system, preparing the stage so to speak. Yoga helps you release obstacles and blocked energy in the body. This release has a corresponding release or shift in the mind and this then allows meditation to happen more easily.
Many people think that meditation is about learning to stop thinking—which is completely false! Meditation is about learning to observe your thoughts with more precision, and more acceptance, so that you can then decide whether or not to believe those thoughts. Much of what we tell ourselves is untrue and unkind. The practice of meditation helps settle and focus the mind, allowing you to see more precisely what is actually true.From an ultimate perspective, everything that occurs in the mind is pure fantasy. Developing a deep connection to practice allows you to realize this, and to accept those parts of yourself that you might otherwise prefer to deny, paving the path towards transformation and ultimately liberation from the bondage of negative emotions.
As the 14th Dalai Lama notes:
“The ultimate source of happiness is our mind, and the real troublemaker is our emotions.”
Big shifts occur when you accept and love yourself exactly as you are NOW, without waiting to be transformed into something better in the future. These practices help you learn your particular patterns and habits so you can decide whether or not these are working for you in your life. So part of the power of retreat is to learn to accept and love yourself, no matter where you find yourself on your life journey. Yoga and meditation are tools to help you take a look at aspects of yourself that may need adjusting.
Once you can see with this new perspective, new possibilities arise; new pathways of thinking that allow you to see things in new ways. You can then make shifts in your life as a result of these insights.
Periodic retreat is a necessity for advancing on the path of spiritual practice. I would also argue that it is imperative for mental health and well being. If you’re one of those people who need justification to take time for yourself, consider this your permission slip to retreat, relax, renew and review your life. If you are ready to jump, check out these upcoming retreats in South Asia.
How to know if going on a yoga retreat is right for you?
A yoga retreat might be just what the doctor ordered if you:
- Are going through transition
- Question what is important in life
- Have tasted success and now want to learn to appreciate the fruits
- Are adventurous and open minded
- Are Intelligent and proactive, ready to create the next phase of your life
- Are Learning to adjust to life as an expat
- Feel disconnected from yourself
- Work too hard
- Live an unhealthy lifestyle and…
- Want to change
- Already have a healthy lifestyle but you need to get back on track
- Fight a losing battle to manage stress and worry
- Want to step back and look at the big picture
- Want to connect with a group of interesting and vibrant people
If you are ready to jump, check out this upcoming retreat in Banff National Park.