How To Know When It's Time For A Retreat

People often ask me what it means to go on retreat. The answer to this question depends on who is asking.

Retreat 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.

Why Go On Retreat?

There are many reasons for going on retreat.

The aim of retreat 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.”

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.

Remembering To Relax

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 go on retreat because you want to get healthy again, 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 your practice evolves, you may feel inspired to go deeper.

Going Deeper Into Your Experience

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 frankly, 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."

Retreat allows you time and space to negotiate our minds and troublesome 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. But it takes practice to do this. These practices—of meditation, yoga and creative journaling— 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.

Benefits of Yoga + Meditation in a Retreat Setting

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 this upcoming retreat in Norway.