Things I Learned from my Yoga Retreat
5 days of yoga and meditation led to five transformative lessons.
- Yoga as Metaphor for Life. At the center where I was participating in this retreat, one of the mantras that visited me virtually every day in the corridors was that yoga is seeing life as it is. I found this to be incredibly profound—the practice is to be present with whatever you are feeling in the moment. The tension your body feels as you hold the poses mirror the tension that we encounter every day in our lives. Whether you are tired, grumpy, content, or whatever the emotion, the practice of yoga doesn’t require you to deny what you are feeling, but to identify it, embrace it, and then release. A great lesson to remember off the mat, as well.
Solitude is Restorative. In the lead up to this five day retreat, which I did by myself, I had many friends ask me, “So what are you going to do by yourself every day?” Or, concerned family members (ahem, mom) who wanted me to take a companion for the retreat. My choice to go by myself was intentional. There is an important distinction between being alone versus loneliness. A retreat is a good opportunity to be reflective and check in with oneself. I ate every meal every day by myself, again, deliberately, with the aspiration of cultivating greater comfort being in my own body and mind. This isn’t to say that I was alone the entire time; I participated in workshops with other yogis and was rooming with multiple women. One instructor put it best when she remarked that a retreat such as this one was the best place to be alone with other people. We are in such a highly connected culture today that the notion of spending time by ourselves, without the distractions of digital gadgets or television may seem daunting, but in fact, it can be very fulfilling. Which leads me to my next lesson, namely:
Unplug/Digital Diet. Cell phones were only allowed in designated areas, there were no televisions or other screens present throughout the retreat, and the only computers or tablets were allowed similarly in designated areas for those individuals who chose to bring them. I tucked my cell phone into the safe in my room (more of a symbolic gesture because my phone isn’t worth much) and turned it off for the entirety of my stay (with a work related exception). The ability to unplug from technology for a full five days was very restorative. It isn’t just our access to technology that can provoke anxiety, it is also the sense that when we get an email or text message that we must respond immediately. I turned on my phone once for a work related reason to over 20 new text messages, none of them for work, and was happy to turn off the phone during the retreat without answering any of them. A digital diet can restore the mind and give our brains much needed downtime from the overstimulation that comes from being in a hyper-saturated, technology-driven culture.
Breathe Deeply. Breath is the anchor that enables us to stay tied to the present moment. During yoga or meditation, anytime one finds themselves drifting away from the present moment and getting caught up in thought, focusing on the breath can bring one back in touch with what is happening in the present moment. Breathing through poses can also help one during yoga maintain the physical rigors that come with the practice for longer. Breath combats tension and is the bridge between our minds and bodies, which brings me to my last lesson:
Body Holds Emotions. As a psychologist, I am a firm believer in the mind-body connection, which is very well established by the scientific literature. The practice of yoga truly brings to the forefront the significant fusion between these two for practitioners. Moreover, it also spotlights that our bodies hold tension and concentrate emotions in different parts of our physical self. Working on the tension in the body gives us access to emotion, and in turn, focusing on emotions aroused during poses enables us to better understand and embrace what is happening in our bodies. We are such a head-centric culture that we often fail to recognize that our head/brain/mind isn’t functioning in a vacuum and that the same way that our mind can feed the body, our body can also feed and fuel the mind. When both are in harmony, this in turn can fuel the soul and spirit.
I strongly recommend for each of you to find ways that you can experience a restorative retreat, whether it be a formal one like what I did, taking a break to reconnect with nature, giving yourself designated “digital free” times throughout your day, etc. Whatever works with your schedule and lifestyle, try to find the time for self-reflection and introspection. As is fitting for both the start and end of each yoga practice, the light inside me honors the light inside each of you, and I offer a heartfelt “Namaste” as you work on your own version of a restorative retreat.