For those just beginning their yoga practice and those who have practiced for years, a yoga retreat is just what we need sometimes to enliven our practice. No matter the duration, a yoga retreat can provide us the sacred space to delve deeper, to find the little gems of yoga practice that are not always shining at the surface of our work-a-day world. By taking time away, we can retreat into the deeper recesses of our being, and come up with a clearer view of what is lurking in our egoic minds. We can practice yoga without the distractions that accompany family life, work life, and the thousand other things that call to our attention, and instead place it, without guilt or pressure, on ourselves.
For some people, carving out this time in and of itself is a declaration of self care. We may already know the tremendous benefits of a consistent yoga practice, but find it difficult to make it to even one class a week. This type of practice though beneficial, is still more of a crisis management tool instead of a deep excavation. While making it to a yoga class even once a week can keep you from raveling apart, the deep, resonant, calm that abides in us Is not accessed in a practice of this frequency.
Likewise, maybe we have a consistent daily or several times’ weekly practice for yoga, but our tools have become rusty. We may have gotten really wonderful at certain asanas, and tackled pranayama with gusto, but not found the sacred space or time to really dedicate ourselves to the ultimate goal of yoga, that is meditation and one day, enlightenment. As long as the ‘real’ world has us tethered to our usual habits, it can be difficult to let them lose. Sometimes a retreat can help us to really sink deeply into the quiet, with the support of others, and for a slightly longer and consistent duration (weeks, months even in some cases) and many more layers of detritus can be cleared from the psyche. What we used to approach with determination and perhaps even frustration becomes magically easy. Asana that we have worked to perfect for months or even years can suddenly come to light in this more mindful atmosphere. We find that everything happens with more ease, and less effort.
When choosing a yoga retreat it depends upon your ultimate goal. Many students chose retreats based on a famous teacher or on a location, but the distance you travel and the exotic locale are irrelevant in some cases. Most of your day will be spent in asana practice, quiet meditation and in some cases, learning more about the philosophical aspects of yoga. You can choose a retreat that offers more free time for tourism-related activities, but you should be careful not to over schedule your day. After all, you are trying to slow the pace of your life for the next week, or month. The point of a retreat is not to entertain yourself, per se, but to find a deeper layer of happiness that may be absent from your life due to the demands of modern civilization. It is so rare for us to be able to carve time out for ourselves at all, it behooves us to use it wisely. If we spend our entire retreat running from tourist attraction to tourist attraction then we miss out on the longer terms effects of a calm and peaceful pace of life and yoga practice.
Another key ingredient in a good retreat depends to some degree on the length of your current yoga practice. If you are just beginning a certain style of yoga and have found it beneficial, you may want to stick to that stay and learn about it in more depth. There are so many layers to yoga, that often teachers who have regular classes that last an hour or maybe an hour and one half are struggling to fit just the surface aspects of yoga into their class, due to time constraints, they are not able to teach as many of the philosophical subtleties that they may wish to, but in a retreat, there are many more hours to approach even a single pose, or a single form of pranayama. Some retreats may talk more in depth about kundalini or the Yama and Niyamas, or even the chakra system. These are often blind spot in most beginning yoga students’ practice and can be invigorated greatly with the shared wisdom of a proficient retreat leader.
If your practice has had a longer duration, you may want to try a style that you are not as familiar with so that you can approach some of the things you know ‘well’ from a slightly different angle. Every branch of yoga offers a slightly different take on the best or fastest way to reach enlightenment, and they are all useful. A retreat environment will allow you to access some of this knowledge and put it to use long after you have gone back to your daily responsibilities.
Although famous teachers are enticing, they often charge a hefty price for attending their retreats. Do not let this discourage you if the listed price is out of your budget. Call and ask if they have any seva programs. Seva means selfless service. Some retreats will allow you to help out in the kitchen or help maintain the grounds, or any other form of volunteer work to offset the costs of the retreat. An added boon to this type of situation is that you will be practicing karma yoga, and many great sages have talked of the generous benefits the soul receives through practicing karmic cleansing through labor you give with no thought of return.
If seva is not an option, you can look into a retreat with less notoriety, but really wonderful references. In this case, if you are unfamiliar with the teacher or the site itself, call and ask for some of the recent attendees contact information, and get some feedback straight from them. These people will often be very candid about their experience, telling you both the pleasant points and the not so pleasant. Contact at least two people, especially if you are traveling to a different country and ask them what they wished they know before leaving for their retreat. This one question can provide you with invaluable information.
Overall, let your retreat be time for you. Set up your outgoing phone message, your email and all other contact so that people know you will be traveling and either ‘in silence’ or not able to reach a phone or internet. This can seem like a radical move, but it will free up your mental energy while you are at the retreat so you can concentrate on what you are there for. Whatever comes up while you are gone, barring a real emergency, can wait until you return. Sometimes people who rely on you greatly will find a new self-reliance while you are gone, and your absence is the only thing standing in their way of finding this new skill.
Every yoga retreat can deepen your practice refresh, renew and heal you. If you set yourself up for a calm and unhurried retreat, the benefits of your newly refreshed self will last for many weeks after your return to regular life. Allow this deep and abiding change and then see what new gems within you can uncover.
About the Author:
Christina Sarich runs http://www.yogafortheneworld.blogspot.com