What happens on Retreat, Stays on Retreat…or does it?
Something happens on retreat.
As many of you know, I’ve just returned from a weekend at the beautiful Yoga House in Tresaith. The perfect little haven for a retreat. And, yet again – the magic happened.
‘What magic’, I hear you say? Well, that depends on the group and what people bring to the party. Each retreat is different and that is partly what makes them such a great experience.
For those of you that might be thinking of going on a retreat at some point and more importantly for those of you who might be put off because you fear you don’t have enough experience I thought I’d write this blog for you.
I often have comments in class like, ‘Ooh, I’d love to go on a Yoga retreat but I haven’t been doing Yoga long enough’ or ‘I’m not sure that I’d be able to cope with all that Yoga’. And yet, a Yoga retreat isn’t aimed at those who have practiced for a long time, and it doesn’t mean hours of sun salutations. A retreat is the perfect way to have a break, restore your energy and delve a little deeper into what Yoga might be able to offer. Some people come because they have some things they would like to work through, others just want to come and take a break.
And so what does happen, what is the process? Here is a little about how I approach running a retreat and what I have learnt over the years.
People need time to ‘arrive’. This means physically arriving, becoming at home in their surroundings and meeting others. I like to greet everyone, show them their room and encourage them to explore their surroundings. On a very basic level, it is difficult to relax without feeling the ground beneath you and knowing where you are, so space for exploration is very important.
The welcome practice on Friday evening is a chance for everyone to meet. We share a very grounding practice for an hour or so that encourages us to arrive in the moment and feel the nature of sensation in our bodies. The weekend as a whole is a gradual process of moving out of the busy-ness in our heads and into the sensation of our bodies. As we do so, we become more in-tune with our-Selves. We start to give space to listen to what is going on in our bodies and get back in touch with what is really going on with us.
The next thing we do is eat together. I’ll be honest here – the Yoga world has a LOT of food issues. Food is a very emotive issue for people and a retreat weekend isn’t always the place to delve into them. However, by ensuring the food on the retreat is wholesome, local, cooked before their very eyes and made with absolute love, we can start to think differently about our relationship with food.
Linda, our chef for the weekend and owner of The Yoga House is the perfect mix of nurturing maternal figure and kitchen wizard. People always come away with great memories of the food and often surprised at how tasty and nourishing a weekend of home cooked vegetarian food can be. But most importantly, it starts to creep into their psyche that to feel good, to feel well, to sleep well and to move well we need to address what we put in our bodies. When we nourish our bodies, amazing things start to happen. It truly lays the basis for the whole weekend. Having Linda on board for the retreats is an absolute pleasure for me and her role is not to be under-estimated. Food is key.
My role over the weekend is to hold space for people. Some want to come and move. Some want to come and be still. Some are in need of connection whereas others need quiet to work through things. It is possible to respect all of these things and my role is to encourage where encouragement is needed and to guide when asked.
In life we tend to be moving towards something or moving away from something. These things can be a catalyst for the decision to come on a Yoga weekend. I know many years ago when I had problems in my marriage and had big decisions to make I headed off on my first retreat. It was a sub-conscious decision and it wasn’t until I arrived that I realised why I was there. I am always respectful of where others might be when they come on one of my weekends and want to honour the space for them.
We begin Saturday morning with a 90min early morning practice at 7am. Gradually, through the practices, people start to open up. The hum of the group begins to change from reserved and quiet to more open and chatty. Interestingly, the heaviness in people’s bodies begins to lift. It is not unusual for half the house to take an afternoon nap – including me! I often wonder if this is due to ‘letting go’ of the stuff we all arrive with. Letting go and beginning to feel safe; knowing that this time is rare and important.
People are encouraged to walk in nature, to swim in the sea or just feel the air on the faces. Nature is such a great healer and has a knack of putting everything in perspective.
Saturday evening is usually a favourite, a led-relaxation (Yoga Nidra) to help followed by an evening meal. Saturday night is usually a time for very sound sleeping.
The energy changes on Sunday as we begin to address returning to our lives and how we might integrate back to the daily grind but without taking on the same baggage. We give thanks for the time away and start to turn our thoughts to our intentions when we return.
And so, we reflect on what we might like to let go of and avoid taking back with us. And what we have gained that we might like to keep when we return.
So you see, what happens on retreat doesn’t need to stay on retreat? Maybe we have something to take home; something we have gained. It could be a new intention or it could be a change of perspective. It will certainly be some new friendships that were made over the weekend.
The focus is not on how hard we can push our bodies or on how much time we can be in the yoga room. The yoga happens at the table we share, in the sea where we swim, at the pub when we enjoy the sunset and on the quiet coastal walks. It happens in the food we put inside us made with so much love, it happens during the lazy afternoon naps and it happens during the snoring in Yoga Nidra.
And it happens when we set our intention to return again next year because we need to top up on the magic. So I hope you get to try a retreat soon because we can all use a little dose of magic now and then.