What Really Happens On A Yoga Retreat?
When I announce that I’m leading a yoga retreat, I get a lot of interesting questions from those who are considering coming along. Anything from “Can I bring my blow-dryer?” (Even though we’re probably talking about impossibly humid climates), to whispered concerns about whether they’ll be able to have a glass of wine or a piece of meat, comes up. Google “yoga retreat” and you’ll find: Food & Wine magazine endorsed Foodie & Yoga Retreats, Trademarked Bikini Boot Camp Yoga Retreats, Wine, Chocolate & Yoga, Surfing & Yoga, as well as those replete with vipassana (silence) and/or fasting, chanting, and other forms of abstinence out there. There is, in fact, a lid for every pot, when it comes to how you spend your time on a yoga retreat. However, if you’re under the impression that all we do is sit cross-legged for a week and then go home, keep reading.
I’ve been coordinating and leading yoga retreats for about ten years now. On my retreats, we typically start our day with a two-hour yoga practice, and then go out into the country we’re visiting for adventure. In Costa Rica we zip-line, paddleboard the mangroves to a private black sand beach, take surf lessons, and horseback ride. In Bali, we visit Tirta Empul for a purification ritual in their sacred spring pools, do sunrise salutations at Gunung Batur (a live volcano), bicycle through vibrant green rice fields, attend a Kekak (fire) Dance on the cliffs of Uluwatu, and choose our fresh fish in Jimbaran Bay, for a feast with our tables right on the water.
There are times when the unexpected happens in paradise, though. I’ve witnessed someone break their jaw falling off their bicycle, bruised ribs crashing their ATV, our posh resort taken over by an ant war, monkeys stealing diamond earrings, people hook-up, break-up, and even someone nearly getting gored by a bull. One year in Bali, we prepared for our pre-dawn Gunung Batur salutations, looking out over the coral, fuchsia and salmon colors of the pending sunrise, we set up our mats on the long, outside deck, mesmerized by the setting. Julie (whose importance to LA radio was such that her iPhone had to have reception no matter where she was) announced…
“Michael Jackson died.”
It was like a mental car crash — the celestial scene in front of us colliding with the Breaking News culture we’d been distancing ourselves from. “And Farrah Fawcett too.” she added, as if the King of Pop weren’t surreal enough.
Yes, sometimes it is the unforeseen, but mostly what happens on retreat is a special bond, both inside the yoga room and out. We gather from around the world, with our varied travel and yoga backgrounds, and renew our spirits together. In yogic philosophy, the five layers covering the Self are called Koshas; imagine them like the layers of an onion. The outermost layer is the Annamaya Kosha (skin and bones), followed by the Pranamaya Kosha (life force body), Manomaya Kosha (mind body), Vijanamaya Kosha (intellectual body), and Vijanamaya Kosha (soul body). As we make our way through our retreat week, I can almost see the transformation infiltrate each of these layers within us. Sure, someone might learn how to do a headstand without the wall, or balance in crow pose, but it’s the collective experience of the journey that regenerates and inspires from skin to soul.
There’s nothing self-conscious about this shift. It is an organic immersion that lends itself to the universal “oneness” most spiritual practices and religions espouse. When we slow down, we allow ourselves to see the beauty around us, as well as within us. To quote the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, “The human soul does not merely hunger for beauty, we feel most alive in the presence of what is beautiful—it returns us, often in fleeting but sustaining moments, to our highest selves. Beauty ennobles the heart and reminds us of the infinity within us.”
What really happens on a yoga retreat? Whether you’re a foodie, or looking for fasting – enjoy surfing or silence, our yoga mats become magic carpets, to see both the world around us and the infinity within.
I would love to hear from you! Tell us what really happened on your yoga retreat in the comments section below.
Yoga for a Broken Heart
I have spent the past two years using yoga alongside therapy to heal my emotional wounds. Suffering from pelvic pain, my asana practice revealed to me that my physical pain was a manifestation of my emotional pain. Once I released that, my pain subsided and I was able to cancel an impending surgery. I have seen numerous times in my practice and in my teaching that pain in the heart and the body can be helped or healed through yoga. Through my healing journey, my teaching has evolved to a more heart-centered approach; one that focuses on the connection between the mind, body, and heart and the belief that they are constantly striving toward wholeness.
Here are a few of the techniques that I’ve used in my own life and teaching.
- Use affirmations with Sun Salutations
Bathe your body in the truth of who you are. Each inhale say “I am”, each exhale say the affirmation (silently or aloud). Do one Sun Salutation per affirmation below.
- Imagine red light at the base of the pelvis and say the words I AM SAFE
- Orange at low abdomen, I AM CONFIDENT
- Yellow at upper abdomen, I AM POWERFUL
- Bright green at heart center, I AM LOVING
- Pale blue at base of throat, I AM TRUTHFUL
- Deep blue between eyebrows, I AM WISE
- Violet above the head, I AM WHOLE
- White in the space slightly higher above the head, I AM FREE
- Soak in the effects of washing your body and mind in truth
- Talk to Your Pain
When you feel physical pain, silently ask the pain what it is trying to tell you. Give it a chance to speak – tell it you’re listening. Sometimes it helps to practice asana, journal, draw, or go for a walk during this process.
- Ground the feet down and open the heart up
Use standing and balance poses to help you feel grounded and present. Practice chest openers to help you keep your heart open. Interlace your fingers at your back, hug your shoulder blades and elbows together, reach the knuckles toward the floor, and lift the sternum and side ribs up. Do this as often as possible to help you keep your heart open to life and joy.
- Keep your heart soft
Pain can cause you to close up. To help you stay open, place your right middle finger on your heart center and gently and slowly massage. In that spot, imagine a beautiful ray of light breaking through the clouds. Choose a quality of love that resonates for you, and imagine that quality shining brightly. Any time you need to remember this place of love and peace deep within you, put the right middle finger there gently.
Brokenness and pain are part of being alive. Owning that pain and dropping into it is how we begin to heal.
What to Do When You’re Not on Your Mat
Gaia’s The Yogi’s Heart series can help you open and heal your heart.