Retreat and Revitalise
An activity I have found very beneficial for my wellbeing is to go on a yoga retreat. Last year I spent seven days in the French countryside, practicing yoga and meditation several times each day, nourishing my body with lots of healthy food and herbal teas, taking time out from the busyness of life to rest and relax, and really living in the moment being mindful of my wonderful surroundings. It was a most wonderful experience and by the end of the week I felt amazingly well!
I was first introduced to yoga when I took a class whilst studying at college, which was part of their enrichment programme. Over the years, I’ve attended various classes on and off, at fitness centres and community venues, based around several different kinds of yoga. Earlier on I did more Vinyasa yoga, which is a flowing, relatively fast-paced approach, sometimes described as fitness yoga. In more recent years I’ve taken classes in Hatha and Svastha yoga, both of which are more gentle and slower in pace. You will find enthusiasts for all kinds of yoga and if you delve deeper much debate about the different forms. Practising yoga is an individual choice and the teacher you follow also has a strong bearing on whether a particular type of yoga will work well for you. My personal preference though is the gentler practices, particularly Svastha yoga which I was introduced onto my retreat. This form of yoga goes back to the original purpose of yoga, to the timeless aim to bring a positive shift to the wellbeing of the body and mind. There’s a focus on harmonising movements and postures with the breath and calming the mind, as well as relaxation and meditation elements.
I decided to go on a yoga retreat as I thought I would benefit from having some time away just for me, where my focus was on healing and nourishing my mind and body, particularly after the anxiety and stress I’d experienced over the preceding years. Although I’d been contemplating the idea for some time, I’d been busy that summer on a city break with friends, so hadn’t got round to looking into the retreat. At the end of August I decided it was the opportune moment to go on one at the time, so in the end I actually researched and booked it all very last minute. This was quite uncharacteristic of me! I’m a planner, who researches most trips for hours and gets a suitcase out at least a week before! My decision to go on a retreat and the particular one I chose, turned out to be one of the best last minute decisions I’ve ever made as it was truly wonderful! I think by booking last minute I trusted my instinct and choose what my mind and body needed at the time. I had aspirations (and still do) to go somewhere exotic by the sea like Bali on a retreat, but going somewhere relatively close in Europe, in a quiet and tranquil setting was just right for me then. The added benefit is this experience has now helped me trust my instinct more when making decisions and that I don’t always need to plan everything!
You may be wondering what actually happens on a retreat…?! Well every retreat is going to be different – having researched them just a little I have discovered the retreat business is huge! There are retreats happening all around the world, to suit all tastes, orientated around a multitude of themes as well as yoga, such as detox, meditation, silence, art and walking. I can though give you an insight into my retreat experience…
Each morning we would start the day with yoga at 7:30am. That might sound quite energetic, but they typically began with a decent length of time lying on a mat on the floor. You’d enter quietly, perhaps having had a little herbal tea in the kitchen before, pick a yoga mat and lie with a yoga bolster cushion and blanket – this was relaxing and cosy, particularly on a cool, crisp morning in early September. We’d then do about ninety minutes of yoga, gently waking up the mind and body, stretching the muscles, moving to sitting, kneeling, then standing postures. It was a lovely way to start the day.
We would practise more yoga at the end of the afternoon, often a bit more energetic than the early morning one, and some meditation too. Then we would end the day with a short yoga nidra practice before bed, which involves lying down and typically following a guided meditation to prepare you for sleep. This was a lovely relaxing and nurturing experience, particularly as the teachers lit the studio for this bedtime practice just with candles, making it beautiful and atmospheric.
After the first couple of days periods of silence also became a part of the practice. We would exercise silence from the evening yoga nidra until we had finished breakfast the next morning, including through the morning yoga session. It wasn’t about not communicating, we would actively show a friendly smile to one another and use gestures. And of course, the teachers needed to speak in the morning class. It was about facilitating inner reflection and prolonging the calm, relaxed state the practices cultivated, rather than breaking this with conversation. Even though I love talking, I really valued the silent practice and found this beneficial. The yoga teachers were excellent, it was great to learn from their wise perspectives, they worked well together. As there were two teachers, this also meant they could take it in turns to lead adding variety, and there was always one person free to support you with getting the postures and movements correct so you got the most benefits from the exercises.
The retreat gave me the opportunity to do something on my own, but with others too. I enjoyed spending the week with a lovely group of people who each had their own individual reasons for attending a retreat. We would all come together at meal times and have a good chat over lunch and dinner, the food for which was delicious and added to the experience. What you put in to your body is important to your wellbeing and so we were provided with healthy, nutritious and tasty food, that was relatively light, and all made fresh with lots of vegetables, salads and fruits. The food itself was a real source of delight and topic of conversation!
In between the yoga practice and meals we would have free time and I enjoyed a good balance of time with the others in the group and time to myself. I enjoyed swimming in the outdoor pool, walks and a run around the local area, a massage from a visiting therapist, doing some mindful walking and mindful photography, sitting in the garden and reading, as well as just resting. We also had an afternoon trip to a nearby town to see some of the historic sights and enjoy one meal out. What was great about the group was everyone was respectful to one another’s space. I remember an afternoon where I was relaxing on a sofa in the Moroccan themed lounge. There were three of us and a cat sat in their reading books and resting, yet it was absolutely silent. Typically, people tend to naturally feel the need to fill silence with talking. In this moment, however, we were each comfortable with, and respectful of the value of, the silence. I thought it was very special to be able to enjoy this quiet time, whilst just being in the company of others.
The other aspect that added to the retreat was the beautiful, peaceful location in the French countryside. The yoga studio was inside a converted barn that looked out to the beautiful garden, which had a lake, fruit trees, little paths and various places to sit. We were surrounded by rolling fields and a few farms and you could mainly just hear the sounds of wildlife, including sometimes the local donkey whose “eee-ores” always made me chuckle! It was great to be away from the busyness of everyday. Disconnecting from technology also supported this. There was wifi, but I made a conscious effort to turn my mobile fully off for most of the stay.
My close family knew where I was and the contact details of the venue if they did need to contact me due to an emergency situation, so I didn’t need to worry about not being contactable. As much as I like technology and communicate regularly through text and online messages, it was great to have a break from social media, emails and the internet and helped me relax.
After the retreat, when I returned home I felt wonderful, honestly more well than I’d felt physically and mentally for years. Although I obviously had to get back on with everyday life, the retreat brought longer lasting benefits. A week of lots of yoga practice gave me the confidence and knowledge to be able to continue practising what I’d learnt at home. Once I was back, I rearranged a bit of furniture and made space to lay my yoga mat out. Although I admit I don’t usually manage a regular practice, having my yoga mat out all the time acts as a reminder and makes it easier to do a little yoga, which I particularly find beneficial before I go to bed. And I also find it relaxing to just think about the retreat, look at my photos and imagine myself back in the beautiful garden.
If you’re interested in going on a retreat then there are all sorts of retreats in beautiful places around the world and lots of online resources to help you find one to suit you. I’ll be honest, retreats don’t tend to be cheap, but it’s about an investment in you. Although I think there’s a value in going somewhere in another country and that it takes the initial few days to just relax, to keep costs low you could consider a retreat closer to home or for just for a weekend. As you will see from a little online research, there are so many retreats to choose from, so here are a few tips from me to choosing a retreat:
- Research – Use some of the online resources in the ‘Retreats & Workshops‘ section of the Smile Being You Directory, ask other people you trust with relevant experience for suggestions and read some of the reviews. Contact the teachers directly if you want to find out if their approach will suit you or have any questions.
- Reflect – Have a think about what you want from a retreat… what does your body and mind need right now? What activities might support this? How do you imagine a lovely retreat to be?
- Locate – Have a look where the retreat venue is located and look into the travel options to get there. You could go on an amazing retreat on the other side of the world, but if a long haul flight back will really take its toll on you, then this could counteract the benefits. You’ll also want to factor in the travel costs as these are typically additional to the cost of retreat itself.
- Consider – Consider the whole package. Look at the accommodation options, some places only provide shared accommodation, others give you the option (usually at a premium) to have your own room. Have a think about the surroundings and how this will add to the experience. Think about the food you’ll have and, if you have specific dietary requirements, check whether they can cater for these.
- Trust your instinct – Go with the retreat you feel is right for you and your needs at the point in time. Take all the guidance, reviews and facts into account, but also try to listen to your what your body and mind need and think about what will most benefit you. Attending a retreat isn’t a one-off experience to tick off your mental to do list, it’s investment in you and an action to look after yourself and enhance your wellbeing. You may choose, as I very much intend to do, to go on many more retreats!
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