I just got back from leading a lovely 4 day retreat in the Austrian alps. I have been leading retreats for years, in part due to a lifelong love of travel and a desire to mix my passion with my work. But also I believe in the purpose of retreating.
But what does retreating actually mean and why do it?
The word retreat means, “the act of moving back or withdrawing.” Its’ synonyms are withdraw, retire, draw back, pull back, pull out, fall back, give way, give ground, recoil. When we go on a yoga retreat, we practice finding yoga (or union between the ego self and big Buddha-like self, the individual and the group/collective, the dark and the light) in a place that facilitates withdrawing physically, emotionally, and energetically from our own daily grind and daily dramas. On retreat, we retreat away from our work and the way that we relate to our work, our relationships, the way that we have been nourishing ourselves, stress or how we relate to stress, and thought patterns or daily habits that don’t work. So we move away from something to possibly move towards something else.
What do we actually get out of yoga retreats? I try to make a habit of asking people what they are looking for on their retreat holiday as opposed to a regular trip. They offered lots of insights which I expanded on. Retreats can:
Strengthen your asana practice. Twice daily practice with the same teacher in an intimate setting where you can ask questions and get feedback can make massive shifts in your yoga practice. If you are new to yoga, you can feel strong enough with the fundamentals to make yoga part of your regular weekly routine at home. If you fell off the yoga wagon, retreats are a fun way to hop back on.
Deeper relaxation and rejuvenation than “normal” holidays. When I go on city or adventure holidays, I often feel excited, stimulated and awestruck by what I have seen, but also exhausted when I return home. You know the phrase - we need a vacation to recover from our vacation. A 2013 report in the Wall St Journal claims that less than 10% of people on “regular” vacations achieve complete relaxation, 58% receive no stress relief, and 27% feel more stressed at end of vacation than the beginning. Yikes. And not the norm on a yoga retreat.
Great (secluded) locations in nature that would be otherwise hard to find. Retreat centers are not hotels. Most retreat centers are built or created on beautiful or sacred land, often in nature – near rivers, mountains or beaches. There are very few distractions so it is easier to connect to ourselves and to the local flora and fauna.
Community + connection with like-minded people. Your current friends and family may not have the habits or interests you want to grow. Meeting folks who have similar places they want to go in their own health and personal development journeys makes it easier for you to stay your own course. I know lots of people who make life-long friends or even romantic partners on retreat. That is how I met my sweetie. :)
Time for silence and self reflection. We live in a 24-hour culture. Many of us are so busy developing ourselves professionally and personally that we don’t build in time to actually reflect on where we have been, what we have learned, and what needs to change if we want to move forward. Retreats offer meditation, breath work, and unstructured alone time in nature that allows us to both reflect on lessons learned but also to develop plans for the next phase in our lives.
Practice self care. On retreat, we wake with the sun and go to bed early, move twice daily, eat 3 meals at regular times, get quiet, go out in nature without the usual daily distractions of phones, tablets, emails etc. Retreats can help you to reset your daily routines. (In fact, this is the entire focus of my June 15-22 Greece retreat).
Eat healthy, nutritious and local foods. The joy of travel is in part enjoying the local food. Retreat centers offer healthier and more plant-based versions of regional foods. So you can still enjoy great food, but also feel great after eating it. You may also pick up ideas for new healthy dishes you can make at home.
Break old routines and patterns. Retreats offer a change of scenery and surroundings, and opportunity to meet inspirational people we might not otherwise meet — a chance to see ourselves and our world with new eyes. With a break in our usual routines and patterns, we gain clarity on who we are and we may decide to make some long overdue changes in work, hobbies or relationships. We can even connect to old or new passions and get greater clarity on what really matters and what we can let go of.
I teach my next retreat In Kythnos, Greece June 15-22. It’s the first time I am leading a Ayurvedic health coaching AND yoga retreat at one time. It will be a week-long deep-dive into daily self care habits coming from Ayurveda in a gorgeous island setting free from the usual distractions. You can register here or message me for more deets.