“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”
~ Albert Camus
No matter how much you love your job, your life and your family, sometimes it’s really good to just get away. This is exactly how I felt when, with some excitement, I booked myself into my first yoga retreat last month. To be clear, as a yoga teacher I’m no stranger to yoga retreats; I have taught and led yoga retreats many times, and loved doing it. But this was something special - my first yoga retreat as a guest, not the teacher. And it didn't disappoint.
If you’re unsure whether to make the leap for yourself, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. Here’s what to expect...
Your Retreat Experience Will not be the Same as Everyone Else’s.
Yoga retreats are as varied as the teachers who lead them, and you can find anything from luxury all-inclusive vacations, with yoga practice daily before sunset cocktails, to silent meditation led by monks in the Himalayas, sleeping with only a thin blanket to cover the wooden bed. I’d recommend thinking carefully about what you want to get from the time, then do your research. There’s lots of information online, but getting a personal recommendation is even better. I settled on a retreat that had been recommended by three different friends, and they weren’t wrong - the place I chose, with its combination of integral yoga, meditation and creative play was exactly what I needed. (Learn more in 3 Yoga Retreats to Refresh Your Soul and Renew Your Sense of Adventure.)
Retreats are a Great Opportunity to Make Positive Changes in your Life, Whatever That Means for you.
Be intentional with your time. This doesn’t mean piling pressure on yourself to achieve ambitious goals, but rather taking a little time to consider how you want to approach your time away. If you know you need time to rest, plan for periods of silence, stillness and relaxation - don’t go cramming your time with every trip, excursion and activity on offer. Similarly, if you’re wanting to kick start a healthier lifestyle, commit to going for a walk in nature every day and eating mindfully at every meal.
You may Find Yourself Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Whether it’s a new style of yoga, different food, or longer periods of meditation that you’re used to, it’s likely that the retreat will present some uncomfortable situations, alongside the magical moments. As the saying goes, there’s no growth in the comfort zone, so try to embrace anything that seems uncomfortable or different. You might be surprised by how much you learn from it.
Photo credit: Jade Lizzie
Advancing Your Yoga Practice Won’t Always Look Like Achieving a Deeper Backbend.
Many people go to a yoga retreat hoping to deepen their yoga practice, and that’s a noble goal, but it’s worth remembering that there’s so much more to it than performing Instagram-worthy postures. When you immerse yourself in the practices of yoga and meditation, you can connect with yourself on a much deeper level, and trust me, this can feel even better than mastering an acrobatic arm balance.
Being Present Brings new Levels of Awareness and Delight.
You may well find that all the extra yoga practice means you’re especially tuned in to the lovely moments - a beautiful sunset, a shared giggle over dinner or the joy of holding a yoga posture for an extra breath to feel into a new space that’s opened up in your side body.
Photo Credit: Jade Lizzie
What you Gain From the Time Will Surprise you.
Lots can come up during a period of time away from your usual routine, especially when you’re practicing yoga and meditation - ideas, inspiration, insights and new perspectives. Many people choose to keep a journal to help them to reflect on it all. You can make a note of things that occurred to you during meditation, dreams you had and how you felt during and after yoga practices. I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t gain something they weren’t expecting during their time away, whether that’s increased clarity, confidence, self-acceptance or creativity.
You’ll Meet Some Lovely, Like-minded People.
This is especially true if you’ve chosen your retreat carefully. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but it’s been my experience that the people you meet on yoga retreats are about as warm, funny and interesting as they come. They may become lifelong friends or just great connections for the week, but either way, you can gain a great deal from the shared experience.
Photo Credit: Jade Lizzie
Yoga Cliches That You'd Previously Mocked Suddenly Feel so Very True.
There’s something about the setting of a retreat that can help you to peel away any layers of cynicism, and just enjoy the wisdom of oft-said words. My favourites? "You’re a human being, not a human doing," "Listen to your body," and "Just breathe."
You’ll Leave Feeling Healthy.
As much as you might enjoy partying, city breaks, beers on the beach, fast food, late nights and lie ins, it’s fair to say that not all vacations leave you bright-eyed and radiantly well. However strange it might seem to choose to wake up early for yoga, cut out or reduce your alcohol intake and eat delicious fresh food, it’s almost guaranteed to leave you feeling pretty damn good.
Photo credit: Jade Lizzie
In short, you can expect your yoga retreat to be a beautiful and maybe even transformative experience. As a final reflection though, the transition back to the world can be hard unless you take it gently. To go from a carefree daily programme of yoga, meditation and having food prepared for you, into busy work or family life can be a shock to the system. Where possible allow yourself a few days at the end of the retreat to adjust more gradually. It’s also really valuable to keep up something from your retreat time to sustain you - even just 10 minutes every day to journal or meditate. Bear in mind that whatever you gained during the yoga retreat is still with you - to quote another yogic cliche, it was in you all along.