I’ve just returned from another wonderful yoga retreat week in Turkey, where I was once more struck by the magic of what occurs on these yoga weeks. I’ve taught many week-long yoga retreats now, and my favourite thing is always watching the group members gradually relax, unwind, unfurl and blossom through the week, as they slowly lower their armour and drop the roles and responsibilities that a busy life demands, allowing their true self to shine through. It’s a wonder and a privilege to behold. From the initial, slightly clunky meals, where everyone is still unsure of each other, to those last few days of relaxed abandon, raucous laughter and freedom of shared spirit, everyone in the group, including the teacher, goes on a journey. With every unique combination of energies coming together, we all learn something from each other and go away inspired, rejuvenated and transformed in some way.
So what is the secret behind the magic? Really, it’s simple – time. In today’s busy world, so rarely do we have time to do nothing, to sit, to contemplate, to allow our minds to empty, to enjoy the present moment with all of our senses, to truly listen to someone, to remember what makes us smile from the inside out, to slow down and walk rather than drive and to reconnect to the simplest of pleasures such as sun on skin and a juicy orange, plucked from a tree, dripping down our chin. To have no demands made on us and no deadlines to meet is precious indeed.
I watch with interest the effects of time on the group. To begin with there’s almost a panic at all this spare time. Lots of trips are planned and quick-fire chatter fills the silences. But then, time’s sleepy tendrils begin to wind, and everyone slowly surrenders to the languour, until that nagging sense that there’s something you should be doing eventually falls away.
Of course having the yoga as a basic structure to the week makes this transition easier as there are still appointments to keep. But then every time we enter the yoga shala, feeling the warm breeze on our skin, and we begin to mindfully breathe and feel our bodies stretch and move and our energy awaken, it’s just another chance to slow down and be in the present moment, and in the end the yoga hugely accelerates the process of letting go of tension and unwanted negative perceptions. Then add into the mix regular breathing practice, meditation, healthy food and the most gorgeous, peaceful and natural of settings, and the ingredients are all there for us to stop, catch-up and reconnect with ourselves and expand into the fullness of our own authenticity.
And I don’t see this as self-indulgence, I see it as essential self-care. But since when did self-indulgence become a dirty word anyway? There’s actually nothing more selfless than taking time out to care for yourself, because only once your own ship is in order can you truly be there for others. Because to be truly there for someone is to be fully present to them, and week-long retreats help us remember what that feels like. They also remind us who we truly are, under all the masks we wear, and that is the best gift we can give to ourselves and the world.
So, I see ‘indulging’ in a yoga retreat as an investment – because the positive effects take root and persist as a little echo; a memory of a time when you became more authentically you. And so often I’ve heard stories of people positively changing their lives after a revelation they had on a yoga retreat. All it took was a seed of thought, and enough time for the seed to take root. The seeds are always there, but rarely do we water and feed them with enough time, space and self-love to help them flourish, yet on a yoga, or indeed any kind of self-focussed retreat, the main aim is to flourish our soul in whatever way is best for us… 🙂
If you would like to join me on a future retreat, my next dates are 11-17th October 2015 in Northern France (emphasis on building self-knowledge and listening to our innate intuitive wisdom, through yoga, meditation, guided relaxation and writing) and 9-16th May 2016 in Dalyan, Turkey (vinyasa flow and yin/restorative yoga and daily meditation/breathing practice). Also look out for a surf/yoga retreat in Morocco some time in 2016 (details coming soon).