Monday, May 8, 2017

Why you should re-treat yourself

Last month was a month of retreat for me. It started with seven days of silence with my teacher Richard Miller. A few days back from that and I was off again for five days with our soon to graduate trainee teachers. This was a busy period in many ways for me, yet I feel really refreshed.

Retreat is an important part of yoga practice. Our day to day yoga practice should serve and be carried into our daily lives living in the world. We can attain and maintain the state of wholeness which is at the heart of yoga without withdrawing permanently into a monastery or hermit's cave. However retreat, a time of withdrawal, is a magnificent way to recharge the batteries.

Most of us cherish our vacations. We plan trips away, visiting far off places, catching planes, dealing with jet-lag, we rush from tourist spot to tourist spot, not wanting to miss a thing in this place we may never visit again. Often we come home exhausted and quip to our work colleagues that it is good to be home for a rest.

That's OK. I do it too, and always feel enriched by excursions into other cultures and seeing new places. It's good. But to go on retreat is true re-creation.

The most unexplored territory is inside ourselves, an adventure awaits there and you will be able to start the exploration at one of the cheapest vacations you could take - retreat.

There is a burgeoning retreat industry, offering retreats in exotic tropical places, yoga plus massage and the whole spa experience, would you like surfing with that, bonus sight seeing tours. I am not so much attracted to them.

I was a frequent flyer at this labyrinth at St Joseph's
where I retreated last month 
To re-treat myself I seek a quieter and local experience of retreat, the early morning meditations wrapped in a blanket, gentle movement practices, periods of soulful silence, sattvic food and deep self inquiry, walking a labyrinth  and the paths of a garden in my breaks.

Retreat in winter is always special as well.  My recent autumn retreating almost met requirements, with cool nights and cooler early mornings, sometimes some rain to enhance the cocooning effect a little deeper. While those tropical retreat centres look great in the brochure, all that lush abundance and gleaming swimming pools, give me the pleasure of wearing ugg boots around the centre and snuggling into a rug for yoga nidra!

And when you spend several days in the company of like-minded retreaters on a similar path to your own, a tremendous deepening occurs.

Here are 5 key symptoms that will tell you it is time to re-treat yourself.

1. The days are full of more and more things to do and your anxiety levels are rising. This is exactly the time you need to stop and step away from the world for awhile. So long as there is someone you can recruit to take care of the kids, the elderly parents and the pets, nothing else can't wait. You must prove that to yourself and take time out to recharge.  You cannot do all of those things if you get so anxious and tired that you get sick. this is exactly when you need retreat.

2. Your yoga and or spiritual practices are beginning to wane, you are making time for them less often, even though you know that they make you feel better. Retreat can kick start your practice and insert a new enthusiasm as you will want to maintain the feeling created on retreat. You will experience and learn new things and there will be an impetus to try them out in your own practice. With the time dedicated to meditative and spiritual practice on retreat you will discover a true spaciousness and a deep sense of well-being, and the simple discipline and regularity of retreat life will assist you in the return to your own regular practice, or even to commence a personal practice if you did not already have one.

3. You feel lonely. Often people look to find a buddy to go on retreat with. That is nice but some of the best retreat experiences I have had have been when I have gone on retreat by myself. This is partly as you have no-one but yourself to "worry" about.  You can feel free to deepen, go on walks on your own, decide to go right now to walk the labyrinth without consulting anyone else. But you also make great new friends, people who are sharing the experience of retreat. many great friendships also start on retreat. And one of the best things is that it is really safe to do by yourself. It is a safe environment, with like-minded people, with enough structure, and enough free time to make the perfect treat for yourself.

4. You are doing all the usual things that are meant to make you feel better and life is just not improving, in fact you are feeling stale. When the evening glass of wine, the morning coffee, the weekly yoga or meditation class, the walk or jog around the block, the visit to the masseur, the physio, the psychologist are just not really making the difference you crave, you need to try something new.  On retreat you will learn new practices, you will meditate for longer, and in so doing overcome the barriers to meditation, find new approaches to well-being.

5. You are feeling that you would like to deepen your yoga, find out more than you can in the public classes you attend, but are not seeing how you can do that. Attending retreat is definitely your next step. In the sustained structure of a retreat over several days teachers can show you the way forward. In contemplation you will give yourself the chance to notice and respond to your heart's calling.

"Between the head and feet of any given person is a billion miles of unexplored wilderness." Gabrielle Roth

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