I’m fortunate to live in a city with LOTS of yoga options. Missed the noon class I was planning on attending? No problem, I can catch the 1:00 pm class at the studio down the street. Missed that one too? Well, there’s probably a 2:00 pm class somewhere. Since moving to Portland two years ago, I’ve been surprised and delighted by the large number of high-quality classes and workshops the city has to offer—and I’m not just talking asana, but also meditation, pranayama, philosophy, and ayurveda workshops from both local and visiting teachers. So if the city that I call home has such a rich and wonderful yoga culture, why would I need (or want) to leave it to attend a yoga retreat elsewhere? To be honest, it wasn’t until this year, when I had a few opportunities to attend weekend retreats, that I realized how incredibly beneficial these mini yoga vacations were for my practice, my teaching, and my life in general. Here’s why:
1. Retreats Allow You to Go Deeper
A typical asana class is about 75-90 minutes. While that’s generally plenty of time to stretch your hamstrings and open your hips, it doesn’t allow for the same depth and focus as a three-day (or longer) yoga-centered retreat—especially when it comes to rich and complex topics like philosophy, ayurveda, anatomy, or meditation. Sure, your teacher might quote the Yoga Sutra, show you something really cool about your serratus anterior, or offer a little taste of meditation in class, but the short time frame usually doesn’t allow her to expand upon these topics as much as she’d probably like to.
At a retreat, distractions tend to be less prevalent, and the teachings can sink in more fully.
And while a local weekend workshop might give you more time to dive in, it can be hard to really immerse yourself in the teachings when you have to go home each night to make dinner, respond to work-related emails, or catch up on the latest episode of New Girl. At a retreat, distractions tend to be less prevalent, and the teachings can sink in more fully.
2. Be a Student
I teach about ten classes a week, (which, as I learned from an informal polling of my fellow yoga teachers, is actually a bit on the low end!) and despite the fact that I attend class almost daily, I often find it difficult to step out of “teacher mode.” If a particular alignment cue, pose sequence, or philosophical nugget strikes me as interesting or beneficial, I automatically start to think about how I might incorporate it into one of my classes. During a retreat, however, I get to take a break from teaching and can focus more fully on my own studentship. There’s no doubt that the retreats I’ve attended have helped me to grow as a teacher, but not because I spent them writing lesson plans! Rather, retreats have allowed me to immerse myself in practice in such a way that I’m able to teach more authentically from my own experience.
3. Daily Routine
Like a lot of city-dwelling freelancers, my schedule is pretty erratic. One morning I teach my first class at 6:00 am, and the next I don’t have to be anywhere until 9:00. While I make a valiant attempt to maintain some semblance of a set bedtime/wakeup time, on the days I don’t have to be at the studio so early, the snooze button sure is tempting! Retreats offer me some much needed structure. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served at the same time every day, and sleep/wake times are consistent too.
4. No Cooking
Even the most culinary-minded of us could use a rest every now and then, and despite earnest efforts, it can be challenging to eat a healthy, balanced diet in urban environments. During a retreat, nourishing food is generally provided for you—and at ayurvedically advantageous times (which means no scrambling to put together dinner at 9:00 pm), and a retreat environment encourages us to really sit and savor. (You’ll probably get a side-eye or two if you whip out your smartphone at the dinner table!)
While I was a bit nervous to be without my electronics at first, I found that I was automatically more present, and able to really savor the experience.
I recently attended a retreat on the Oregon Coast, in an area that was sans cellphone service and Internet. While I was a bit nervous to be without my electronics at first, I found that I was automatically more present, and able to really savor the experience. (Plus, since I couldn’t check my Twitter feed out on the coast, I found myself automatically reaching for my Bhagavad Gita in lieu of my iPhone!)
While laptops, tablets, and smartphones can certainly be useful, going offline for a few days can be really refreshing. Even if your retreat center has Wifi, resist the urge to instagram your kitchari, and see what happens. Unplugging for even a day may shift your perspective considerably.