By Inner Fire Luminary: Phyllis Chan
Photos by: Stig Jaarvik
There are many different definitions of the word “Retreat”. My favourite one is taken from Merriam-Webster:
“a period of withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a teacher."
This winter, I secured my dream yoga teaching job, leading retreats for the Blooming Lotus Yoga in Koh Phangnan, Thailand. I think yoga retreats are great, and if you get a chance to go on one, you should. And here’s why:
From what I’ve seen, yoga retreats can run anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks. Here is an opportunity to delve deep into a daily practice with qualified teachers who are passionate about yoga. At the Blooming Lotus, we spend a lot of time breaking down everything from meditation, pranayama, asana and philosophy. When you are in a space where you are practicing everyday, you can really start to see shifts in your practice.
A retreat can introduce you to different aspects of yoga that you have not had a chance to try before. These include Kirtan (chanting), partner yoga, karma yoga, restorative yoga and the sister science, Ayurveda.
For some, yoga retreats are a halfway point to yoga teacher training. I have 2 students who came on retreat, unsure if they wanted to pursue teaching. Then the following year, emailed me to say they had enrolled in YTT.
For those of us who live in the West, it can be challenging to focus on spiritual practice when you are juggling a million things at once. It seems that most people fit their yoga practice somewhere in between their 9 to 5 jobs, their partners, children, friends and responsibilities. Yoga in the city is sometimes that 1-hour class you fit in between work and dinner. And most probably don’t reflect that much on what yoga really is. On a retreat, there is an aspect of solitude, self-study and reflection. When you take yourself out of your regular routine, allow yourself the time to be in nature, practice, eat well, sleep well, you can create the space for transformation. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take some aspects of the retreat and integrate them into your regular life.
One of my students once said to me, "It’s so great to meet other people who have the same interests as me. Here, I feel like I can really be myself. Back home, none of my friends are interested in spirituality, and would not even consider eating vegetarian. A lot of them are very focused outward appearances: like wearing expensive clothing, going to fancy restaurants and looking good. They don’t understand why I am even here. And it’s so nice to find people I fit in with and who accept me for who I am."
On destination yoga retreats, you have an opportunity to connect with yoga people from all over the world. This becomes your community on retreat, but hopefully these connections may even evolve into lifelong friendships. Ideally you can support each other on the yogic path.
You always have the choice of whether you want to be social or prefer solitude. Most students tend to find a balance somewhere in between.
Some students use their yoga retreat as a starting point. They will come on retreat, get to know the lay of the land, and then continue on to travel on to other parts of the country.
A yoga retreat can be a chance to explore. These days, you can pretty much go on retreat anywhere in the world: India, Bali, Thailand, Hawaii, Nicaragua, etc.
I love Thailand because you have access to beautiful beaches, stunning viewpoint hikes, healthy, and affordable delicious food. Sounds kind of funny, but for me, a big factor in trip enjoyment is the food! I LOVE Thai food.
If you are going on holiday, why not go to a beautiful destination, where someone has already tested the place as a good yoga spot? You can go away, and come back feeling refreshed & glowing.
Mindfulness is a focus on our retreats. We begin each day with meditation and pranayama. One of the first things we tell people is to get into the habit of cleanliness: encouraging them to make their bed everyday, try vegetarianism, and even to put the computer away. Why not try a digital fast for a couple days? We assign karma yoga (service) tasks so that everyone contributes to the shala. For some, performing simple karma duties such as sweeping the floor can be extremely humbling. These practices may sound simple, and we all know they are beneficial but sometimes it takes group motivation in order to put them into action.
So what are you waiting for? Why not treat yourself to a trip of a lifetime?