I’m just back to DC after 10 days of traipsing about NYC and then grounding down in Asheville, North Carolina. I traveled on trains, planes and in automobiles through the beginning of spring on the East coast. I got to see dear friends shining in their creative pursuits and talk healing ventures with my mom and her cousin. In Asheville, I ate so much good food and got to visit my new vacation home (aka, my mom’s lovely new house that she is almost done building).
Then, I ended my big, winding trip on a weekend retreat with a spiritual teacher of mine.
Yes, you heard that right. I spent the weekend on retreat for myself! One of my favorite parts of my life and work is leading retreats for other people. I love to travel and share the yoga practice, but even more, I love what happens to my clients when they go on retreat. I love the transformation that is consistently available when we take time away from our busy lives and invest it back into our spirits.
Yet I forget all the time how much I need retreat, as well. I can convince myself I can get what I need spiritually by going to weekly yoga and meditation classes, and by forgoing the longer retreat experience. However, as soon as I showed up at the lovely retreat center, nestled in the North Carolina green woods, I knew I had made the right choice. My whole body felt different. Something in me knew that for two whole days, I didn’t have to plan anything or lead anyone. Instead, I got to be a student. My mind relaxed, and almost immediately, I felt new self-awareness opening up.
I am still processing everything I learned and the new layers of myself that peeked through. Mostly, I understand even more that the spiritual path begins with a willingness to look inside. I don’t have to change anything about my past so that I can evolve into a new, more powerful future. But I do have to show up for myself in the present. Being on retreat felt like a powerful statement that I am worth working on and worth investing in. It made me feel better than ever about offering these experiences to more people.
So how do you know if you’re ready to go on retreat? I thought of five indications of what I look for in myself, and in my students, while preparing to go on retreat:
You’re stuck in choice paralysis. Choice paralysis is when your mind is racing and every decision feels equally confusing. When you’re caught in choice paralysis, you ask 10 different friends, and still can’t make up your mind what you want to have for lunch. When I stop trusting myself, I know it’s time to retreat. If I can’t leave for a weekend or week, I can definitely find an hour to come back to my own senses. I wash my face, put on some lovely music and write in my journal until I feel like myself again. My breath slows down, and the goodness of my life comes back into focus. From this place of rejuvenation, it’s amazing how easy it is to find clarity again.
You are chronically tired. I see being habitually tired in two different ways. One is when you are lethargic and can’t find the energy to work out or cook dinner. Some people may call this lazy, but I think of it more as fear. A lot of us are afraid of opening ourselves up to this beautiful and scary game of life. So we close down, sink into the couch cushions and shield ourselves off from inspiration. The other kind of tired comes from being burned out. This happens when we burn the candle at both ends and over-commit due to “FOMO” or over-obligation. This kind of chronically tired feels wiggy, and can actually intensify when you give your body a sip of much-needed rest, since it needs a gallon. I recommend going on retreat for both kinds of tiredness. It will inspire you couch-sitters and calm you over-doers. . Most yoga retreats involve lots of stunning time in nature, with fresh air and well-grown food. These gifts from Mama Nature are a cure-all that can calm you down and restore a tweaked nervous system.
You’re complaining a lot. My brother came on the retreat with me last weekend. He’s normally a very easy-going and optimistic person, but for the few months prior, I noticed he was complaining more often about his work, and worrying over money. As much as I love talking with him, I had started to get a little bored of hearing the same complaints, especially because they felt so limiting. During our weekend away, he had a couple of big “a-ha!” moments around how he was using his thoughts. He realized how he had been trapped in the negativity and fear, and how much that was draining his energy. This was awesome because 1) I didn’t have to try to change his thinking, (which never works) and 2) Our conversations have already gotten more interesting. We spent the car ride home from the retreat planning out some excellent family business/life ventures together.
You need to celebrate your life. Something that is so hard for my clients is celebrating their own progress. They will give me a list of five amazing habit changes they’ve made in five weeks but really want to focus on the tiny thing that still isn’t working. When I mention they might want to forget about the last change and instead celebrate their victories, they are almost always resistant. They are driven by the idea that we can only celebrate our success when it’s 100% done. But guess what, when it’s 100% done, you will be dead, and you will have missed the simple joy of loving your own life. One of my dear friends from yoga-teacher training just signed up for my Peru retreat this August as a way to celebrate a big birthday. She has a few children, and a job, and all the other demands of life, and she is leaving them all behind to celebrate her own life and spirit for 10 days. Maybe the trip isn’t practical, but I know she will come back a happier and more patient parent after dousing herself in the big, loving experience of celebrating her own life.
You are craving community. Over the past few years, I have led yoga retreats to Costa Rica, Peru, India, Guatemala and Bali. We have done so many fascinating activities on these retreats–everything from daily oil massages in India and Mayan fire ceremonies in Guatemala–as well as practiced a lot of yoga and meditation. At the closing circle, I always ask people for their highlights of the retreat. Do you know what they usually say? The other people on the retreat! From my experience, people who come on yoga retreats are awesome. They want to really understand their surroundings and stay up late talking about big, soulful life questions. Lifelong friendships have been forged over surf lessons and early mornings on the yoga deck. In a culture where we are surrounded by people but often feel really lonely and misunderstood, a week on a yoga retreat is an excellent antidote.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? If so, think about coming to visit Peru and Machu Picchu with me August 5-13. Last year was a life-changing adventure for all who came, and I would love to offer one of the last spots to you.
And, there are three spots left in the weekend West Virginia retreat I am leading with the amazing Michelle Mae this May 13-15. It will be a weekend of awesome ladies, sharing tarot, and all other kinds of sacred self-care. Message me soon if you are interested in either of these trips.
Regardless of when or where, I invite you to retreat. Take a conscious step back from your life–either a weekend or an hour–sometime in the next couple of weeks. It’s an investment of your own time in yourself. Our culture tells us we have to do more to be more, but retreating continually proves that wrong. It shows us that if you take the risk to step back and let go, by the end of your retreat, you will gain the insight and energy to powerfully move forward, right back into the stream of your own dear existence.