There is something pretty special about going away on a yoga retreat. I’m just back from my annual retreat in the World Heritage listed mountain rainforest near where I’m lucky to live–two nights, barely 44 hours, but long enough to relax, refresh and rejuvenate. Bliss.
From brief breaks away to week-long (or longer) retreats in exotic locales, a yoga retreat gifts us time and space to stop, be still, to release and to take our yoga practice to a whole new level.
I am so grateful for the chance to retreat (especially to hubby for keeping the home-fires burning with the kids), even as I dream of a longer, more exotic version (Bali is calling) one day.
If time, finances and commitments don’t allow you to get away, here’s how to create a sense of sanctuary where you are.
1. Create a sacred space in your own home.
It doesn’t have to be big, a corner will do, and the yoga mat doesn’t have to stay permanently rolled out. Create a little shrine on a small table or low stool - add candles, flowers, a yoga or spiritual statuette that appeals, and have a bolster and cushions handy for meditation. A blanket or throw will cozy up the space for cold morning meditations.
2. Stimulate the senses...all of them.
Scent is a great way to transport the mind and body into the soul. Use scented candles, an oil burner or aromatherapy scent sticks or try essential oils applied topically or sprayed with water in a spritzer. Infuse your space with your favorite warm or cool earth or floral scent.
3. Find nature in your own backyard (or balcony).
Find a space where you can feel the warmth of the sun, and preferably where you can feel the earth between your toes. If no space is available in an apartment, then stake out a spot in a nearby park and create your own sacred natural space.
Take your shoes off and ground your feet to the earth, standing in Mountain pose (Tadasana) or taking Downward Facing Dog and spreading your fingers into the grass. Salute to the sun while being warmed by it. Go to a beach and sink your feet and hands into the sand, even your whole body in Savasana (forget the towel, other than to brush off the sand, or dry yourself after a refreshing swim).
If you can, do a walking meditation in a bush, forest or mountain area. Make birdsong your meditation soundtrack.
4. Create your own stimulating or soulful soundtrack for your home practice.
Choose songs that speak to you, nature sounds, music that uplifts, mantras that calm and support relaxation and emotional release. Take your music wherever you go on your playlist, so one song or mantra played at work, or in a stressful or sad moment has the power to transport you back to that sense of yoga sanctuary.
5. Practice Pranayama.
When you use a routine breathing or pranayama practice that promotes relaxation and a sense of retreat, you have the opportunity to recreate that feeling within you, literally with every breath. Bumble-bee breathing works for me as it withdraws external noise and is very internalizing. A retreat is really about going inside, wherever you are.
6. Practice Yin Yoga or a set sequence.
Hold several long-hold yin yoga postures, perhaps targeting your hips or your heart. If you follow an intelligent set then the practice can become a go-to routine that feels a little like a retreat whenever and wherever you practice. The same can be said for a vinyasa flow sequence.
7. Try something new!
Retreats often take us out of our comfort zones in taking us more deeply inside ourselves. Set aside time to try and practice a challenging asana or meditation. The focus required will help you zone out in the way you get to do on a retreat, away from the usual daily distractions.
8. Read yoga or spiritual texts and books.
Create a sense of sanctuary in snuggling up somewhere (or finding a hammock or sunny spot) to immerse yourself in enlightening words. Books are portable, so you can revive that feeling wherever you go.
9. Lengthen your experience.
If you can’t manage to get away, then carve out time to feel like you’ve gone somewhere. Do a class followed by a long meditation. Practice asana followed by a meditation walk in nature. If you normally only manage a 30 minute home practice or hour class, then two hours will feel special. A three-hour yoga workshop will really start to feel like a retreat.
10. Practice mindulness.
Be mindful in whatever way recalls a sense of retreat for you and practice gratitude in that mindful moment or moments.
And lastly, don’t be afraid to cry. In my experience, retreats tend to bring up a both tears and joy. Feel your emotions and be alive. Enjoy.