The Reality of A Yoga Retreat

Katherine Smith
The Reality of A Yoga Retreat

Believe me, we’ve all been there. That moment when the tube doors slide closed with a malicious swish after you’ve ran to the station and jogged down the stairs just so you can get home, put on your PJ’s, crack open the wine, cry about your day and the tragedy you see yourself in.

But life it seems has dealt a different hand. Instead of smugly settling into your regular seat, you are left sobbing on the platform, envisioning a happier you that made it on time and is already home, curled up, cosy and content, consoling yourself with comforting consumables.

It doesn’t matter that there will be another train in 10 minutes.

So you decide you need to get away. Change something. Switch it up.

Your thoughts drift to beaches and sun-soaked skin. You imagine waking every day to morning yoga with someone called Shanti or Shakti or Sven and spending hours breathing in bliss and gazing at your navel until you reach nirvana.

You’ve never properly done yoga – there was just that one time at the gym – but you picture yourself in a picture perfect Padmasana (that’s Lotus BTW) even though you don’t know the name and fantasise about being on the cover of Yoga Journal. Everyone will want to know your name.

The trouble is, there is always a gap between the fantasy and reality. So here’s what you can expect from yoga retreat:

You go because…

  • You’re stressed out.
  • You need a break, before you break.
  • You want to do something different.
  • You want to explore and progress your practice.
  • You need time for reflection.

You expect to…

  • Feel blissed out.
  • Love everyone.
  • Lose weight.
  • Get flexible.

You’re worried that…

  • everyone else will be super human and/or a super yogi.
  • Everyone will always greet each other with ‘Namaste.’
  • Lettuce and only lettuce will be served three times a day.
  • You’ll have to give up coffee. You can’t live without coffee - so you email ahead to check. There’s still space for some Starbucks Vie in your suitcase.

You secretly hope…

That you’ll hook up with the hot guy over juice and wheat grass shots, discussing Downward Dog.

Here’s What Actually Happens

You feel tired and terrible, because your body is detoxing. Everything hurts because you’re using some of your muscles for the first time, and re-awakening others that have long been forgotten.

You feel confronted because there is a gap between what you think you can or should be able to do, and what is within your yogi grip - You do not look like the girl in the retreat flyer. You don’t look like the girl on the website. Yoga Journal has dumped you. And you find out that the expensive new yoga pants you bought are in fact see-through.

The food is amazing, so you eat A LOT (although you’re never the first to get up for seconds). You feel the relief in your limbs and belly that you’re feeding yourself well, and side step any panic over overindulging because you’re using the toilet so often you have plenty of space. It’s true that you get a little gas, and occasionally, accidently let one slip as you drift off in Savasana or during supper. But it’s ok because you blame it on the retreat dog.

The habits that sustain you at home aren’t sustainable here, and without them, you fall apart just enough to be broken open. You cry because all the things you’ve been suppressing or avoiding are now demanding attention without the distractions of home. At least once, just for a moment, you hate the girl on the mat next to you, you hate the teacher. In fact the whole world sucks!

You’re surrounded by women. The one and only guy is indeed gay. Bliss has never eluded you more.

But In the end…

Here are some of the things you learn:

  • You realise yoga’s not just about the posture and your practice is much more than pulling shapes.
  • You realise it’s ok to be you – your sense of self is renewed and restored.
  • You see sides of yourself you didn’t know existed.
  • You feel stronger and more toned than ever before.
  • You realise you’re stronger and more capable than you give yourself credit for.
  • That peacefulness is not something that can be obtained, but simply found, when you slow down enough to let your body breathe.
  • That maintaining false expectations (or any expectations for that matter) is futile, and only impedes your ability to stay present.
  • Presence, you discover, is vital to seeing things as they really are. Seeing things as they really are, without drama or delusion is the beginning of living from the heart.
  • You recognise that happiness is an attitude and acceptance a choice.
  • You understand that before you can be kind to anyone else, you have to be kind to yourself.
  • You feel re-energised and revitalised. In fact, you’re radiant and glowing.

So you go home with new ideas about who you are, who you want to be, and what you want from life. Not only that, you realize that you have renewed energy to pursue your dreams. Big bonus? You’ve made friends for life.

And then suddenly but subtly, your life changes because now you see things differently through fresh eyes, and your perspective on life and yourself has somehow shifted -- because you’ve seen and experienced the depths of your soul.