East Meets West: An Ode to Yoga (Part 2)

Take Me Away; Retreat

When I dove into yoga nearly three years ago, I dove in hard. I would attend three classes per week. Sometimes it would turn into three classes a day. With this admission, it really can’t be that much of a surprise to anyone that in the course of just over two years I cranked out five yoga retreats, three in BC and two abroad. I needed something radical to jump-start a radical transformation. Yoga retreats became to me, an intensively concentrated therapy excursion complete with an abundance of laughter and tears. Catharsis.

Salt Spring in BC is the site of my first retreat, the Seeds of Spring. A clearing of the old, renewal for the future. Setting intentions and enjoying nature just as it was purring back to life. Our days began in noble silence, to appreciate the gentleness of the morning, the freshness of the day.

I learned to try something new even if it felt really uncomfortable, not pull away, rather, lean in. I tried partner yoga for the first time. I did things that were wildly out of my comfort zone. A foundation had been laid.

Bowen Island is about an hour, by road and sea, away from Vancouver, my second retreat. It’s friendly and gentle and not overpopulated and has designated hitch hiker pick-up spots. We found ourselves on Bowen during a heat wave, punctuated by a full moon and a smoky atmosphere from the forest fires up north. Eerie and magical all at once. The thrice-daily practice took place in a yurt, we learned about astrology and Hindu gods and goddess. We mediated by Grandfather- a tree over a century old. I call this retreat Hippie Camp.

This retreat taught me the meaning of kula, the Sanskrit word for your chosen family, soul family. People whom I’d never met before supported me emotionally and physically (I did my first handstand there!) listened and included me. I did the same. We were all on the same page; Love.

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The notorious surf town San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua was just a short jaunt away from where I enjoyed my next retreat. Nicaragua was perhaps the least retreat-y for me; the structure was free-flowing rather than rigid. Plenty of time to relax on the beach (and get drunk on a boat. oddly enough, the other two passengers were from Kitchener, seriously), luxuriate in a hammock at the screeching sound of a howler monkey.

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The immediacy of nature, a nature that was not the norm to me is what I learned while on this retreat. Our twice-daily practice was on a platform just peeping out above the tree line stretching to the ocean. Nightly, I got to absorb the cycles and rhymes of nature as we faced the west and the sky morphed into its kaleidoscope of colours from the setting sun before peeping stars coaxed us out of savasana. Taking yoga out of the studio is a completely different experience. If you haven’t tried it, do. Be patient with yourself, as you will be challenged from bugs and wind and sun and uneven ground and your senses being engaged in a new way. Don’t fight it the newness, dive in.

My forth retreat, on Gili Meno, Indonesia, I dove in both literally (I went snorkeling!) and metaphorically. The heat was enveloping 30C before 8 am, it fatigued and invigorated. I pushed myself; strong and capable. I observed the themes of the day- the element earth, air, fire, water and metal, each with their own lessons and expressions. It felt like the edge of the world, away from the familiar, reminding me that I was the foreigner, not the lizards above my bunk nor the fruit on my plate that I didn’t recognize.

Indonesia taught me how to listen. I listened to the Muslim prayers being chanted several times a day. Listened to the ocean. I listened to what was being asked of me, what I asked of myself.

This past fall, I took to the Sunshine Coast for a weekend retreat; a beautiful home with an inlet fed from the ocean in the backyard. It was a small retreat, only women, eight total, including the two gracious and joyful instructors. Deeply nutritious and delicious food. Calmness and gentleness.

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This retreat taught me to rest, go gently, instead of beating myself into newness. I recognized that rest is just as significant an effort. I didn’t attend every class, slept clear right through a few actually. Yet I showed up for myself in whatever capacity I needed. I didn’t beret myself for not doing or being more. That’s new.

I haven’t done a retreat in awhile, yes, I consider seven months awhile, and I’m concurrently craving and avoiding one. Like so many things in life, it’s about that which we invest, the amount of effort which yields dividends. I needed those retreats to clear away the debris I’d accumulated, from Ontario and Newfoundland and yes, here in Vancity. Now, however, I don’t think that I’m in a place where it’s about emulsifying the inner landscape, rather, cultivating. Bloom on; time to keep reaching toward the sun…