Written by Christine Lines
With the onset of winter bringing cooler temperatures and shorter days, we naturally begin to hibernate and develop more of an internal focus. Following the natural rhythm of nature, some animals retreat to a safe place offering protection and shelter. Their rate of breathing slows and they hibernate in very deep sleep, having nourished themselves to prepare for the long months ahead.
Similarly, we humans often need to retreat to a safe place to slow down and relax. When we meditate for long periods of time, our breathing and heartbeat naturally slows, followed by the activity of the mind, and we experience moments of stillness. Spending some time each year on retreat can be invaluable to rediscovering balance in our lives.
According to yogic philosophy, we each have a certain number of breaths in our lifetime – so deep, conscious breathing not only improves our wellbeing but extends our longevity. Yoga teaches us to breathe more consciously; by linking our breath with each movement and reconnecting our mind and body, we find our inner balance. The discipline of regular yoga practice during a retreat reminds us of the important of this. We can then bring this awareness into everyday life and experience the benefits of yoga, both physical and psychological; a calmer mind, a more open heart, a more relaxed body.
The word retreat, stemming from the Latin word retrahere, means to withdraw. Retreats can be a time of solitude or a community experience and are often conducted at rural or remote locations, such as an ashram or monastery. An ashram, the Sanskrit word for haven, provides a safe environment to retreat, or journey deep within. The retreat experience allows time for both reflection, enhanced by periods of silence, and guidance from experienced teachers sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps one of the most beneficial aspects of going on retreat is the support and inspiration gained from being surrounded by people dedicated to spiritual growth.
A yoga retreat nurtures both the body and mind through the daily practice of asana, the physical postures, through Pranayama, regulation of the breath and through meditation, effortless concentration. Combined with nourishing, cleansing food, the experience can soothe our soul and lift our spirits. Winter is a wonderful time to relax, rejuvenate and renew, and just as the flowers bloom in spring, so we can prepare for great change during winter. This time for reflection and self-enquiry offers great potential for transformation. Retreating from the demands of daily life and immersing ourselves in a nurturing environment, we are better able to find the place of stillness within ourselves where inner wisdom resides. We can develop trust in our internal compass that guides us through life and the ever-changing seasons.
A retreat offers the unique opportunity to simply be instead of always doing. The more we can immerse ourselves within the retreat experience by surrendering and letting go, the deeper we can move within and find this place of stillness and tranquillity. Our experience of tranquillity is naturally shared with others on retreat, creating more calm and peace. Taking this feeling and the inspiration to continue our home practice back into our lives means that giving ourselves the gift of a retreat ultimately benefits those around us.
A retreat is beneficial at any time of the year and by choosing a spiritual vacation we’re recognising our spiritual nature. The routine of regular yoga during a retreat makes it easier to continue a daily practice when we return home and it is through this consistency that we are reminded of our natural state of being.