Adapted from a post first published on Yogaguide.wordpress.com, 13 August 2012...
Retreat isn’t about moving away from your life, but toward your core values, personal truth and definite best. While we retreat from distractions and energy drains, we embrace the practices and habits that give us sustenance and allow us to to be fully present in our everyday life.
To create your very own retreat, decide on a time and a set of core practices that you know fill your heart. Start with three days, and over time explore seven, ten or more days of disciplined practice, planned silence and reflection. Take the time off work and consider making this your yearly "vacation." The first three days are what I call "roto-rooter days:" you're just flushing out. Sometimes these are difficult days and sleep comes fitfully. You'll notice a shift of lightness and clarity when this time is past. This is why I suggest a minimum of three days - so you get the reset effect. Add time as you feel capable. Mark this time as special: you might begin with a massage, an extra special yoga class or simply a solo hike. Let the people in your everyday life know that during these days you won’t be taking on extra tasks. Put on your auto-responder and turn off your phone. Ditch the computer.
Retreat, whether at a luxury yoga resort, a zendo or monastery is a very structured experience. The structure creates a container for practice to deepen and for layers to fall away. The result is liberating; the process can be excruciating, at least at times. The process involves loss, illusion, demons, darkness, light and everything between.
The structure usually involves early morning meditations - sometimes day-long - walking, silence, practice of asana, mudra, chant, reading, work practice and light, healthy food, as well as work practice.
Referred to as "samu" in Zen Buddhist circles, this honors the rhythms and needs of daily life and provides us training in bringing our meditation into our everyday activities. The idea is to perform the necessary maintenance tasks in a planned, simple and mindful way. This could include food preparation, cleaning your living space, sweeping your practice space and even working in your garden.
Retreats can and usefully do include writing, art, contact with the natural world and soaks. Decide what your structure will be and allow it to contain all your activity. Will you rise at 5am for seated meditation? When will you practice asana? Will journalling be a formal part of your retreat practice? Or gardening? When will you have down time? Hold these commitments lightly - meaning both without force, so you don't use them to beat yourself up, but also with great clarity. They are commitments to yourself.
In a formal retreat with a teacher, you'll have the support of meeting with your teacher at some point and maybe even guided classes, either meditations or yoga asana practice. If you're doing your own retreat, you need to plan for how these needs can be met. What is your support? Where do you find guidance? I usually pick a set of lectures in a recorded format that I listen to at the middle of each day.
Serendipitously, I've always received clues to unravelling my emotional, intellectual and physical knots through these daily talks. Perhaps part of that magic is wrought in the unconscious: I usually start looking for the teacher and talks I'll take with me on retreat about 6 weeks prior. When I choose my focus, this sets a tone and theme and primes the pump for what arises, and how it presents itself.
In years past, I've used series of Upaya's DharmaPodcasts, unparalleled for the teaching, depth and wisdom (I recommend sending a donation when you do so, as a way of honoring the teachings.) Richard Freeman's Yoga Matrix was another year's touchstone. Pema Chodron's work is full of illumination as is Reginald Ray's. Journalling in conjunction with listening can create a powerful conversation with your inner teacher.
Do note, especially in this age of downloads, these often require a greater commitment not to use the electronic devices you access the talks on for more distracting activities. It can be so tempting to use the computer or smart phone to listen to your daily dharma teaching... but then, it's just a click to check and see what's in the email. Or facebook. Has anyone left me message? Does anyone miss me? What's going on out there? Decide in advance your strategy for avoiding or short circuiting these distractions. Are you going to remove the apps temporarily? Do you have a dedicated ipod? Can you use only CDs?
Design how you will avoid the inevitable distractions. On my retreat trips, I go as far away from civilization as I can get in the contiguous 48… and recently, I was able to get cell service. I’ve learned that I have to turn the phone off and make it inaccessible to maintain my chosen discipline. If I bring my computer for writing, I disable the wi-fi. The point is to go inward, cultivate silence and listen for what comes from deep within.
Change your routine and surroundings. Make the house extra neat and clean, enlist a family member to have quiet coffee or tea with you in the morning. Set your space up with the books you want and any other resources you desire: yoga mats, blocks, blankets, bolsters, DVDs or streaming videos, special bath salts. Make sure the cupboards are stocked with food that will make you feel good. You might decide to eat lightly during this time. Create your schedule and then when the day comes and you've turned all the electronics off, meet yourself at the appointed place and time over and over again. Listen.
How do you connect with your core truths and self? A retreat – whether on your own or joining a planned event – is a great way to reset and restore your factory settings. Do you remember what those are? Find out! Treat yourself to your own retreat.
More ideas and considerations for self retreat in this guest post on Tracy Weber's WholeLifeYoga.com blog!