As a counsellor, yoga teacher and group work facilitator who has been hosting retreats for seven years, I’ve developed some tips to help you to get the most out of your retreat experience. People attend retreats for a variety of reasons, for some down time, to find more meaning and purpose in life, to learn a new skill, travel to a new destination or at a transitional point, such as the death of loved one or change in career. People of course bring their own personalities, some are very outgoing and the life of the party others more gentle and introspective, all of them beautiful in their own way.
Retreats are for everyone. They are a place to open your heart fully to healing, peace, strength, joy, connection and love. A retreat is the place to reconnect with your true self, and find those things that you’re seeking. Sometimes you lose sight of who you are when you are facing challenges or as you get wrapped up in the day to day minutiae of relationships, jobs, responsibilities, LIFE!
Put down your phone, tablet, device, whatever connects you to distractions. You may need to check on your children, but everything else can wait until you get home. Know that those work e-mails will still be there and that your friends can wait to hear about your experience when you get home. The more connected you are to technology, the less likely you are to be connecting to yourself. Disconnect and enjoy the experience in the moment.
- Be open
Maybe a meditative walk or a silent meal isn’t necessarily your thing. Allow yourself to be open to new experiences. Open up to vulnerability and let go of the negative thoughts like “I will look silly” or “This is weird” or “They want me to do WHAT?!” In yoga it is believed that the poses you don’t like are the ones you need the most. Open up to the idea that the experiences you are resisting may be exactly what you need. Who knows, be open to new things and you may find immense joy just from the act of trying.
- Be present
Make the effort to be fully present: look around you, notice the beauty of your surroundings, listen to the sounds or the stillness, feel your body being massaged in long soothing strokes during your spa treatment, sit on a rock or your deck or the beach, breathe deeply. There is nowhere else you have to be and nothing else you have to do except be her now.
- Let go
Your expectations, judgments, whatever doesn’t serve you – leave all those thoughts behind, and come to the retreat totally open to the joy of the experience. If you find you are holding on to something specific, gently let it go – imagine it floating up into the sky like a balloon – then bring yourself to the sensation of openness and freedom that comes from the act of surrendering. You CAN control your thoughts. Acknowledge the thought or distraction and be grateful. Think, “Thank you [distraction] for reminding me to stay present”.
- Enjoy free time
Sometimes there are so many wonderful activities happening at a retreat that you want to enjoy every single one of them. I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than a jam-packed itinerary. Instead of adding stress to yourself by scheduling as many activities as the day allows, try taking some down time to read, journal, or nap. You can schedule yourself silly when you get home, but a retreat is a perfect place to enjoy (without guilt!) the luxury of free time.
- Consider coming alone
I know it seems scary, but know that a retreat is probably one of the best environments for you to be on your own: mentally, physically, and emotionally. When you come with friends you may be more likely to filter your experience through their expectations, or you may find that you are too distracted to experience the richness of the retreat. When you come alone you are opening yourself up to the possibility of new friends, new experiences, new thoughts, and new a perspective.
- Step out of your comfort zone
Try or at least attempt to try something you never thought you would ever do, I’m not talking about something life threatening it may be visiting the monkey forest or having a facial or taking the initiative to talk to a new person. For some people just the act of attending a retreat is a big step out of their comfort zone.
- Bring it home
On the drive or flight home allow yourself to meditate on the changes you experienced. Upon arriving home, take some time to jot down a few thoughts or journal about your retreat experience. This will allow you to look back and see how you were profoundly affected by your retreat experience. Reflect on your new outlook on life.
When you make the effort to open your heart to the beauty of your life, you’ll find gratitude and the joy will overflow out of you. You may even inspire someone else to be open… to trying a retreat, to finding gratitude, to living fully.