I’ve always wanted to go to a yoga retreat, so when I left my job at the end of August and my Mom asked me to extend a trip to the east coast to go to Kripalu in Stockbridge, MA for a few days, I jumped at the chance.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured if all I did was decompress and do a bunch of yoga for two days, I’d be happy. I ended up getting so much more out of it. Here’s what I learned from my first (and hopefully not last) yoga retreat:
1. It was about more than doing (physical) yoga. I’m not new to the concept of yoga being a way of life versus a workout, but Kripalu was the first place I really experienced the concept deeply in action. From silent breakfasts to encourage mindful eating, to powerful workshops on topics like transformation and the power of breath, to Kirtan gatherings to explore meditation via chanting, to information about the powerful social impact that Kripalu has made, it was an eye-opening experience of what it means to live yoga. Sure, I also took a bunch of yoga classes (six in two days, to be exact), and not all of the concepts were a fit for me, but overall I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of my experience.
2. Silent breakfasts are THE BOMB. I was practically giddy when I saw the sign in the dining room requesting silence during breakfast. I’ve become a regular early riser over the past year, but that doesn’t mean I actually like talking to anyone for the first hour of being upright. Especially before I’ve had a cup of coffee. So I loved this concept. I noticed that I ate more mindfully, better appreciated how peaceful mornings can be, and reflected more on the day ahead. In yoga, we talk a lot about setting intentions, and I found a silent breakfast the perfect time to set a positive intention for the day. Although I tend to have breakfast at home, I usually end up reading the news or doing email while I eat. I intend to take a lesson from Kripalu and have a true silent breakfast more often, without the noise of the world (whether physical or virtual) interfering just yet.
3. Slow and gentle yoga is still yoga. I like to push myself, sweat and — let’s be honest — feel the pain of a great workout sometimes. I love a long, strong, hot vinyasa class — preferably one that includes lots of arm balances and challenging inversions to try. That’s just me. At Kripalu, I finally saw the benefit of slowing down. On the first day, I woke up for a 6:30 am class and discovered that they didn’t serve coffee. Hmmm, OK. After slurping down a cup of tea, I was still super sleepy, so I decided to take the gentle yoga class instead of the more challenging class. And it was lovely. It felt wonderful to move through long, slow, seated stretches and twists (and yawns), and when I finished, I felt more energized than if I had had three cups of coffee. In fact, it motivated me to take the evening “wind down” class as well. And then I slept like a baby.
4. I’m on the fence about the impact of electronic devices. At Kripalu, they request that you don’t post pictures of the people or facility online, and they encourage you to take a break from phones and computers by refraining from using them in public spaces. The reason is because Kripalu is meant to be a retreat, and it’s important to a) respect guests’ privacy and b) give yourself chance to connect with yourself, without the distractions of the online world. When we checked in, the guy who explained this said they’re prefer to go completely device-free, but realize it may not be realistic. I agree. During my time there, I enjoyed the fact that public spaces were largely device-free. It creates a sense of peace and people tend to acknowledge each other more, which is a subtle but nice shift from everyday life. But for me, my devices are inextricably tied to the workings of my life. Heck, I even journal on a laptop. And staying productive and “hooked in” make me feel more at ease, not less. So although I took an hour or so each day to catch up with “life admin,” I did reduce my device usage significantly, and it was nice. The days felt longer, I was more aware of my surroundings, and I had better conversations. My takeaway: it’s about being mindful of the impact of your habits on your wellbeing and finding your personal balance.
5. Yoga is individual and that’s OK. Sometimes it seems there’s a that there are distinct “camps” when it comes to yoga … athletic, trendy, workout-driven yoga and hippy-dippy, new-agey yoga. One camp sweats and wears cute $100 leggings and the other camp chants in Sanskrit and follows an Ayurvedic diet. At Kripalu, I really appreciated the open and nonjudgmental approach to the yogic life. They do a great job of offering many yoga concepts to explore, with the message that you should land on your own individual path. As a result, I felt free to try on some new experiences without the fear of being judged if they weren’t for me. As a result, I learned a lot about yoga and myself (some of it surprising!). This is a mindset I’d like to more often apply to my life and relationships.
Want to check out Kripalu? Go to www.kripalu.org. My Mom and I did an “R&R” retreat, which is a free-form program in which you choose as many classes and activities as you like from a daily schedule. They also offer more structured, themed programs and workshops.