Does anyone else remember that old Randy Travis song, "Digging Up Bones?"
Because for my first week at the yoga retreat, that's all I could think of, I couldn't get it out of my head.
I think it's because that's what you do at a yoga retreat, you dig up all the old junk.
Like a sorority girl after 4 wine spritzers, you purge up everything unholy that has been tripping you up and making you act like a disaster.
It took me months to decide that going to Thailand for a meditation and yoga retreat was an okay thing to do.
It just felt so self-indulgent. Why, do I need a yoga meditation retreat?
We all get beat up by life at different times.
Taking time for some restorative personal maintenance isn't a privilege, it's a necessity.
It makes us better for the world around us.
That being said, at first I felt like I was too rough around the edges for all these soft-spoken people. My sense of humor was too dirty. My sarcasm was too pronounced.
But there was that part of myself that told me to go, because I was holding myself and my life back if I didn’t.
The world does not need more sad, broken people.
We should all find a way to allow ourselves some time to heal.
I know a month is an extraordinary luxury to give to yourself for a meditation retreat. I was lucky enough that I could quit my job and travel and make it a reality.
But in all honesty, do you need a full month? No.
I think I had gotten the bulk of the benefits of the course within two weeks.
If you only had one week or even a weekend, start there. You're get the most benefit before the newness wears off.
If you have a month, go for a full month. It's lovely. But it's not entirely necessary to get the full benefit.
The main constraints for anyone selecting a yoga retreat are time and money.
I looked at yoga retreats in both the United States and Mexico and was shocked at the sticker price. It is ridiculously expensive.
We are talking $5,000 for a week sometimes!
On the other hand, traveling somewhere like Thailand or Bali will cost you in airfare but save you money on the yoga retreat. My month-long yoga retreat was $1,800.
I chose to use airline miles and go to Thailand. If you want tips on saving money on the airfare, this guide is how I book cheap tickets.
I used the Book Yoga Retreats website for my initial search. They display retreats all over the world so you can get a good sense of different prices and where you can go to enjoy yoga in a beautiful environment.
The main difference in doing this is that you wont be part of a group and you will need to make your own schedule.
I'll be honest, my retreat was very unstructured and unguided. I basically paid and they gave me a class schedule and never checked in on me again. This was odd to me but I still had a great experience.
The surprising part is, when you're immersed in a community of people who are all about meditation and trying to be more centered and zen, you quickly get the hang of things.
Most yoga communities are all about letting people be themselves and not pushing your own agenda on anyone else. So do not expect a rigid atmosphere. There was no minimum number of classes I had to attend or anything I really had to do at all.
That being said, here's how I chose to structure my days from the many classes offered.
7:00 - 8:00 AM - Some type of morning meditation.
I chose between doing an OSHO dynamic meditation which is all about getting your feelings out and yelling and moving and finishing with calm.
I would do an hour of silent, Vipassana-style meditation.
8:30 - 10:30 AM - Two hours of yoga. It was a lot and the classes were harder than I anticipated, but it was also near the ocean and was lovely.
10:30 - 12:00 - I'd usually spend this time eating breakfast, showering and reading in my room.
12:00 - 5:00 - During the day, I'd do some combination of classes. Sometimes they were yoga-based and others they were things like active listening, relationship lectures, activity-based courses, I tried anything.
Evenings - The last part of the day everyone ended up at the beach to watch sunset. I got to know people pretty quickly and this was such a calming, friendly part of the day.
Sometimes I'd go get dinner on my own, others I'd go with friends. I didn't find myself alone often unless I wanted to be.
Other nights, there would be special dance or meditation classes to go to.
The yoga retreat like being turned inside out emotionally and thrown in a washing machine. At least for me. I came in with the attitude “go big or go home."
So I did.
I went to all the classes with the intention of giving it my all every chance I have to the point of exhaustion. And the surprising thing is, the exhaustion doesn’t necessarily come from a two-hour yoga class.
Although those are pretty punishing, even the one led by the beautiful and tranquil South African girl who has such an interesting accent. She seemed so zen and then she was so brutal!
But more often, it came from the classes that deal with emotional topics. We do courses and exercises on all kinds of stuff with extremely woo-woo names that I would blush to write here. But they are effective.
Those classes would leave me so exhausted I sometimes skip yoga to go back to my bungalow to faceplant on my bed.
Why? Because you just are digging deeper and deeper and deeper and getting all the skeletons out of the closet. And it takes a lot of effort to drag them all out.
I had to deal with things I had left in the dark like losing my faith in my religion, getting married at 20 and divorced at 22, losing my sister, leaving my stable life, and all the many other things that life throws in our paths.
The thing about a yoga retreat, is you do get all sorts.
Some are maybe a bit too far out there for me, some are maybe a bit too cynical for me. I think I'm somewhere in the middle, although I know I come across as skeptical.
But making friends is easy, and it's a different sort of friendship than you make in every day life.
In meditation, yoga, and the other classes, a lot of the focus is on opening yourself up. Because of this, there really isn't much room for small talk. Everyone is just kind of out in the open with everything.
It leaves room for real conversations and authentic interactions. This is so nice. Even if you are a bit of a reserved person, I think everyone likes this part because the connections are so much more real than what you get back in the real world.
I've made friends with really cool people from all over the world and all walks of life.
Throughout all this, I learned to watch my thoughts and feelings so much more closely. And by thoughts, I mean those thoughts that are buried just a little deeper beneath the “I’m so hungry I could eat a butterfly” thoughts and feelings.
Those types of thoughts are the surface of the ocean. But if I dove beneath the surface, there is so much going on! I’ve learned volumes the past week about what has been holding me back and why I do the things I do.
As an example, I was mercilessly bullied for a few years (I mean, weren't we all?).
There was a group of girls who were my friends that turned on me in middle school. I went from having a fun group of friends to feeling absolutely alone.
Now, I’m sure I wasn’t without fault either, but I can tell you I was the one singled out and ostracized for three, miserable years.
If there are any of you out there who haven’t suppressed all your middle school memories, you will recall that girls that age can be savage and relentless.
“Your art project looks like a retard did it.”
“Your new jeans make you look like a cow.”
“Is that coat from the thrift store?”
“Hey guys, I think Rachel is going bald.”
Now, if you would have asked me two weeks ago if this had any effect on me, I’d say, “Hell no, that was a long, long time ago. I have good friends now and besides, everyone is a little crazy in middle school.”
The crazy thing is, what I wouldn’t have realized two weeks ago is that I’ve allowed that experience to change how I talk to girls my own age. In fact, I avoid girls overall.
If I go to a class, I’ll sit by the boys. It’s safer there. If I hear a group of girls laughing, I still tense up because somewhere, deep down, I still feel like they are laughing at me. If there’s a girl alone, I’m 10x more comfortable talking to her than if she’s with a friend. Because if a friend is there, I’m outnumbered.
I’m 30! This is crazy!
It was time to realize this, and a lot of other things about myself, and let them go for good.
I left a world of data, concrete and hard hats to land in a universe of feelings, nature and man buns. The only thing to do, was to sit down Indian-style and take it all in.
Double down. Go big or go home.
And man, I went.
I meditated daily. I did yoga until I was pissed, exhausted, and sore. Then, I sat in classes and held hands with people I didn’t know. I gave and received hugs and learned not to flinch. I danced to music with no beat.
And craziest of all? I expressed my feelings. And not just like, “I’m hungry.” I expressed pain and sadness. I laughed and I cried. Sometimes both at the same time. Sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.
Although I entered feeling like the Ron Swanson of the yoga retreat, I left just feeling myself.
It was weird and it was wonderful.
I think it was truly healing and reminded me that life is about a lot more than I was giving it credit for.
And I hope to do it all again sometime.