My First Yoga Retreat – Stretching the Mind More Than the Body

I am back from my first ever yoga retreat and it was amazing! But mostly in ways I never expected. I had pictured days filled with physical exploration — learning new postures, finding more space in my body, fine tuning my form. And some of that did happen. But mostly it was an internal exploration — finding better control of my breath, opening my mind through meditation, and finding a way to look inward and find peace and ease waiting there. Pretty heavy, huh? And in some ways it was, but in other ways I had never felt lighter.

At the start, I was like a fish out of water. The yoga was very different from my normal Bikram practice, with new postures and a flow style. This I expected. But it was also very different in texture and tone, which surprised me. For example, the lack of mirrors threw me. How could I know if I was properly aligned if I couldn’t see my body? There was also so much choice! In Bikram we all move together, doing the same postures for the same durations of time. But here, you could do a downward dog or a child’s pose at the end of a flow sequence. You could go through a vinyasa on the way to downward dog or not. And everyone was doing this at their own pace! How was I supposed to know which postures to do and how long to hold them? And the use of the props felt like cheating.

But I decided “when in Rome,” and so I did it their way. I tried to feel my alignment with my hands rather than see it. I sometimes chose the downward dog and other times the child’s pose depending on how I felt. I moved at my own pace or just copied the pace of whoever looked like they knew what they were doing. And I had no choice but to use the props, as some of the postures were inaccessible without them.

As the week went on, I got more comfortable with it all, and the soreness in my muscles told me I was getting the physical benefits of this new practice. In particular, I felt a big change in my ability to access and utilize the muscles in my core and shoulders. I am excited to apply that to my Bikram practice!

But the biggest transformation for me on this retreat came in the most surprising place — final savasna. These were not the final two-minute savasnas of my Bikram practice, but long and textured affairs with breath work and visualizations. True meditations. Fascinating and altering.

Of course I hated them at first. Laying on my back on a hard wood floor breathing in silence with twenty other people for up to 30 minutes was just not my idea of a good time. I felt AWKWARD! It was just SO quiet. My stomach started to gurgle. I started sweating. I could not find my breath. I kept having to swallow. I also felt lazy. Why had we stopped doing the “real” yoga only to lie here and do nothing? I could not quiet my thoughts so I could not pay attention to what the teacher was guiding us to do. That was the first night.

The next morning, I knew it was coming, so I was more mentally prepared. I set up a blanket on my mat like the other yogis had, so I was more comfortable. I forced myself to listen to the teacher’s words rather than my own panicked musings. I felt the breath moving in and out of my body more calmly. I tried to look inward and visualize the energy and light they were discussing. It didn’t work all that well, but I felt more relaxed at the end of it. That evening it went a little better. And then a little better the next morning. I remembered — it is a practice.

As my body stopped fighting it, my mind opened to it. I began to notice a new feeling of alertness and calm after the savasna/meditation. I started to actually like it and the more I liked it, the more open to it I became. By the end of the week, I looked forward to the final savasna and other meditation sessions at the retreat! My mind had been stretched. So much, in fact, that I plan to continue exploring meditation at home to see if I can incorporate it into my daily life.

Fellow yogis, is meditation an important part of your yoga practice?

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17 thoughts on “My First Yoga Retreat – Stretching the Mind More Than the Body

  1. I just went to a workshop at my bikram studio and one of the people running the workshop was not fully “bikram” and he was shocked at how quick we were to get up after class. He talked a while about the importance of savasana and that hoe it helps you get all the benefits of class. I love me a long savasana!!

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