Going on a Yoga retreat can be an extraordinarily beneficial – even life-changing – experience, but signing up and then turning up can be scary. Here are my thoughts on the benefits of Yoga retreats and how to choose well so you can minimise pre-retreat nerves and make the most of your precious me-time.
I had not until recently taken fully onboard the fear-factor of attending a retreat. I mean, what could be scary about swapping the stresses of busy daily life for a few days of nurturing Yoga practice, delicious food, good company, being cooked for and enjoying a relaxed and peaceful break in a beautiful venue? Plenty, I’ve realised.
At my recent Women’s Yoga Retreat in Norfolk, some (now very chilled) women who were at their first retreat were remembering their initial fears of coming.
One said she had nearly pulled out at the last minute because she was so terrified (“I’d never done anything like this before so had no idea what to expect”); another confessed that she had sat in her car for 20 minutes before plucking up the courage to come in.
We all laughed at the thought of them being nervous to enter this relaxed and supportive space.
Fear of the Unknown
A week later, I went to a Women’s Circle in Cambridge. Normally I’m hosting women’s events, so it was lovely to receive. But – I was intrigued and amused to notice as I cycled over there – it also caused a few butterflies in my belly to gently flap their wings. I was a little nervous!
I had never been to one of these particular Circles before. My rational mind knew this would be another nurturing, kind and non-judgmental feminine space. I’m quite used to them, so what was there to be afraid of?
I had no immediate answer, but I know that signals from our tender centres don’t lie.
In some deep place within me, the prospect of the new, the unknown and the question mark over how much I would be invited to reveal and to let myself be held were making me feel mildly vulnerable.
What have I let myself in for?
I embraced the sensation. But I also asked myself how much more intense this emotional response might be when turning up alone to your first Yoga retreat?
There you are not just attending a two-hour event!
Instead, you’re committing yourself to four days of hanging out with a group of people you’ve never met and of doing a Yoga practice that you are not familiar with. And – crucially – of being invited to let down your usual defences and to connect with yourself and others in a way that the distractions of daily life generally prevent you from doing.
That can be a scary prospect.
The Gateway to Positive Change
I urge you not to let such fears make you miss out on the exceptional life-enhancing benefits of Yoga retreats.
It’s certainly true that a retreat worth its salt is much more than just a pampering weekend. The responsibility-free time and space and the Yoga practice all encourage us to turn our attention inwards and to reflect on our lives.
This can be challenging – but it’s also the gateway to positive change.
Each time I host a retreat, I’m blown away by the positive physical, emotional and energetic shifts that I witness in the group over just a few days. The accelerated process of connection and healing that happens within the safe and supportive crucible of a retreat can seem almost magical.
The Magical Retreat Process
Every retreat is different, but here’s how that process seems to go at mine.
When women turn up, they tend to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are delighted and relieved to be there, but they often also appear exhausted, depleted and wrapped up in the stress of their own particular life and health problems. And – if this is their first retreat with me – they are still somewhat wary of me, the others and of what they might have let themselves in for.
This reserve starts to melt in our welcoming Yoga session. Here, women get a chance to introduce themselves and to share – as briefly as they wish – what attracted them to come along.
It only takes one brave woman to share a little about what drew her and perhaps about the challenges she is facing for the retreat process to start.
Everyone begins to relax, discovering the humanity of these strangers and realising they are not alone in having difficult stuff going on in their life.
Network of Connection and Care
A willingness to be open to the experience replaces the initial wariness, along with the seed of a network of feminine connection and care. By the first dinner, animated chatter fills the room as that seed germinates and starts to grow.
Two or three days later, the women’s energy and emotional state are unrecognisable from when they arrived. Physical discomforts have also often eased and the bonds of mutual support are strong.
These benefits of Yoga retreats are summed up in the words of a woman at a recent weekend: “It was magical to watch some very stressed women open up and blossom in just a few days.” Or another: This retreat creates “a beautifully nurturing space for women, who, in turn, nurture each other.” And another: “A few days at this retreat and you’ll feel like a new woman. I do. Again!”
What Makes a Transformative Yoga Retreat?
It goes without saying that the benefits of Yoga retreats depend in large part on the quality of the Yoga teaching (whatever the style).
But the retreat magic that allows people to experience strong life-affirming shifts is founded in more than just the Yoga. Several other crucial ingredients must create a synergistic mix that sends them home restored and renewed by their new perspective on themselves and the world.
Here (in no particular order) are the other ingredients that I think make the best retreat mix:
- An attentive space-holder – a host who is able to create a space that feels supportive, safe, accepting and non-judgmental. This gives people permission to relax, to let go of putting on a brave face, to be their authentic, flawed selves just as they are in that moment and to take exactly what they need from the retreat.
- Exceptional venue – a venue that exceeds expectations. Whether luxury or rustic, such a venue feels far from the noise of life, oozes comfort and is spacious enough to allow for both tranquil solitude and animated gathering. The significance of such a venue goes beyond the superficial pampering level. By giving people the chance to unwind and let go of their daily stresses, it helps them open themselves to the healing benefits of the Yoga retreat.
- Delicious and nourishing catered food – this is one of the things that women on my retreats get most excited about! Its importance at a woman’s Yoga retreat is certainly paramount. It is, of course, a treat for women to have someone else to cook fabulous food for them. But it also helps us to drop for a moment our female care-giver habit of running around taking care of the needs of others while leaving little time for our own self-care.
- Beautiful natural setting – a location that encourages an intimate and replenishing reconnection with nature. Such a location reminds us that we too are natural beings and that the same cyclical rhythms we see around us also turn within us. It does not need to be in some far-flung tropical place (indeed, the stronger the seasonal rhythms, the better).
- A cohesive group – a retreat that has a theme and is clear in its purpose attracts people who – even if they appear at first glance to have little in common – are like-minded in some essential way. So they are ready to lean in, support each other and to take their retreat journey together.
- Healing 1-2-1 therapies – having a talented bodyworker/therapist on hand adds another layer of physical, emotional and energetic unravelling and of tender space holding to a Yoga retreat.
- Relaxed and permissive atmosphere – A retreat is not a workshop or a training event. The process of letting go of tension is supported by enabling people to escape the often regimented rhythms of daily life. This happens when they feel free to take exactly what they need from what is on offer and don’t feel required to do anything.
People go on retreats for a variety of reasons, so different aspects will be relatively more or less important to different people. But together I visualise the above factors creating an elastic foundational network that holds everyone safely like a vast strong and stretchy hammock. This allows them to trust and let go so a retreat’s magic can happen.
How to Reap the Full Benefits of Yoga Retreats
Choose your Yoga retreat carefully – If you want to reduce the stress of turning up to the minimum and to access the benefits of Yoga retreats to the maximum, do your research well. The surer you are that your chosen retreat fits your needs, the more you can relax, confident that you’ll find yourself in the right place with like-minded people and get what you came for. So read the details of the retreat with care to get a good sense of whether the points listed above are in place.
In addition, be sure you:
- Pick the right style and pace of Yoga for you – Just as there are many styles of Yoga, there are many types of Yoga retreat. As excellent as they might be, they are not all for everyone. You would not, for instance, feel comfortable at my Women’s Yoga Retreats if you were looking for a fast-paced workout and had no interest in your relationship with yourself as a woman. And you would not want to find yourself at an Ashtanga retreat if you were looking for gentle, restful and restorative movement. So ask yourself – what do I need right now?
- Find out about and get in touch with the teacher – it’s not just about the style of Yoga, but also about the teacher. And whether the two of you click. You can probably read their back-story and discover their particular Yoga interests and experience online. You may even be able to find a video of them practising or teaching Yoga. Or you could get in touch with them directly. Perhaps you could arrange a quick video call to say hello and to see if they feel like a good fit. You’ll be even more sure if you meet them in person. So, if you live close enough, why not pop to one of their classes or workshops?
- Don’t just choose the cheapest option – do you want to feel safely held and to treat yourself to a transformative experience in a fabulous venue with amazing food and an experienced teacher? If so, don’t set yourself up for disappointment by picking a bargain-price retreat.
Let yourself feel vulnerable – Even if you have invested the time to do your research to find the perfect Yoga retreat for you, it’s normal to feel nervous before going.
Why not accept and, if at all possible, appreciate that feeling? When we do something new, it is natural for the sense of being a beginner to make us feel vulnerable, but in the most positive way that heralds change and growth.
Nervous excitement is surely better than its opposite – feeling jaded, bored, knowing it all?
The start of any new journey reconnects us to the energy of childhood, So harness its scary yet vibrant, curious and exhilarating quality to feel alive and to motivate you to take the step of going to a Yoga retreat.
Remember the two women who were so nervous that they nearly didn’t make through the door of my recent retreat? Their names are Katherine and Ellie. I know they are both glad they stepped through their own fears (and the door) so they could access for themselves some of the amazing benefits of Yoga retreats.
Here are extracts from their feedback: “I feel like this weekend has been really transformational and has helped me start to settle and love myself again” (Ellie); “It has been a turning point in my life” (Katherine).
So do your research well, then take the plunge and sign up for a Yoga retreat. Otherwise, you might just miss out on an equally precious experience.
To find out about one of my Women’s Yoga Retreats in a luxury country house in the gorgeous Norfolk countryside, click the links below.
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