Yoga & Therapeutic Movement

b r e a t h e     m o v e       s i t  

Each breath brings strength

October 22, 2014

Preparing for yoga immersions and retreats

The first module of my 300-hour upgrade immersion took place over a year ago in beautiful Water Valley, Alberta. Three weeks beforehand my excitement began to build. To-do lists sprouted forth on sticky notes on my fridge and computer monitor and I made arrangements for garden minding. My head swam. I knew from my earlier training that I would be facing a rewarding, challenging, and even befuddling time. While I geared up, that nagging voice inside—the one that likes to feed the hungry pit of doubt—that voice said, “Maybe you should cancel. This probably isn’t the ideal time. You have too much other stuff going on in your life. This is really an extravagance. Maybe you shouldn’t…”

Another voice prevailed. It was the one that said "don't be afraid," and "this is your dharma."

I drove 1,000 kilometres and arrived well prepared, I thought. I was ready. We began our work. In study groups we explored ancient texts that speak to us in a universal voice that is both comforting and confounding. Of course, in yoga it is all about practice, and practice we did: pranayama, mantra, meditation, specialty workshops, and asana, asana, asana. We went non-stop for 12 hours or more every day, living, breathing, eating, thinking yoga in every activity. As wonderful as it was, the nagging voice needed to be silenced again and again.

Attending yoga teacher training intensives over 12 to 16 days or extended programs spanning several months is life altering. And because we pack so much learning and experience into a compressed timeframe it can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips for keeping sane and getting the most out of your time in a yoga retreat.

    •    Don’t arrive already exhausted. Whether you are driving or flying, arrange to make your transition time adequate for acclimatizing to the new surroundings. Ensure that you have enough time to rest and go over logistics before the program schedule begins. If facilities are available for soaking in a hot tub, swimming, or other recreational activities, take advantage of them during this time. Relax and enjoy yourself.

    •    Really ramp up your home asana practice for two or three weeks beforehand. This way you will not be dealing with intense soreness and fatigue. Almost all yoga teacher training programs have a very heavy asana component; be ready to learn as much as you can from the highly experienced teachers by being up for the physical challenge.

    •    If food service is available take advantage of it rather than bringing and preparing your own. If self-catering is the only option, bring ingredients for meals that are healthy and simple. Don’t try to cook in the same way that you do at home. A mini-blender and supplies for high protein smoothies are a good option. Bring a thermos for your tea and a one- or two-litre water bottle for daily hydration. You’ll need it. Make protein bars to refrigerate or freeze at the retreat centre. Get an ample supply of fresh fruit. Bring nuts, seeds, dried fruit and, if you fancy, some nibbles of good dark chocolate.

    •    If you have left young children at home arrange to have specific times to be in touch with them. This will allay any separation anxiety and allow you to focus on your training.

    •    Some of the habits or mannerisms of your classmates may push your buttons. Be aware of this and witness without reacting. Interpersonal clashes can really ruin things for everyone.

    •    Know that as you work deeply you will likely stir up emotions that you didn’t expect to surface. The best way to prepare is to go in with an attitude of self-trust. Letting go can be painful. And beautiful.

When I returned from Alberta my gratefulness for the experience made me look back at my resistance with amusement. I feel enormously grateful for the wisdom shared, for the seeds of long-term friendships planted, and
even for the anguish of transformation.

Write your lists, pack your bags, arrange to cover for your absence at home or work. As your time draws closer, remember that every conscious breath in your personal practice strengthens you. Each mantra repetition brings you closer to lasting inner peace. Every observance of your thoughts leads you toward the brilliant flame that is your fearless soul.

Remember, this is why we learn, practice, and teach yoga.

First published in the SOYA August 2014 newsletter, since edited.
Photo: Mugs McConnell

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