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TO RETREAT OR NOT TO RETREAT?


“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” asked Mary Oliver in her incredible poem, The Summer Day.


As I write this blog it is the start of a new year and traditionally a time for reflection of what has passed but also anticipation and planning of what is to come. During 2020/2021 we have navigated (and still are to a degree) a challenging two years filled with global uncertainty, multiple lockdowns and huge lifestyle changes which have placed us under substantial physical and mental stress and caused many of us to develop unhealthy lifestyle habits.


If whilst looking into the year ahead you find yourself wishing for rest/relaxation, the opportunity to find clarity from within, time away from day-to-day stressors and to step back from constant external stimuli (not just Netflix!), a chance to feel physically and mentally better and deepen your yoga practice then a Yoga Retreat could be the answer.


As an attendee of multiple yoga retreats, a yoga practitioner of over 25 years, a yoga teacher of 18 years and with a UK yoga retreat planned for September 2022 this is what I have learnt from my experience of retreats.


Why go on a yoga retreat?


1. The opportunity to destress from the busyness and challenges of everyday life.


We spend so much of our lives organising other people, ourselves, being busy and productive and living for too long in a state of “fight or flight” or survival mode and ultimately feeling exhausted.


The practice of yoga (including breathing techniques and mindfulness) not only offers multiple health benefits and the chance to calm an overactive sympathetic nervous system but ultimately the opportunity for us to step back, to pause, to create space within our bodies and minds and perhaps feel a little lighter for it. The techniques and practices we learn on the retreat can be used again and again as tools to help us calmly navigate our daily lives.


2. Disconnect from technology


I appreciate the irony of this statement as you may well be reading this on your phone, tablet, or computer but we all know how tiring it can be to feel constantly “connected”, to feel like we are always available and on call. Disconnecting from technology allows us both to regain time and part of our lives lost to “tech”, connect more deeply to ourselves and others at the retreat and take a break from electromagnetic radiation. If, however you are alarmed at the prospect of not being able to access social media or your laptop for a few days then you might like to confirm whether the retreat centre has Wi-Fi although most, if not all, have good old-fashioned telephones! My advice would be to enjoy and relish the freedom that tech free time allows.


3. Detox


A controversial term because ultimately our bodies internal organs and physiology already does a great job detoxing us. Detoxing means “the process of removing toxins and toxicity” and if our body already does that then why is this relevant to a retreat?


Disconnecting from technology (see above) could be regarded as a technology detox.


There is also some evidence that our physical yoga practice and movement of the body into specific postures can decompress our internal organs, improve blood flow, digestive systems and assist in elimination. Irrespective of whether there is sufficient science to back this up its generally acknowledged that twists and many other yoga poses increase our energy, enhance our mood, and improve overall wellbeing. As Cybele Tomlinson said,


“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted – in body, mind, and heart – and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow – or we begin to flow more in our lives.”


Finally, of course there is the opportunity to eat lots of delicious, wholesome, and healthy food and drink plenty of water. So perhaps a physical detox is possible.


4. Time to yourself and for reflection.


How wonderful to have the time to reflect upon our lives, the actions, and decisions we have taken or those we are considering taking. Time away from the noise of our everyday lives creates space to enable us to reflect upon whether decisions made or to be taken are in our best interests. This can be quite a deep and emotional experience and it can be helpful to take a journal to express thoughts and gain greater clarity.


Time to ourselves means that we can finally pick up the book we have been desperate to read but has been gathering dust on the shelf, or even enjoying the creativity of daydreaming and being with our thoughts without interruption.


5. Connecting with nature


Retreats tend to be in secluded beautiful locations with the benefits of nature on their doorsteps to heal and rejuvenate us. Much of our daily lives are spent indoors, often sitting at desks which not only has physical downsides (tight shoulders, painful lower back, tight hip flexors) but also mental (contributing to stress and depression). Time spent in nature (long walks inbetween the retreat yoga classes) can help us feel more grounded, creative, and confident.


In the world of yoga therapy, the kosha model is used as a lens or tool through which to view the whole person and diagnose them holistically. There are five sheaths or layers moving inward from the outermost layer – the physical body, to the innermost layer – the bliss body. Whilst exploring the inner most layers and how to connect to them we acknowledge the benefits of time spent in nature, not only its reassuring and mood enhancing qualities but its ability to connect us to something bigger, the world around us and the universe. As John Burroughs said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and have my senses put in order”.


6. Deepen your yoga practice


This is an important benefit, after all you are on a yoga retreat with the added benefit of multiple yoga classes, styles, and experienced yoga teachers.


Whether a beginner or intermediate practitioner you have the chance to learn new asanas or techniques for progressing a pose, learning specific breathing practices, mindfulness techniques. Ultimately yoga is truly available for everyone regardless of age or experience and retreats provided a great opportunity for yoga teachers to take the time to be creative, to break down specific postures or sequences and provide modifications/adjustments.


Retreats may be themed enabling the chance to explore a different element of yoga to one you are already familiar with.


Specific time away from your daily routine whilst immersing yourself in yoga and nature may allow you to breathe slower and deeper and calm that overactive nervous system.


7. Meeting new people/making new friendships


Whether attending with friends, partner or by yourself you are in an environment which attracts like-minded people, wellness, and kindness (the Yama- Ahimsa, meaning non harming is something we practice both on and off the mat) and ultimately its reassuring to know that you all have at least one thing in common – the willingness to practice yoga!


I’ve attended many retreats (some at Oxon Hoath to which I refer to below), sometimes with friends and other times by myself and all have been a wonderfully positive experience. Attending a retreat solo doesn’t need to feel daunting or unnerving because its quickly apparent that the connections we can make on retreats are often very meaningful and genuine. I personally have relished the time to deepen my yoga practice and spend time with others when I wanted but also taking the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of alone time when needed.


Finally, if the above fails to convince you of the benefits of yoga retreats perhaps the results of research might be of interest. Naidoo et al (2018) in a study of 2592 people on “the health impact of residential retreats: a systematic review”, found that the participants attending reported numerous post retreat physical and mental health benefits. Cohen et all (2017) in an observational study of health and wellbeing after a weeklong retreat asked, “Do wellness tourists get well?” found that substantial improvements in health and wellbeing were maintained for six weeks.


If you are feeling inspired to book into a yoga retreat, I am delighted to say that I am co-hosting a UK based yoga retreat at Oxon Hoath in Kent in September 2022. A wonderful weekend of yoga, meditation and breathwork to see in the new Autumn season.


Oxon Hoath is a magnificent Grade 2 Manor House built in 1532 and surrounded by 73 acres of enchanted peaceful garden and woodlands. There are 26 bedrooms ranging from the Grand Master suite to smaller rooms which were once servants’ quarters. Most have ensuite facilities and those without have a bathroom close by. You can view pictures on the website www.oxonhoath.co.uk


There are two spacious light filled yoga studios and from Friday – Sunday there is the opportunity to attend seven classes accommodating everyone from beginners to advanced practitioners incorporating various styles of asana, meditation and breathwork. Nutritious meals are included throughout.


Details of availability and prices can be found on my website www.lornafisheryoga.co.uk or you can contact me direct. Although all rooms are lovely, and many retain their original features there is only a limited number of superior rooms available which are offered on a first come first served basis.



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