A few years ago my friend invited me to a join her at a yoga retreat on the North Shore. It proved to be an important invitation to accept. I had been practicing yoga for a few years, but was still very much a beginner. I had little experience in Iyengar yoga and had not experienced the restorative power of the practice. My cabin at the retreat overlooked Lake Superior. The air off the lake was chilly in June. I spent hours between classes sitting on the Adirondack chair reading and watching the sky change over the water. Twice a day a small group gathered in the yoga center to practice. We took saunas. We shared in a vegetarian potluck. This, for me, was retreat at its best. There was movement and rest, silence and conversation, ample sun without ample heat. Everywhere I turned it was gorgeous. When I returned home, I actually felt like a different person. My mind, body and spirit were awake and calm, rested.
The morning after my return, a co-worker tilted his head at me and said, “What’s different about you? Did you cut your hair?” He couldn’t put his finger on it, but to him, I looked different physically. I wasn’t surprised. I felt different at my core, at the cellular level. It was incredible. I told him about the weekend and he said, “Wow, that must have been some retreat. You’re glowing.”
This weekend I’m going back to the same retreat. Now, three years of yoga learning later, I am even more aware of how little I know. I’m excited to learn, and I’m equally excited to get away. I’m bringing my spouse, good food, good books, good podcasts and lots of comfy clothes. Dan and I are giddy in anticipation of a few days in a new place, away, in nature, finding balance between movement and rest, silence and conversation, sun and shade.
The word retreat can have a subtle negative residue, maybe from old wartime images of retreating– running from, backing down, defensively on our heels. But it doesn’t feel like I’m running away from anything. This retreat feels like I am running toward my own body, my partner and my God. I know those things are here and now, too, but breaking routine is a gift that I cherish. I believe in retreating. I retreat myself and bring young people on retreats all the time. Every time, I think of people who simply can’t retreat. Taking enough time in a new place to find renewal and rejuvenation can come at a cost. I believe leisure time, this time of reflection, is a human right not a luxury. It’s good for the body, mind and soul. Yet the middle class is shrinking and the working poor population is growing. Retreating for some is becoming a luxury.
I think of this coming retreat as a check-in and a check-up. It’s a chance to listen to God through nature, through my partner, my teacher, my friends, the silence and myself. I hope to come home refreshed and renewed, conscious and grateful, ready to continue to encourage retreat and work for a world where are people are able to embrace the humanity of leisure time.
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