My First Yoga Retreat

by biltong101

venueI turned thirty last weekend (whoop whoop?). I felt like I needed a break from my regular bday pattern of drinking with friends on the day and being hangover the day after. This is the reason why when I saw an advertisement of a yoga retreat in my Facebook feed, I decided to give it a go (and slightly bday pressured my husband to go with me).

I was a little bit concerned that I’d meet a bunch of hippies who would try to convince me that crystals are better than Western medicine or something like that. Fortunately, it (mostly) didn’t turn out to be true! This particular weekend yoga retreat was organised by Namaste Yoga studio, based in Llandudno and it took place near Lambert’s Bay, in a venue called Steenbokfontein. When we arrived it became clear that most people know each other, but we did feel welcome. Maybe it’s because most people were older than us and middle-aged people are just less full of shit than our generation.

The retreat started by a visit to a labyrinth in which we did a silent walking meditation. At the end of it, every person had to pick up a stone with a word on it. The word was of course in Afrikaans (the perks of living in the Western Cape), but some members of the group spoke the language and were able to assist with a translation. My word was “speel” which means “to play”. Creepily accurate as in all my seriousness sometimes I forget that life is about fun too. I tend to postpone life enjoyment till this or that thing gets sorted. It’s a vicious circle as the moment one thing is done, the next one needs my attention. This is probably the reason why in the last few years I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of meditation. All that to just “be in the moment”, whatever this evasive term actually means. Even if I didn’t manage to fully achieve that, my levels of stress have significantly lowered and I can see huge benefits for my anxiety and depression tendencies.

Anyway, back to the retreat! Our meditative experience was followed by a slow-paced yoga class in a very nicely decorated area. Afterwards we went to see the sunset and what a view was that! I don’t like the word blessed as it refers to an entity I don’t believe in, but how are you supposed to feel, looking at all that?

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By the time the dinner came we greeted it with a lot of gratitude. A little known and easily forgotten fact is that Western Cape has great highways that unfortunately lack food and toilet stops. We made a wrong decision of delaying lunch and failed to find anything that wouldn’t end up in being a lengthy stop. That meant that we ate early breakfast and then a late dinner. Perhaps such a short fast was a good way to remind me how great it is to have food on my plate, instead of mindlessly devouring food. Perhaps. All I could think about was that I was bloody hungry! The day finished soon after the meal, when we retreated to our rooms. The decor of the houses was rather simple, but they were very neat and clean.

The next day started early with a delicious breakfast and an opening ceremony, during which we expressed (secretly, in writing) our intentions for the retreat. We were doing a lot of silly stuff such as chasing other members of the group around and it was actually fun. Then we proceeded to a more challenging yoga class and an hour long meditation class. The guided breathing meditation was much easier for me than the silent meditation that followed. Unfortunately, the quieter it is, the more mind tends to get distracted. The more distracted the mind is, the less quality time one gets out of the experience… There’s no other way than just to keep trying, even if occasionally it gets extremely irritating.

After a long lunch break we had to ourselves, we did some more yoga (it was a yoga retreat after all!). There was even more silliness happening in the yoga movements which were purposefully childish. Despite myself I ended up enjoying letting go. The class left me full of hope for yet another meditation session but it didn’t go so well. Even though we were sitting in a cave in complete silence (yes, we really went to meditate to a cave), I found everything distracting. I much more enjoyed watching a beautiful sunset from the top of the hill, where we found the cave.

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After dinner we played some drums, which I had no idea how to use, but no one could tell in the general cacophony.

The last day of the retreat was an early start with the last yoga session and breakfast. Afterwards we meditated and yet again I found myself mostly out of the experience. I had moments of complete focus, though, so perhaps I am progressing! My least favorite activity of the weekend was art making. Drawing with my eyes closed? Sorry, that’s just not for me. After we burnt other people’s art (???) we had a small closing ceremony. Every member of the group received an Om shaped ornament made from shells for their “special” achievements. Mine was the most secret bday, for instance. Then we sat around in the circle passing a mysterious parcel around. It turned out to contain gifts. My husband and I ended up winning the main prize, which was accommodation in the area for another weekend away. Yay! Great timing as well – it was our wedding anniversary that day.

After that it was time to go back to reality and try to retain a little bit of the calm accumulated over the weekend. I really had fun but will I go to a retreat again? Perhaps in a year or so. It was a good experience and I needed to recharge my batteries, but it’s a commitment as well. It also felt for me a little bit like an escape from reality, while what I’d like to achieve it’s to enhance it on daily basis with good habits.

Have you ever been to yoga retreat, Dear Reader? Do you do yoga? Do you meditate? Please tell me in the comments.