In September 2019, I am teaming with Sue Crow to run a retreat, offering Assisted Self-practice, workshops, pranayama and meditation in a beautiful setting in Argyll. This has prompted me to consider the idea of retreats: why do we need them and what do we seek in them.
This is not quite like a holiday. In a paraphrase of my Cretan spiritual home, it is a holiday Plus. I get all the benefits I do from going away, sleeping more, eating better and not rushing, seeing culture and being in nature. But holidays are sometimes a ‘get your hair down moment’ and I have in the past indulged too much: walked too much, eaten too much, drunk too much. In a retreat, I find there is more balance because there is a focus. I get time to reassess what is important, what changes I need to make, what I need more or less of. Since 2015, I can trace most of my major decision-making to a time in a retreat. The seeds to become a yoga teacher, to make changes to my diet and to the way I engage with people came from these times.
To retreat is to return to the source of your being and to listen to the sound it makes. Given our Western lifestyle of busy schedules, noise, social media, consumption and, quite frankly, rather a lot of dirt, time to stop, listen, and notice is more needed than ever. Give it to yourself, you will not regret it.
What I have been reading
I know there is a lot of resistance to retreats in the yoga practitioner community. I hear: Am I good enough? Will I be bored? What will the other people be like? Is this a cult? Will this be too much hard work?
What I have been watching
I love the Purple Valley Youtube Channel. The videos are recorded with the teachers who are on retreat and they tend to be outside, with the beautiful sounds of the Goan landscape. They have amazing Ashtanga Yoga teachers, many of whom I have mentioned in my newsletters like John Scott, Tim Feldmann, Laruga Glaser, David Robson, and Joey Miles. I so dream of going there! My current favourite is this short video of Joey Miles sharing his Top #10 Ashtanga Yoga Tips:
1. Create the right ambiance/attitude
2. Listen to your breathing
3. Movement and breath
4. The posture is the foundation
5. Stabilizing action
6. Clarification of the 6 directions
7. Pay attention to the feeling in the hands, feet, face
8. Practice at the same time and spot
9. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything
10. Do savasana for a long time
What I have been practicing A few, if not all of Joey’s tips above relate to pratyahara, the 5th limb of the Ashtanga (8 limb) yoga system. Pratyahara is classically translated as sense withdrawal. I tend not to like this translation because it means denying or avoiding something, which yoga does not do. Pratyahara is to turn the sense experience back to is source. Of course, this is a retreat, in the borderline between in and out.
When we do pratyahara, our aim is to take a break from being led by our senses. We become neutral observers of what is going on. We consciously exercise awareness, which brings us to the present moment. It is not a going away from the world, it is a non-reaction to the stimulus received. We exercise this very clearly in Savasana.
My philosophy teacher, James Boag, speaks of pratyahara through the Gita, verse 2.58, which he translates as ‘When we are able to draw in the senses from objects like a tortoise draws in all its limbs, then we are established in wisdom.’ This is such a beautiful image! In the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, the hare is the reactive mind, a prisoner of its condition. The hare does not win the race. The tortoise is steady in breath, movement and awareness, doing what it needs to do skilfully at every moment, not rushing.
I invite you to practice pratyahara, not by sitting in a quiet dark space, but by observing your patterns and habitual thinking. Just observing them steadily, without judgement, not even a little bit. This way, eventually, you will be able to turn your mind wherever you want and become skilful and steady like the tortoise.
On the September full moon, Sue Crow and Laura González team up to offer a yoga retreat aimed at using the strength, warmth and lightness of the summer to nourish the mind, body and breath.
We are inviting you to take time to focus on your yoga practice, assisted and adjusted by us, and complemented by workshops that will help you open your hips and make the most of working from your core. There will also be an opportunity to tune into your breath through pranayama, and ask us anything you want to know about yoga in the satsang sessions.
All this will happen in the inspiring natural setting of Barmolloch, with fresh, nutritious food to boost your system and help you approach equinox and the changes that it brings in a skilful and supported way.
Sue’s teaching style is intuitive, nurturing, encouraging and playful. She has travelled through India and graduated from John Scott’s teacher training programme in 2014. She continues to study with him and Manju Jois as often as she can.
Laura practices ashtanga vinyasa yoga and pranayama with her main teachers Rosina Bonsu and Kia Naddermier. Yoga has shown her strength, compassion, patience, and letting go, all of which she shares with her students in a relaxed and fun way.