I recently read Toronto based yoga teacher Matthew Remski’s essay on how modern yoga needs to offer “real” support and connection to its community at the yoga studio level – he calls it the “soup kitchen”-ing of yoga studios. It’s a brilliant, thought provoking essay and you can find it in the book 21st Century Yoga Politics and Practice; I admire Remski as he brings a critical lens to our yoga bubble world and his writing and his work is concerned with growing the yoga practice far beyond just doing asanas to tone your tush. It is about creating a space much like the churches and mosques and synagogues have done for centuries, that offers community, a space to share the sorrows and joys of life that make us humans on a spiritual search, yet not disengaged with daily living.
Yet, in the essay, he critiques yoga retreats as one of the offerings at yoga studios that have just become a marketing ploy to take people to beautiful places and earn revenue.
That may be.
Yet, I write this post from Bali, where I have just arrived from the wet Canadian winter of Vancouver. My mornings here begin with a surreptitious escape from our “family bed” so as not to awaken our toddler, who climbs in every night. I spend my first few moments walking barefoot onto dewy grass and looking up at the night sky – blushing toward first dawn. It is warm and my body feels none of the sting of the winter winds I have left behind. Instead, I am here taking in a simple connection to soil, to earth and to the ocean air scented with plumeria.
Sounds magical? It is. This time in Bali where we arrive each winter after the many airplane flights, the incessant travails of travel – especially with a child – is my manna. After my first dip into the ocean, I feel reborn and a flowering of my yoga practice – with a little bit of help. I’m no longer as concerned with the daily tasks of being a “householder” – we eat simple, delicious food that the retreat centre cooks, or at a local restaurant or warung, or I cook breakfast. I am not folding laundry, one of the many local laundries is happy to have our business and I have a little bit of help with my son.
As a mom, my yoga practice at home is all about squeezing in a few moments here and there within my day – always flowing with the rhythm of my child, the demands of work and family – and justifying the compression of my daily practice with the statement: “this is my yoga right now.”
Here, all of a sudden, I don’t need to justify anything. With just a little bit of space and time I can go a little deeper. I used to think this was a luxury, something that I shouldn’t celebrate as it seemed so elitist, but especially if you are a woman and a mother and on a spiritual path – if you can manage it – a few moments of time stretched offer everything. It makes me think about a famous female poet who said, “I write poetry as it is the only thing i can do in between the demands of my children. Writing fiction would take so much longer.”
Ultimately, what I am looking for is quiet. The yogis write that the yoga practice is about training our mind to be quiet so that we can feel that “quietness” in the midst of chaos, yet to get there, there’s nothing quite like experiencing external quiet: the pause from the daily-ness of space/time. Sometimes you need to check out, to check in.
The recent “trend” in the yoga world is that “retreats” are not as popular as teacher trainings and immersions in exotic locations. That maybe so, but the truth is, that going on retreat can be a deep ride that offers as much as you are ready to take. It can help to create new habits – like a daily yoga practice; it can offer a respite with time to journal, to think, to even lay in a hammock especially if that is not your natural inclination. Mostly, it can be a sure-fire way to take your awareness to another plane, a transfusion of spirit and a re-building of the “you.”
I often end my yoga classes with the statement that taking this “time” is not a selfish thing, because the time we spend on renewing ourself helps us to be kinder, more compassionate and present in all our relationships. I know that I am a better partner, a mother and a friend when I do.
Traveling to Bali may not be in your cards this year, or in this lifetime, but you can go on retreat, for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer to a place not so far from the immediate recesses of your life.
So tell me, have you been on a yoga retreat or aspire to going on one? Do you see it as something frivolous or wuwu? I’d love to know.
Insiya Rasiwala-Finn is a writer, yoga teacher, and mama exploring creativity and the eco lifestyle. Follow Insiya at YOGUE as she continues to seek out the greenest, healthiest ways to live, cook, inspire, travel and play: in the ocean, with words on paper and on the yoga mat.