A more graceful chaturanga. A stronger Warrior II. Some new friends. I knew I’d probably gain these things, and a few more, from yoga retreats—but what I didn’t anticipate was the ways that the retreats would change my life deeply, spiritually, and completely.
I don’t have to “do it right”: the intention is to feel better and nourish my body.
I still remember the moment that my teacher brought up the possibility that my pose could look different from someone else’s, and that both could be right. I’d spent so much of my yoga journey focusing on making my pose look just like my teacher, that anything else seemed downright rebellious. But, sitting gracefully in front of the hall, she reminded us that the intention of our practice is to listen to the body, and to offer the asanas as medicine.
Apply that more globally to life, and it becomes the ultimate permission to live life in the most nourishing way possible: my way.
Slow is powerful, subtlety is everything, and I am stronger than I thought.
I came to yoga as an 18-year-old runner, so I “did” yoga like I “did” running: fast, hard, and aggressive. Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down, but my retreat showed me a style of practice that I never imagined. I found out that in slowness, there is strength. And, accordingly, I am way, way stronger than I think—when I slow down and allow myself to be so.
The body is a beautiful and wise creature, and I must treat her with respect.
Pushing gets me nowhere except injured and in pain. I once came to my yoga practice in a struggle with my body. Why wouldn’t it fold forward effortlessly, like that person can? But a yoga retreat taught me that by respecting, nourishing, and inviting my body to unfold, the unfolding would happen with less effort and more grace.
Nobody is thinking about what I’m doing- they’re too involved wondering what I’m thinking of them.
In a room of 24 other yogis, there was always someone whose pose looked better than mine. Who would look like they were holding a balance pose effortlessly while I shook and struggled. In private conversations during the retreat, we would sometimes get close and share what we were really feeling during the class.
Turns out? We all have insecurities—in abundance. We’re wasting our energy wondering what other yogis are thinking about us. If I focus on my own journey, on and off the mat, then I’ll be all set.
When the going gets tough, the yogis watch the hard stuff with love.
I remember holding Goddess Pose for what seemed like an eternity. My arms and torso were moving, my thighs were screaming, and my mind couldn’t stop thinking about what seemed like agony. All that is truly happening is a burning sensation, and it’s only that: sensation. Become the witness, the observer, and I’ll no longer be swept up in the storm of suffering.
Beyond the shaking of my tired legs, this detachment has become a jewel that I carry with me. Most of the time, the suffering is all in how my mind decides to perceive the events at hand—nothing more.
Kai Woolner-Pratt is the content editor at Retreat Guru. He practices Ashtanga yoga, is grateful to his teachers, and counts himself lucky to have been in so many retreats. His home is Nelson, BC, Canada.