In Case You Need Convincing: Seven Reasons to Go on Yoga Retreat

If you’ve ever been on a yoga retreat, you might not need much convincing about what’s great about them. But if the experience is new to you, it can seem strange or even intimidating: are we going to do things I know? Will I look stupid? What if I’m completely outpaced by the students and we do crazy postures I can’t do? What if the teacher talks all this weird stuff I don’t understand? What if there’s nothing for me to eat? What if I get lonely? Questions multiply like over-caffeinated rabbits, and suddenly you’re talking yourself out of something you might really actually enjoy that could be a powerful, even life-changing experience.

So come on and take my hand, while I share with you

SEVEN REASONS TO GO ON YOGA RETREAT

Nosara, Costa Rica, 2019 out for a walk before class. I bought a killer dress from this shop the next afternoon when it was open. Killah.

Nosara, Costa Rica, 2019 out for a walk before class. I bought a killer dress from this shop the next afternoon when it was open. Killah.

You Cultivate Deep Rest. The word retreat literally means to move back from. On retreat, we give ourselves the opportunity to step back from a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities—pleasurable and challenging—that lay so much claim to our time and energy. I was stunned by how much my body enjoyed sleeping the first time I went on retreat, when I went to bed when I was tired and wake when I was rested. On retreat, there’s no clock for you to check every umpteen seconds or minutes, there’s no deadlines, and the schedule you get is optional. At first this can be a bit discombobulating, but once we unwind from the demand, we can rest so thoroughly, and show up for our body in the most meaningful ways.

You Get to Know Yourself Better. Travel, for those of us who are fortunate enough to do it, is a powerful experience. It changes you—or at least, it changes me. When I travel, I find myself thinking about what it is to do life in another place: another neighborhood, city, state, or country. What is the life of the people who live here? What would my life be if I lived here? Who am I in this place, and is that a different person than I am in the places I usually inhabit? All of these questions come up for me. Also, anyone who’s traveled will tell you that something always goes wrong: so travel gives us a chance to practice who we are, or want to be, in the face of struggle or challenge. Travel reflects yourself back to you in all kinds of ways, and you can learn a lot about who you are and what you’re capable of when you really take in those reflections.

You Have an Adventure! Travel is exciting, but it isn’t easy. Even at the best of times, we’re not always comfortable, and sometimes a lot happens on retreat that’s outside of your control. Adventure can be exciting, can test our courage, our fortitude, and ability to surrender. The best we can do at these times is breathe, and ride the wave of the experience, trusting the lesson that it has for us. Sometimes the adventure is an obstacle to overcome, whether that’s a mountain hike or a lost suitcase. Sometimes it’s a personal difficulty, like illness or injury. Sometimes it’s a challenge to sort out in community, and sometimes it’s something we go through as individuals. Whatever the case, we get to decide how we’ll be our best selves. A yoga retreat can be many things, but it’s never boring.

Rajasthan, 2018. Balwant took us for an incredible walk, and we caught the interest of at least one local boy.

Rajasthan, 2018. Balwant took us for an incredible walk, and we caught the interest of at least one local boy.

You Get to Know Your Practice Better—or Step up Your Commitment to the Practice. Spending money on a yoga retreat—and depending on where you go, how you get there, and with whom, it can be a good chunk of change—is not only a commitment of your time, it’s also a financial investment in your practice. Not only that, but spending so much time engaged in the practice of yoga. You can practice anywhere from once daily to up to three or four times daily, depending on the center and the offerings available. Whether you’re into vigorous asana, gentle and restorative postures, or you’re looking to build your foundation as a practitioner, a yoga retreat is a great way to learn more, not just about the physical practice of yoga, but about the philosophical—and dare I say it? even spiritual—underpinnings of this practice, that’s found its way around our world. Additionally, a yoga retreat can be a great opportunity for you to connect with a teacher, so pay close attention to teachers you respect and admire to see if/when they’re leading retreat so you can go with them. Practicing with your teacher on retreat is Not. Like. practicing with them at the studio or online. Not only are you free of many of the everyday trappings of life, but so are they! They’re there to cultivate a space where they can focus their energy on your growth, and hold the space for you to make your own discoveries. It’s hard to overemphasize how great this gift can be. To really make the most of it, make sure you’re going on retreat with a teacher you respect and trust; if you don’t yet have this relationship with a teacher, then do your research: once you find a retreat you’re interested in, find out whatever you can about the teacher, and take class with them, if possible. This helps you get to know each other, and will pay of well for both of you on retreat.

You Engage with the Planet. I’m grateful for every retreat experience I’ve been on, and lucky me, I’ve been to a few amazing places. I tend to choose retreats in locations that will be sunny and warm, because I live in the Northern Hemisphere, and winters here are long, cold and gray. But I’m sure they have retreats for all kinds. Skiing yoga retreats in the mountains, swampy yoga retreats in the jungle, yoga by the seaside, yoga amid changing forest colors, yoga in the city: there’s someone out there who’s built a yoga retreat that will allow you to engage the beauty and diversity of our planet in your favorite way. Whatever your preference, a retreat like this will allow you to commune with the beauty of the planet and its people in a way we just don’t do every day. After more than ten years living in Chicago, I can say with certainty that a retreat in mid- to late-winter is the only way I survive. I need the extra sunshine to cope with the frigid temps and the gray skies, all the benefits to my practice notwithstanding. At a time when we’re so keenly aware of how much trouble the planet is in due to human waste and interference, yoga retreat can be an experience of remembering and appreciating the great beauty of our home. I’m so grateful to be able to travel and engage with Mother Earth this way. It’s truly a healing and powerful experience.

You Broaden and Deepen Your Community. Whether you’re new to yoga, or a seasoned practitioner, one of your greatest resources is other yogis. A retreat experience that gathers folks around the practice of yoga can connect you with folks who at the very least, share this common interest. Fellow yogis can help one another learn about how different folks approach the practice. The yogi with more experience can be an inspiration to a newbie, and a newer yogi can remind the experienced yogi of how to step into the practice with beginner’s mind. Additionally, shared experience can breed intimacy. A yoga retreat is a great way to foster or nurture connection and community in relationship: a friends’ vacation, a family trip, or even a couples’ getaway can all be made even more memorable while on a yoga retreat.

You Change Your Perspective. Traveling to new places, being with new people , deepening your yoga practice: all of these things can make us feel more vulnerable. On its face, vulnerability isn’t something we’re taught to like, but it’s a really meaningful and necessary practice. We learn when we’re vulnerable; we grow when we’re vulnerable; we connect when we’re vulnerable. All of these things are possible on yoga retreat, and an experience like this opens us to the capacity to see more, and to see differently. Whether we learn more about transitioning into a posture, or a new way of conceiving an idea, or even a change in how we view a past experience, a retreat creates the spaciousness for us to look at things from a different angle, and be open to what that new vantage point has to show us.

BONUS: You get to have a sacred experience. I’m using this word on purpose. I don’t mean that you will see God (though if you ask me, you will, in fact you already have) and I don’t mean that you’ll have some esoteric, mysterious, religious experience that no one else could know or understand (though that too is certainly possible if you’re into it). The word sacred means “set apart.” If you’re open to it, you’ll have an experience that is set apart, that is different from, some of the others you’ve had. It might be a part of your experience to set an intention that you pursue and practice on retreat, or you might discover that something finds you while you’re on retreat. Whatever the case, there’s certainly the possibility that you’ll feel something new, you’ll experience something you can’t quite fathom or explain. The experience can be as sacred (or indeed, as mundane) as you allow it to be.

Sounds powerful, right? I am so grateful for all of the retreat experiences I’ve had, and I’m thrilled to share that this coming March 2020, I’m co-hosting a retreat in Bali with my dear friend and colleague, Adam Grossi! We’re so excited about curating a nourishing, meaningful, and memorable experience with yoga at its center. If you’re interested in joining us, and want to learn more information about the retreat, visit my Workshop and Retreat page. It will be an unforgettable experience. We’d love for you to join us.




a new kind of home

When you leave home, it always looks beautiful and perfect in the rear view, doesn’t it?

Even if it was a place of violence and corruption and broken systems. It was also Home.

*

Less than five minutes into a drive out to Stoughton, Mass, there’s this awful sound coming from the back passenger side of my car. I’m thinking that I just drove over something that somehow got stuck in my back bumper or undercarriage, so I pull off of Alewife Brook Parkway, and I find a hook at the end of a bungee cord embedded an inch deep into my rear tire. I limp to a parking lot nearby and try to consider if I believe I'm capable of putting on the spare. Yeah, I’ve changed a tire before. I know where the jack is and I know how to put a spare on, to loosen or tighten the nuts together, so one isn’t impossible to get off later. But somehow, this feels massive, like I’m just not capable of it today.

I’m standing there beside my car, sweating and whimpering, scrawling a note to put in the windshield so I don’t get towed while I walk to the closest gas station to ask about a tow.

Some guy, I don’t know who, approaches me: white, late 20’s, jeans and a t-shirt, creased face and cool eyes. “You got a flat tiah theah?” Boston is thick in his mouth.

“Yeah, I just drove over a cable or something and it was flat in less than five minutes.”

“You got a spayer, you need some help changin’ it?”

I swear, it never occurred to me that he would offer to help. I mean, I wasn’t clutching my purse and guarding my sanctity or anything, I just thought the time of folks offering to help when you had car trouble had come and gone. Like, years ago. If I’d actually thought about it, I’d probably have said yes and we could have done it it together. But I thanked him repeatedly and then waved him off, and hoofed it to the gas station.

I haven’t always depended on the kindness of strangers; I’ve depended on their apathy. I was so stunned by the generosity of this person that I couldn’t actually receive it.

*

Almost a month, I’ve been in Cambridge now. I keep doing that thing that Chicagoans do, where I try to compare other places I go to parts of Chicago that I know. Porter Square and Davis Square ( the second not strictly Cambridge, but Somerville, according to the maps and the locals) feel like Andersonville; Central Square feels like Wicker Park; Harvard Square feels like Lincoln Park near DePaul, crawling with undergrads and funky restaurants and indie bookstores and shops that have been there for thirty years, cheek-by-jowl to Urban Outfitters and hot yoga studios; and it all feels like it’s been dropped into Evanston: two or three streets out of these squares, there are blocks and blocks of 18th-century homes in various state of (dis)repair or renovation, window AC units abound, and parking is tight.

It’s just similar enough to feel charming, and just different enough to feel, well, not like Chicago.

So I was scared about interacting with the white Boston personality once I got here. Boston’s all Sean Penn and Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Bacon in that new Showtime series: working men and women with no time for friendliness or generosity, and if they don’t know you, you might as well just keep moving. The feel of a small town with the attitude of an East-Coast city, and a legacy of white supremacy that is at best cool and distant and at worst dangerous. Just before I left, a friend said to me, “Jess, don’t go there behaving like what you expect to meet.” It was good advice: if I’m all defensive and gripped against race-based fear and distrust, I don’t stand a chance of connecting to my neighbors in a way that breeds anything other than antagonism and distrust. But if I maybe remember what I believe about people, that we all carry the same piece of Divinity and Wholeness inside us, that maybe I’ll get a chance to see that piece, that spark. I have to show mine in order to see it in others.

She was right. It was in the face of the guy who tried to help me change my tire. It’s in the face of the neighbors who speak back when I speak to them as I run or walk past. It’s in the friendliness of the folks at the grocery store who don’t yet know me, but who are willing to have a fragment of conversation with me as they ring and I bag.

public.jpeg

And.

public.jpeg

I have encountered plenty of folks who don’t know about their Divine spark, or who won’t share it: I’ve gotten all kinds of side eye from grown adults who can’t meet my eyes, from painters and carpenters and workers who wonder what I’m doing there and who don’t trust my freedom. I’ve gotten plenty of attitude from the yoga girls at the studio for not knowing “how things go” there. I’ve gotten crotchety-old-man sass from, well, crotchety old men. And for all the people of color I see, they feel few and far between somehow. For all of the diversity I see at my neighborhood market, I’m the only black woman at the closest coffee shop/bakery; I’m the only woman of color in the yoga class; when I run by massive houses near the Charles River, housewives can’t tell I’m just admiring the architecture or casing the joint.

College towns are interesting. They’re these bastions of diversity, attracting thinkers and makers and doers from all over the world, full of progressive values and youth and hunger and angst. These thinking communities are smashed against pockets of established wealth and privilege, and working-class frustration, and young and old folks with no money and young and old folks with too much money, and it’s all just happening.

*

So many white folks, when I told them I was moving to Boston, were all, “Oh! I love Boston! You’ve got to check out—” and they’d finish the sentence with their favorite restaurant or yoga studio or even American history site.

And so many folks of color, and in particular black folks, when I told them I was moving to Boston were all, “Really, hon? ‘Cause you know what a racist, awful place it is, right?”

*

(Also, there are wild turkeys in the neighborhood. I don’t mean the cheap whiskey, I mean there are actual wild turkeys just hanging around: last night Mister and I walked by a pair of them, ten feet away, strutting and pecking and eyeballing us warily. One of the things I like most about Cambridge/Boston is how much green there is, at least in the nearby parts of it, but encountering a bird the size of a Labrador retriever that’s moving with the pace and urgency of a grandma selecting just the right melon at the market is just weird! I haven’t figured out how to handle these birds, aside from declining to eat them ever again. If one ever got between me and the sidewalk or the street, I’m not sure what I’d do. Stay home that day, I guess.)

*

Much as I wanted to paint Cambridge with a broad brush, I can’t. It’s too complex. I get the feeling that the white liberalism that I perceive here is maybe a kind of sheen—like maybe if I scratch too hard it’ll fleck right off. It’s not nuanced, it’s just complicated. I like it. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know how to do complex. It’s good for me. I keep learning.

Never a lovely so real.

CP says I’m overly nostalgic about saying goodbye, that leaving a city doesn’t mean saying goodbye, that it’s just Boston, it’s not Mars. Maybe he’s right. The first time I left Chicago was 2002, and I was sure I’d never be back. But two years later, I came back and I stayed. He’s come and gone from Chicago five times at this point. Maybe it’s not leaving the city that makes me all tenderhearted and in my feelings; maybe Chicago has a pull on me like a magnet, and I can feel my iron core reluctant to move away.

When the Spirit Sez Go

Y’all, I have been sitting on this blog post for weeks, WEEKS, trying to figure out how best to explain my choice? Decision? Calling? to move out of the city I call home and the life I’ve built to go BACK TO SCHOOL. It’s taken me a long time to talk about why I’m doing this, not because I was working hard on this, though I was, but because it’s one of few choices in my life that feels so certain and yet so… intangible. Ineffable. Non-verbal. There’s this story about how when a young man of God proposes to the woman he wants to be his helpmeet, he’ll say, “God has laid it on my heart that you and I should marry… God has stirred my spirit… I had a talk with God…” I used to roll my eyes at this kind of language, and I know men who talk like this (though fortunately for them, none of them ever proposed marriage to me). It seemed so condescending and belittling and deeply misogynistic, as if how a woman felt about a man was immaterial, because he had been in communication with The Almighty and they’d agreed marriage was best, so what she wants just didn’t matter. I though language describing an experience like this was bullshit.

But this process… it’s been so much about asking questions and then just listening. Being led. Trusting the echos of sounds and sensations in my chest, like my body were a tuning fork or a chasm, and the sounds of Mother Nature were ringing back to Her through me: This. Yep, this. Truly, not that other thing, this thing.