So, I have finally made it to a yoga retreat. It was a Kundalini Yoga retreat, but as it’s the first retreat I’ve been on I couldn’t tell you how it compares with other yoga retreats, but from my perspective it is everything I hoped it would be.
Having said that, there are aspects that I didn’t find easy, but in the end it was worth the trials and tribulations along the way. I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot that I can take away into my every day life.
As with everything I signed up without really thinking things through.
The last time that happened I found myself parasailing with a family friend.
So, here I was going along to a retreat with yoga instructor I had only met online and I had met none of the other participants before I arrived at the villa. Initially I hadn’t intended to stay over as it was so close to home and that may have impacted the room I was given to stay in, twin beds with a shared bathroom. I hate shared bathrooms and would never ever choose to stay in a room without an ensuite.
My first night wasn’t great.
First of all I had to take on a massive scorpion / spider combo that had decided to make itself at home on my pillow. And then I had to wait for my room mate to come back from a night on the town. She arrived back at 4am. At 5am I was sitting on the toilet in the shared bathroom crying because I wanted a cup of tea and there was someone sleeping in the lounge and so I couldn’t get to the kitchen without disturbing them. Husband told me to just go and get the cup of tea!
That’s when I realised the problem was me. It was all coming from inside me and it was my thoughts creating the situation. It was my anxious thoughts about man eating spider-scorpions, being in a strange bed, in a strange villa, with 9 strangers. It was me that believed I couldn’t get the cup of tea. Nor did it matter what my room mate was doing, I would not have slept that night.
So I did what I do best, and legged it back home for the next couple of nights.
That’s when I learned the first thing about myself. It’s OK to be anxious and afraid and vulnerable. And it’s OK to rely on the support of strangers to get you through. I’ve had my fingers burned a few too many times on that one so I do tend to keep people at arms length for what is probably more than a realistic length of time. I don’t like to ask for help and try to help myself as much as I can, often spurning the help and support of others. All of the other participants were there for the same reason, for yoga in a beautiful location. To relax, recharge and rejuvenate away from home. But in order to me to do that, I needed to trust and put my faith in people I had never met before. Something that I evidently find very difficult.
The instructors running the retreat were amazing and it was their encouragement that enabled me to go back to the villa to complete the retreat. I’m really glad I did. I also realised that I’m more than happy to share a room with twin beds with a bathroom the other side of the hallway and I wondered where on earth the belief that I couldn’t ever came from.
It wasn’t the last time I had to rely on the support of the others during that week.
They got me on to a boat trip that I REALLY didn’t want to do. I could have quite happily walked away at the last minute. Which is very unlike me. Usually, like the parasailing, if I’ve signed up to do something, I’m doing it. They got me swimming in a very rough ocean that resulted in my face planting my way out in the most ungainly fashion. It was neither smooth, nor cool. But I did both of those things and I loved them both and will do them again. I’m hoping my experience in the rough ocean will be enough to finally get me on that paddle board!
I learned that I could go on another yoga retreat, stay for the whole week (without having to make a run for home) and even contemplate travelling a further distance too.
I learned that there are people like me. There is a place where I belong and I do fit in. It was so lovely to feel happy and at peace with where I was. I didn’t once feel like I had to look over my shoulder, or check myself to make sure I was doing all I could to fit in, or not ruffle any feathers. It was the first time in a very long time that I was able to just be me and that was enough.
I didn’t have to drink more.
Or be more.
Or be less.
I could just be me and people seemed to like me. I didn’t have to change in any way shape or form.
I learned about healthy eating, which is something I really struggle to get my head around. Most of all I learned that actually it’s really straight forward and nothing like as complicated as everyone would have you believe. All you need is good simple, healthy food. Cooking meals from scratch with the best quality ingredients you can afford. You don’t need to cut things out, or add things in straight away.
I came away with a bit of a saying in my head – is this real food? When I look at something and am thinking of eating it. Is that real food? Is that something that I want to eat now? Or something I will enjoy? Will it make my insides smile? It’s scarily straight forward. It’s also surprising how much food isn’t actually real food, but processed stuff that looks like food. The key thing for me is for the first time I’ve not rushed home and thrown everything out of the cupboard. I am making small daily changes that I can maintain over time.
I learned more about Kundalini Yoga. And I love it.
I ended the retreat with a 40 day practice and I am really enjoying the challenge of completing it every day. It’s the first time I’ve found a yoga practice that I felt was sustainable and that was appropriate for my body and my needs at this time. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but quite frankly I’ve re-connected with that part of me that really doesn’t worry too much about other people’s thoughts or opinions. Unfortunately, it might have unleashed that part of me that challenges back, which is always a tricky place to be!
I learned that you really do need to know the yoga instructor that runs the retreat. I am pretty much a beginner when it comes to Kundalini Yoga and not once was I made to feel that I was not competent enough to complete one of the sessions, but I knew that would be the case because I’d been to lessons prior to the retreat. There were times when I really struggled. I struggled with anxious thoughts a few times throughout the course of the retreat, but because I had that prior experience I knew I would be held and supported through my moments of crisis. I’m not sure that I’d feel so comfortable or at ease with someone I knew nothing about or who I hadn’t met before. Going away with a group of strangers was a huge step for me and so to know nothing about the practicalities of the yoga sessions on top would probably have been far too much for me to manage. And I would have been devastated if I didn’t enjoy the yoga sessions.
I also learned to think through practicalities which has never been a strong point of mine! I was thrilled when my yoga instructor was hosting a retreat just a short distance away from my apartment in Albufeira. I did not think through that those people coming along would want to take advantage of everything that the Algarve has to offer. They wanted to go to the beach. They wanted to experience the nightlife. Both of those things are perfectly normal.
What I was looking for was a break from that. An escape from the madness of living in a busy tourist resort in the summer. Fortunately the villa was set in beautiful grounds with a swimming pool so I was able to get my escape from holiday madness, but it still highlighted to me what to look for in a retreat. I realise now that at that time I needed wooded glades in a secluded forest! There was a tree. A beautiful tree which provided shade for the morning and evening yoga sessions. That was enough for me to feel like I was a million miles away from the touristic chaos of the Algarve in July.
What I learned most of all is that my life has become to safe. To easy. Too routine. I need to shake things up a bit, push myself more and seek out opportunities that may scare me, as the benefits far outweigh the anxious anticipation. There is still plenty of life left in me and I came away with determination to take advantage of all and every experience, or friendships that come my way and to embrace those things that bring me joy. It’s also given me a renewed strength to say no to those things that bring me down.
So. Would I go on a yoga retreat again? Definitely. But next time I’d be armed with more information on which to base my decision and a lot more confidence to know I’d be able to embrace the opportunity it offered me.