I recently did my annual Yoga Retreat (17-19 April 2015) with a group of my yogis at HaPhororo Retreat Centre in Hartbeespoortdam and would like to share some insights that came out of this retreat and again why a retreat is so important, the immeasurable value of a yoga retreat.
A retreat refreshes and revitalizes, gives the opportunity for more time spent in meditation, contemplation, yoga and rekindles and deepens one’s relationship with the Divine. A retreat is an opportunity to seek out Divine Grace, to surrender to the silence and hear the Inner Voice speaks and thereby attain a degree of spiritual renewal. The purpose of a spiritual retreat, as an addition to daily spiritual activities, is to temporarily leave behind the usual distractions we all face for a time long enough to allow relaxation and for an inner change to occur: the ongoing conversion of heart that is critical to deepening our resolve to stick to our chosen Spiritual Path.
When I think of retreats I am always inspired by Christ who went away for long periods or who got up very early in the morning to pray in a solitary place (Mark 1:35-37). Sometimes Jesus would spend an entire night in retreat: “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12). And, this is also relayed: “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.” (Mark 6: 30-32) No doubt, the apostles were energized by the response of the crowds they encountered, but they still needed a chance to recharge before carrying on. A Yoga Retreat adheres to this calling and I want to encourage my yogis and every yogi to at least undertake one Yoga Retreat in your life with your teacher.
The Basic Elements of Retreat
Retreats differ from conferences, seminars, and meetings in that the primary work is interior spiritual development through a prolonged period of reflection rather than simply being exposed to information and techniques. The retreats I organised are based around a traditional offering of plenty own time for reflection balanced with activities (talks, yoga, walks, labyrinths, golden silence, meditation etc). For me a retreat must include:
- Minimum duration. A common format is a three day retreat that begins Friday evening and ends Sunday afternoon. However as everybody noted during our last retreat at HaPhororo, another day would have been beneficial. And we have decided to extend the end of the year Retreat with another day.
- Meals. Having meals at the retreat site avoids disruption of leaving to another location for meals or cooking it self; the meal becomes, instead, an effective component of the retreat and plays a role parallel to the fellowship meals that Jesus shared with his Apostles. HaPhororo offered us a delectable and fantastic vegetarian meal three times dialy. It is important to realise just as the soul is nourished during a retreat the body will need good sattvic nourishment to keep up with the spiritual nourishment.
- Adequate time specifically set aside for meditation, contemplation and silence. Each retreat should maintain a balance between meditation, contemplation, silence and the other activities. It is in the moments of silence that we internalize and grasp the spiritual lessons we learned during a retreat. It is during these moments of silence that our understanding of yoga and our own spiritual side deepens.
- A restful setting, with availability of nature walks. In order to accomplish the goal of “retreat,” the site should have some degree of insulation from the ordinary busy life; even if located in the heart of a city, the retreat site should have grounds for walking and a relatively quiet and peaceful atmosphere and Haphororo strike a wonderful balance in this case.
- Personal space. We all need personal space away from the other retreat goers at some point during the day to reflect on our own, to rest, a retreat is hard work on many levels, and HaPhororo offered excellent accommodation with ample opportunity for privacy.
- Spiritual direction. Though not everyone may take advantage of it, my retreats offer the opportunity for yogis to speak to me, to get guidance, spiritual direction and for many a retreat renew their commitment to their spiritual path.
Encouraging Retreat Participation
Usually personal retreats can be arranged with very little effort and the retreat centre leave it up to you what and how much you want to do. Personally I am not for this type of retreat, because very often you end up doing nothing and the purpose of visiting a retreat site is lost.
A group retreat inherently encourage individuals on the retreat to participate, to get involved and ultimately your participation lead to greater and deeper understanding, the development of your own inner wisdom and also grasping the path of yoga more fully.
If you are in another country or even city in South Africa and you are reading this, I want to encourage you to do a retreat and a retreat is best done with your own teacher. I know there are many retreats being advertised, but I do not encourage people to do a retreat with a stranger. Only your teacher will know you, if your teacher doesn’t do retreats, why not encourage them to present a retreat.
To Yoga Teachers (South Africa only)
Are you a yoga teacher and want to present a retreat but have no idea what to do on a retreat, how to go about it? I will present a Retreat Workshop for Yoga Teachers in 2016, if you are interested please send me a message and I will contact you with all the costs, dates and venue information. I have spend many hours and days with my own teacher on retreats, attend various retreats in India in 2005, 2007 and 2009. I have conducted 5 retreats with my own yogis up to date and would like to impart and share my knowledge with other teachers who would like to offer retreats to their yogis.