It was 20 years ago that 8 Limbs offered its first yoga retreat at Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth, WA (20 years later we are still going, in fact we’re there this weekend!). Today we offer retreats throughout the year, for varying lengths of time. They’ve grown into seasonal traditions for not just getting away, but also getting to deeper states of self. Executive Director Ashley Dahl recently sat down with Senior Teacher Tracy Hodgeman to talk retreats and, as their conversation unfolded, on retreats as a practice.
Ashley: What would you say is the difference between an extended period of self-care and a retreat? Or is there even a difference?
Tracy: This is a great question! Self-care is so important, and can fall under the category of spa, vacation, rest, a long bath, a movie, walking in nature. I usually think of self-care as being a physical thing, although it can be more than that, of course. On retreat there is often a big self-care component, however I think retreats can have more of a self-inquiry focus than general self-care might. When you take time to retreat, it can be the perfect time to ask the big questions. Who am I now? What do I want to do with my life? What is the next best step to take forward? On retreat I find people tend to have deeper conversations with themselves that inform how they want to live upon returning to their daily lives. On retreat you can carve out precious time to listen to your inner knowing, to reawaken that part of us that can get shut down in the busy day to day grind of doing what needs to be done.
A: Not necessarily mutually exclusive but there may be different underlying in-tentions in these practices that in turn may invite different qualities of a-ttention. This makes me wonder, what does going on retreat look like for you, personally?
T: Some of the ways I understand the word “retreat” are to step back, to back up, to seek a place of refuge. Going on retreat means I get to step back from my daily habits, rituals and routines—I temporarily set down my social roles (as teacher, as sister, as wife, as daughter, as friend, as cat mama)—and begin to discover and remember who I am outside of those external references. It almost feels like journeying to a familiar but distant land, to a place that I have missed and where I have been missed. Afterwards, when I return to my “regular” life, I have a fresh sense of appreciation for it and a clearer vision about the daily choices I make. As a result of this new perspective I’ve gained by stepping back, I usually end up refining or changing something a little bit to bring my life more in alignment with my core values and overall wellbeing. Spending time on retreat makes me better at regular life.
A: I love that image, journeying to a familiar but distant land. It makes me think of the backstory on the word “mindfulness”, a way of translating the Pali term sati (similar to smrti in Sanskrit), which means “to remember”. Yoga, and mindfulness, are rooted in the notion that we have the seeds within us to embody wisdom and compassion. The journey of practice is essentially one of remembering, or re-awakening, innate qualities that may be presently dormant, or residing beneath layers of conditioning. It also speaks to the idea that the real journey is an inner one, whether going on a retreat near or far.
T: Yes! Residential retreats create space for bigger steps back, or pausing longer in a place of refuge. Day retreats can be perfect for busy people who can’t go away for a longer period, and that the shorter time allows you to drop in, and yet still make it home in time for dinner!
A: Right. When I’ve gone on residential retreats my perspective on life, and what I have to offer, tends to take a notable and compassionate turn. While those short, close-to-home ones provide me the opportunity to test out little acts of kindness immediately in real life, acts that down the road actually prove to be quite potent. In this spirit, as someone who regularly both attends and leads retreats, what words of wisdom would you offer to others to fully take advantage of retreat as a practice, whatever the length or location?
T: A few things that really help me skillfully maneuver a retreat setting where you are often letting go of a little bit of control (over things like food, schedule, sleeping arrangements) are to have an open mind, to set aside expectations, and to really clear your plate of external obligations for the time allotted. It helps to completely unplug from work (and even family to some extent) so you may give full attention to your own sweet self and get the most out of your retreat experience.
A: You’re reminding me of a common prompt I give myself in my daily practice – stand and know I’m standing, sit and know I’m sitting, breathe and know I’m breathing. In a culture that often glorifies busyness and multi-tasking there is something so refreshing (physically, emotionally, energetically) to simply abiding with what is. Anything else?
T: Having an overall intention for your time away can be really useful as well. What is it that you really need out of this sacred time? How can you move into that place with intention, rather than staying stuck in old patterns that are not serving you? For example, if you are a person who easily speaks up (maybe too much?) consider speaking less and listening more, and if you are generally reluctant to share but have a lot of valuable things to say (that end up going unheard), consider speaking out.
A: Thank you Tracy!
Interested in retreating yourself? Join Tracy and Ashley at their daylong retreat, A Day of Kindness, December 3rd at 8 Limbs Phinney Ridge. In the new year Tracy and Terilyn are leading their annual Winter Retreat, January 19th – 21st at Islandwood, Bainbridge Island. Check out our full calendar of upcoming residential retreats here.
Posted by: 8 Limbs