In two weeks I will receive my 200 HR RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) certificate. An assignment we were given this past weekend for this week was to go on a yoga retreat. This didn’t mean we had to travel, but rather that we should engage in activities that we would be doing if we had traveled elsewhere for a yoga retreat. The list of activities is as follows:
1) Rise one hour earlier each day
2) Begin the day with room temperature lemon water
3) Take your coffee or tea outdoors
4) 20 minute meditation—practice listening to the sounds around you
5) Unplug (avoid or limit time spent on social media or surfing the web)
6) Walk/bike to your destinations
7) Practice silence, no gossip or unnecessary complaining—4hr or, if possible, 24hr vow of silence
8) Eat lunch mindfully, doing nothing during lunch except simply eating
9) Daily acts of kindness
10) Daily yoga asana practice, at least once outdoors
11) Limit or avoid TV
12) Retire your phone in the evening; avoid brining it with you to yoga or to meet a friend, etc…
13) Dine outdoors
14) Take an evening stroll
15) Read, play a board game, or do your favorite hobby
16) Legs up the wall for 10-20 minutes every evening
17) Turn in early
Throughout the week I’ve been successful with many of these activities, though getting up an hour earlier and getting to bed early has been a struggle, but many of these activities have allowed me to slow down, to reflect on life’s beauty, and to become more peaceful, happier, more bold, and more aware of areas of my life where I need to rest and areas where I need to challenge myself more. Taking my coffee or tea outdoors has proven to lighten my mood. Even if I’m in a bit of a rush in the morning to get to work, I’m able to take my coffee outside on my break, and there is such a powerful sense of calm that comes over me, I’m in awe. It’s such a simple task, requiring nothing more than stepping outside into what has thankfully been warm, sunny, and lovely days. It’s an activity that as I reflect more on it gives this lesson: less effort, more wonder. And yet other activities, like unplugging, can take more of an effort. I have been using Facebook this week via desk top (I took the app off of my phone, leaving only messenger), mostly to engage in a health group I’m in and to promote this Saturday’s yoga class that I’ll be teaching at my church. I have managed, however, to refrain from checking my notifications. At present I have 49 notifications, and while it can be hard not to just click and see what’s going on, it’s freeing not to. I don’t need to know if someone liked this, that, or the other thing. I don’t have to look at every single comment a person posts on a status I happened to like. I can, instead of scrolling through my feed to see what people, most of whom I rarely speak with personally, are up to, take that time to write this. Three days this week I’ve taken my lunch outside by a river at a park near my work. I sat, ate, and watched the water move. I watched samaras, sometimes called “helicopters” or “whirlybirds,” spin from the branches of maple trees toward the water or the grass. I listened to birds and the wind through tree leaves. Another simple activity filled with the benefits of easing my mind and body, all tension melting away. Daily yoga asana practice and meditation are great tools that help me in the moment to find calm and balance. Although, I will express that even in engaging in a majority of these activities daily, I have still experienced moments of emotional distress, which I suppose only informs me that I’m human and imperfect and am still in the process of accepting this, letting go of judgements attached to these moment of distress, so that I might transcend the emotion rather than dwell in it.
Life is hard. And while some of life’s difficulties come from our own choices, I think it is more our fears that keep us tethered to difficulty. Fear of loss makes it hard for us to lose. Fear of failure makes it hard for us to start or finish projects. Fear of what others think of us makes it hard for us to live authentically. And the list goes on. Fear, in general, makes it hard for us to live. Fear can generate a sense of hopelessness, close us off from opportunity, and kill our dreams. One fear I have been learning to release myself from this week is that I do not have time to get the things done that I want to do. But as I unplug, slow down, and refocus my energy, I am finding myself to be more productive in the areas that matter. I don’t want to be stressed at work, and often what happens when stressors appear is that I retreat from my work and scroll my fb feed, or check email, or read articles that really have no bearing on my life and how I want to live it. Redirecting my focus resets my priorities so that my activities throughout the day become intentional and productive rather than passive and arbitrary. An evening stroll may seem meandering, but my husband and I have some of our best conversations when we’re walking together, thus strengthening our relationship and increasing our love, often times producing in each of us a sense of joy in that time spent. When we spend our time doing things that matter to us, those unnecessary activities we once invested our time in begin to dissipate and we find greater freedom in the letting go.
During Saturday’s afternoon yoga session, we discussed teaching yoga, which ones of us had begun teaching, our fears around teaching, why certain people had not yet started. I described my desire to implement brief yoga sessions at work, especially for the guys and gals in the field who put in a lot of physical labor throughout the summer, installing, sanding, lining, and cleaning gym floors. I knew it would be beneficial to them, and also to people in the office, to stretch and strengthen and de-stress, but I didn’t feel introducing this idea would be very well-received, especially by the guys, and in a company where many of us are pretty conservative. Western yoga is a practice that continues to have the stigma of being more for women, of being something new-age, hippie-types do, and a practice that involves twisting oneself into a pretzel. After encouragement from my peers, and feeling an internal sense of power to just show up and offer it regardless of whether or not anyone participates, I came in on Monday, and asked my boss if I could teach yoga, describing to him the benefits, and letting him know that I would just show up and if no one wanted to do it, then I would just do my own thing. Without hesitation, he gave me the go-ahead. All I had to do was ask, and from there I emailed everyone and gave them a schedule of times I would be teaching. I also implemented a midday stretch, where around noon, anyone in the office or shop who would like to join me outside to stretch is welcome to do so. I believe the boldness to put myself out there, not worrying about what anyone thinks, is a direct result of starting this week with a yoga retreat mindset. I am allowing myself to be more authentic because I am coming into a place of ease with who I am and what I am doing. I told my boss, I want to do this because I do get stressed and I think this would be a way for me to actually want to be here. I was honest in a way I’ve never been and it was as though the door had been open for me the entire time, I just never knocked. I’m learning to knock. I’m learning to do things that are good for my mind and body and spirit and do these things without apologizing for it.
It’s been four days on this “yoga retreat,” and I really believe that, for me, this must be a way of life. When we think of a retreat, we think of getting away, withdrawing from the normal activities of daily life, but taking a retreat within the context of my daily life has made me think differently about retreating. And so, I’ve decided that I’m going on a permanent retreat, not that I’m withdrawing from my normal activities or daily life, but rather that I’m withdrawing from a life of fear. I’ve let a lot of circumstances, people, and my own thoughts harden me. Life is hard; there’s no qualifier. We tell people, just let go, don’t let things get to you, make better choices, but we never simply agree, yes, life is hard, now let’s figure out some more productive way to give our lives ease. I don’t want to be afraid to live my life, to be authentic, to go into each day with the intention of living well. I don’t want to be afraid of effort or rest. What is the point of taking this yoga retreat if I only go back to the same habits next week? We go on vacation or retreat, and we feel replenished for a moment, only to return to our same habits, our same hard life, the same stress. Why not incorporate this list into our lives every day, or at least a few activities, working rest and replenishment into our daily lives instead of keeping busy until we burn out, and giving ourselves a mere week or two to replenish from an entire year’s worth of overwork? As I moved through this list this week, sometimes missing things, I thought perhaps I should extend this retreat so I can fit everything in. Another thought I had this week as I looked at the number of notifications increasing each time I went onto fb was whether or not it was really ever necessary for me to click on that red square. And I’m fairly certain I have no need of the Facebook app on my phone. These limits on social media and internet use along with slowing down some of the activities I typically rush through, like drinking my morning coffee, or eating lunch, alter my way of being in the world. I am not chained to my phone, or my desk. I am free. And I’m going to live that way.