Benefits of Retreat
If peace and calm are always found from within, why go on retreat? Well, there are actually oh-so many ways that a retreat can benefit your overall health and spiritual journey.
The Difference Between a Holiday and a Retreat
Holidays and retreats can both offer important health benefits to humans as a potential circuit breaker to the cycle of stress, and they can share some characteristics. For example, both may be immensely pleasurable* but the key distinguishing factor is this:
- A holiday in the traditional sense of the word, is an escape, rest or distraction from our day-to-day life. If it actually does permit us to hit pause on our problems and relax, those problems will likely still be there when we return to our real life. We’ve all heard friends bemoan the loss of the ‘holiday feeling’. Like a wave on the shore, the thoughts that make us suffer come rushing back.
- Retreats are sometimes called ‘wellness holidays’ or the like, but a retreat’s purpose is to give us our best chance of returning to our lives a slightly different person. Relaxation and inner work are not left to chance, they are vital elements of a retreat. It’s a chance to shed some of the weighty layers we unconsciously put on ourselves that cloud of vision of what’s truly real and rob us of a peaceful life.
* Pleasure?! Yes, we said pleasure! Yogis need not eschew pleasure. We simply do the daily work to have the wisdom to not mistake cravings, temporary pleasures and dopamine hits, with sustained contentment, joy or bliss. There is a huge difference between consciously choosing to enjoy a drink or watch a movie for example, and being a servant to unconscious habits and patterns. Indeed at the heart of Yoga, is our ability to remove the veil of the unconscious, conditioned mind and use our free will with clarity.
Spartan and monastic retreats can play a role at certain points in life, depending on the lessons we most need to learn at that point. It is okay to remove certain discomforts that may act as unnecessary distraction so we can practice being with discomfort of others kinds.
Think of a comfortable retreat the same way you would think of creating a comfortable environment for savasana or meditation. For example, when we put on a jumper or blanket in savasana, we remove the distraction that cold may cause us, giving ourselves our best chance to stay relaxed and focussed.
Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is allow ourselves to be comfortable, in an effort to minimise unnecessary distractions as we prepare to go inwards.
Benefits of a Retreat
- Give your yoga practice a new lease of life
It’s useful to plug back into teaching sources that resonate for you, to fall in love with yoga all over again, re-energise your sadhana and extend both your intellectual and experiential understanding to deeper levels. Learning is a lifelong joy.
- Precious time for self-care and reflection
We all know that self-care and reflection are not luxuries, they’re important. But we’re all works-in-progress and some days are easier than others. Sometimes we all need circumstances that feel like time stops for a bit so we can remind our body, mind and spirit what self-love and self-reflection feel like, and re-kickstart these elements of our lifestyle practice…..connecting with our thoughts, feelings and actions without judgement, and sending a message to ourselves that we are worthy of love and care.
- Healing effects of Nature
Science backs up your intuition that spending time in natural environments is beneficial for our physical and psychological health, and makes it easier for us to experience elevated emotions.
- Change of Scenery & Routine
Your brain loves routine because it’s energy-efficient (and we can use this fact to our advantage if we practice establishing healthy routines). But we need only recall during the pandemic’s lockdowns how monotony played tricks on people’s brains, the days blurred into one and many people’s mental health suffered.
Your brain needs a shake-up to routine now and then for optional functioning. Diversifying what our five senses take in each day and exploring new and novel experiences stimulates the hippocampus area of the brain, important for emotional regulation. Switching up our daily routines may also foster greater chances of breaking old habits.
Being out of our usual environment can also be helpful for inner-work where we endeavour to address our attachment to identity (ego). Without our job title or usual tasks, without our immediate sphere of people, without all the things that we use to anchor ourselves to an identity, we can explore what it feels like to not have try and be the good worker, good boss, good spouse, good friend, good parent, good child, good neighbour and so on.
- Digital Detox
Our devices trigger the same chemicals in our brain as gambling, explaining how we can get addicted to our devices. A time-out can help break the cycle so we can be more conscious of technology-usage. There’s also evidence that it can improve sleep, assist with some depression and anxiety symptoms, improve our eyesight, and give us a greater sense of life satisfaction.
- Balance The Nervous System & Heal
Practices like asana, breathwork, meditation and mindfulness can switch off the body’s stress response and allow our sympathetic nervous system to move into rest and repair. This is the state necessary for cells to repair.
- Spending Time with Your ‘Tribe’ of Like-Minded People
Connecting with people who lift you up, accept you as you are, encourage and listen to you can have a very real effect on physical and mental health.
- Positive Changes To Brain Chemistry
It’s perhaps no surprise that retreats can switch off the hormones of stress and release the feelgood hormones, but science is curious to learn more about what makes people report feeling greater perception of their own health and wellbeing, and elevated emotions that endure after retreat, making space for healing, compassion and creativity.
Written by Nicole Small, The Yoga Institute
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