Everybody reaches a point in life where something has to give. It could be a health-scare, the end of a relationship or just the realisation that you’re in a good old fashioned rut. For me it was, well, everything. You probably think that, as a yoga teacher, I’m a permanently relaxed and jolly person. Uh-uh. I’m sure I’m far more relaxed and jolly than I would be working in a different industry, but my point is that day to day stresses creep in even when you have the best job in the world.
A couple of weeks ago I started to exhibit the kind of symptoms that set off alarm bells. Short temper, forgetfulness, mouth ulcers. When I found myself over-reacting on an operatic scale to minor setbacks, I decided it was time for a reality check. And there’s nothing like going on retreat for a reality check.
I headed off to the Billabong Retreat, a residential yoga retreat set high in the trees on a rural property not far from Windsor, NSW. I worried to myself the whole way there. What if I didn’t like the style of yoga there (I hadn’t bothered to ask in my hurry to get away)? What if there wasn’t enough food (I went on a retreat once that fed us a watery vegetable soup for lunch and dinner every day. It made me very grumpy)? By the time I got there, I felt like a coiled spring.
There was nobody there when I arrived. Just me and the cicadas. I found my cabin dumped my bag and sat on the balcony. It was warm, beautiful and quiet. I sat very still for a few minutes and took in my surroundings; a group of cabins set in to a hillside overlooking a large billabong with a curious round deck next to it. I decided to walk up to the main building, a yoga yurt and indoor living/dining/kitchen room, connected by a wide covered deck that was hung with hammock chairs. Other retreat participants were beginning to arrive and at 4pm our teacher, Paul, came to greet us. I needn’t have worried about the style of yoga. It turns out that Paul studied with the same teacher as me.
That was the first of many coincidences during the retreat. I had the full ‘six degrees of separation’ experience as I met people who knew many of my own friends, told similar life stories and discovered that I’d actually spoken to one of the women on the phone several months before! It was certainly serendipity, but I think there was more to it than that. I’ve noticed that when I listen to the inner voice that tells me the right thing to do (like “get away on retreat NOW!”), things start to fall into place. Happy accidents occur, positive relationships are formed and new opportunities arise. Oh, and I needn’t have worried about the food, either. Paul’s wife, Tory, cooked some of the most delicious vegetarian food I’ve ever tasted (and accomplished everything with a smile on her face and a two week old baby strapped to her chest).
Over the next two days I was thankful for the nurturing yoga practises, nourishing food and the joyful company of some very special people. On the last evening of the retreat, I found out what the deck next to the billabong was for. We all trekked down the hillside and set out our yoga mats on the timber floor and there, under the shade of tall gum trees, we enjoyed an hour of al-fresco yoga. Listening to the sounds of nature, feeling the reflected warmth of the sun from the billabong and watching tiny finches darting through the branches above me, I couldn’t even remember the stress and worry that I’d brought with me on the first day.
After three days of clean food, rejuvenating yoga (morning and night), two early nights and more free time than I’ve known in several years, I felt fantastic. I also wondered why I hadn’t booked some time out earlier and vowed to take regular retreats in the future. When I got back home, everyone noticed the difference. I was more patient with the children, less prone to frantic multi-tasking and more focussed at work. As with all good things, I wanted to share it and, before the week was out, I had booked the Billabong Retreat on behalf of Adore Yoga and will be leading a retreat there in October.
Not all life changing experiences are dramatic. My three day retreat changed my life for the better in subtle ways that go beyond simply recharging the batteries and zipping back into a hectic life. The daily yoga, meditation and time for reflection allowed me to shift my thinking and realign my actions with my deepest values. It was an opportunity to rediscover mindfulness and for that I am extremely grateful.