As a yoga teacher in modern America, I do not have the ability to dive as deeply into this ancient and beautiful art as I would like to. It is a cliché, but only because it is true: in this fast-paced modern life, we do not have the time to sit and relax and reflect on the nature of reality. And the nature of reality is what yoga is all about, after all. This is why I love leading yoga retreats.
I run an Ashtanga yoga retreat in Northern California. We only get to go about twice a year, and just going that much is difficult for many of my students. Although I do offer financial aid for those who would like to go to a yoga retreat center and cannot afford it, the strain of taking time off from friends, life, family, and of course work, is more than many people can take. This is a troubling facts, as those who need a yoga retreat most are often those most unable to go on.
The yoga retreat is not only a time to practice the yoga postures intensively under the eye of a knowledgeable yoga instructor, but also a time to understand the practice more deeply. At our yoga retreat, we have time to read the yoga sutras and compare our impressions and knowledge for greater understanding of the texts. Yoga, after all, is not about the asanas. The yoga poses provide a foundation for the practice, but the practice goes much deeper. At a yoga retreat, we are able to investigate the deeper meanings in a way that we never have time to in our personal lives. Part of this involves intellectual investigation – the sutras can be very difficult and involved texts. But reading them and intellectually understanding them is not enough. You need to have the time to back off from life, to really contemplate them at length and ponder their beauty and inner meaning.
Maybe the best thing about going on a yoga retreat, however, is the connections that you make with other practitioners. Much of yoga is a solitary practice, but it can be a communal practice as well. Through yoga, we learn about sustaining the world and improving it, one practitioner at a time. The only way to do this effectively is to make connections with other practitioners. This deepens the practice of each one, as practitioners are able to learn from each other. And that is the most profound meaning of the yoga retreat.