One thing I have observed over the decades of facilitating silent retreats: everybody who takes a silent retreat does so for a different reason. Some need a break from their fast-paced, overly busy lives so they can relax, refresh and renew body, mind and soul. Others may lead quiet, peaceful lives but want to go deeper into yogic practices and meditation and get more in touch with the Divine. Still others might have experienced some kind of trauma and are seeking to find balance, solace and support. Whatever the reason, most people I have spoken with after partaking in a silent retreat say that the retreat helped them get what they wanted; a break, deeper connection, a time to heal, time to reflect and so many deeper more subtle positive affects.
Weekend retreats are powerful. I have seen great transformations of retreat participants from just three days of introspection and supportive Yoga practice. Longer 10-Day silent retreats provide even more time for deep immersion allowing us to emerge feeling lighter, more joyful and more balanced in our lives. In talking with the retreat participants I hear such gratefulness for the experience as it often a life-transforming experience for them.
One question I am often asked is, how does one program meet the diverse needs of so many? To answer this, let’s first explore first the structure and then the benefits of a silent retreat.
The Structure of a Silent Retreat
Check your Regular Routine at the Door
Routines are useful. Routines help us be efficient in our daily lives. They exist not only in our external world but also in the internal structure of our minds. Suspending these routines during a silent retreat is liberating. We turn off our smart phones and leave our computers and Blackberries at home. Put the “noise” in our lives behind: televisions, telephones, radios, mp3 players and our music collection. On a retreat the schedule is planned. Food is prepared. We become babies again, suspending our judgments, flowing with day, letting the staff guide us through the different activities and periods of rest.
We enter into silence and turn inward
So much of our energy is employed in communicating with the external world. At a silent retreat, we take all the energy that we normally use in speaking and communicating and we make it available to the mind-body to repair itself and to heal.
Group synergy and connection
Rather than retreating by ourselves to an isolated cabin somewhere, we join a group of people who are participating in the silent retreat.
The experience is quite different than a personal retreat or taking a retreat in which people talk to one another. In a silent retreat there is a group synergy that forms. Everyone in the group is there to turn inward and be silent. By being there together with this motivation a beautiful energy is created. The air around the group seems to vibrate. There is a connectedness even without any outward communication. Being in the energy seems to aid everyone in focusing, going deeper and healing.
Everyday we luxuriate in the yogic practices
We can attend group meditations three times a day and take hatha yoga classes twice a day. On longer silent retreats we can try a juice fast on one of the days and even try some of the yoga cleansing practices such as the stomach cleansing. There are workshops on pranayama—the breathing techniques—to deepen our practices and times to practice these techniques during every group meditation and hatha yoga class.
We Eat Well
We partake of freshly prepared, delicious and nutritious vegetarian food. This food both nourishes the body and aids it in cleansing.
We attend inspiring talks led by senior Integral Yoga teachers.
These talks cover a number of topics ranging from interpersonal relationships to deepening our spiritual practices to exploring the different branches of Yoga.
We engage in short periods of karma yoga (selfless service) which we do to shift our consciousness toward work and to re-educate ourselves to let go of mental attachments that bind us.
We Soak it All In – Surrounded by Nature
Usually we retreat to a beautiful retreat center in the country where we are surrounded by nature and lovely vistas. The fresh air, pure water and quiet, natural environment support each of us in our inward journey.
Benefits of a Silent Retreat
R&R – in a big way
Taken all together, the structure of a silent retreat allows us to relax and rejuvenate on a very deep level.
- Hatha Yoga is designed to tone the entire physical body: internal organs, the nervous system, the glandular system. Any blockages of energy caused by stress, a sedentary lifestyle or immoderate living are released.
- Pranayama (breathing practices) further cleanses and energizes the body and mind.
- Silence Refraining from speech channels more energy into healing, working on both a physical and a mental level. It allows the mind to unwind and gives room for reflection. We are able to process all the things that seem to be interfering with our peace of mind.
- The energy of the group aides in our focus and sustains our enthusiasm to continue to go deep.
- The fresh, clean, light food nourishes us and brings us to an even greater state of physical and mental health.
- The karma yoga breaks us out of old patterns to thinking and acting that have turned work into drudgery.
Still Minds Run Deep
This whole process of rejuvenating the body and mind removes the clutter in the head. The nature of our problems and our “dis-ease” seems to become clearer to us. We gain new insights and understanding. We hear the wise words of our senior teachers in new ways so that we can apply them to our lives.
Our burdens become lighter and somehow might even stop seeming like burdens any more. The mind slows down and the external silence becomes internal. The light of understanding and inner peace dawns as our meditations become more profound.
We feel connected to a source of energy, love and joy that is beyond our limited minds and bodies. For those of us who take the 10-day silent retreat by the last day our bodies and minds feel light and filled with radiant peace and joy.
We have dropped a lot of the excess baggage that was weighing us down and we emerge transformed in a way that we never expected.
With all this, it seems that a Silent Retreat may be just the thing to help so many of us as we navigate life. Taking time to reconnect, catch our breath, re-focus, rest and replenish is so important in living a useful, fruitful and dedicated life. I hope that if the opportunity arises, that you take it and go on a silent retreat.