Time For A Retreat? Fresh Perspectives On An Ancient PracticeJul 01, 2021 06:00AM ● By Noah Chen
Rooftop yoga with Blue Lotus Retreats in Amorgos, Greece (Photo: Sheila Ewers)
For centuries, people have sought seclusion through retreats to gain a better understanding of themselves, their lives and their place in the world. The practice might seem odd for the uninitiated. After all, why would one want to go on a meditation retreat when they can meditate at home—or do yoga, adopt new health practices or do any of the other activities that retreats feature? Yet, for those that make retreats a part of their lives, the benefits are real, tangible and substantial. I spoke with four experienced retreat-goers, each attracted to a different type of retreat. Though their experiences may differ, the benefits they reap are often remarkably similar.
Retreats offer time to immerse oneself in a particular practice, opportunities for personal transformation and even, on occasion, moments of spiritual epiphany. There are many types of retreats—from spiritual seclusions to healing hideaways. While many are aimed at specific concerns, most seem to offer a similar suite of core benefits.
Tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by verdant trees and sweeping valleys, is the Art of Living Retreat Center (AoLRC), a low, wide building with alabaster columns and a gold-peaked dome. There, and in retreat spaces like it around the world, individuals and small teams have the time and space to focus on matters that require intentional dedication and energy.
To begin, the theme of transformation permeates the feedback of our repeat retreat-goers. “I felt it really rejuvenated me,” says Jenny Melick, an attendee of the Shankara Ayurveda Wellness Treatment at the AoLRC. “It just made me feel new and shiny coming out of it.”
Melick started attending Ayurvedic retreats to see if she could find a solution to health problems that have shadowed her for years. While Western doctors said her problems were in her head, she said the retreats showed her there were natural remedies available; she would just have to take the time to slow down and learn them.
“One of the biggest benefits I get from going on retreats is that they allow me to be my own advocate of my body, and I see how my body responds so well to natural treatments,” Melick says, adding that her first retreat was life-changing; she felt she re-entered her daily routine with a fresh perspective.
Natalia Rothman also experiences a kind of transformation from the many yoga retreats she’s done with Blue Lotus Yoga. Unlike Melick’s Ayurveda program, the locations of the Blue Lotus Yoga retreats change each time; Rothman recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. While she has gone on many retreats, Rothman says her passion for yoga has not always been so deep; for a while, it was just another way for her to work out. But during her first retreat, which was gifted to her, she had time to consider the deeper meaning behind her practice. “I began looking at yoga from a totally different perspective—as something that combines the mind, body and spirit.”
Rothman says it’s possible she wouldn’t have gone deeper with yoga if the retreat hadn’t offered her the chance to slow down and do a deep dive into a subject that interested her. “Retreats give you time to get away from your daily responsibilities,” says Rothman. “And that helps you concentrate more on your practice and your spiritual development.”
Rashida Atkinson has been on four Starshine and Clay empowerment retreats, which are led by Octavia Raheem and designed for Black and Brown women. She compares her experiences to a feeling of rebirth.
“When I come back from the retreats, I feel rejuvenated and renewed; I come back into my life with my husband and my son, and I look at things differently,” says Atkinson. Even during the pandemic, when retreats could only be offered virtually, Atkinson described them as a “body scrub” for the soul that left everything feeling brand new for her.
The retreats Atkinson attends are a mix of group activities and quiet moments of personal reflection. She says that some of the most impactful aspects of her retreats include those moments when she is able to build bonds with other women. “Raheem is very big on giving Black and Brown women a space to just be,” Atkinson explains. “We don’t get many spaces like that.”
“Every time I’ve gone, I’ve learned something new about myself. And I’ve had this experience with dozens of other women that look like me.” In the end, Atkinson says, that is her motivation for going.
While some only rarely attend retreats, others have made it part of their lifestyle. Over the last fifteen years, Cynthia Vannoy estimates she has attended more than 30 retreats of different kinds, most of them Buddhist.
“Going on a retreat is a critical way to stay connected with your spiritual self,” explains Vannoy. It functions as ongoing maintenance for her spiritual life, she says. Separation from her day-to-day life is key, as it helps reinforce the fact that her sole purpose is to be on the retreat. It allows her to completely immerse herself in her practice and maximize the retreat’s benefits. It also leads to some deeply spiritual experiences.
“Imagine you are at a retreat,” says Vannoy, “and you are in touch with oneness and everything that is one, and God, and your soul, and your Divine Self. That’s what you touch in a retreat.”
Rothman, Melick, Atkinson and Vannoy keep going on retreats because of the growth, progression and fresh perspectives they acquire from the experience. Despite the differences in the focus of their choice in retreats, they reap a common set of rewards upon their return. ❧
A list of retreat centers in Georgia and North Carolina, a sidebar to our article "Time For A Retreat? Fresh Perspectives On An Ancient Practice." Read More »