I recently returned from a yoga retreat at Haramara, near Sayulita, Mexico, and I am struck by the power of retreat. To step outside of one’s regular life for an intentional time of reflection, new insights, new practices, is to come back refreshed and renewed. As a global educator, it was odd to be in a foreign country and spend so little time immersed in local culture, but this was a different kind of experience, much more of an inward journey.
I spent seven days in a beautiful center on a hillside above the beach about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. The center housed our group of 22 and another group of 20 for a week of yoga practice, delicious nutritious food, meditation, silent practice, journaling, and exploring the surrounding area as much as we wanted. We were led by a team of teachers from 8 Limbs Yoga in Seattle, including the founder. All of us practice at the studios, though most of us did not know each other before the retreat.
I signed up because two of my favorite teachers were leading, and a very good friend of mine was also going. I thought the coast of Mexico in April sounded pretty good — I speak Spanish, I love Mexican food, and swimming in the ocean is one of my favorite things to do. I was interested in deepening my yoga practice, reading, writing, and contemplating my current stage of life. All of these things happened and were wonderful, and yet I gained so much more than I could have imagined.
First of all, the setting was astonishingly beautiful. Set on a hillside, the public and private spaces all nestled into the high tropical jungle allowed privacy and quiet even with over 60 people on the grounds at any one time. Haramara overlooks the ocean and you can hear the crashing surf from every point on the property. We were there for the full moon and got to watch the sun set over the ocean in the evening while the moon rose over the jungle. Then the next morning we meditated on the beach while the moon set over the ocean and practiced yoga on the top of the hill while the sun rose above the trees. Birds, flowers, rocks, trees and exquisite decor rounded out the view: beauty everywhere you looked.
Second, I had not counted on how it would feel to be outside all the time, and I mean all the time. A whole week without setting foot in an enclosed space did wonders for my soul. I felt so close to nature — to the critters who shared their home with us, to the falling of darkness at night and the emerging light in the morning. There is no electricity in the living spaces so the soft light of candles and oil lamps provided atmosphere in the evening. There is also no internet and very poor cell service, so I spent most of the week unplugged. What a joy that was.
Yoga practice twice daily was as good for the body as being outside and unplugged was for the mind. I stretched into some new places, tried some new poses, and gained strength from having three times as many classes as I usually do in a week. It was also a good reminder to take things slowly, rest when I needed to, and balance pushing myself with finding ease in each pose.
Finally, it was the community of travelers who made the time so rich. Women ranging in age from their 20s to 60s and one man shared a very special and magical time together. For many of us, it was a transformative time where we were able to let go of things we needed to shed, gain new perspectives on our lives, and make some changes to our pace and priorities. It was especially wonderful to be on retreat with people I will now see in yoga class. We are already planning reunions and the maintaining of relationships.
Coming home from this retreat, I am rested, strong, rejuvenated, and inspired. The natural beauty, silence, healthy delicious food and marvelous company did wonders for body, mind and soul. Though a retreat of this kind is a rare privilege for most of us, I recommend finding a way to take a small break from the business of your life in whatever way you can manage it.