The following post was written by Adeline Yoga student Julie McCormick after attending the 2016 Ratna Ling retreat. You can find details on this year’s retreat here.
Retreat: an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.
The process of receding from a position or state attained.
A place of privacy or safety.
There is a lot that one could call “disagreeable” about this past year. Tremendous political unrest and suffering around the globe, the passing of beloved cultural icons, and the relentless personal losses and tragedies that plague even the most charmed of lives. At times it all becomes too much, so we sound the bugle and beat our way back to a place of safety, to wherever (or with whomever) we find solace and refuge.
A four-day yoga retreat, like the one offered through Adeline Yoga, presents an unparalleled opportunity for rest and relief. At the Ratna Ling retreat center, serene beauty provides a soothing antidote to over-stimulated minds. Man-made structures give way to redwoods and live oaks; gentle rains and cloaking mists blow up from the coast, bringing with them the salty tang of the wild Pacific. Last year, many participants expressed intense gratitude for the break from their daily responsibilities as parents and caregivers, employees, partners, citizens, and friends.
But safety does not necessarily mean complacency. The support and quiet provided on a yoga retreat allows one to go deeper into one’s practice, pushing boundaries and exploring uncomfortable edges. Each day, we arose in the dark and stumbled over to the studio for a 50-minute pranayama class with Cynthia Bates. For those who were not used to the early hours or the subtle attentions required by pranayama practice (like me), this was an eye-opening (literally) alteration to usual routines. After a vegetarian breakfast and short break, we returned to the studio for a two-and-a-half hour practice (with Heather). A shorter, restorative session in the afternoon rounded out the day’s asana practice. Each evening, we returned to the studio for conversation, questions, and on our last night, a kirtan led by Francesca Nicosia.
During the retreat orientation, Heather explained that retreats offer a unique opportunity for students to engage with different facets of yoga than those a typical, 90-minute class can provide. One of her goals was to introduce us to the incredible range of possibilities available in Iyengar yoga, and in this, I think the retreat was extremely successful. One morning, we focused on incorporating rhythm and flow into the practice. On another, working with partners to get into inversions. With laughter and diligence, we were all challenged in our own ways, and had the opportunities to try poses we weren’t quite sure about with the careful assistance of Heather and Cynthia.
On our final day, we gathered to share our reflections from the weekend. As we went around the circle sharing insights, I was struck by the courage of those around me. These were not people who were running away from their battles, avoiding pain and difficulty. Instead, they bravely opened their hearts—to themselves, to each other—to look unflinchingly at what lay within.
In the difficult months since the retreat, the grace of my companions and the increased sense of belonging within this community has given me hope and strength when I’ve needed it most. They have shown me that the most important part of a retreat is the return. To commit to doing the hardest work there is—loving ourselves and each other with our eyes and hearts wide open—and returning to that truth again and again.
By Julie McCormick
Read more about (and register!) for the Ratna Ling retreat here.