Practice Diary: Retreat, Surrender, Return

To open the retreat last week in Costa Rica (co-taught by the lovely Jill Nikolai) I brought up the moment Arjuna, in the Bhagavad Gita, surrenders and himself retreats so that he can have a chance to learn and reflect.

Overwhelmed by sorrow…Arjuna cast away his bows and arrows and sat down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefield

I’ve written about this moment before as it never ceases to move me in how universally relatable it is, regardless of your emotional confusions or challenges, to need to surrender and let go so one can ultimately let in. I asked our group to let go of their bows and arrows, whatever they use to distract or define themselves falsely and surrender to the power of the yoga practice we’d share in the magical Blue Spirit Retreat Center and its natural and transcendent setting. As I saw the group take these words to heart and retreat and dive deep into the practice, I was reminded of the power of practice, and particularly group practice.

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Working on Downward-facing Dog

We had over thirty people, aged in their twenties up to their sixties. They were from all over the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Throughout the week I saw them physically and emotionally soften. I joked with some that if we had a side by side comparison of how they looked getting off the plane with how they looked on the beach, we’d insist the two people were unrelated. By the end of the week, dinner tables were being dragged across the dining room to be joined together as we couldn’t get enough of each other.

We shared practices to the setting sun and rising full moon, we laughed as howler monkeys joined in our om, and we grew stronger together. The jungle setting, the trees, the three-mile beach reminded of natural rhythms and energies. As Rabindranath Tagore writes:

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

We did a bit of partner work where we kept verbal communication out of the equation and communicated as much as we could through touch, sight, and breath. One student remarked on the profound emotional experience of breathing in tandem with another. These shared simple and human moments often choked me up as I stood in front of the class.

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Morning practice in our jungle shala

Jill led the group through loving and powerful visualisations and meditations, with one highlight being the most profound tadasana I’ve ever seen as the group stood proudly between the mountains and the ocean as the sun set. They were a force to be reckoned with.

It was hard to leave the thriving green jungle and return to our concrete one, but I hold the memories deep in my heart and know that wherever we are, even if its our neighborhood studio or a corner of our living room, we can use yoga to reconnect to a deeper experience of life and relationships. We can retreat big or small, surrender to the practice, and return stronger and more loving every day.