I’ve been on my fair share of yoga retreats over the years and I can honestly say that there is none like that conceived of and led by the incomparable Greg Marzullo. After traveling with him to Tuscany last year, I knew to expect more than just the usual vacation with some yoga thrown in for good measure. So I was well aware what I was in for when I left for southern Spain to spend a week with him.
A sojourn with Greg requires not only physical travel; it is also a journey into mind, body and spirit. Sounds corny, I know, but honestly I never leave without learning some important lessons. I can only hope that the education I received while in Andalucía stays with me (at least until I get to his next retreat where I can get a refresher course).
Here’s what I am taking away from my time in Spain:
Putting my iPhone, iPad and iLife down is critical. I’ve become increasingly alarmed at my inability to disconnect. Like many people, I am incessantly (and, at least in my case, needlessly) checking my email and all social media portals. It’s become an autonomic response; every few minutes I pick up my phone.
Before the retreat, I spent a few days in Seville and found myself taking pictures only to immediately post them on Facebook. Why? No one at home really needed a play-by-play of my trip. So I made myself a promise that I would take the week at the retreat off from the Internet. And it was heavenly.
I was able to be much more present without trying to configure everything into a tweet or status update. I was connecting with real, live people. And without the (mostly useless) information overload that I get from my various newsfeeds, I wasn’t consistently over stimulated.
My action item from this is lesson is to put my phone on airplane mode more, allocating dedicated time (minutes as opposed to hours) to peruse social media or check email while at home.
There are amazing, wonderful people on the planet – far more than I tend to think. I can be cynical about people. It’s easier to see the negative attributes that come out in the hurry-hurry culture in which we live. But each time I’ve gone on one of these retreats, I’ve fallen madly in love with everyone.
I suppose it’s not surprising that a group of similarly minded, yoga-centric people get along. But to have a group of 30 individuals in a somewhat confined location not only like each other, but truly connect and even grow from the time they spend together is pretty special.
As someone who is exhausted by small talk— an extroverted introvert— I can get anxious sitting at a table with people I don’t know well. But each meal at this retreat brought the opportunity to break bread with varying permutations of individuals. And with each of these configurations, I was not only utterly at ease, but found myself eager to experience a new dynamic and get to know each person in a different way.
I walked away from this trip re-energized with the knowledge that wonderful, beautiful, spirit-filled souls abound.
I need to have more faith in my practice. I am always looking for a sign that this yoga thing is working. Like I said, I’m cynical; I want the hard proof to support my assumption that asana, meditation and my general “seeking”—for higher consciousness, a purpose, whatever—is having the benefits I hope it is. But I have yet to see the universe while hanging out in triangle or glimpse God while meditating. Proof of my evolution is intangible at best.
But that’s the thing about faith – you’re meant to have it even when the evidence doesn’t exist. And then, if you’re lucky, little things might begin to appear. Or, as in my case, there may have been signs that were missed along the way. For example, sometimes when meditating I can no longer feel my hands (it’s not as disturbing as it sounds, I promise). During the retreat, as we discussed our experiences, turns out my handlessness may, in fact, be Pratyhara (sensory withdrawal). How exciting! I have been Pratayhara-ing without even knowing it!
Another possible indication of the cause and effect of yoga: on the last day of the retreat, I began crying immediately after asana practice. Throughout the day, I found myself welling up periodically culminating in an all-out sob-a-palooza at the end of our final evening together. I am not a public crier. But in the Andalusian yoga bubble, I let it all out and my traveling yoga kula was there to comfort me.
The oddest part was that I couldn’t have told you for the life of me what I was crying about. I tried to connect to a feeling of sadness or being upset but didn’t sense anything in particular. One of my fellow retreat-goers said that the morning asana must have “shook something loose” (#shityogissay). That’s the only thing that makes sense.
The point is: stuff happens when you do yoga. Even when you think nothing is happening. My goal now is to remember that even when I’m not crying and can feel my hands.
The final lesson I learned in Andalucía: just go with it.
Yogis do a lot of stuff that other people might consider weird. On a retreat, getting out of your comfort zone is kind of par for the course. And I definitely did that several times over the course of my time in Spain. In the end, though, everything had a reason and a purpose.
It goes back to faith. Even when you don’t understand something or it feels uncomfortable, opening up to new experiences can yield untold benefits. I know it did for me for this past week.
The trick, of course, will be taking all these lessons and using them outside the Andalusian yoga bubble. I’ll let you know how it goes.