Most of us seem to be in constant movement from activity to activity, from thought to thought. It seems like there are very few, if any, times during our regular day when we are not doing something. It is clear, as it says in the Bhagavad Gita that being part of the world we are obliged to act (B.G. 3.8). However, it is also important to balance our activities with times when we slow down and shift our mode of acting and doing in order to relax and replenish our energy. Most often, the people I talk to and the yoginis and yogis who come to practice with me, regardless of their stage in life, occupation or gender, say that relaxing moments are generally scarce.
Moreover, our human inclination towards habit formation frequently results in physical, mental and emotional patterns that we cultivate daily. As we become very practiced in these habitual ways of moving, breathing, thinking and feeling, their patterns accumulate in our bodies, hearts and minds and become our unconscious normal state of being and doing. For instance, if we spend several hours every day sitting in front of the computer, our bodies will find ways to adjust to this activity. Eventually, some muscles will be chronically tight and other muscles will be overstretched and without muscular tone, the joints and organs will also adjust. It is only natural that over time these adaptations affect our posture, our breathing, our ways of moving and walking and even our ways of thinking and feeling.
A retreat is a conscious decision to pause, that is, to remove ourselves from our regular environment and activities. As a result, we create the opportunity to notice how we move, breath, think and express ourselves. As we notice the patterns that we have been cultivating over time, we can see if they are deliberate and conscious and if they serve a purpose aligned with our intentions. Every time we step onto our yoga mat we can choose to immerse in a personal retreat. That is, we can choose to convert our practice into a safe environment where we can explore mindfully the spaciousness of our breath, body, mind and heart. Wherever we find restrictions we can take time to discover ways to diminish or dissolve those restrictions. Quite often finding an obstruction gives us with insight into some of the causes for the restriction. Thus, we can investigate those causes and move towards greater awareness.
In other words, our practice time is time to dedicate to deepen our own intimacy with ourselves so that we recognize how our actions, movement, breath, thoughts and feelings are facilitating or obstructing our path towards the goal we have set for ourselves and our lives. It is possible that during difficult times we may feel that we don’t have time for our practice. But that is the time when we need to immerse into our retreat so that we can collect ourselves and clarify our needs, priorities and challenge. Seeing our practice as a retreat for ourselves can help us recognize that the practice is never a chore or something that we do because “it is supposed to be good for us.” Instead, we can cherish the practice time as an opportunity to remember what is truly important so that we can cultivate it and prepare to share it with the world.