I have successfully plugged myself back into society! The Yoga Retreat at the Relational Yoga Mandiram was incredible. The place has changed me forever. Definitely for the better. It is hard to truly capture all the experiences, and definitely impossible to do any of them full justice with words. Nonetheless, I will provide a summary of the four days I spent there. It is my hope that others will endeavor on similar journeys. Everyone should strive to catch a glimpse of who they really are; sans cellphone, internet, work, routines, food….and of course words.
The trip to Colorado Springs was quite pleasant, connecting through Denver. The only hard part was waking up at 4am to catch a 6am departure flight. My last meal before starting my fast was a sandwich from Subway (yuck!) that I ate the night before I flew out. Fasting was to be a big part of the weekend. I’ve also been avoiding all caffeine lately (for a few weeks), so waking myself up took a bit of work. As is typical with these retreats, the schedule was flexible. I knew I’d be doing some yoga, a lot of meditation and some hiking. The rest was a mystery until we got there. The Mandiram is set on 1400 acres in full view of Pikes Peak and is bisected by a winding dirt road that climbs over several big hills. At an elevation of 9800 feet, the air is guaranteed to be fresh and crisp. The weather forecast called for temps in the 50’s during the day, with lows in the 20’s at night. Precipitation was likely.
I was greeted at the airport by Mardella, the caretaker of the Mandiram and also our teacher for the weekend. She had warned me of the snow (they had about a foot the day before I got there), but outside the airport it was a bright and sunny 55 degrees! The weather there does change rapidly. We made our way to the Madiram and drove about one mile down a dirt road to my cabin. The thing is, my cabin was about two miles away not one mile! The 4-wheel drive Jeep with big tires just wasn’t gonna go any further. Turns out Mardella was right, there was indeed plenty of snow at the Mandiram, and we were driving through about half a foot of it. I carried my stuff the rest of the way and checked into the Meditation Cabin (each of the 6 cabins on the property have a name), my home for the next four days.
In the afternoon I hiked back to the Mandiram (the main house where the yoga studios are located) to meet the rest of the folks on the retreat. It turned out there were to be only two others. The following days we would see a few others join us. The first day we received some instructions, and then went into silence. No talking, no gestures, no communicating through the eyes. This was going to be a very interesting weekend!
We then did some meditation, yogic breathing and yoga posture (asana) routines and went for a late night hike. By this time, it was completely dark out and we hiked way out in the woods towards my cabin. I bid farewell to the others and retired for the night. My tummy was growling a bit from not eating and decided it best to rest a bit.
What the heck did I get myself into
I awoke at 6am to trek back to the Mandiram for the morning meditation. My cabin was a gorgeous Japanese-inspired room, with a mattress in the corner and a chest as the sole pieces of furniture. There was an outhouse for other business. My wood stove had gone out at about 3am I was freezing. I unzipped my sleeping bag and quickly dressed in several layers. I opened my door to put on my shoes (it is customary not to take shoes into the cabins) only to see them completely buried in snow. It had snowed about 8 inches overnight! It was also pitch black out and cloudy. This was going to be a fun hike. I slipped and slogged my way up to the Mandiram and was completely drained and very very sick from the altitude. The hike each way from my cabin to the Yoga Studio was a hilly two miles on a dirt road.
My friends who know me, understand that I actually tend to like suffering through these sorts of things. Running, hiking, biking for long distances is usually fun for me. However, the altitude (and fasting) were packing a bigger 1-2 punch than I had expected. I made it through Meditation but my head was definitely spinning.
Another part to the retreat was participating in Kriyas. Kriyas are very intensive yogic breathing sessions that are moderated by a teacher. It is impossible to explain what it is like, but you can read my Kriya Yoga . Following Mediation and Yoga Asana class, we had a very intense Kriya session. I was really dragging and spent most of the afternoon between our sessions curled up on a couch staring out a window at the trees and the sky. I was day dreaming about food! The good things is, I realized that during a fast, the second day is typically the hardest, so I just looked forward to the third day! I knew my energy would return.
In the evening we did more meditation, and then headed down to the sauna to warm ourselves up a bit (and go make snow angles when we got too hot!). This gave me a bit of energy back. I trekked back to my cabin feeling quite warm, and drifted off to sleep.
Really “arriving,” and never wanting to leave
The routine for day 3 was quite similar to day 2, except that in the evening we broke our silence and also broke our fasts. Therefore, I won’t go into the routine again in detail, but will talk about some of the changes I began to see.
The impact of fasting was really pronounced on the third day. In the morning I did feel incredibly sick after hiking to the yoga studio. However, this passed within an hour and after that I was left with a feeling of incredible mental, emotional and even physical energy. When the body no longer has to spend copious amounts of energy processing food, it can redirect those resources for other (higher) purposes. This is NOT hocus pocus. It has been empirically tested. If you don’t believe it, try it for yourself! I felt very alert and in-tune. I was able to intuit things very well. I felt incredibly light (turns out I lost 6 pounds over those 4 days…and I was fully hydrated). I was able to meditate much more easily. I wasn’t as anxious about things. I didn’t get frustrated about things. It was almost as if the body was not wasting energy on frivolous emotions (worry and stress) and instead using it for only constructive purposes. It was quite the experience.
Another disgusting reality…..is that a large percentage of illnesses are brought on not by what we take into our body, but out own issues with eliminating things. Again, this is a scientific fact. It is gross, but it is a fact. I will say that when you fast, you end up clearing out your insides in a major way. I consider myself a very healthy person, and was amazed with what came out….and I am vegetarian. They say that meat can sit in the human gut for years before completely passing through…I can’t even imagine it must have been like for the others as they were both omnivores!…OK, back to less disgusting stuff…
On the third day I did really “arrive.” I arrived in the sense that I finally understood why I was there. I was there to understand myself. I wasn’t there to learn anything per se. Understanding myself meant taking a hard look at how and why I acted and thought in the way that I did. You begin to ask yourself questions that seem trivial in the “real world” but are in actuality incredibly profound when they are sincerely considered. Questions like:
- What is the difference between appetite and real hunger?
- What is the difference between sexual desire and true love?
- Who is really in control of the thoughts in my head?
- Is it my mind that creates my thoughts, or my thoughts that create my mind?
- Is there any difference between my actions and my thoughts of taking those actions?
- Will a mountain lion attack me on my way back to the Mandiram?!!!!
- What will I eat when this fast is over?!!!!
When you have no other distraction in your life. No one to talk to. Nothing to eat. Nothing to read. Nothing to write with. No sounds besides just nature….then, you are able to experience and really begin a process of discovery that will eventually lead to self-awareness. You begin to peel back the layers of routine and social programming you have been subjected to and see the real truth. Taking the first question as an example, “What is the difference between appetite and hunger,” I must have spend a full day pondering this single question. I was starving and in my mind…reaching for food was not an option (frankly, I didn’t have any either!). I knew that my body could physically last for a month without without. Why then, was my mind completely taken-over with thoughts of what I will eat, when I will eat it and how will it taste? Why was this one notion paralyzing my ability to do anything else? The answer, which I won’t belabor in this blog post, was something that I understood on more than just an intellectual level; I felt it.
Plugging back into the “borg“
I left the Mandiram on day 4, and was sorry to leave, but was also looking forward to getting back in touch with the real world. Driving to the airport, the world seemed to fly by in high definition. Every roadsign, house and tree was visible in incredible detail. I’ve heard stories from people who have done many of these similar retreats that one byproduct of the “cleansing” that took place was a heighting of the five senses. Stopping at a grocery store to buy my lunch for the flight home, I really experienced this first-hand. I felt like I was the “Terminator”….scanning the shelves and noticing every little detail about everything. Things were incredibly realistic. The truth is that grocery stores had always looked like this, but my brain had just not taken notice. I also had some very “weird” experiences with thoughts coming into my head moments before other people would turn around and say the exact same thing out loud! It was quitebizarre to say the least. I got out of that store very quickly 🙂
In general, the biggest learning for me was that our brains are capable of processing so much more information than they currently do, if we would only give them the chance. I think a lot of what I experienced over the weekend was as much about unlearning as anything else. Unlearning the routines, limitations and habits that were keeping me from asking the honest and tough questions about my own identity. With a true understanding of yourself, the rest of life will fall into place. I was, and still am curious to see if the self-awareness I felt at the Mandiram will continue to carry through my daily life, and hold up against the onslaught of my daily routines. In just the past few days, I’ve had to continually catch myself as I slip back into old unhealthy patterns. No doubt this will be a daily struggle for months and possibly years to come. I know it is worth it.
View my flickr photo album from this trip.