by Laura Garren
I retreated this past weekend, both away from and toward something. Before I went, I thought I knew what I was retreating from—my responsibilities as a caretaker—and what I was retreating toward—immersion in my yoga practice. I felt as though my jug was empty and I was going somewhere to fill it up.
The retreat was sponsored by Liz Delaney of Greenville Yoga and took place in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina at the Prama Institute, which consists of two geodesic domes attached with a hallway. One of the domes houses a kitchen and dining hall upstairs and bunk bedrooms and showers downstairs; the other is a space in which participants gather. The structure is perched on a hill, braced from behind by a higher hill and looking down upon lower hills tumbling down toward a creek. The leaves on the trees are starting to show tinges of color, so that from a distance the hills look lightly washed with yellow and orange watercolors.
I unloaded my stuff and prepared for the first class. Along with about 20 other women, I put myself in the capable hands of Liz, who talked us through the series of poses she called “Evening Flow.” Liz paid tribute to our womanhood by her inclusion of moon salutes, which she explained had been created for woman as a counterpart to sun salutes, created by men; and openers for the hips, the woman’s repository of repressed feelings. She also encouraged us to meditate on our intention for the weekend. I thought, “Escaping!” but my eyes were closed. (Figuratively as well as literally.)
After class we settled into the first of several delicious vegetarian meals and the easy ritual of women getting to know each other. In the process I had a vision. I realized that I had an intention other than to escape: to make new friends. I adore the ones I have, but yoga has revealed another aspect of my identity, that of yoga practitioner. I discovered I wanted to make friends with others who share that identity. Maybe my jug wasn’t empty; after all, in order to be a friend, I had to have something to give.
I processed my discovery happily after retiring to my bunk. A cool breeze and the sound of crickets drifted in through my window; a wonderful alternative to my usual background of thumping base, sirens, and continuously barking dogs. I slept well, even though I had to move to a couch later after being awakened by the snoring and rustling of my bunkmates. In the past, I would have been irritated about the inconvenience, but instead I simply did what I needed to do without any strong feelings about it.
The next day, after a breakfast of granola, fruit, and locally made yogurt, we engaged in an energetic class Liz called “Awaken the Heart.” I found it challenging, but reveled in my ability to do poses I had not been able to hold six months ago. When it ended, everyone was hungry, and we enjoyed another wonderful culinary experience. After lunch, groups coalesced as we chatted amongst ourselves, then dissolved to lie in the sun, read, take walks, or nap. I sprawled in the grass reading until nearly asleep, then repaired to my bunk to doze.
I awoke in time to drink a cup of coffee and make the afternoon class, “Quiet from Within,” which emphasized the integration of breathing and posing. I am starting to get the hang of aligning breath and movement, which has been challenging for me because in my regular classes some people (including myself) seem to feel inhibited about breathing so audibly. At the retreat, however, my fellow participants obviously had no compunction about making sound, which helped me let go of my shyness. I became mesmerized by the sound of deep breathing, washing over me like the surf, and found myself thinking not about the difficulty of a particular pose but about the rhythm of my breath. Afterward, we enjoyed another fabulous dinner before breaking into groups to continue telling our stories to each other. I found myself especially drawn by three other women of my approximate age and life experience; I sensed kindred spirits.
Before bed, Liz led a meditation in which each woman uttered “Om,” repeatedly, in her own time; the result was an unearthly, ancient music that resonated inside the dome before fading into the night. A perfect prayer.
After a restful sleep—but this time, on a mattress I dragged up to the yoga room—I awoke in time for breakfast and the last class, “Finding Balance.” As Liz guided us, eyes closed, through the final mediation, I had a sudden image of a jug being tipped over my head; but instead of water, the jug’s contents consisted of love. Love for myself that poured over me, then radiated outward, toward others. The jug had not been empty, after all.
As everyone packed up and said goodbye, I realized that I was leaving with more than I had come for. Not only was my jug full, it was overflowing. I don’t know how I could have thought otherwise.