Last week I decided to do something bold. I went off on my own to StoneSong (yes, the very same place where I offer yoga retreats) for a personal solo retreat. No Bob, no Lily, no email, no facebook, no phone calls, no contact with the outside world for 4 days.
The prospect of this 4 day retreat to unplug, de-stress and transition from summer to fall, was both thrilling and necessary for me.
In reality, 4 days alone with myself was a terrifying endeavor.
When there are lots of distractions like facebook or emails to respond to or blogs to read or trips to whole foods or dogs to walk, filling up 16-18 hours of the day is simple. Often we actually don’t get everything done that we need to because of all of the distractions.
Remove the distractions, the time-vacuums and what do you have? A lot of time to fill.
And while filling all of that time was daunting, I made it through. I read 2 entire books. I read 3 cookbooks. Made myself several tasty meals I’d never tried before. I ran every day. Did an hour long yoga practice every day. Got in the hot tub after my runs and my yogas. Slept at least 7 hours each night. Napped after lunch almost every day. Shared the space with hummingbirds, more deer than I can count, rabbits, hawks, a weasel (I think) and a praying mantis. Ate my dinner each night on the porch watching the sun slowly fade into dusk and the dusk into darkness.
I spent a lot of time trying to meditate. I spent considerably more time staring off into space or an my back, staring up at the sky. Even more time journaling.
I remembered my dreams each night I was there.
And if I’d planned a little better (which I will next time), I would have brought even more things with me that I never get to play with or explore when I am home in DC, living my everyday life.
And why is that? We choose to distract ourselves. Even as I write this, I have a few other windows open on my computer screen.
Might as well be honest at this stage in the game, right?
It’s not that I don’t want to get this newsletter done. I needed to get it done yesterday.
But sometimes my brain can’t focus on the task at hand for as long as I need it to. So I offer myself momentary distractions. Check my email. Choose a new song to listen to. Scan my facebook feed.
The distractions actually help me refocus, once I’ve given my brain a little break.
But when the distractions are more consistent than the work at hand, that’s when they become problematic.
We each individually get to choose how we distract or focus ourselves. Everyone has a different method. Discovering what works for you is key.
So what did I learn while I was away? I learned that I am exceptional at creating distractions, but need to rediscover how to retain my focus. I need to actively choose to lessen the distractions and retrain my brain.
I need to turn off my computer instead of simply closing the laptop.
I have a feeling I’ll actually get more of the necessary stuff done this way AND have more time for the yoga classes, dance classes, creative projects and recipes I say I never have time for.
This is what the yoga practice is all about for me. It’s the practice of unplugging to plug in more deeply. Coming to your mat, over and over again, even when you feel distracted or distanced or challenged elsewhere in life, is the opportunity to retrain your body, mind and heart. We allow ourselves to be led, even when it’s home practice because we are simply following the breath, and ultimately we are distracted enough by the movement, the breathing, the alignment, the attention–that we refocus entirely on ourselves. We anchor more deeply into our hearts. Into what we need. Into what serves us rather than what doesn’t.
This is the brilliance of yoga. This is why i come to my mat. This is one of the reasons I choose to teach as well. If I can hold your attention for long enough that you are distracted from your everyday grind (good, less good or indifferent, depending on the day), you then have the ability to re-enter the world with more focus. More presence. More available juice to offer to those in your life you need your attention.
It’s a huge gift.
The day after I returned from the mountains, one of my students asked me what I the most valuable thing I gained from my retreat was and at the time, I didn’t know. I shrugged and said, “not sure yet…still re-entering.” But now I am certain. Now I know that simply the act of getting out of dodge in order to re-emerge with more clarity and more attention was the point.
Autumn is the time when we get to renew and recharge, heading into the depths of winter and the end of the calendar year. This is what my “Shift Your State” Fall yoga retreat is all about. In fact, this is what at least half of my yoga offerings this Fall focus on–how to unplug, or shift your focus temporarily, so you can strengthen your insight and deepen your commitment to your own constant renewal.
Right now, I am so grateful for this insight. I hear my mat calling me. And I need no distractions to prevent me from answering that call.