36 hours. 15 new friends. Six vegetarian meals. Four yoga classes. Three meditation sessions. One day of silence. No iPhone or computer.
However, it’s impossible to quantify the pure amount of calm and relaxation after a weekend retreat in the Berkshires with Aly, my former college roommate and one of my best friends. Led by Julianna, one of my favorite Greenhouse Holistic yoga teachers, the Get Quiet retreat took place at the quaint Shaker Mill Farm Inn on the border of New York and Massachusetts last weekend. It was promised to be an opportunity to slow down and be quiet, a chance to take care of one’s self and be mindful of others, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Honestly, it was nothing short of amazing. After Snowstorm Nemo swept in overnight, we woke up to a true winter wonderland: an icy waterfall, a frozen pond, inches of powdery snow. We kept warm around the circular fireplace, reading books or simply watching the fire.The joy of travel is that it takes you out of your comfort zone, far away from the day-to-day stresses and expectations–no matter how far you actually go. Only three hours by car away from the city, the Shaker Mill Farm Inn was worlds away: suddenly, the constant distractions and mindless habits of Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, texting, Whatsapping were gone.
Instead, I sat quietly. I read voraciously: a novel by Barbara Kingsolver, articles in Vanity Fair, the dictionary of quotations. I wrote in my journal, chronicled everything for which I’m grateful. I made snow angels. I wandered through the trees with only my camera. I looked at the stars. I thought: about my past, my present, my future. I laughed, I remembered.
It felt more like my childhood than it had in years. I used to spend entire Saturdays with my nose in a book: picking out new reads in the library in the morning, curled up on the couch in the afternoon tearing through them all. It’s been a long time since I’ve read for so long without feeling guilty: without feeling as if there were blog posts to write, errands to run, groceries to buy, emails to send.
It’s also been a long time since I’ve spent a day in silence. I was worried at first: when Aly and I get together, we rarely stop chatting. But as the day dawned, I was whisked away to my days of traveling alone in Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia: the days when I serenely woke on my own and spent my days exploring, with a camera and a book constantly at my side. I forgot how much I enjoyed being alone, without rehashing the same stories or feeling obligated to engage in small talk. Eating with a total focus on the flavors of my food, enjoying every bite.
And the yoga! I’d taken Julianna’s vinyasa classes plenty of times (and learned plenty of life lessons from her), so I knew to be prepared for plenty of sun salutations, hip openers, inversions. The most pleasant surprise was an evening restoration class, with a prana yoga influence: we spent an hour and a half in six poses that focused on all the chakra points. As Julianna put it: a lot of lying around! Followed by a filling dinner of vegetarian curries and a guided meditation, it was an incredibly rejuvenating evening.
The only challenge was the morning meditations: we woke early to begin 40 minutes of silent meditation at 7 a.m. I had never meditated before, beyond a few minutes to begin or end a yoga class. 40 minutes of sitting still, alone with only my thoughts: my legs fell asleep, and I couldn’t help but open my eyes to watch the birds fly by and snow fall. Even if it was difficult, it has definitely inspired me to try and carve out time for a meditation practice in my own life–even if it’s only 10 minutes at first!
This weekend, we ended our practices with jai: Sanskrit for victory, it’s an exclamation of wonderment, admiration or deep respect. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the self-care that we practiced, the mindful act of focusing on our health and well-being. I’ve done plenty of yoga on the beach, but this was my first time doing yoga in a blizzard: it may have been a little chillier, but it was just as rewarding.