Yoga is one of the greatest loves of my life, and last Friday I was lucky enough to head out of Seattle for a three-day yoga retreat on Whidbey Island.
Yoga doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of love from the paleo community, and I haven’t written much about it on the blog. But it’s had a gigantic impact on my mental and physical health. I knew I couldn’t let this weekend pass without sharing.
If I had to choose one (extremely cliche) word to describe it all, it would be magical. I know, I know. But there’s just no other way to say it.
In addition to our daily yoga sessions, I spent the weekend walking in the woods, journaling, making new friends, soaking up alone time, and making some big decisions about about the next few months of my life. Funny how things come into such clear view when we just give them the space, no?
So, here’s what I took away from my three days in the forest:
// Balance is the name of the game for me.
(No, not one-legged balance.) Like a lot of health-minded folk, it’s easy for me to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of my health routine. I find myself thinking that if I just tweak this and perfect that, I’m going to reach some ideal state of physical health. But this weekend reminded me that being healthy isn’t about figuring out some perfect formula. It’s a moving target. And for me at this stage in my life, a black-and-white mindset about health is more detrimental than it is helpful. This is hard for me to accept. I’m the kind of person that likes to become an “expert” at the stuff I do. If I’m going to be a runner, I want to run a marathon. If I’m going to start a blog, I want to post every week. If I’m going to eat paleo, I want to go all-in. Letting go of my routine for three days made me realize that so much of what I think about – even agonize over – doesn’t actually make much difference. Maybe instead of health I should start calling it peace. Or equilibrium. TBD.
// I must, must, must become a yoga teacher.
You know those bucket list items (flying to Italy, getting a dog, reading Le Mis) that you know you “should do” but never seem to commit to? Well, enrolling in a yoga teacher training program in India has been at the top of my list for years. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s just something I’ve always seen in my future. Of course, coming up with reasons not to do it is easy. But something clicked for me this weekend. Suddenly it became a non-negotiable. Being in a group of fellow yoga nerds and remembering how much more I have to learn made me realize that the regret I’d feel about not doing a teacher training would be greater than any sacrifice I’d have to make to make to do it. (I’m even making moves to do it by the end of the year!)
// It’s NOT about the food!
…at least not as much as I used to think. I spend a lot of time and mental energy trying to determine what the “perfect” diet is for my body. This weekend pulled me out of my kitchen (and my food comfort zone) for the first time in months, and guess what? I didn’t die! In fact, I felt great after every meal. Satisfied, energized and strong. And guess what else! Every meal was VEGETARIAN. Dun, dun, DUN. Granted, I did supplement some of my meals with leftover chicken and sardines (from a Tupperware my friend lovingly deemed my “meat box”). But even so, having a full three days of relatively little control over my food choices (and during which I ate more FODMAPS and gray-area paleo foods than I have in months) helped me realize that a) my gut is healing, b) the dose makes the poison, and c) for me, being “paleo perfect” isn’t actually beneficial. At least not right now. Freeing myself of the pressure to keep up an optimal diet was more healing for me than attempting to be “paleo perfect” would have been.
(P.S.: My girl, Jess, of Jess Does Paleo wrote a WONDERFUL post on this very topic last week.)
// My mom is awesome.
My mom and I haven’t always had a great relationship. In fact, for most of my teen years, I tried to remain as distant from her as possible. (Anyone else?) But this weekend gave me more proof of just how much I am my mom. And I don’t mean that in a resentful way. Quite the opposite! Tapping into my spiritual side brought back memories of my mom’s strong spiritual practice, which I met with a lot of skepticism and resistance growing up. (Why did she have to keep her meditation altar in the living room where my friends would see it?!) But now that I’m exploring spirituality on my own terms, I’m realizing how similar our journeys and life goals are, not to mention how much earlier I could have learned these lessons if I’d opened my eyes to what my mom had to share.
// Being alone is hugely therapeutic for me.
As a proud introvert, this wasn’t revelatory. But I can’t remember the last time I was as intentional about leaning into my alone time as I was at the retreat. And the effect was powerful. I worked hard to resist the urge to connect with others via social media, or even to occupy my mind with a podcast or a book. I went on a solo two-hour walk through the woods on Saturday, which I realized was the first time I’d been completely alone in nature since…childhood? I don’t even know. The mental quietness it created stayed with me days after the retreat was over. As I was preparing for my bike commute on Monday for example, the thought of plugging into a podcast (which I usually rely on to keep my mind occupied) felt totally unappealing, and even annoying. I’m going to remember the power of that solitude, and seek it out the next time I find myself feeling unbalanced.
// No one’s path is straight.
One of the coolest parts about the weekend was getting to spend time with a bunch of fellow yogis, each of whom was in a very different season of life. I was the youngest by about 4 years. Kelly and Kyleen were in grad school, Hilary was a clinical psychologist, Greg was a single father with an 18-year-old son, Shannon had recently left a 20-year career as an accountant, and Scott and Diana were a married couple exploring their first few years of retirement. And that’s only half the group. We were all over the map, but seeing everyone come together with the same desire to challenge themselves and grow reminded me that no matter where we are in our lives, each day is just as much of a journey as the last. No matter which path I choose, I will always be learning, exploring, refining and figuring it out as I go. Comforting, no? Just another reminder that I don’t need to put so much pressure on myself to make the “right” choices. Not every step I take will make sense when I take it, and that’s okay.
I can feel in my bones that change is near, and it’s weekends like these that give me the space to acknowledge those soft nudges that keep tapping at my heart. I’ll keep you posted on how they unfold…
Have you ever gone on a retreat? What was it like for you?