May 21, 2013

Just Say Yes: 5 Lessons Gained from My First Yoga Retreat. ~ Michelle White

There’s nothing like the first time.

I have always wanted to go on a yoga retreat and had been eyeing an opportunity with Gigi Yogini in Bali for awhile. The actual planning occurred pretty hastily during an especially demanding period in my life.

I was asked, “You have to travel halfway around the world to relax?”

Yes—at that point, I did. And it exceeded every expectation.

1. Investing in ourselves is well worth it.

I debated: Bali is a long way to travel from Los Angeles for just a week, I had never been to Asia, the flight would be the longest I’d ever taken and I didn’t have any extra time off work for further exploration. But a quick trip was better than none, and I was looking forward to a dedicated week of daily yoga, eating healthy and relaxation.

The conscious work of going within, even for a mere seven days, helped me to reaffirm who I am, what is important to me and who I want to be.

2. Committing, both to making the retreat happen and maximizing the practice while there, offered the opportunity for powerful transformation.

Although I’ve practiced yoga for nearly 10 years, I’ve had this inane tendency to forget how much I like it and get overwhelmed as a busy corporate professional.

While I aspire to practice three to four times a week, I usually attend just one class during a “good” week.

Although the combined tasks of dedicating the money, prioritizing my time, budgeting, booking and declaring myself unavailable for a week seemed daunting and insurmountable, I wanted to ‘see a way’ and thought of Nike’s advice: ‘Just do it.’

Knowing that seeing all of Bali in one short week was asking to do too much, I stuck to my yoga mission.

I attended every 6:30 a.m. meditation (have I mentioned what a morning person I’m not?), every 7-8:30 a.m. yoga class, and every 90-minute afternoon workshop.

While attendance among the other students varied somewhat, I felt strong in upholding this commitment to myself.

With the words of St. Francis of Assisi in mind, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible,” I believe that committing to yourself—even starting small—truly builds muscle to achieve new possibilities.

As we were based in Ubud, the center of the island, this meant my only view of the Indian Ocean came from the plane, but my mission was accomplished. (And I’ll be back—Bali was incredible.)

3. Making the most of special opportunities means making continuous effort to be present.

We all occasionally struggled to decompress and be in the moment within our lush green jungle surroundings. At some point I realized, if we are not fully present, it really doesn’t matter where we are.

We may disengage under fluorescent office lighting dreaming of more meaningful work, but we may also unwittingly disengage in more nurturing environments, and all these moments are ours, making up our lives every day.

I have spent too many moments with one foot in the past and one in the future, and you know what they say that stance bestows upon the present?

For this precious time I’d carved for myself in Bali, I did not want to waste any of it not being present.

It took some restorative breaths and some remembering—as mentioned above, sometimes I forget important things—but it was well worth the effort. Just by trying to be present and show up for it all, I set things in motion within myself even beyond the work I was consciously doing—a blissful practice incorporating meditation, mantras, yoga, chakra work, reflection, and goal-setting over the course of the week.

I attended the retreat seeking increased clarity and direction at this point in my life, and while I felt more ‘me’ in Bali but still fuzzy on the path, answers began coming to me a few days after I got back home.

Funny how that works.

4. Experiencing new heights of bliss makes it possible to reach them again and to continue to stretch the limits.

Just the new memory of a gorgeous place to revisit mentally in meditation is an indelible personal gift. My newest ‘happy place’ is laying supine and sweaty in savasana in the open-air practice space of Soulshine Bali, with a divine afternoon breeze rippling over me, listening to the cries of countless jungle creatures and of rice farmers shooing birds from their crops.

Full with bliss. Full-on bliss!

As M. Scott Peck, M.D. writes in The Road Less Traveled, “One extends one’s limits only by exceeding them, and exceeding limits requires effort.”

The work I have done to reach this bliss brought me to new heights, and by pushing my previous limits, I know I can reach and exceed them again.

5. Trying new things makes us feel alive.

Along the lines of ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got,’ Gigi encouraged us to try new approaches on the mat, stepping out of our comfort zones yet still maintaining safe, proper alignment.

In her workshop at the Bali Spirit Festival, she encouraged eye contact, smiles, and two huge circles of sweaty people supporting each other in tree pose, trusting enough to lean backwards. Not what many of us are used to, but definitely life-affirming.

This ‘trying something new’ builds strength to do the same off the mat, empowering us to express ourselves and to overcome obstacles.

I am in gratitude for life and all of its lessons, particularly those gained via the delicious investment of this yoga retreat.


Michelle White is a writer, editor and creative collaborator who delights in discovering just how big and how small the world can be. She has found her down dog on five continents and counting. Selected writings may be viewed at here



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Assistant Ed: Paula Carrasquillo/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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