I recently returned from leading a Yoga retreat in Costa Rica. Long, relaxed days of waking up with the sun, enjoying delicious meals made for us with food from the biodynamic farm at our retreat center, and extended, deep practices in the open-air studio surrounded by the rainforest. Free time in the afternoon to reflect and journal, walk and explore, and hang out by the pool with new and old friends. Connecting with the earth, with our fellow travelers, and with ourselves. NOT connected to technology every waking minute. As one of the leaders of the retreat, I got to observe the shifts that the participants experienced, and to watch each retreater shine in her own way.
By the end of the week I could literally see the changes, as each person looked lighter and stronger and radiated a newfound freedom from some of the things that had held them back in the past.
Then we returned home. We were challenged by flight delays and power outages. We had to go back to work. We regained 24/7 access to air-conditioning and our cell phones. We returned to our partners, friends, children, bosses and schedules. I heard from many retreaters that they were holding tightly to what they experienced on the retreat, feeling softer, calmer and more focused. When retreaters returned to my regular Yoga classes, I noticed the “retreat effect”—stronger practices, but also an indescribable lightness and power. I heard from others that they road back was bumpy, challenging, and that there had been some “melt-downs”. I experienced my own melt-down a few days after returning—complete exhaustion and lack of motivation. I gave myself a few days, and then a few more. After a nourishing long walk around the lake with a friend, I began to return to myself.
Retreat are awesome, but they can’t last forever (sigh!). However, with a little bit of thought we can ease ourselves back into life and keep building on the effects of the retreat…at least until the next retreat comes along!
Here are a few things you can do to help ease yourself back to reality following a retreat:
1. Pace yourself. After a week away, you may feel like you are a little behind at work, or need to catch up with friends, house projects, of even TV shows. Take a deep breath. And pace yourself, perhaps even giving yourself more time than you usually need for things. Crisis at the office? Prioritize—you can only do one thing at a time. Use the power of presence and focus that you cultivated on retreat to help you take it one moment, one project, and one day at a time.
Social commitments overwhelming you? Spend your time in ways that bring you joy and learn to say “no thank you” to those extra activities that you don’t renew your energy. And build in time for yourself.
2. Keep up your practice. Upon returning to your daily life, it is unlikely that you will have time for two practices a day, or even one long practice a day. Don’t let that derail you. Carve out some time each day. Perhaps on a busy day you only have time for a short meditation walk before work, or maybe you can schedule a class at lunch or in the evening. If the schedule at your nearby studio doesn’t work for you, do a home practice when it is convenient for you. Find a video or trust your instincts and just move in a way that feels good. What is important is that you have a little time on the mat for self-inquiry to understand how you are feeling and what you need each day.
3. Understand that not everyone in your life has been on retreat. You may have settled down and shifted your thinking during your week away. You may have a new appreciation and understanding of what mindfulness means for you. Don’t expect that everyone in your world will have also had this shift, or will even understand it. Resist trying to teach them everything you learned during the week. Simply practice the compassion and presence you experienced on retreat and open in acceptance to those around you. It’s unlikely that your experience will profoundly change the people around you—however, you can change or reframe your response to those people or things that trigger you. And then take another deep breath.
4. Keep some retreat habits. Did you enjoy journaling every day? Eating healthy food? Taking a break from Facebook and emails? Connecting deeply with people? You can still do that, even when you are not on retreat! Each day or week, set an intention to continue something that you felt was helpful, nourishing, fun or centering. Build that into your day. If you liked letting go of social media, keep that up. That always provides some extra free time.th and take your new perspective into your days. And, of course, there’s always the next retreat!a
5. Stay in touch with your new retreat community. No, you might not have hours to hang out and share every story of your childhood, career, and love life. But you can send a quick text, or share an article on your community page. And this is where social media really shines—reach out to the group on FB. Share pictures and stories related to the retreat.
If you find a great class, or concert or event, spread the word an invite the retreaters who live near you. Make plans to see the retreaters who live out of town when you can. We are so often on the move, things can line up. If you are having a melt-down, reach out to someone from the group—they may be going through the same thing or can offer some perspective. Don’t let too much time pass before connecting.
Even in the “real world” you can maintain the retreat effects with a bit of mindfulness. Pause, take a deep breath and take your new perspective into your days. And, of course, there’s always the next retreat!a