My hands are sweaty on the mat and my arms are shaking violently. I can feel my heart pulsing in my ears. My mind tries valiantly to repeat the mantra — “I am the courageous Shero of my own life story” — as my body is on the verge of collapsing to the floor. “How badly do you want it?” Jennie Lee barks as the timer clicks slowly by. It is amazing how long 2 minutes can feel when you are at your edge.
I am at a yoga retreat at the beautiful Green River Inn in Vermont. This class is meant to bridge the gap between our current reality and the desire we wish to manifest. Not exactly the relaxing, blissful experience I was expecting – but it proves to be something better. It proves to be a path to lasting transformation.
As a life coach and retreat leader, I know that transformation does not take place in the conscious mind alone. It has to be lived, breathed, and embodied if we hope to change ingrained beliefs and patterns.
We go on retreats for a variety of reasons – to get away from it all, have some time to reflect on our lives, and enjoy the company of like-minded people. But always there is an element of change involved. There is something about our current lives that is not working, and we are longing for something better.
Retreats provide an incubator for considering new possibilities that don’t exist in our ordinary, everyday routines. A well-designed transformational retreat lets us experience ourselves in a different way and return home with a new perspective.
Here are 5 key lessons I have learned over the years as an avid retreat attendee and leader.
1. Pushing the boundaries expands our beliefs about what is possible.
My experience with Envision Yoga pushed all kinds of boundaries. For each of the 7 chakras, we did 6 minutes of kundalini yoga while repeating the affirmations we had created to shift our beliefs in that area. The first chakra had a bonus session: one for beliefs about our body and one for finances – bringing it to a total of 48 minutes of hot, sweaty, intense physical endurance.
As if that were not enough for this out of shape COVID body, each session was followed by a Tony Robbins-like sharing of our affirmations with a partner. This was not a simple statement. It was a full-on shouting, jumping, fist-pumping message to the Universe.
For somebody who is generally quiet, reserved, and on the introverted side of the personality scale, this was a real challenge. But the shift in my energy was palpable on the other side of the experience. I felt witnessed and alive with possibilities. That kind of energy shift is not possible when we stay within our comfort zones.
2. A change of scenery can give birth to a change of perspective.
When we think of going on retreat, we tend to imagine international travel to exotic locations. It is always exciting to experience a new culture, but you can get many of the same benefits by visiting a nearby venue that takes you out of your ordinary scenery and routine.
Driving from Wilmington, North Carolina to Sandgate, Vermont took us through 8 states in less than 3 days. When we left NC, the trees were fully leafed-out and blooming. As we drove north through Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, the trees grew increasingly sparse and red with buds. Pops of yellow forsythia, pink and white dogwoods were just beginning to flower. New England had seen snow the week before, and the trees were just beginning to shed their winter pallor.
You can tell what state you are in by the rest stops. In NC, they are surrounded by lush green grounds dotted with picnic tables. The gleaming rest rooms are welcoming and spacious. By the time you reach NJ, things have gotten noticeably grittier and more crowded. This is a place to conduct business quickly and get back on the road. Don’t expect a smile from strangers or small talk from the concession stand servers.
As we meandered to Vermont on U.S. Route 7 through the scenic towns of Stockbridge, Williamstown, and Bennington, our bodies started to relax and our minds started to open. Driving through the mountains with breathtaking views of the farmlands below, we spotted a bald eagle soaring over the valley looking for his next catch.
Traveling breaks down our conditioned responses to the world and opens us up to new experiences and observations. Life slows down when you are on the road for 13 hours. Driving long distances, watching the clouds from an airplane or scenes from the gentle lullaby of a train window heightens our awareness and helps us get “in the flow.” We don’t have to travel to distant lands to experience this shift. Any change of scenery can lead us to new perspectives.
3. Learning different views on the meaning of life opens us up to new awareness.
“You are an Emotional Manifesting Generator,” Brenda said as she handed me a brightly colored chart of my Quantum Human Design type filled with mysterious numbers and symbols. “You need to learn how to ride the waves of your energy before you make any big decisions.”
I have dabbled in Western Tropical astrology and feel comfortable with the notion of being a Sagittarian free spirit. The profile of one who loves to travel and learn about different cultures suited my soul and attracted me to the dream of leading destination retreats. But human design is based on the Sidereal system, which results in a different profile of your strengths and weaknesses.
It turns out my human design profile type is the 3/5 Explorer and Visionary Leader. The Explorer is an experiential learner whose purpose is to experience possibilities and share that experience with others to protect and serve them. The Visionary serves as a “karmic mirror” for others to support the healing process by teaching and sharing the highest potential of humanity possible. That insight helps to explain my lifelong calling to teach, first as a law professor and now as a transformational retreat leader.
With every new window into our psyches, we learn more about ourselves and our purpose here on planet earth. We are beings of great complexity, seekers of eternal truths and travelers on the journey of life. Retreats provide another layer of insight into the meaning of our journeys.
4. The company of kindred spirits connects us to the Oneness of the Universe.
“What brought you to this retreat, and what message did you hear in our first meditation?” asked Carrie over our first dinner together. A certified yoga instructor and co-owner of the Green River Inn, Carrie understood that we were not together to talk about the usual icebreakers or what we did for a living. We were there to create deeper connections about life purpose and the callings of our souls.
With that simple question, we set the stage for a weekend of deep and meaningful conversation with people who were on the same path of personal and spiritual development.
You would not have known by looking at us. Our ages ranged from mid-20’s to late 60’s. We were at different stages of our life journeys.
Some of us came to recover from physical injuries, some came to grieve, and some came seeking peace in their relationships.
Some were accomplished yoginis, some beginners, and some looking to revive a practice.
Yet there was a bond that tied us all together, a bond greater than our individual stories.
Envision yoga concludes with the crown chakra, connection to Source and All That Is. As we shared our affirmations of harmony and oneness, the energy in the yoga studio elevated to a higher vibration. We were each on our own paths and yet an integral part of the invisible web of cosmic energy that makes up the Universe.
5. Transformation is a life-long journey fostered by the connections we make along the way.
So many times, we attend an event that raises our energy and makes us feel that this time things have really changed, only to come crashing down to reality when we leave the shelter of the retreat and return back home.
As transformational coach and author Darla LeDoux explains in her new book Shift the Field, real transformation requires three stages: commitment, sourced experience, and integration.
Most people who show up at a retreat are committed to change. There is something in their lives that is not quite right, and they have a burning desire to create something better.
A good facilitator will create a sourced experience, one where the participants give up control, connect to their intuition, and are receptive to messages from Source.
The tricky part is setting up a process for people to integrate this new way of being into their lives.
Many retreats end with a closing ceremony where participants share an intention to bring their new energy into their lives. But without a process, the right support, and a sense of accountability, most of us eventually go back to our default ways of being.
I set several intentions during our long weekend together, first and foremost to revive my Nia practice and integrate it into my retreats. One thing I know for sure is that real transformation does not take place solely in the mind. It has to be embodied and experienced on a deeper level to take root.
I am fortunate to have a wonderful support system to help me make this intention a reality. As part of Dr. Deb Kern’s Shakti Sisterhood, I have access to a rich bank of meditations, affirmations, and online Shana Prakti dance classes. This week’s classes are about shedding old beliefs and creating a new life story, the central theme of my own retreats.
But I need someone to hold me accountable now that we have all gone back to our separate lives. I am sure that is why the Universe gave me a clear message that now is the right time to launch my private Facebook group, the Shero Sisterhood.
The Shero Sisterhood will provide a sanctuary where we can share our stories of personal and spiritual empowerment.
Our Sisterhood will be the first to hear excerpts, tips, and strategies from my book, Shero’s Journey. You may even get to see me recite the spoken word poem about my mother that I wrote at the retreat.
If you are looking for a supportive group of women and a safe place to share your challenges and struggles, wins and life lessons, I hope you will join us.