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Verena von Pfetten

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My Spiritual Journey: In Which I Go To A Yoga Retreat

Posted: 07/09/08 11:10 AM ET

You will never guess where I am right now. I'm not even sure I believe it.

I am on the 6:51 train heading back to NYC, having just left a yoga retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

That's right - you're not seeing things - I was at a Yoga retreat. Part of a larger program called Off The Mat - Into The World, this retreat was about taking the lessons from yoga and applying them to the outside world, and social activism in particular. Needless to say, having gone to approximately 3 yoga classes in the last 3 years and having not done a whole lot of socially active things, unless, of course, we want to take the liberty of defining social activism as being, well, active in a social sphere, as in, to be more specific, how I spent my last Saturday night, then I might be considered it, but only marginally so, as it should be said that I generally spend 3 out of every 4 weekend splayed out on my carpet (the couch is far too limiting) watching movies on demand (Blockbuster is 10 blocks away and Netflix, though genius, involves a mailbox).

Anyway, after introducing myself in the introduction circle as the person who was there at the behest of the Huffington Post and explaining (lamely) that the Living page involved things like "social activism" (See: The Giving Life) and "spirituality" (See: The Inner Life), and defensively announcing that I, unlike everyone else, was not a yoga teacher, nor a not-for-profit founder, I passed the sunflower on to the next girl and was heretofore known as "the writer."

We began with Yoga, which itself began with and involved dancing, which was actually great because there is nothing I love more than dancing like an idiot. For reals! I know how to dance well-ish (as in, well enough to not look the fool while drunkenly dancing on a banquette or seven), but my favorite thing to do is dance around my apartment like the uncoordinated idiot that I actually am. (Seriously, ask my boyfriend. He, without fail and with plenty of chagrin, asks me every time, "Who taught you to dance?") So, ice broken and limbs limber, it was time for lunch. Bad news! The food was all veggie. Good news! It was delicious.

The rest of the day, and well into the evening, involved a bit of the technical stuff (I bet you didn't know there were 7 chakras!) and a lot of heart-opening stuff which made me feel even more fish-out-of-water than the sauteed kale and garlic lentils. But, I suppose, that is exactly the point. And to be honest, while I managed to nimbly avoid spilling my soul and crying in front of perfect strangers, I thoroughly admire those who did. There is something to be said for the absolutely astounding amount of positive energy radiating from every single person in the teepee-shaped pavillion (aka conference room). And while I was by no means mentally prepared to get all hippy-dippy and lovey-dovey, I wouldn't necessarily be averse to it on my (as of now mythical) second time around. It's an amazing and incredibly safe opportunity and the fact that these are perfect strangers makes it all the easier. There is no judgment and everyone there is (and I say this with nothing but warmth in my heart) all hippy-dippy and lovey-dovey and why wouldn't you want to open yourself up to that?

But, moving on, the next day began with, oh, you know, your average THREE! HOUR! yoga session. Which absolutely blew my mind. And this, I think, might be the one problem to come out of this retreat. Seane Corn, yoga instructor extraordinaire and founder (with Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling) of Off The Mat - Into The World, absolutely and without a doubt kicked both my physical and mental ass. I'm not sure any yoga class will ever, ever live up to the intensity and individual instruction of yesterday's three-hour yogaic marathon. And while I myself did not shed a tear, I completely understand why, after holding a right-sided pigeon pose for 5 minutes longer than I thought possible, women around the room began to cry. There is something so cathartic, so emotionally draining about such physical acrobatics. Because, like Seane and Hala and Suzanne impressed upon me, yoga is about so much more than the physical, and I don't think it takes a yogi or a guru for anyone to understand that we, as humans, hold our emotions in our body. I get migraines, and I get them almost instantaneously in times of physical, mental, or emotional stress. My doctor calls that a "trigger" - yogis call it a blocked chakra.

And so, while I began the trip thinking I was entirely out of my element and cringing at the thought of sharing my "wounds" to 30 other beautiful people, I ended it feeling like, at the very least, I was a part of something. So, when a fellow retreat-er crawled up to my mat after the three-hour ass kicking and quietly said to me, "You did really well there," I did almost (almost!) cry, but I thanked her. And when Suzanne saw me struggle to bend into a bridge, came over, and let me grab hold of her ankles for support, I thanked her. And when the women who were brave enough to share their "wounds" with me cried, and smiled, and thanked me, I thanked them.

Because, at the end of the day, and especially at the end of two days, it felt good.

 

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