A friend once told me that she felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff – take a step back, and there was the safety in remaining in a loveless and boring marriage with a house, or take that step off the cliff into the unknown, without a financial net and no clue where she was going to land.
As she told me this, it made me pause and think about those “what ifs” in my own life. What if I never had decided to take my first yoga class in 1995. What if I had never decided to take my first teacher training. I thought about what I could have possibly missed out on in life, and I decided to look more towards that edge of the cliff, rather than looking to step back.
By the time I went on my first yoga retreat, I had already been practicing for over a decade. I had recently moved to a new studio, and still hadn’t really connected with any of the other students beyond a smile and nod level. My “home studio” was 12 miles away, and in Los Angeles terms that may as well be going to the moon sometimes. I missed practicing next to my friends and people that I had known for years.
Till one day a teacher happened to casually mention her upcoming retreat in Ojai. My ears perked up, as Ojai was and is a very special place to me. A very quiet Something told me I should go. A lot of very loud Somethings also told me not to go. The very loud Somethings in my head were going a mile a minute with “you won’t know anyone” “sharing a room with people you don’t know is a bad idea” “they’re all going with friends and no one will want to talk to you.” It was like the first day of school at a new junior high all over again. I looked at that edge of the cliff, and paid for the retreat in full.
The day of the retreat came, and it was exactly as I had feared. I didn’t know a single person there. But I was also sitting in a beautiful garden, about to give myself a gift of time to practice and relax. I tell students in class, “Look, obviously you’re all very nice people because you all made the choice to come to your mat tonight”, and the same was true of everyone on that retreat.
Communal meals were effortless, if people wanted to eat quietly and then disappear for alone time that was encouraged. If people wanted to sit and talk late into the night, that was also encouraged. There were many levels of practice within this group, ranging from a practice of only a few months to over 15 years. The classes were accessible to everyone there, with options and variations for everybody.
Choosing to travel alone may be very scary. Choosing to travel alone to a yoga retreat where you don’t know other people may be even scarier. We are socialized to think of these things as “group activities.” Learning to push past your comfort zone is hard, and it is much easier to do in a supported environment. Going to a retreat where I knew no one challenged me to sit with strangers and talk, to allow them to see where and what I struggled with, and for me to trust it was a safe and supported space. Now when I solo travel both domestically and internationally, I look back at that first trip to Ojai for pushing me out of my comfort zone.
What we are not realizing is that there already are common threads that tie us to everyone else on these trips, before we ever set foot in the same practice space. We refer to the yogic teachings as “sutras”, which loosely translates to “threads”. These threads are what tie us to our teachers, and our teachers to their teachers before, and so on. While everyone comes to yoga for a different reason, it all boils down to change. This common thread of wanting something to change binds us all together.
Yoga teaches us to sit in those uncomfortable spaces. The things we learn on the mat, the patience, the breath, when we take them off the mat and into our daily lives, that is the yoga. Retreats allow us to pause and reset our daily routines, to challenge and redefine our comfort zones.
So I ask you, where is the edge of your comfort zone? To paraphrase a line from Wicked - “it’s time to trust your instincts, close your eyes and leap...”