I wonder at what point in history the word 'retreat' started to be associated with yoga holidays?
My little computer dictionary widget thing-o says that a retreat is a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax; or, a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation.
Maybe the kind of retreats that have us basking in warm climes, availing ourselves of spa treatments, and shopping for exotic items at half-price should simply be called pleasurable yoga vacations.
Don't get me wrong; I'm definitely not a wowser. I love tropical time-outs as much as the next person - especially in the winter.
But do these sort of breaks help us evolve in our yoga practices? Maybe not.
I've done some 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats in the past. These were certainly austere - well, at least for a Westerner. They comprised many blocks of meditation periods through the day, with the first one being before dawn; just two meals a day; silence imposed; no reading; no exercise other than walking meditation.
What did I get out of the experience? Something that Patanjali points to in his Yoga Sutra - that when external distractions cease to impinge and we don't seek them out, the mind starts to turn more and more inward. This 'interiorisation' weakens the pull of distractions and the afflictions (kleshas). For me, the experience of being on this type of retreat was profoundly peaceful and the momentum from it carried over for some time afterwards.
Still, most of us have to come back into the real world and start talking again, or even writing as I do everyday. I'm not ready to completely give up my love of society, but perhaps I've taken some steps toward the silence in moving to our pretty little island.
*Their activity is to be curbed by meditation.*
*Patanjali's Meditation Yoga, translation and commentary by Vyn Bailey.