Take one experienced yogi and one experienced mindfulness meditator and mix them together... a five-day, in-home yoga retreat for the whole family.
(Cats, dogs and a hippo, included)
We decided to do something a little different with this post. We each independently wrote up the experiences and reactions we had to our first self-organized, family yoga and meditation retreat. They turned out to be fairly similar and so we decided to present them here side by side. It seems that way back when we were dating Mary Alida was right, we are like two peas in a pod.
See what you think...
Susan’s Yoga Retreat Experience
Craving a yoga retreat but having a full travel schedule planned for the next six months, I came up with the idea of a five-day yoga retreat Jamie and I could do together – at home and when we aren’t traveling. It turns out that we discovered something we want to repeat time and time again – in whole and in part.
I wanted to replicate the experience I had at Yoga Sutra Shala. That would mean:
- morning and late afternoon yoga sessions interspersed with
- mindfulness/meditation practices,
- fresh air, hiking, dog walking,
- down time, and
- good food.
Because life goes on, we needed to fold the experience around our routine at-home activities. I didn’t want to miss my weekly language exchanges, Spanish lessons and study, or time with friends. And, of course, our dog Lizzie and our cats TJ and Ricco need plenty of stimulation and attention too.
Five days would give us time to zero in on what we liked and didn’t like in order to make the most of this retreat and, more importantly, to perfect the next one.
We pushed back the dining room furniture, pulled out some candles, made our own bolsters from pillowcases and blankets, and brought in the bedroom carpets to cushion the ceramic tile floor. We already had yoga mats and blocks. We even surrounded our mini yoga studio with pet beds – knowing they would want to be included and hoping they would stay on their beds.
I frequently use YouTube videos for my yoga practice. I knew the instructors I like for my own practice would not work for a shared practice with Jamie. He’d already made it crystal clear that he wanted no frills yoga. His number one request was: No Chatty Chicas. Additionally, the classes had to be age and ability appropriate with clear instructions and modifications for existing injuries.
So, I previewed a lot of different classes, captured URL’s and sorted by:
- yoga type (restorative, hatha, vinyasa, yin/yang),
- level (beginner/intermediate),
- purpose (hip openers, tension relieving, morning energy), and
- length (15 minutes to 1 hour).
There were a few false starts. When Jamie started moaning “No, no, no, I don’t like this,” it was important to have a list of options ready to go.
Our mornings began with a mindfulness practice, followed by a yoga session (or our favorite body balance class at the gym), breakfast, and then a break for other activities.
We resumed in the afternoon with restorative or hatha yoga, mindfulness practice, and planning of the next day. It was that simple.
Here’s what we learned:
Setting up an in-home yoga retreat can be fun.
- Choosing a menu for the week and pre-shopping for most of the food was a time saver. We had room in our schedule to eat lunch in a restaurant if we chose but we ended up cooking simple foods all week - pastas, soups, roasted vegetables, etc.
- At a yoga retreat, you have plenty of time to yourself but when a class is scheduled, you have to show up or you miss out. Using that template, I plotted our schedule to the hour. However, there wasn’t a single day that we kept to my schedule. And, it really didn’t matter what time of day the activity happens.
- We each came into this retreat with a particular preference for yoga style and mindfulness meditations. I like vinyasa flow. Jamie discovered that he likes hatha yoga. I like guided meditations. Jamie prefers sitting quietly with maybe some background music. I like focused yoga practices and Jamie likes total body yoga practices.
I’ve been practicing yoga for years and Jamie, though he’s dabbled now and then, is a beginner. On the other hand, Jamie has concentrated on mindfulness and meditation practice much more than I have. This retreat was an exposure to each other’s experiences and preferences. We both got out of our favorite ruts to discover new techniques, instructors, and methods of instruction.
Where we go next
I have to admit I got the same healthy, loose body feeling from my five-day in-house yoga retreat as I got from my bona fide (i,e, expensive) retreat. I wasn’t sure that was going to happen because it didn’t show up until day four. That makes me think that anything less than five days is insufficient for a bodily transformation.
Jamie’s Meditation & Yoga Retreat
One day in January Susan had a most wonderful idea: ” Why not a self-organized family yoga retreat?” We were walking home from the gym where we’d just finished a Body Balance class. Body Balance is a combination of Tai Chi, Pilates and Yoga. The class has been a standard part of our weekly fitness regime for nearly a year. So a week concentrating on yoga didn’t seem far-fetched. Beside that, Susan’s enthusiasm after her first ever yoga retreat peaked my interest. I readily agreed.
I’ve been muttering about the idea of yoga for stiff jointed older men who have little patience for today’s chatty YouTube yoga videos. I really did want to get a deeper experience in the body/breath/mind benefits of a serious yoga practice. I figured Susan would be the perfect guide for me. I mean she knows how grumpy I can be when I’m unhappy with how things are going.
Susan took charge of setting the agenda for our home based yoga retreat and spent a week or so putting it together. Finally, on day one, she shared her plan. She’d scheduled a guided meditation session at the beginning of every day.
I’ve been trying to get Susan to do a bit of mindfulness practice for several years now. I used meditation techniques to get through emotionally difficult times like when my brother was dying. It worked for me but Susan never seemed that interested in it. So I was surprised and happy to see meditation on the schedule. I was happy, that is, until we began the first guided session.
A false start
The recorded guidance Susan found was too chatty for me. I guess I’ve had just enough practice to feel better at keeping my mind on stillness without too much chatter. Then during the following yoga session I heard myself thinking, "No, no, no, this isn’t what I had in mind." Susan had selected a class that was too fast, too chatty, and just plain uncomfortable for me. I was dreading the rest of the week for a few minutes there. But, in the spirit of the week, we had a good talk and set about searching for something that worked for both of us.
Happily, Susan was very open to using the recorded meditation guidance of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, my favorite source of inspiration. And after talking more fully about what I wanted from a yoga practice, Susan discovered some yoga videos that we both found useful. By the middle of the first day, we’d reworked the approach and came up with a schedule that I found to be deeply satisfying.
A transformative experience.
Each morning I continued a practice I started with the new year, an early morning walk with Lizzie during which I try to see and capture one decent photograph.
Our retreat day began when Lizzie and I returned home.
- I have always prepared our morning coffee or tea. During the five days of our retreat I tried to be deliberate and mindful during the preparation. Since then I’ve continued to stick to the more deliberate approach.
- Our day together began with a short meditation lecture from a recording of The Miracle of Mindfulness or other writings by Thich Nhat Hanh.
- Followed by a 30 to 60 minute yoga session or a Body Balance class at the gym.
- We then had “free time” which we spent doing everyday, chatting together, reading, or studying our Spanish lessons.
- We prepared simple vegan meals at midday (Spanish midday is around 2 pm) during our retreat.
- After cleaning up the dishes, we had time for a relaxing siesta that was followed by a second round of meditation, an afternoon walk, and whatever else needed doing.
- We wound down the day with an hour or so of Hatha or restorative yoga before we settled in to talk and read before heading to bed.
Our retreat days were really only semi-structured, including ample time for us to take care of chores or follow up on the insights and inspirations that arose during our meditation and yoga times. For example, after each yoga session, I concentrated on adjusting many of the yoga postures to account for old injuries and new arthritis. This allowed me to customize my yoga sessions to the body I actually have.
At the end of the five days, I realized that we’d found, by accident almost, a life-changing experience. I was physically loose, mentally calm, and in the end, certain that Susan and I had together uncovered a challenging but gentle path for our next life stage. Each of us got out of a rut of resistance.
- Susan found out that meditation is a useful practice. She’s been starting her days with a 20 minutes session since our retreat.
- I learned that Hatha yoga has a mindfulness component. That the sustained positions and the slow transition between positions is the approach to yoga I’ve been holding out for.
- I found a new insight to everyday mindfulness by doing dishes simply to do the dishes. Susan loves how tidy I leave the kitchen these days.
- We both rediscovered that how and when we talk about things is important. During our retreat we had quiet times that followed periods of intense concentration that were ideal for our talks.
I know, sounds a bit too “New Age” doesn’t it? I can only say, that it worked for us. A couple weeks later and I’m still high on the experience. So we’re going to try it again in a couple days. We even bought new, thicker yoga mats.
In preparation for our retreat Susan searched on YouTube for free recorded yoga classes. From these seemingly limitless resources we found some winners for our joint practice.
- Restorative Yoga with Melissa Kreiger, 55 minutes
- Beginner Yoga with Jason Crandall, 15 minutes
- Hip Openers with Rodney Yee, 15 minutes
- Yoga for Energy with Rodney Yee, 20 minutes
- Beginning Yoga with Brett Larkin, 1 hour
- Hatha Yoga with Brett Larkin, 30 minutes
- Beginner Bedtime Yoga Sequence with Brett Larkin, 10 minutes
- Hatha Yoga Flow with Setareh Riahi, 55 minutes
Paid Subscription Services*
Just a few of the other options we investigated for future in-home retreats:
- Yoga Journal is a terrific resource for yoga information and Susan follows Yoga Journal on Facebook and reads all their posts. In her youth she occasionally purchased single issues. Now that she's a more serious yogi, an annual subscription is probably in the works. Magazine and on-line resources, including yoga and meditation videos are $43.99 for international customers. Those in the U.S. can get it for $21.99/year.
- Gaia offers thousands of videos for a subscription of €11.99/month or €99.00 for a one year subscription (which breaks down to €8.25/month).
- YogaAnyTime is a little more pricey at €16.00/month or €126.00/year but they claim to offer 2,600+ videos.
*No Sponsored Content: We don’t have sponsored content here on GentleCycle. We want you to know we aren’t being paid to say or promote any of the resources here. This is because we aim to keep our content honest.
Mindfulness Meditation Resources
We recommend you check your library first. All of the mindfulness meditation resources we used during our in-home yoga and mindfulness retreat are available from our public library.
Jamie is partial to the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh, but there are plenty of other meditation resources available at your local library.
- The Art of Mindful Living, How to Bring Love, Compassion, and Inner Peace into Your Daily Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
- Peace Is Every Step The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Mindful Movements by Thich Nhat Hanh. A video presenting a series of gentle exercises created specifically to cultivate a joyful awareness of the body and breath.