Yoga has been a big part of my life for many years. It serves as a way of helping me understand myself better, move through difficult emotions, and enter new life chapters with ease and clarity. I just got back from a five-day yoga retreat and it was a disillusioning experience, to say the least. Here are 7 honest truths I brought back that feel important to share:

1. Setting intentions is critical

The reason I decided to go on this yoga retreat in the first place was to give myself space in between leaving the corporate world and moving across the country to pivot my career and start my masters at Columbia. I always find it important to carve out time during any big life transition to be with myself, my thoughts, and my emotions so I can unpack fears, connect to desires, and move through stuck energy. This way, I am starting my next chapter clear, focused, and energized.

Setting an intention for myself was one of the primary ways I was able to stay grounded with what was important to me instead of getting swept up in what everyone else was doing or saying. With every decision around how to spend my time and energy like which activities to participate in, with whom I shared meals, or what time to wake up, I checked in with my intention: does this support my goal of self-nourishment? I felt repeatedly judged for my choices so going back to my intention and even voicing my intention with others was a way that I could stand by my decision.

Ask yourself: What is my intention for the day/week/month and why is this important to me?

2. You do not need to justify yourself to anyone

At this yoga retreat, there were four different teachers you could take classes from. Since I was not vibing with the woman who was teaching the "intermediate/advanced" class the first day, I decided to go to the "all levels" class that was being taught by a teacher I was more interested in learning from. It struck me that the class was nearly empty and those who did attend were all 20+ years older than me. I ended up loving the class and was practically skipping my way to lunch afterward when all of a sudden I felt like I had hit The Wall of Judgement. Everyone I bumped into was talking about how awesome and hard the "intermediate/advanced" class was and seemed very surprised to learn that I opted to go to the "all levels" class. I found myself coming up with all sorts of reasons about why I made that decision not to go to push myself and attend the "intermediate/advanced class" like I was recovering from a wrist injury or I wanted to attend a less crowded class or I was looking for something more restorative. While all these reasons were true, I was astounded that I felt this desperate need to justify myself to people I DID NOT KNOW. Why did I care so much about what they thought of me? It was a good reminder that I have nothing to prove and I do not need to justify myself to anyone.

Ask yourself: Are there areas of my life that I feel like I need to justify and what might be the underlying reason of doing so?

3. Sometimes you are forced to reflect on what to purge from your life (literally)

On the third day of the yoga retreat, I came down with food poisoning. I couldn't believe it. I had paid all this money to go to a fancy wellness center with delicious, fresh food and I ended up spending an entire day curled up in a ball hoping to keep a freaking rice cake down. Old me would have absolutely flipped her sh*t, dwelling on what a waste of time and money it was to be sick like this. New me decided not to spend my energy being pissed and instead used this as an opportunity to reflect on what in my life needed to be purged. What old habits, beliefs, patterns was I being challenged to let go of? I reflected a lot on control and how sometimes shitty things just happen and we have to accept it. The more we resist, the more we suffer. So I decided to surrender my control and attachment to my expectation of what I thought this day would look like and instead took a 2.5 hour Savasana, bought a kombucha, and curled up on the grass with no agenda other than watching the waves crash against the shore.

Ask yourself: What old habits, beliefs, or patterns are you ready to purge from your life? What is your default reaction when things don't go as planned?

4. Our addiction to technology is troubling

The minute I arrived at this retreat, I put my phone on airplane mode. I had no intention of touching it other than to snap a few pics of a sunset. Going on a digital detox is a key component to any vacation that I take as a way to truly recenter myself and get grounded. It did not even OCCUR to me that others may not feel the same. So you can imagine my surprise as I am dropping into the flow of my yoga practice and look up to see phones everrrrrrywhere. What in the world??! I kid you not. In the middle of our beautiful, meditative yoga practice, the students, teachers, assistants, and musicians were all taking photos and videos of the class. I have never seen anything like it. It was like we had all paid and used our vacation to be a part of someone's marketing brochure. The fact that, as a collective, we could not be without our devices for 2.5 short hours while we practiced yoga - a practice literally designed to help you stay present - was nothing short of alarming.

How is it possible to have any sort of breakthrough transformation or drop into a deep meditative state when you have people filming everywhere? All I can say it is it demonstrated to me that our society is in trouble.

Ask yourself: How easy is it for you to put your device away? Do you find yourself fixating more on the idea of a moment than being in the moment itself?

5. Abuse of power is present in every community, including the spiritual community

I've always heard about the underbelly of the spiritual community. How men in positions of authority use their power to take advantage of women under the guise of "healing." There have been countless stories of "fallen gurus" like Bikram and John Friend who have been found guilty of multiple sexual harassment cases. However, it wasn't until this retreat that I actually experienced this phenomenon personally. Without getting too much into the details, I was approached by an older man who said he could tell that I was smart and passionate and he wanted to help me on my path. He "saw something in me." He caught me in a perfect, vulnerable moment when I was looking for support and mentorship. He told me he could see that I was "imbalanced" and he could help me clear away old trauma and emotional wounds that were physically stored in my body so that I could do my work in the world more effectively. While my intuition was giving me signals to run away, I decided to trust him all in the name of "healing" myself. I suddenly found myself in a room alone with him and again, my intuition told me to get the hell out. But I stayed. I told myself I was being ridiculous and I was totally safe. While the interaction was not terribly offensive, I left feeling unsettled about this man's intentions. The next day this man cornered me in the "clothing optional" communal baths. Without my permission, he put his hands on my unclothed body because "we could do even deeper work with the heat of the water." He even started massaging me because I "needed help moving my fascia tissue around." When I finally got out of there, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like I wanted to run away and never come back. It was in that moment that I realized how "not okay" this all was. It was in that moment that I realized how completely and utterly violated I felt. I was ashamed of myself that I had "let" it get that far. In the same breath, I was enraged that someone would abuse their power in that way. The whole experience was terribly upsetting and re-ignited my mission of helping women learn how to trust their intuitions and unleash their fierce and powerful Wild Woman. 

Ask yourself: How often do I follow my intuition? What does it feel like in my body when a boundary has been crossed?

6. Female elders are the best

After the whole boundary-crossing incident (described above), I asked the Universe for protection. I imagined myself inside of an impenetrable gold and shimmering globe. I called on all of my guides and ancestors to help me stand in my power. Almost immediately, older women started flocking towards me. It was like the Universe knew exactly what to do and put into motion this beautiful plan to help me feel safe again. I spent the entire rest of the retreat in the company of older women. Women who looked out for me. Women who made me feel safe. Women whom I trusted would not let anything bad happen to me. It reminded me how powerful women's circles are and how healing it can be to be held by female elders.

Ask yourself: Who are the female elders in my life that I can call on when I need to? Send them a little blessing of gratitude.

7. Disillusionment is sad but important

The word that keeps coming to mind when I think about this past week is disillusionment. At first, I was sad, annoyed, and downright pissed that this was my biggest takeaway from what was supposed to be a nice, rejuvenating retreat for myself. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize how important it is that I experienced the disillusionment because that shows me I am cultivating discernment. And discernment is absolutely critical for keeping us safe and focused on the spiritual path. It is important to have an opinion. To agree and also not agree. To know what is okay for us and what is not okay for us. To remember that we always have a choice. To feel empowered to do something different than what is being asked of us. To never EVER feel like we have to do something that doesn't feel in alignment just because "it's the spiritual thing to do." We always have free will. Always.

Ask yourself: Have I ever experienced disillusionment? How has this helped shape the person I am today?

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