Meditation retreats involve much more than sitting silently and focusing on the breath. Meditation retreats are an opportunity to remove ourselves from the daily distractions that keep us from having time to think. Meditation retreats help us notice our inner dialogue, observe our breathing, and reflect on our current feelings and circumstances. Meditation retreats help motivate and create change.
Any meditation class, workshop, or retreat should include the following 3 things:
1 • show you how to prepare & cultivate your mind for meditation
2 • learn techniques that you can practice on your own
3 • inspire you to feel comfortable in creating your own meditation practice
When creating your own meditation retreat, it should be structured in such a way that it leads up to the actual sitting in meditation part, not beginning with it. You should also set time aside for supporting your practice, such as setting the tone and creating the optimal environment, as well as leave room for preparation and reflection. In fact, the majority of your meditation retreat should be spent on activities that nourish the body and mind.
STEP 1 • How To Allocate Your Time During The Meditation Retreat
10% Meals (keeping the body nourished with healthy foods)
70% Activities (visiting spiritual sites, writing/journaling, yoga/walking, learning [listening/watching podcasts and YouTube videos, seeing live speakers, reading], time spent in contemplation, sharing circles, etc.)
5% Preparing the mind (breathing exercises, guided meditations, chanting, etc.)
5% Meditation (sitting in silence)
As you can see, only 5% of the time is actually spent on meditating. Why?
In the beginning, we have to bring our mind to one sole focus.
However, it’s next to impossible to concentrate when we are holding on to regrets of the past, the worries of the present, and anxieties of the future. All the experiences that have made their deepest impressions in our minds will block our progress because we have not properly healed from their emotional impact.
Then, those memories that we had forgotten about or we didn’t assign any significance, will also start to show up uninvited to this party!
The mind continues riding these waves of thoughts as we engage in the routines and responsibilities of life. If we do not give ourselves regular moments to pause, then the weight of our thoughts get heavier and heavier.
Soon, we may not even know why we are doing what we are doing. We get sad, hold on to anger, snap at others for no reason, experience high rates of worry, feel lost and out of control.
So, first we need to STOP.
Give yourself permission to create time for your mental health by engaging in activities that help you re-connect with your spirit, like say, by having a meditation retreat.
Give yourself time to think, check in with your feelings, and have fun! And when your body and mind are more rested and relaxed, you naturally move into meditation. This is where transformation happens! Alongside, we have to continue removing the weeds, re-cultivating the soil, and nourishing our mindscape.
STEP 2 • How To Begin: Setting Intentions + Goals
In preparation of your meditation retreat, sit down and answer the following questions. Be thoughtful and honest with your answers. Preferably, grab a pen and piece of paper, or even write these down in your journal.
1. What activities and environments help me to feel relaxed?
2. Do I want to create time to practice something that I already know and am familiar with or do I want this to be a time where I learn something new? Or both? Follow up question: What do I want to learn?
3. How am I feeling right now? Am I in need of more spiritual inspiration, relaxing the body and mind, alone time, or all of the above?
4. Are there any goal(s) that have been on my mind or that I have been working towards, that I can set as my intention during this retreat?
5. How can I create a ritual around setting my intentions and goals during my retreat? For example, building in time to journal your goals, coming up with an affirmation of your intentions, or just repeating a phrase before beginning your retreat.
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STEP 3 • Logistics
Arrange as much of the retreat as you can, beforehand.
This includes preparing ingredients for the meals you will be eating during the retreat, looking into which spiritual places or parks you will be visiting, what inspirational texts you will be reading, where you will be sitting for meditation, or the space you will be using for yoga or the retreat itself.
On the actual day(s) you want to have as much time for yourself as possible, instead of being consumed with the logistics of the retreat.
Questions to consider:
1. Where will I hold my meditation retreat? What kind of space will I need?
2. Will I ask others to join me? Who will I invite?
3. What is a realistic timeframe? Will it be for a few hours, one day, or over a weekend?
4. What will I have to plan in advance so that I can fully enjoy the retreat? For example, meals, space for retreat, making reservations or looking up timings to visit sites, etc.
5. Will I need access to outlets to plug-in my laptop? Will I need access to the Internet to watch instructional videos or to listen to guided meditations and music?
6. Are there any other, personalized details you can think of for your retreat?
STEP 4 • Creating Your Meditation Retreat Schedule
Below are guidelines on how to structure your meditation retreat.
1. Remove distractions. This includes phones (texting, web-browsing on smart phones, etc.), computers (Internet), television and radio. This time is for you to be alone with your thoughts, reflect, and set intentions. If you are using technology during your meditation retreat, as part of the retreat, just try to keep that one browser window open and close all other ones. Or have the audio guided meditation or video of a spiritual talk, or however you are utilizing the Internet for your retreat, ready to play, so that you do not get the urge to just “quickly check Facebook.” [Related: How To Overcome The Most Common Meditation Distractions]
2. Engage in activities that will enable your spiritual growth. You are setting aside these few hours or day(s) to help you feel connected to your spirit and bring your soul alive again. Think about activities that give you hope, inspire you to become a better person, and help you feel positive.
3. Surround yourself in a serene and calming environment. Visit a temple, garden, or spiritual center. This will not only help you feel calmer and more relaxed, but will also open your mind to new ideas and ways of understanding.
4. Bond with nature. Being outside has numerous benefits, for example it helps us to feel connected to the nature that surrounds us, we are able to get fresh air allowing us to breathe easier, and the sun supplies us with vitamin D. Think about the times you have been hiking, at the beach, or at the park, and how you felt during the time you were there, as well as the after effect.
5. Leave time for self-reflection. Being alone and having time to think has to be one of the most undervalued ways to relieve stress and feel calmer. Make sure to create space for this somewhere in your meditation retreat, even if that means just sitting and staring blankly into space. You can combine this with deep breathing and measured breathing exercises. Just remember: contemplation is not meditation. They are two very different and separate practices. Ultimately, you want to create time in your daily schedule for thinking, so this is a good way to begin making it a part of your everyday routine.
6. Most of all, fully embrace this time! Do the things you like, but never seem to have time for in your day to day. You are devoting a set of time to this afterall. Your retreat should help you to feel revived and inspired!
SAMPLE 1-DAY RETREAT SCHEDULE
• Wake up early morning (preferably before or at sunrise).
Beginning your day at sunrise instills in us a sense of a brand new start. The sun also signifies going from darkness to light. In yoga, Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) are practiced with the rising of the sun.
• Short morning practice.
As soon as you wake up, literally while you are still laying down or sitting up in your bed, say a prayer, express gratitude through a phrase or affirmation, connect with your breathing, spend 5 minutes setting the tone for your day. You can also insert physical exercise here, such as going for a walk or practicing yogasana (physical practice). [Related: How To Create A Morning Meditation Routine]
Cleansing the body helps us to figuratively and literally wash away the dirt from the previous day.
30-45 minutes of meditation is recommended, however, if you are a beginner, you may want to start with 10-15 minutes. When thoughts arise, gently bring your mind back to your breath, mantra, or your preferred meditation tool. Beginning each day with meditation helps to calm our minds and bring more mindfulness into our daily lives. Optional: You can combine this with yogasana, by first practicing the postures and then sitting in meditation.
• Eat a light & healthy breakfast.
You want to make sure to eat a light and healthy breakfast, which will supply you with energy for the day and not make you feel weighed down, lethargic, or feeling like going back to sleep.
• Take a trip.
To a local temple, spiritual center, garden, any place where you can walk around, sit for a while, and take in the serene environment. Natural surroundings, such as grass, water, and trees, help us to feel uplifted and renewed. Changing up our scenery can do wonders for the mind.
• Eat a light & healthy lunch (preferably vegetarian).
Again, we do not want to feel heavy and sleepy in the middle of the day. We want to continue being aware of each moment and have enough energy to experience the planned activities. Eating a healthy vegetarian meal containing fruits, grains, and vegetables will supply us with enough nutrients without bogging us down.
• Walk in the neighborhood or nearby park.
If this is available to you, after lunch, take a walk outside. Not only is it relaxing, but low impact exercise will help to keep our energy up.
• Practice yoga & meditation.
Historically, yogasana is practiced in preparation for meditation. Doing asana first and then meditating will help bring awareness to the breath and calm the mind. Optional: If walking is part of your afternoon plan, then you can go straight into your meditation practice afterwards; what is important is that you have given yourself time for some physical exercise to raise your energy before sitting.
• Read a chapter or excerpt from an inspirational book.
The topic could be on anything from how to silence the mind, to what one experiences in deep meditation, to living with an open heart, to following your passion. The idea is to have the reading help you to start thinking in a different way, motivate you, and support you in seeing how it applies to your own life.
• Solo time.
We spend our lives being stimulated by other people. On a daily basis we are exposed to others’ energies and being affected by their personalities and attitudes. Being by oneself is scary to a lot of people because we seldom have that time or create it for ourselves. But, how will you know who you are, what you are thinking and feeling, what has kept you from realizing inner peace, and what changes you need to work towards creating happiness, if you do not make time to be alone, without any outside stimulation? Alone does not mean lonely. Repeat that sentence to yourself over and over again, if you have to, until you believe it. The main idea behind a meditation retreat is to reconnect with yourself, so make sure you give yourself that time.
• Sharing circle (if with a group retreat)/meditate/journal to close out the day.
If you are with others, keep some time towards the end of the day to share how the day went for all of you. If you are having a solo retreat, try ending the retreat with some quiet time for reflection or writing in a journal. Getting your thoughts on paper will enable you to express emotions that you may not have known you had and it will be something you can go back to later.
FOR MORE THAN 1-DAY MEDITATION RETREATS
Below are some things to keep in mind when creating a meditation retreat that lasts for 2 days or longer.
Following the same format each day will help you maintain a schedule and keep from getting distracted by the logistics of the retreat. It helps to have a routine, so that, hopefully, by the second day your energy is not going towards thinking about the schedule of events, as much as getting into the flow of activities. Instead, of being consumed with what you are doing next, you want to live in the present moment and make the most of your retreat time.
With that said, you also want to mix things up so you prevent from getting bored. So, let’s say that everyday at 2PM you have an outing planned (consistency), but one day it is to a park and the next day it is to a temple, and the day after that it is to a garden (variety). There are many reasons for visiting spiritual and outdoor places, including, arousing the spirit of joyfulness and peacefulness within us, as well as helping us to feel rejuvenated and re-energized. Planning different activities that bring out these feelings will create the ideal meditation retreat.
For longer meditation retreats, there may be a shared goal of the participants, for example, a retreat combined with a training, or building up a certain skill-set, or learning specific knowledge. In those cases, each day may have to be tailored towards meeting the intentions of the retreat. So, your schedule will have to take into factor these workshop times, alongside the meditative activities and meditation.
Incorporating mini-meditation retreats into our everyday lives, leaves us feeling more happy and healthy in the long run. Some of the numerous benefits include being able to better cope with challenges that arise, making healthier decisions, and understanding our own needs.