How long is the ideal yoga retreat: Two days, five days or seven days?
By Frank Jesse
A yoga retreat is a very different experience to yoga classes – even regular ones – both for students and for me as a teacher.
On retreat, students are freed from the distractions of their daily lives. They forget about home, and work. They miss their families, of course, but they can simply focus on themselves while they are here, sharing meals and conversation with the other people on retreat and enjoying the Southern Grampians and organic gardens that surround us.
This focus is one of the most enjoyable aspects for me too, as a teacher. When students have time to relax, they are often more responsive to new postures and instructions. That allows me to teach particular postures in some depth over the period of a class or several days.
Iyengar yoga is about observation and response.
My role is to develop my students’ ability to observe and respond to their bodies as they assume the various asanas.
It is also my role to adjust the teaching according to the abilities of individuals and the group.
I don’t follow a schedule, or a set sequence of postures during retreats, although there is a structure to the way the retreats unfold.
I typically start with standing postures as they are the foundation of all the other poses and to some degree incorporate most of the other groups of asanas.
"The standing asanas include all spinal movements such as horizontal, vertical and lateral elongation as well as extension along with sideways, forward, backward extensions, and lateral rotational extensions (twisting). Thus, the standing asanas becomes the foundation for the rest of the asanas" (pp. 31 Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga- Geeta Iyengar) and it is the way I get know their body types, level of practice and understanding of yoga.
Time and trust
Time helps create a much deeper understanding between teacher and students, and much more trust.
Once people trust, then they let go. In the beginning of a retreat, students might have fears of injury, or simply be bit nervous. They don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know their practice and they don’t know me.
Then things start to unfold. I begin to understand them, and as they start to go with the flow, they laugh more and enjoy themselves, feeling more relaxed.
By the end of our retreats, you can see that the members of the group really start to understand each other. There is a lot of bonding, between students and between me and my students.
Even if it’s a group I know, we can’t always take off from where we left. There is more understanding, but every time someone does yoga they are coming with something new: how their asana practice is that day, that morning, that minute.
The daily structure
The very early morning is my practice time 5:30 am to 7:30am. Midweek an early morning pranayama is taught from 6:00 am to 7:15am. and I only do an afternoon practice that day
Every morning at 8am, we usually do the more active poses. At this time, the mind is still fresh, and it’s easy to keep people’s attention and ones energy levels are higher
In the afternoon, we focus more on restorative postures and pranayama. People can be tired towards the end of the day the restorative and pranayama help to replenish our energy.
Towards the middle of the retreat, we can get deeply into our work, and then, as we come to the end, we are recapping everything or bringing it all together.
On retreat, I’m able to teach longer classes than I could offer when I was teaching in the city. These have to be paced, and the actual class is not so much harder as deeper. We can go deeply into a pose, perhaps do it several times in different ways and get a good understanding of it.
So early on we start with standing poses. Tadasana is the foundation of these poses and the body is in a neutral position. We use our understanding of tadasana as reference point for all the other standing poses
Slowly over the course of the retreat other groups of asanas are introduced such as forward bends and lateral extensions (twisting poses), inversions and backbends
Our new seven-day retreat
We’ve introduced a new seven-day retreat because the five-day retreat seems to go so quickly. Often it seems as if we are ending it just when we the group is coalescing.
It allows us to move to another level of depth and we have more time to consolidate.
Longer retreats are more demanding from a teaching point of view than shorter ones. But for me they are also more rewarding. The more time we have to consolidate, the more likely students are to take what they have learned into their regular classes and their daily practice.
We also have students who travel long distances to come to retreats; they’ve told us they would like to stay longer and we are happy to give them the opportunity.
Photos by Gillian Braddock
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