It's easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of the city. Between running a business, making art, keeping personal relationships strong and maintaining the practices that keep me grounded, I can feel like there are more tasks to do than time to do them. Occasionally, I am fortunate enough to retreat into myself and reconnect with the peace that has always been the foundation of my yoga practice. Peace that I seek to spread to my students and my community. This summer, I was doubly fortunate and visited Satchidananda Ashram - Yogaville in Buckingham, VA twice. It gave me some time to think about linking my desire to be connected to "the source" with the modern lifestyle.
One of my favorite aspects of yoga's teachings is that although retreating to reconnect with our own inherent peace is necessary, it isn't sufficient. Sri Swami Satchidananda (the founder of Yogaville) warned against being a hermit in a Himalayan cave forever. Anyone can find peace meditating away from all problems and stresses. But to be a true yogi, we must engage with the outer world to test our inner peace. When the outer world begins to shake us, we can retreat again, becoming stronger each time. The purpose of remaining peaceful is to serve the rest of humanity without attachment to the rewards of this service (Karma Yoga). Only then can we be truly useful and make an impact.
So how can we find a place and method to retreat? This has been on my mind as I return to my sweet home, Chicago, which is far away from my spiritual home at Yogaville. Here are three ideas to develop a personal retreat within our daily lives, so we can more effectively serve others in our beautiful home, wherever that may be.
1) Practice, Practice, Practice
Sadhana (a person's daily practice) is the foundation. Yes, it is important to keep up a daily sadhana that may include meditation, hatha yoga practice, relaxing, eating well and sleeping enough. However, a formal sadhana takes up only a portion of our days. For someone truly looking to find permanent peace, it is equally important to practice living mindfully outside of our formal sadhana.
There are many methods. We can look at our interactions with others as an opportunity to engage peacefully. Imagine how our relationships would change if we approached them all as a method of service to humanity. Or we might devote ourselves to honoring the divine manifestation of life all around us. Can you picture what a disagreement would look like if both parties saw one another as divine? Or we could try to put 100% of our focus on the present moment. What couldn't you accomplish if your entire mind were focused on its accomplishment?
Connecting to other like-minded individuals (sangha) is also key. A sangha can help a practitioner remember what the goal of practice is, why they are striving toward the goal, and how to make steps forward. It's easy to feel connected to a sangha at a place like Yogaville, where everyone is so focused on seeking the universal truth, peace. It is harder to find a sangha away from formal gathering places. I was reminded of this after my Intermediate Teacher Training group began an email ring to keep an informal sangha. After some inspiring messages were exchanged, a person who had accidentally been included on the list wrote us, asking to take him off the list because he didn't "give a flying [expletive] about yoga." Even in our email ring, we were reminded that not everyone is on this path. And that's okay. It shows us that we must continue reaching out to our precious relationships with those who are. For those of us who have not found a sangha near us geographically, we still have options. We are lucky. Nowadays, there are many virtual sanghas we can find. We can use uplifting books, movies or music; we can watch inspiring TED talks or YouTube channels - Yogaville even posts its Saturday night sangha gatherings online! If we're feeling brave, we could join a Meetup group and find like-minded people in our area.
This little word kept coming up for me this summer. Surrender doesn't mean giving up or being lazy or apathetic. Surrender means to let go of the attachment we naturally feel to the results of our work. I find this concept of surrender difficult, especially since "surrender" has negative connotations in our contemporary, goal-oriented society. But surrendering to life is a beautiful practice that acknowledges how little control we actually have. That can be a scary truth to face.
The upside is that once we have conquered the fear of surrendering our attachments, we have nothing to fear or be angered by because we have no expectations to gain or lose. Good and bad come equally and we can ride the tide because we aren't grasping onto anything. It is empowering to strive toward our goals without worrying about whether things will go according to a plan. With this mindset, every moment becomes an inner retreat.
We see this in our hatha practice all the time. We might be attached to performing the pose "correctly" and looking a certain way. We are afraid that not being able to perform this pose the way we expect, means something bigger: we are weak, inflexible, not good at yoga, or even unworthy of it. We may feel anger towards ourselves for our body's limitations or toward that yogi in the front who is "nailing" the pose. But not all poses are meant for all bodies and yogis have varied gifts depending on physical attributes, past events, and even mental conditions. Getting angry with ourselves (or others) tends to stiffen our bodies and minds, keeping ourselves from moving forward. Practice that same challenge pose with a mindset of surrender and our bodies and minds find ease. We move deeper into the pose and feel gratitude for how our body is capable. We see this peace within ourselves as the unchanging truth - deep, still and pure. It is the only thing that matters.
I have these three tips, but there is a wealth of knowledge out there. I'd love ideas about how you connect to your own peaceful nature. What practices do you employ? Do you have a sangha?
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.