What an amazing day we all had together at our very first full day yoga retreat in the Kent countryside.
I was joined on the day by 28 yogis, men and women included, ages ranging from 14 years up to 72 years old and a whole array of experience levels from complete beginners to yoga teachers. I themed the day around the transition to Autumn, with the Autumn Equinox having just passed a week previously on Friday 22nd September, and the effects of the change of season being in full force.
It always feels auspicious to combine our yoga practice with the cycles of nature and the seasons in particular as I feel that this helps to keep us connected to the energy of the Universe. Our busy day-to-day lives have us so focused on ourselves within our own small circles, on our everyday commitments and our worries, that we sometimes forget that we are part of a bigger, beautiful picture and this is where our yoga practice can step in as a reminder.
The Autumn Equinox itself represents a point of balance between the Summer Solstice in June and the Winter Solstice in December. It is the time when the sun is at its highest point over the equator and where day and night are of equal length. It is thus a period of transition from the more “yang” and active summer months to the more “yin” and slower winter months.
In itself Autumn is a “yin” season as everything starts to slow down. Everything in Earth is steadily drawing in. It is a time when trees and plants send their energy back down to their roots and drop their leaves to the ground and therefore a time that encourages us to look inwards and reflect.
With this idea of moving from a yang season to a yin season I decided to structure our day around this concept. We began our day with a more active “yang” practice, focusing on being outward and upward moving, generating heat and working towards developing strength, stamina and flexibility.
Within our practice I incorporated elements that would support the transition to Autumn, focusing on creating a balancing and grounding practice and also with emphasis on the breath and lungs with one of the Autumn meridians being the lungs.
This opening two-hour sequence definitely helped us to build internal heat but equally we closed the session with some grounding earthy postures and a long relaxing savasana.
After our first session we took a break for lunch. As this was my first day retreat I didn’t have a rigid plan for our lunch in terms of timings but rather went with the general flow responding to people’s wishes – our venue was set in such beautiful surroundings but given it was the start of October I wasn’t sure what the weather would be like on the day otherwise it would have been nice to explore the grounds a little together and this is something I will definitely consider incorporating next time.
Some people did take a short stroll around the grounds while others relaxed over lunch and a cuppa in the venue chatting to new people and familiar faces alike. Some people came with friends, others came alone but everyone connected and I could see that everyone was being friendly and open. This was an important aspect for me because I am used to going to yoga workshops and retreats by myself and rely on there being a friendly atmosphere so as to be able to connect with other people so I was happy to see that no-one was left out.
After everyone had returned from lunch we resumed our group practice with a guided meditation. I opened by exploring some traditional seated postures for meditation in order to help people find a comfortable position for the session and then we began our practice. Firstly focusing on the breath and the body and then moving onto a guided Autumn meditation taking everyone on a journey into their minds. Most people remained seated, however a few found more comfort laying down but everyone seemed very focused and it was a pleasure to lead this part of the day and to see everyone so engaged.
Again after a short break we continued with a Yin Yoga practice – this appeared to be a new style to everyone attending and I had such amazing feedback about this practice. The idea with yin yoga, in a nutshell, is to hold yoga poses for longer, remaining still and allowing the body to open and invite you to go deeper. It also works alongside the principles of the Meridians as in Chinese medicine and so again was well suited to our Autumn practice exploring the element Metal with its two organs of the Lungs and the Large Intestine but also exploring the Earth element which governs the transition from Summer to Autumn and which relates to the Stomach and Spleen meridians.
All our postures were held for longer periods of time than would usually be held in a general Hatha practice which allows your body time to open up and which gets deeper into the connective tissues and ligaments and allows for deeper release. Relaxing and challenging all at the same time!
Another short break was requested 🙂 before heading towards the final part of our day which was our sound bath.
After a brief introduction to the concept of sound healing and the intention of a sound bath and once everyone was settled I proceeded to use my Tibetan singing bowls and my Paiste planetary gong to encourage deep relaxation among the group. I could see that it was having a positive and relaxing effect on the group although a few were so fascinated by it all that they ended up sitting up to watch (and had a play with the instruments afterwards).
The overall feedback was that people were surprised at the interplay of sounds coming from the instruments and that everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. The basic idea is that the frequencies and sounds emanating from the bowls and the gong become so complex, resembling a variety of instruments played at once, that the brain struggles to categorise them and so our brainwaves begin to “entrain” to the slower frequencies which in turn slows down our thoughts and encourages us into a deeper meditative Theta State, a state in which healing is possible.
Our sound bath brought us to the end of our day together and once everyone had roused themselves from relaxation we closed our practice with a group “Om Shanti” using my harmonium. This was its first public outing and it felt really good to hear everyone joining in with a group “OM” and to experience the vibrations created in the room.
All in all I received wonderful feedback about the day and I really enjoyed leading it too. I am already planning for the next one and with a little more experience under my belt hopefully it will be even better than this one!