Are you feeling that urge to get away from it all? Longing for a reset? Do you have an interest in beginning or deepening your meditation practice? If your answer to any of those questions is yes, you may be considering attending a meditation retreat. A meditation retreat is a vacation during which you dedicate some, most, or all of your time to your meditation practice. You may find guided group sessions, informal sittings, educational talks, mindful practices (such as silence, mindful eating, or mindful walking), and/or adventurous excursions. There are as many styles of meditation retreats as there are styles of meditation (there are a lot!) and it’s worth doing some research to see what you’re in for.
Learn to Stay
On a retreat you will find inspiration in the location, accommodations, food, professional guidance, and activities offered. Whatever style retreat you choose, you can expect to learn, experience, and practice what American Buddhist Pema Chodron calls the art of “learning to stay.” In The Places That Scare You, Chodron says, “In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there for long periods of time but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This feeling can be so uncomfortable and challenging that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but also about what it is to be human.”
Benefits of Meditation
Whether you are a long-time practitioner or are interested in trying that oft-lauded hippie route to mellow out, surely you’ve heard the many benefits of meditation. Science backs what devotees have known for centuries: meditation is good for you! Meditation is the practice of sitting still and breathing mindfully to calm the body, mind, and spirit. There are many activities that can be meditative, though a formal meditation practice is characterized by finding a comfortable seat, allowing stillness, focusing on the breath or a mantra, and remaining there for a period of time. Some of the benefits of a regular meditation practice include:
- Lowered anxiety
- Positive changes in the neuroplasticity of the brain areas that regulate attention, emotion, and self-awareness
Benefits of a Meditation Retreat
So, even though it is possible to practice meditation entirely on your own (in fact, you don’t actually need anything or anyone in order to meditate—what’s stopping you?!), it can be helpful to be guided. It is valuable to have the inspiration and accountability of a group and a teacher. On a meditation retreat you will have the opportunity to put your phone away, immerse yourself in self-study, get out of your regular rut or routine, meet like-minded folks interested in personal growth, and learn insightful techniques that you can take home with you to bolster your personal practice. There are many reasons to head out on retreat and many potential benefits including:
- Stress relief
- Immersion in nature
- Healthy and nourishing food
- Long-term healing
- Communal time
- Improved fitness
As you begin to prepare for your retreat, consider some things you may confront that could stand in your way of enjoying a satisfying retreat.
- Is there business at home or at work that needs to be tied up before you leave town?
- Is there a chance of any past traumas or inner demons being triggered while you meditate?
- Are there some personal fears related to the retreat that could potentially sabotage your experience?
Get clear on these elements and you’ll be well on your way. Whether you’re thinking of attending a meditation retreat for the first time or you’re looking for some tips to prepare for another trip, consider the following advice as you get ready to sit.
1. Pack Up
Pack your bags according to the packing list provided by your retreat leaders and take everything you will need to be comfortable.
- Take your favorite meditation cushion.
- Take a journal for jotting down any thoughts or insights that come up while you sit.
- Pack some photos of your loved ones, some special stones, and small sacred items so you can create a mini altar while you’re away.
- Take a refillable water bottle.
- Pack some essential oils like peppermint, wild orange, or cinnamon that will help keep your mind clear and body grounded while you travel.
And, finally, remember you do not actually need anything to sit and meditate, so if you forget something, you will still be able to have a satisfying retreat. (Or even if you don’t, that will be part of your journey!)
2. Do Your Research
When you are on retreat, do you want to share a room or have your own space? Will the meals provided attend to your dietary restrictions and needs or will you need to supplement what is offered with your own food? Make sure you are aware of the practices and rituals expected of you while on the trip you have chosen so you can be prepared.
3. Get Some Comfy Clothes
Wherever you choose to go on retreat, you’ll surely be spending a significant time meditating. So you will want clothes that you feel comfortable in. Treat yourself to some new cozy pants, shorts, and oversized tops. You’ll want to wear something lightweight, stretchy, and flowing (probably not too-tight yoga pants or jeans). Wash your new meditation attire prior to retreating to reduce the chances of allergies or itching—sitting in meditation is challenging enough without the hindrance of uncomfortable clothing!
4. Tell Someone
Share the news of your retreat ahead of time. Let someone know where you’re headed and how you’re feeling about it. Telling someone will allow you to express your anticipation, whether it’s with excitement or hesitation. This person can also help keep you accountable as you embark on your meditation journey. All kinds of things can come up in meditation: boredom, insight, elation, and intense emotion. Sometimes it helps to have some professional help on hand, so it might be smart to get a hold of a therapist ahead of your trip.
5. Prepare to Disconnect
Going out of cell range or at least away for the weekend can be scary. Set it up so you won’t be worried about business or emails while you are away. Set your email away message so people know when to expect you back. Prepare for a digital detox (no texting! no social media!) by turning your phone off once in a while for an hour (or all night!) a few weeks before you go.
Make sure to give someone the itinerary of your trip, whether you’re headed overseas or nearby your home, and how you can be reached in case of an emergency. Children, loved ones, pets, and coworkers will be more supportive of your meditation journey if you give them a heads up. And you’ll have peace of mind while your search for peace in your mind.
6. Let Go of All Expectations
Even with preparation you will surely be surprised by certain elements of the retreat you attend. Do what you can to get ready and then allow yourself to just go. Meditation is challenging for beginners and experienced meditators alike. So: try meditating, do your research, get some comfy clothes, tell someone, and then let go of any expectations you have.
It’s possible you’ll feel many emotions during the retreat or it’s possible you’ll be super bored. It’s possible you’ll enter the retreat thinking you’ll spend the majority of your time solo and end up making several new friends. You never know what will happen! Your retreat, like each meditation, will be an experience like no other so it’s important to allow yourself the opportunity to receive whatever gifts reveal themselves.
7. Try Meditating
Before entering an immersive, intensive meditation experience, it might be a good idea to, well, try meditating! If you’ve never practiced sitting meditation, give it a go. If you sit regularly, try sitting longer. You could try out some guided meditations from your home or attend group sessions in your community. Get a nice zafu cushion or a special chair for your sessions. Set a timer or use a downloadable app to track your time. There are many resources for meditation practitioners—search and you shall find.
Hopefully this list of suggestions helps you to prepare for your meditation retreat. It’s beneficial to meditate and it’s beneficial to go on holiday, so why not combine the two and spend some time sitting while vacationing? Whichever place you choose to retreat and practice mindfulness, be it out of town or to a sacred spot in or near your home, good luck. And remember: sit, stay, repeat.
Ready to leave hard work and struggle behind for good? Learn how to tap into your soul and manifest your desires at Seduction of Spirit, our signature meditation and yoga retreat led by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.