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To retreat or not to retreat: is there a question?

The word ‘retreat’ seems to keep company with a lot of those ‘re’ words: relax, rejuvenate, refresh, revive, renew. It sounds like we could all do with a bit more ‘re’ in our lives and as for ‘treats’, well, those are nice too. But ‘re’ also carries with it the idea of going backwards. The word ‘retreat’ itself can be defined as “an act of moving back or withdrawing.”

That doesretreatn’t sound so good. Surely we want to go forwards, that’s what progress is isn’t it?

Well yes, but only if we are going in the right direction and at a sensible speed. Otherwise, we might want to take our foot off the accelator, slow down, maybe even pull over to check the map.

Once our engine has cooled we might be ready to go again – ­hopefully at a speed that allows us to take in the scenery and doesn’t cause smoke to pour out of the engine. Or we might just discover a new route, one that we never knew existed, one that is way nicer than the road we were on.

To take a miltary definition, to retreat is “to withdraw or retire in order to adopt a more favourable position”. This is clearly a ‘treat’ in that you get to relax after battle, and a new way forward as you discover your ‘more favourable position’. That sounds like win-win.

But we are not cars, or armies, and we don’t retreat solely to refuel and march on to kick battlefield-butt. Our needs, purposes and aspirations run a little deeper. Humans retreat to rediscover their deeper nature, to realise the spark within, to realign with a deeper passion or purpose. This happens regardless of whether we realise it, and even if we consciously reject such things as a bit ‘hippy’.

We do this by trying something new, by challenging ourselves, by playing, by meeting new people, by learning, by being inspired, by being present and by being empowered by great teachers who have themselves done the above.

Retreats are wideranging, as are their benefits and the way they impact the course of your life. Maybe you try an ayurveda retreat and it leads to a more holistic and empowered view of health with fewer trips to the doctor. Maybe you challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace fun and play with a Jivamutki yoga retreat. Maybe you find your creativity and natural expression with a painting retreat or experience a more energetic body and clearer mind with a detox retreat.

All of these experiences can completely change the course of your life, which is only natural when you retreat into an immersive experience that is completely unlike your everyday life. When you reemerge you are changed. Sometimes that change isn’t immediately obvious, but it slowly and surely weaves golden strands through the fabric of your life.

Sometimes the change is more dramatic. You arrive home, clear your cupboards of junk food and embark on an incredible nutritional journey (as did Azul guest, Matthew). You start a daily meditation practice. You sign up for a Pilates course… maybe you even have a change of career and become a Pilates instructor.

A retreat then, is not simply “an act of moving back or withdrawing”. It is the art of going inwards, of stepping outside of everyday life, in order to engage with it more meaningfully, to embrace a revitalised experience of life, a new flow.

To retreat or not to retreat: there is no question.

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Azul tip: As nice as it is, a retreat doesn’t always have to mean a week’s holiday in the sun. With a focus on the breath, you can experience a mini-retreat anywhere, anytime. Try simply lengthening your outbreath. Your outbreath is linked to your parasympathetic nervous system so making your exhale longer than your inhale is like stepping on the brake. Try counting to four on the inhale and six on the exhale or experiment and find a count that works for you. Repeat regularly to really reap the benefits.[/dropshadowbox]

About the author

Cat Easterbrook’s first retreat was at Villa Azul in 2011 and she’s never looked back, going on to join the Azul team and exercising her love of writing, design and photography as well as getting on her yoga mat as often as possible.