Retreat to Proceed

yoga retreatI’m at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, teaching yoga for athletes all week. It strikes me that a yoga retreat is a lot like training camp for athletes. It gets us out of our mundane routine and puts us in a space—both physically and, just as importantly, mentally—where we can focus our full attention on the subject at hand.

Physiologically, training camp applies an overload stress to the body. Whether you’re practicing asana, posting heavy mileage, or perfecting your pitch, training camp is a big physical load. And that’s good—by judiciously applying this heavy load, we encourage the body to adapt, to supercompensate. By taking the time to rest, the body grows back stronger. Rest is a critical component here, and it should be abundant during training camp. That’s part of the beauty of getting out of the daily routine: we get to focus specifically on working when it’s time to work, and on resting when the work is done, without the usual attention to family, chores, and wrapping up tasks.

Psychologically, training camp gives us a chance for connection and planning. If you’re part of a team (even part of a couple on retreat together), taking this time together in a new environment can help strengthen your relationship and even establish new modes of healthy communication. And as we plan the season or year moving forward, we get to determine where we want to wind up and to set goals to help measure progress along the way.

In the crucible of training camp or on retreat, we can make a connection between the physical and the mental, watching how we react to the stresses of asana, of meditation, or of training. We get to practice useful coping skills in a controlled environment, honing our abilities to stay calm under pressure, and this can lay the groundwork for a successful mental approach during the rest of the season or year.

If you don’t have the luxury of an offsite retreat or camp, you can approximate the experience at home, taking a weekend to focus exclusively on a smart overload of stress. String together a few classes or workshops with a period of quiet introspection at home, or increase your training load judiciously and follow each session with a careful attention to rest and recovery. You’ll be laying the groundwork for a great 2013.