As a mom of three and full-time midwife, I feel like I am constantly treading water—barely able to keep my head above surface level as I juggle carpools, after-school activities, two 24-hour shifts at a busy Philadelphia hospital, finding time to connect with my husband, friends, and family, and more. And, while I manage on most days to wake up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in a yoga practice, run, or spin class before the rest of my house wakes up, the time I carve out for myself is limited, at best.
Which is why I’ve been longing to go on a yoga retreat for a while now, and find myself daydreaming about a solid week of meditation and asana practice each morning, mid-afternoon naps in a hammock, and nights spent luxuriating over organic greens and inspiring dinner-table conversations. (No 3-year-old, sweet-potato slinging to contend with! Dreamy!)
Yet while it was clear to me that I needed some kind of getaway that involved more than an early morning sweat session or guzzling coffee with my mom friends, leaving family- and work-life behind just wasn’t in the cards. Which is why the Rise Gatherings Day of Renewal Retreat, a one-day event designed specifically to nourish and empower women, intrigued me. I could swing a one-day getaway—but would it make that much of an impact? Turns out the answer is a resounding yes. Here’s what this day-long retreat taught me—and how it’s reconnected me with the true purpose of my yoga practice at this point in my life.
There were about 20 women gathered at a picturesque home nestled in the woods of New Hope, PA, for Rise Gathering’s retreat. We ranged in age, from our 20s to our 60s, and quickly discovered we were in very different life phases, too, all showing up for our own unique reasons. But here’s the thing: We all showed up. It didn’t matter who was a mom and who wasn’t, who was gay or straight, who was committed to the corporate ladder and who stayed home full-time with their kids. It was all beside the point, and I quickly felt that, in some way, these were my people—people who would instinctively understand me.
When we sat in an opening introductory circle and I explained the “doozy of a year” I had just experienced, and shared that I was looking to get back on some sort of a path, I felt vulnerable—but also comforted by all of the sighs of recognition and nodding heads. And when a woman in her 60s who sat across the circle from me talked about all of the times she had re-invented herself throughout her life, I thought “Brilliant! If she can do that, maybe I can, too!” There was a warmth, and an instant vibe where I felt safe and understood—and that feeling only grew throughout the day.
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I am all about efficiency. Much of it is my Type A personality, but the demands of my life with three littles and a full-time job also keep me on a tight schedule. So, whether it’s my girls’ bath time or my own exercise time, I tend to stick rather tightly to my routines. Which is why I was surprised how amazingly liberating it felt to do so many different things for a day: an hour of Kettlebell Kundalini (which kicked my butt as it linked breath, strength, and movement); a “forest bath,” where we took a meditative hike in the woods; and even Breath Yoga, where I had to challenge myself to slow down and sink into a softness my go-to vigorous Vinyasa practice doesn’t always include.
The best part? All of this inspired a post-run Savasana in the grass outside of my house weeks later—a far cry from my usual post-run routine, where I don’t even take the time to stretch.
There’s a start.
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I’m an introvert, through and through. While I do seek out social experiences with others, my cup tends to be re-filled most fully by solo, quiet time. Which is why I was somewhat shocked at how being with 20 strangers for eight straight hours didn’t leave me feeling drained. But, the retreat’s two facilitators made sure to keep both the introverts and extroverts happy.
For those who wanted constant companionship, there was no shortage of opportunities to mingle. For introverts like me, built-in breaks where we could either choose to socialize, swim, or snack with others or journal, sit alone in the woods, or have some private space in the house to simply be quiet and reflect were amazing. Even taking just a couple, solo 10-minute breaks helped me rejoin the group feeling more grounded and happier.
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I consider myself a health-conscious person. I read the latest studies about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” be eating, and I often put this information into practice. I also try to nourish my family in positive ways. But even with these best of intentions, mealtimes often end up feeling like a chaotic battleground. In short, somewhere in my adulthood, food stopped being fun for me.
But, something at the Rise retreat shifted as I witnessed the other women eagerly standing around the beautifully-presented, plant-based meal that was prepared for us. There was slowness and laughter as people loaded up their plates with black bean gazpacho salad, broccoli-and-cashew cheese quinoa wraps, and roasted cauliflower with lemon tahini. We sipped savory green smoothies out of wine glasses. We gravitated towards places in the house where we could truly enjoy our meals. We slowed down and “oohed and aahed” as we took one delectable bite after another. I almost felt like I was tasting things for the very first time and playing with the act of eating. Even better, all of the recipes came home with us—along with a newfound attitude about how I feed myself and my family.
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Yes, we all know how important self-care is for our sanity. And there’s also a reason we need to be reminded of this—often! What I’ve come to realize is that the root of what has thrown me off my game this year is that I’ve been putting my own needs on the back-burner for so long that, at times, I don’t even know what they are any more. And that needs to change.
At the end of this one-day retreat, we were each invited to pick a card from a big pile around our yoga mats. No two cards were the same. I chose my card and kept it face-down as I sat comfortably on my mat. When I turned it over, I silently read: “Nourish: One day she woke up and she understood she must nourish herself first … and then she could nourish others.”
There it was—the exact reminder I needed.
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