Hellooooo! I'm back and although I was only gone two weeks, I felt like I had a lifetime of experiences. Apparently waking up at 3:30am makes one day feel like ten! For those of you who don't know, I was at a Kundalini Yoga Retreat for 10 days called Summer Solstice. Kundalini Yoga is an intense, dynamic practice that coordinates movement with breath work often quickly and for a set period of time (i.e. you may repeat one movement and breathing pattern for 3 minutes). It's a powerfully effective practice that gives you the tools to cope with daily struggles and to achieve a peaceful, meditative state. I was introduced to this practice by my lovely yoga teacher in California, Nicole (Guru Karam Kaur). As someone who has experienced intense anxiety, I realized that my anxiety didn't stand a chance when met with this powerful form of yoga. It's not for everyone and some people think it's strange because it is (lots of huffing and puffing with weird breathing techniques while doing interesting yoga poses will make anyone feel silly), but it works. I've found a lot of relief in it and have learned that it can be applied to so many parts of my life. This Summer Solstice was the second one I attended as I felt eager to learn and challenge myself. One of my best friends, who I haven't seen since our last Summer Solstice adventure, flew out to Marquette, MI to embark on yet another epic road trip leading us to New Mexico for the retreat. We had an amazing time and got to explore America in my favorite way, on the road. It's the perfect way to transition into a 10-day Yoga Retreat, which leads me to this year's experience.
Between classes, working in the kitchen, and participating in yoga and meditation at 9000 feet on holy Hopi land in New Mexico, I learned a heck of a lot in 10 days. Although much of it is difficult to put into words. Quite honestly, I think I'll be processing the whole experience for months to come, but I'd love to share with you what I can.
10 Lessons Learned Meditating and Yoga-ing at 9000 Feet in 110 Degree Heat with 2000 People
1. Essential oils are your best friends. Lavender helps heal burns, peppermint helps sooth, and blends are great for achy muscles and mental clarity. Hot days and spray bottles with water and essential oils are a divine combination that cools you down and makes you feel a little bit pampered. Also, when you're camping for days in extreme heat with thousands of other people, good smells are welcomed.
2. It feels damn good to use your body. Doing up to 4 hours of yoga a day, plus volunteering in the kitchen for 6 hours had me exerting myself physically more than I think I ever have. Working in a kitchen is something I'm used to, but not one that makes meals for 2000 people. There is a lot of heavy lifting involved! It was amazing to see how my body began to change in just 10 days. I feel stronger, empowered, and inspired to keep my lifestyle active. I was also surprised at how much energy I felt from doing that much activity.
3. When you push through perceived limitations, you will shock yourself at what you're capable of. One portion of the retreat included spending three days meditating in simple yoga postures for 6-8 hours, sometimes holding one pose for 62 minutes. What starts as a simple pose quickly turns painful when you're holding it for that long. I was able to surprise myself with my strength and also reach a mental state that allowed me to meditate above the pain and achieve comfort. It was a huge lesson on how powerful the mind is.
Natasha and I after 8 hours of meditating
4. To sweat is to pray. My last day at Solstice I went to a dance class that blew my mind. We started with a little bit of yoga and then danced to some amazing music. Our teacher guided us so beautifully that we were able to fully embrace the experience without feeling awkward or embarrassed. At one point, she said to us, "to sweat is to pray." In that moment I remembered how meditating and spiritual experiences can be achieved in so many ways and anyone can find a practice that feels right to them such as running, dancing, hula hooping, mindfulness, silence, etc.
5. When you walk an unbeaten path, you aren't alone. My lifestyle and career choice has led me down a road that often feels very different than others and can sometimes feel lonely. Going to this yoga retreat, I was suddenly surrounded by other people drawn to a life of healing and wellness. My first day, I met a woman who is a Natural Chef and Wellness Coach and I was so stoked to meet another one of me! I quickly remembered the importance of attending events and conferences that allow you to access the community you're apart of so that you can get advice, inspiration, and understanding. IT helped me feel more equipped and supported in offering my services to the public. I encourage everyone to find people that share their passions in order to learn, grow, and be inspired.
6. Morning people know what's up! This year I was much better at going to bed early than last year, which allowed me to wake up at 3:30am and participate in the programs and classes offered. Besides napping during the 5am meditations (so hard not to), I stayed alert and active all day. This year I was able to attend way more classes because I wasn't tired. In 10 days I developed an enjoyable routine that allowed me to start my day with yoga and meditation, energetically volunteer in the kitchen, take 3 classes a day, socialize and have fun, and get some peaceful, relaxing alone time. I felt so perfectly balanced! Being a night owl, I've always resisted the idea of waking up early, but this was such a powerful experience helping me realize that starting early can allow me to take full advantage of a day. I'm so inspired to push through my sleepy, groggy morning resistance and start getting up earlier. Plus, sunrises are awesome!
7. Meditation is a powerful tool for clarity and inner peace. Duh, right?! Well, I think this is a realization that I will continue to re-experience and I think it will always blow my mind. In the first two days I had such a deeper understanding of the struggles I've been experiencing, which allows me to start letting them go. Also, it allows me to function more peacefully and efficiently in my daily life. Meditation is the real deal people!
8. It's okay to feel your feelings. One of my favorite things about kundalini yoga is that it helps you use some of your most uncomfortable emotions to achieve a relaxed state. Anger is a feeling that I always resist, but it's natural to feel it sometimes and it's quite powerful. There are a lot of poses and dynamic kundalini exercises that allow you to use that power, burn off steam, and feel peaceful. This way you have an outlet for that anger and it doesn't seep into your life through snappy comments and hurtful words. Being away from my kundalini yoga teacher, I had forgotten what a great coping mechanism this is and am excited about using it again. Embrace and love yourself and all that you feel. That acceptance will help heal you and bring you to a happier, healthier existence.
9. Coconut oil is da bomb! It's amazing how a hot, dry climate leeches all the moisture out of your skin. I got into a routine of applying coconut oil to my body after all my showers and it was amazing how much better I felt. Also, the hot sun and thin air of high elevation increases sunburn risks. Coconut oil, amazingly, has a low SPF level that will act as a natural sunblock. It worked great for me! Also, the smell is lovely.
10. "If you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all." This powerful Yogi Bhajan quote hit me in a very deep place and acted as a sort of wake-up call for me. I think it's an important concept for anyone no matter what your spiritual beliefs are. What I took it to mean was that in order to fully love and accept ourselves we must learn to fully love and accept others. In that love and acceptance there is divine connection. One thing that happens when you get 2000 people in one space is there is a lot of bumping into each other, which irritated the heck out of me (it reminded me of being stuck in traffic without air conditioning). I realized that irritations give rise to snap judgements and negative thoughts, which is a small example of how judgements can seep into our lives. After hearing this quote, I began to be more aware of some of my negative thoughts and actively meet them with love and acceptance. This will be an ongoing exercise, but it's quite powerful and will leave you feeling more peaceful and connected. Love, man, is a powerful thing (imagine me saying that like Jeff Bridges would while holding up a peace sign).
Well, folks, that's my epic journey abridged for you. I'm currently processing the whole experience, which was aided by my solo 24-hour drive back to the U.P. That was the first time I road tripped that far by myself and that in itself was a challenge that left me feeling more confident and empowered. It was a great way to transition back into my daily life! Although I did miss having a navigator as I'm quite directionally challenged and, admittedly, a little spacey (especially after 10 days of meditating). But, hey, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Despite one speeding ticket and a few wrong turns, I am feeling quite proud of myself!
I'm sure I'll have additional blog posts on the things I've learned and I'm really excited to incorporate these tools into my daily life and business. If anyone has any questions or interests let me know and I'd be happy to share more with you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Lots of love!