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What happens on a mindfulness retreat?

Many people who participate in our 8-week mindfulness courses or come to other activities ask us: "What exactly is a mindfulness retreat? What should I expect?" Maybe you have wondered too?

In our retreats, there are always people who participate for the first time. Some people don't even have much experience with mindfulness at all. They may have tried to practice a bit on their own, or mainly practiced yoga with a short meditation at the end of a session. We welcome both experienced meditators and people seeking for an intense deep-dive to take a pause with us.

As we are transitioning from 18 months of living in a pandemic, with social limitations and lots of change, to opening up again to a normality, going on a retreat can be an effective way to incorporate and dealing with these changes. 

Stepping out of the busyness

Even though participants who are new to a retreat usually start with some nervousness, or even with some scepticism, it's always wonderful to witness the transformation taking place.

At the start of a retreat, you can feel how people are still very much in the "doing mode". They might have driven to the retreat location after a busy week, and you can almost sense their minds continually spinning and buzzing.

But little by little, you can witness how they let go of tensions, of the busyness of their lives, and how they sink into a more relaxed, open state of mind. You can simply see it on participants' faces: from serious and hardened faces with lots of frowns, a gentle smile emerges and starts to radiate.

In the English language, the verb "to retreat" means "to go away from a place in order to escape from fighting or danger; to go to a quiet and safe place in order to avoid a difficult situation". It is often used as a military term, when an army retreats away from the battlefield.

Maybe your life also feels like a battlefield from time to time? In the hectic lives we lead, we can easily get stuck in the "survival" mode, constantly coping with all that comes at us and is on our to-do list, and losing fun and meaning along the way.

Long-lasting effects

A mindfulness retreat is a chance to step away from that chaos, in order to recover and recharge with a new, more gentle and grounded energy. It is a moment to nourish yourself from within through taking a pause and focusing only on that which gives you energy. It's a time-out, allowing you to connect deeply within to your own needs and values, and from that build positive connections to others.

The wonderful thing is that this new energy often lasts a long time after the retreat, even when you step back into the hurricane. This is a question people often have: "But what when I get back to my normal life? It can be very nice to wind down and relax, but then I have to get back anyway. Won't I quickly lose everything I've gained?"

A mindfulness retreat is much more than a short moment of wellness. The paradox of mindfulness is that you slow down and learn to relax long-term by becoming more aware of all the busyness created inside of you.

Dealing more constructively with difficulties

It's not because you are at a mindfulness retreat that all of the sudden all the endless thinking, planning and worrying stops. On the contrary, it might even increase at first. So it's certainly not all bliss in a mindfulness retreat. Sometimes, difficult stuff that has been around for a while might come up to the surface.

As mindfulness teachers, we know there are several difficulties you can encounter in a retreat, so we build the retreat around them, and offer suggestions on how to deal with them. These common obstacles include for example sleepiness and tiredness, continuous distracting thoughts coming up, difficult emotions, or restlessness.

These are also common obstacles in daily life, and a retreat is the right place to start dealing with them in a more helpful way. By giving them more space and treating yourself with kindness and friendliness, the knots created by these past difficulties can untangle more easily. After a retreat, you often go home with new insights. You incorporate ways to be kinder to yourself so stress doesn't build up as quickly anymore.

Nourishing silence

We always start a retreat with a moment of sharing why you're there. This sharing helps to realise that you're not alone in your process, which already has a calming effect.

After the initial sharing, we invite everyone to remain silent during the retreat. This includes a digital detox as well. Refraining from speaking and our devices can be hard, but is also extremely nourishing. There are, however, dedicated moments in which you can share about your experience, either in the bigger group or individually with the trainer.

Some of our retreats are in complete silence, whereas others have silent moments and times at which you can have mindful conversations. The silence in a retreat is often perceived as the most beneficial factor, even if it seems a bit scary at first. When you stop speaking, there is much more time and space to reconnect with yourself. The social pressure falls away and you get real "me-time". At the end of a retreat, people are often sad about the silence being broken.

A variety of practices

In our retreats, we introduce you to a wide variety of practices. We don't only practice sitting meditation, but also mindful movement, yoga, walking meditation, eating with mindfulness, mindful speaking and listening, etc. This variation helps you to continue including mindfulness practices into your daily life afterwards, because you can pick and choose from a wider repertoire.

And just in case - if you worry about having to sit on the floor in lotus posture for hours on end, you can relax. Our retreats are all about taking good care of yourself, so you choose how you want to sit, on a cushion, on a chair, with or without aids, or even lying down.

As mindfulness teachers, we are encouraged by our different professional associations to participate in at least one silent retreat per year, but we often do more than one. Because it's only during a retreat that you really learn to understand the power of meditation. So we speak from our own experience if we recommend you to take part in a retreat!

Have a look at the video below for some visual impressions, or check out our agenda for upcoming retreats.