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Yoga Me Well Blog

Holidays on the Inside

The retreat sounded lovely: early morning meditation, yoga asana and pranayama, chanting, nature walks, lots of time to sit and just be.  I live simply and though once a hard-core backpacker, I faced that boxy room with its holey, hard, single mattress on an unswept floor and the fist-sized hole in the wall with faltering equanimity. It was the vegetarian `dinner’ of thin soup that tipped me into prickly aggravation. It had been a long, busy year. I needed a break and this was it. We’d vowed silence for 5 days and the centrifugal force of a speechless mind thrummed. I felt like packing my little red wagon and stomping home.

“Your choice,” Lisa said to Lisa, “make the most of it, or vamoose!”

Retreats have been around forever in various guises but the personal growth retreat (particularly a silent, meditation-only one) is a specific beast you want to consider carefully before securing annual leave. Do you want an expansive, emotionally uncomfortable holiday that offers the possibility of life-altering awareness, or fancy a refreshing kick-back at a Spa? (Day one of our silent retreat, everyone wafted dourly, the deprivation of voice was like losing your Tonka truck Christmas day).

Thank god Happiness arrived the next day, around lunchtime. Quite quickly my city-sider’s cyclonic mind settled to gentle reflection and long stretches of stillness under a doona of wellbeing. Soon after, all movement slowed down. But then came paranoia, dribbling tears, awkwardness, vulnerability, and finally, the Grand Wailing after relaxation – a wide open wailing that released something that needed to go. I’d opened the cells of my mind and body through yoga and allowed my inside to tumble out.

I sidled back into the world a tad sensitive (to people, noise, thoughts, light) and reluctantly received my racing mind, yet with more determination to live in the moment, rather than diving into unhappy past and tormented future thought-scapes.


Doover (not his real name), a buddy and veteran of yogic and Buddhist retreats, agrees that “reintegrating” into work-a-day time is “intense, almost overwhelming” initially. He also felt challenged by the conscious decision to either rejoin the “rat race” or start chipping away at the darker self he found mirrored in quiet reflection.

Emilie’s 21-day Vipassana retreat in Thailand changed her life by stripping her bare of distracting comfort: dressed in white (no jewellery, no perfume), two meals per day, only 10-15 minute breaks from all-day meditation, culminating in 3 days of sleepless meditation confined to her room (no shower or change of clothes).

“I couldn’t read or write, use the phone or internet. I couldn’t listen to music. Even doing yoga was prohibited. You were just alone with your mind. . . I felt like I was losing my identity,” she says.


It’s not uncommon to feel disassembled and for those who quietly salivate after the Holy Grail of feeling “universal connection”, the journey often ends in spiritual thirst.  But for Emilie, learning to sit with feelings of anger and sadness while maintaining peace is the gift that now infuses her daily life. Yogi friend Michele ( finds retreating from modern life a way to open to negative patterns and tendencies. In silence, that little voice in your head, dictating your actions and outcomes, becomes very, very loud. You can’t help but notice it.

One woman on my retreat who had experimented with the steely rigours of Zen, applied wild-eyed, ferocious discipline to her week, unleashing darkness in her quest for light. During our daily group “Is-everyone-ok?” time, she’d flare: “Sometimes I just want to give it all the F@#$ up!”.

Doover calls that the “Let’s just go to the F-ing pub and have a beer” retreat syndrome. Swearing is an important part of it.


Important too, is finding a retreat leader who you can trust to soften landings as thought dissipates and feelings flood in. If you swim to safety through your own backwash, you’ll probably want to come again.



Maitripa Retreat Centre, Healesville

Maitripa Retreat hosts oodles of retreats. Call for a schedule. Basic, but lovely valley view and bush walks.


Satyananda Retreat, Rocklyn

Clean, well-run, and well regarded within the yoga community.


Hepburn Retreat Centre

Yogini gal-pal Jen reckons this one’s okay if you’re fine with basics.


Vipassana Centre, Woori Yallock

Shiatsu masseur buddy, Miro says it’s the real deal, a 10 day silent retreat that alters life.


Gita Yoga Bali Retreat

Gita gal-pals love this one: luxury all the way, light-on inner exploration.

Liv Mitchell

One response to “Holidays on the Inside”

  1. Well that’s lovely to hear, thank you for the very kind feedback. It’s certainly my aim to engage and entertain in a thoughtful, relevant way. Warm smiles your way…

Liv Mitchell is a senior teacher of yoga, mindfulness and a freelance writer.

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