I went on my first yoga retreat about 12 years ago and back then, it seemed a bit of an unusual thing to do. There weren’t so many around and well, it just seemed like something other people did, even though I’d been practising yoga for about 8 years then.

To clarify, a retreat is weekend, week or other period of time where you stay with a group and attend a programme of yoga (or something else) usually twice a day, with all meals provided. This is away from the outside world, which we are literally retreating from. These were traditionally very spiritual and deep periods of reflection and contemplation, practised in many cultures and religions, but more recently have mixed a holiday feeling in so that the more austere and disciplined aspects are replaced with the modern need to relax, step away from life’s expectation and create some space to reflect and regroup.

On that first retreat, from the off, it was clearly a good decision. I wasn’t in the habit of taking holidays planned by other people, I was usually the one calling the shots about what happened and when. So although I had trepidations about the unknown, I remember being excited about having all that decision-making taken out of my hands. I had found a pursuit I deeply loved and wanted to dedicate some time to exploring it further.

Clearly I needed that first retreat more than I knew. When I came back, my boyfriend at the time was completely blown away with how calm and centred I was. I remember that feeling well and know how much our daily lives can conspire to keep us whipped up and away from it.

Our entire beings respond with permission to explore those things we love and often have little time for.

Now I’ve taught my own retreats for years and I am so pleased to help others find that depth of really dropping in to how we can be. Not attached to the next thing or what has to be done, but easily making time and space to simply be. Of course life gets back in the way, but the more we can remove ourselves from the chaos, the more we routinely remember to find peace and calm in everyday life. Even complete beginners to yoga find they can ease into the practice well because they’re relaxed – a great place to explore a new experience.

One of my favourite aspects of retreats is that because the day is started with a chunk of time for self-care – be that a yoga session, t’ai chi, walking or any mindful pursuit – the part of our brain that needs to feel we’ve ‘done something’, that we haven’t wasted time, is pretty well satisfied. This leaves us free to truly relax. With that morning session having opened, energised and moved our bodies in beneficial ways, our entire beings respond with permission to explore those things we love and often have little time for. I always read voraciously on retreats and am able to lie around in a way that I never could do on others holidays, where I was always searching for the next thing to see.

I also nap loads on retreats. My body gets the signals that its now (finally) allowed to rest for a decent amount of time, something sorely missing in our society where we can feel guilty or confused if we relax too long, even when life can be extremely tiring. This is why I personally always teach the afternoon sessions on my retreats as deeply restful, giving students absolute permission to let go and practice the self-compassion we can so often leave out, especially if we have a tendency to look after others.

The nature of retreats helps people to open up

I also love the communal dining aspect, which surprises me as I’m quite a loner. Shared eating and long meals with lots of chat for every meal are incredibly nourishing in more ways than just from the food. We are social animals who evolved in tribes and so many of us miss the big family thing that helps us feel included and the natural joy that comes from human interaction. I’ve always been happy with the balance on retreats that you can access this social aspect when needed, but it’s also completely accepted and not questioned when you want to take yourself away, to be alone or even sleep in the day. Sharing healthy food and having all meals cooked for you is an absolute treat.

Whether as a student or teacher on retreats, I’ve always been really inspired by the different people I’ve met, often from other countries and all bought together by a shared recognition that they need to retreat from the hustle and bustle. The nature of retreats helps people to open up and share incredible parts of their lives, I’m constantly amazed by the different experiences people have had. Most of all, I’ve had the chance to feel connected to others, laugh loads and appreciate humanity again.

Charlotte Watts Yoga Retreats