If you follow me on Instagram, you know I recently spent a week in Aruba on a “Healing the Heart” retreat co-taught by Rachel Brathen and Shubhaa Fisher at Island Yoga. To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had never been on any type of retreat and while I knew this would be more than just yoga, I wasn’t sure how we were going to be “healing” and what that looked like. All I knew is that I needed to go.
I’ve been wanting to take myself on a yoga retreat for years. But with every passing year, I found myself spending my precious vacation days on trips with my partner, to visit family and for wedding-related events. Real talk: it’s tough to spend PTO on a trip for just yourself! However, last fall when I saw the Healing the Heart retreat online (and that it started 1 day after I turned 30!), I immediately registered. I knew this was the retreat for me.
The truth is I did (and do) need to do some healing of my heart. This retreat focused on trauma healing and utilized yoga, meditation, breathwork and more to help attendees release feelings and move through pain. I carry a significant amount of emotional trauma from my childhood and teen years that continues to affect me. I’ve been in one-on-one therapy for years but I was ready to get some outside perspective and give a group experience a try.
I was accompanied by 49 other women, each with their own stories and trauma histories, and it was a week I will never forget. I never in my life have become so close, so quickly, to a group of strangers from all over the world. We were united by our vulnerability, tears, dancing and hugs. It was a level of love I have never encountered. It was a safe and sacred space and I am incredibly grateful to have the resources to attend such a special gathering.
While this retreat was held in a popular vacation destination, we were busy working the entire time. We stayed a 5-minute walk away from the studio and that daily walk back-and-forth was pretty much my only exposure to Aruba, save for the SUP (stand-up paddle board) yoga on the beach we did on our second-to-last morning. Our days started at 7 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m and usually went something like this:
7 a.m. smoothies, coffee and tea
7:30 a.m. yoga practice
9 a.m. breakfast
10:30 a.m morning session
12:30 p.m. lunch
2:30 p.m. afternoon session
5:00 p.m. fika (Swedish tea and snack break)
5:30 p.m. continuing afternoon session
7:00 p.m. dinner
8:30 p.m. evening session
The food was all vegan, delicious and provided buffet-style. I was in food heaven! The cafe also was open in case you wanted extra food or fancy drinks to purchase a la carte. The “sessions” usually started with dancing (which was super fun and a great way to pump up the energy and shake off any nerves) and then involved meditation (guided, dynamic, chakra, visualization, etc.), breathwork, lecture and/or sharings. We even got into somatic experiencing a little bit.
We were given time to journal each day and also given a prompt for something to journal about before bed. This was huge for me as I’ve had a major barrier to journaling since I was a kid (my parents read my diary and I haven’t felt safe writing down my feelings ever since). I’m so happy that this retreat got me into journaling (finally!) and that I’ve since continued this practice at home.
Even though dynamic meditation was uncomfortable for me, I enjoyed the release it brought. I haven’t done anything like that at home but am trying to get back into the habit of some daily quiet time in my meditation space at home to sit, stretch, journal and drop into my heart.
It’s impossible to fully articulate what took place at the Healing the Heart retreat but after some reflection, I wanted to share a few lessons I took away. It’s incredible what a week of presence, mindfulness and feeling can do!
Everyone is working through something
Our first night after the welcome dinner we sat in a circle in the Luna Shala (which we basically moved into for the week) and each took a moment to share what brought us to the retreat. Women of a variety of ages and backgrounds shared their pain and traumas. You can never judge a book by its cover and no matter how someone looks or acts, you truly have no idea what they’re going through. Let this serve as a reminder to treat all you come across with compassion and respect.
Feeling our feelings is the only way forward
This might sound a little mushy, but can you say that you truly feel your feelings? I know I don’t, not all the time. Life is so busy that it’s easy to push feelings away and rush on to the next thing we have to do. Not to mention, a lot of feelings are uncomfortable. It’s important to feel our feelings, whether we perceive them to be negative or positive. Feeling anger and sadness is just as important as feeling joy and excitement. At the retreat we talked about vulnerability and the protections we use to prevent feeling our true feelings. We learned that facing the uncomfortable stuff is the way to true healing.
Listening is very powerful
I really loved the one-on-one sharings we did with each other. We took turns speaking and the other person just listened. It’s amazing how much you can communicate without verbally responding to someone and how very meaningful it is to hold space and just listen. It also helped me realize I don’t need to fix things for people or have some amazing advice to offer (something I’m guilty of trying to do). Just listening is enough. Imagine if we all took time to do this with our partners, friends and family! Many of us simply want to be heard.
Pain is not greater than the love we can cultivate
This one is tough. This one I’m choosing to trust even though I don’t totally believe it. We did a visualization meditation which moved me so much. We sat on a yoga mat with our eyes closed. At the top left of the mat was a bolster and at the top right was a folded blanket. We gently moved to sit on the bolster and imagined our adult, woman selves. Then we sat on the blanket and imagined our child, girl selves. Then we sat back on the bolster as our woman selves and “looked” over at our girl selves. We considered what the girl needed and never got. How she felt. We imagined our woman selves giving our little girl selves what she needed. Did she need to be held? Heard? Played with? Talked to? Nutured? Loved? Is it possible that my woman self can provide my little girl self everything she needed and never got? I’m not sure, but through mindfulness, self-compassion and asking for what I need from those who truly care about me, I’m going to try.
Whatever trauma you have experienced, you can work toward healing. Even if you can’t afford to escape to an island for a week and learn from experts, there are things you can do today. I’m a huge fan of therapy and many health insurance plans cover it. If you do not have health insurance, check with clinics in your community for low or no cost counseling options. If you are thinking about hurting yourself or ending your life, please call 1-800-273-8255 right away. We see you. We hear you. We care about you. We want you here.
P.S. If this experience sounds interesting to you, Rachel and Shubhaa will be hosting another Healing the Heart retreat in December 2019!