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  • Writer's pictureJulie Stansfield

Day-long at home yoga and meditation retreat… hard can that be??

Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t too bad! When I attended yin teacher training with Sarah Powers, she shared guidelines for this home practice, recommending we give it a go. It has only taken me about 18 months to give it a go, and I’m pleased to say that it won’t be another 18 months before I follow the practice again.

I’ve had the feeling for a while that I needed to shake up a couple of my lifestyle choices, and focus on my home practice. Class prep practice is important, but time spent doing some personal practice is equally as important, and may actually be more important, allowing me to be in a good mind space to teach. After a recent yoga teaching mentoring session I received the encouragement I needed to feel motivated. So…now I’m just over half way through my 40 day challenge. For 40 days I will stand on my mat and/or sit on my meditation cushion every day. Oh yes, and the lifestyle choices….giving up alcohol and coffee. I’ve done alcohol-free for 30 days a couple of times before, but not 40 days – mmmm, just a little bit more commitment!

What better way to kick-start my challenge than with a day focused on the mat and the cushion?

As I was enthusiastic and raring to begin, I woke before my alarm sounded and seated on my cushion just before 7am. Sarah teaches to arrive on your cushion and sit for 5 minutes, inquiring ‘how am I feeling now?’ Fifteen minutes later after some pranayama I was ready to start the first of nine 24 minute meditation sessions I would be undertaking over the next 15 hours. For the first 12 minutes I focus on my breath, while for the second 12 minutes I practice mindfulness of the present moment focusing on body sensations, feelings, my changing mind state and environmental features. A light breakfast of fresh fruit follows, then a quick shower, and before sitting for the next Ghatika (an ancient Indian term which refers to 24 minutes) I pick some flowers which I place at the front of my mat.

And then begins my first yoga session - a 45 minute standing asana sequence which helps to warm my body, increase my heart rate and brings strength and grounding to my lower body. I end the session feeling energized….and ready to sit again. My next asana sequence features inversions which enhance blood flow to the brain and stimulate the lymphatic, digestive and eliminative systems. My body and mind feel vibrant and enlivened. To quiet the nervous system I chose a couple of seated forward bends and end this session relaxing for 30 minutes in savasana.

The morning has flown by. It’s time for a lunch of lightly sautéed vegetables and quinoa, followed by lying down and resting for the next hour. I’m back once again to my cushion for more mindfulness meditation. My body is feeling good and sitting is relatively comfortable, although there is stiffness in the hips when it’s time to move! Time now for a juicy 45 minute yin practice, firstly concentrating on the kidney meridian and then ending with poses to stimulate the liver meridian which focuses on my hips……interesting sensations and feelings are arising! The instructions suggest listening to a taped spiritual talk for the next 30 minutes– I choose a talk I’ve downloaded previously by Richard Miller, the founder of the iRest yoga nidra practice. In this talk he draws on lessons from Buddha. And….it’s straight into another 24 minutes of mindfulness on my meditation cushion.

Fortunately the predicted late afternoon showers have not arrived and I’m able to go outdoors for a brisk 30 minute walk along the river. It feels great to be striding out. Turning around to head back, I slow my pace and retrace my steps practising a walking meditation – for 12 minutes with each inhalation I say ‘breathing’ and exhaling I repeat ‘feeling’, followed by another 12 minutes repeating ‘breathing’ on each inhalation but now exhaling saying ‘listening’.

Like my morning, this afternoon has disappeared and I sit down to a light dinner of soup and salad. Each meal today has become a practice in mindfulness, taking my time to savour every bite. I realize I’m guilty of gulping down my meals and being distracted as my computer is usually set up next to my plate or at dinnertime I sit in front of the TV watching the news. That needs to change!

It’s back to my cushion again….followed by 30 minutes reading a dharma book – my choice is Buddhism – A Concise introduction. This book was required reading when I trained with Sarah, and I find myself picking it up again from time to time.

Eight o’clock, and I’ve still got 2 hours to go. Another meditation sit is followed by 30 minutes of yin poses against the wall lying on my back, and ending with a reclined twist. I pour myself a calming peppermint tea and prepare for bed. But before I turn out the lights I end my day-long retreat practising a Maitri (compassion) meditation for the last 24 minutes. Lying down I recite the phrases May I and all beings be well,

May I and all beings be at peace,

May I and all being feel connected,

May I and all beings be free from suffering, and the roots of suffering, and enjoy

genuine happiness.

I drift into a deep, restful sleep.

I’ll let you know how the next 39 days go…..

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