I went on my first meditation retreat earlier this year at The Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. When I signed up, I envisioned 3 blissful days of meditation in the Pocono mountains, totally serene and free from all worldly distractions. As an avid meditator, I knew this experience would be mixed with stillness, frustration, rapid thoughts and boredom. However, as the retreat began, I started to realize that I’m a newbie rather than an experienced meditator. In the end, I walked away feeling balanced and lighter. I felt clear and content, with a greater capacity for patience, compassion and gratitude. Read on to hear more about my journey.
The Himalayan Institute is a 400-acre woodland campus located in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. It was founded by Swami Rama, one of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century. The campus is simple, leafy and peaceful, with dorms, shared dining hall, hiking trails through the forest and a meditation hall with high ceilings, dim lighting, and customized seating.
This was not a silent retreat, thankfully because I am an outgoing Italian who loves to meet new people! The retreat kicked off with a meet and greet event, where everyone got a chance to get to know one another. Afterwards we had a quick class that went over the basics of breathing, the meditation seat, mantras and tips for a consistent and sustainable practice.
Throughout the next day, I determined my meditation seat, a zen bench with several blankets. I found this kneeling position to be most comfortable since I have tight hips. I understood the concept of belly breathing and the engagement of following my breath. I also purchased sandalwood Mala beads at their cute gift shop. I had my simple mantra picked out, So Ham (pronounced HUM). I was the most prepared yogi ready to meditate!
As we entered the meditation hall, a small quant and dim room that has a giant wood ceiling and fluffy white carpet. I got my seat set up, my mala beads out and I was born ready! As I began to focus on my breath about 2 minutes in, I felt my eye lids get heavy and head start to fall forward. I tried to focus on my mantra to keep my engagement, but I was losing it fast. So much so, that I barely caught myself from falling off my zen bench. For the remaining 15 minutes, I just tried extremely hard not to fall asleep. At this point my monkey mind was in full swing, jumping from thought to thought. Gaining a higher level of consciousness in this meditation session was hopeless. I put in all this hard work and I all I do is fall asleep? I felt depleted and frustrated which is the complete opposite feelings you go for in meditation.
After the session we all went back to the room for a group discussion. Come to find out that there are a lot of factors that come into play when you are trying to get into deeper levels of consciousness. For example, your stomach needs to be empty, complete a 10-20-minute yoga session, belly breathe for several minutes, do a quick body scan, complete 1-2 sets of mantras with the mala beads and then finally let everything go. This was really eye opening for me, I was not aware of the extensive amount of prep work that is required to properly meditate. My mind was starting to race, and I began to try and grasp the reality that I will never be able to create such an extensive daily meditation routine. I have a full-time job, teach yoga, take class at least 3x per week along with the normal life responsibilities. How in the world am I ever going to build a proper meditation routine? As I’m going down this rabbit hole of shame that I will never be good meditator, my teacher said something that really stuck with me. “Just let it all go.”
As much as I want to be the perfect yogi, there is no such thing. I have the tools to create my own version of the practice. There will be days where I can only squeeze in 10 minutes and other days where I can properly complete a full session. That’s the beauty in it all, you must be kind to yourself and appreciate the opportunities to grow. This trip gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons and embrace everything with an open heart. I learned that if you ever feel disconnected, pause, take a few slow deep belly breaths and allow yourself to truly be in the present moment. After the trip, my mind felt clear and it felt like pure bliss. I would highly recommend attending a weekend meditation retreat.
This article was submitted by Tara Marini. Practice with Tara on Fridays at 5pm. Register here.
Tara currently lives in Philadelphia, PA but always enjoys escaping the hustle and bustle of the city by stepping onto her mat. Tara fell in love with yoga when she took a stress management class at Penn State in 2008 and has been an avid practitioner ever since. Her dedication and passion for yoga allows her to continually grow and enhance her practice and teaching style. She completed her 200 hour Yogahour Teacher Training at Maha Yoga in 2017. She is excited to share the wealth of yoga to the city of brother love.