What Should I Pack for a Yoga Retreat?

Ever find yourself having booked the dream yoga retreat and wondering what should I pack?

I mean, as if what you pack really matters?

You’re getting away. It’s not about what you wear or what you bring, it’s about being present in the moment, right? Frankly, all you need is a mat, a couple pairs of favorite leggings, a comfy wrap, and probably a journal.

But then…. If you’re like me, you might have invested something significant into going to this retreat. That investment probably goes beyond dollars, especially If you’re crazy busy (like me) and never stop to focus on yourself. The very act of going to a yoga retreat is a serious devotion of time, energy and often weighted with hopes and dreams of some kind of amazing life transformation.  Spoiler alert, a weekend yoga retreat will probably not get you a total life makeover, but it will start you on a path and that in and of itself is huge.

Get those rags into rag doll pose.

I take a lot of yoga classes but am hardly a yoganista. (Fun fact: I’m still mastering the squat. My crow pose looks more like a duck waddle, replete with falling out of position frequently.) Still, I had the opportunity to participate in two different yoga retreats with two legendary instructors, Seane Corn and Robin Duryea. I know, it’s not very yogified to brag. They both really are amazing and I’m more bragging about them then me! So back to what to pack/wear.  Let’s say I showed up for either of these retreats dressed in rags, neither teacher would bat one eye. More likely, they would instruct, “Reach up to the sky, drop down into uttanasana and get those rags into rag doll pose please.”

Pack all your emotional baggage.

At Seane Corn’s latest retreat in Topanga Canyon, I found myself examining what I brought with me and thinking about how I might approach packing for my next yoga retreat differently. I understood that putting some intentionality into what I packed might be the very start of my journey. Thus, I’ve cobbled together this list.  It’s more irreverent than it is practical. However, I hope you’ll take it as a guide to really think about what you are bringing with you and what you might leave behind.

  • Pack all your Emotional Baggage I mean bring all of it. After all, you’re wearing it every day anyway, aren’t you? It’s not like you could accidentally forget anything.  However, don’t plan on strutting into the retreat with a designated piece of emotional baggage you want to slay. I’ve walked into more than a few yoga classes committed to getting rid of the resentment I have toward someone or something. After the second sun salute, my mind is a blank slate and by the time I’m in happy baby I couldn’t even name that resentment. Does that mean it went away?  Hell no. It just means I’ve trusted the process of following my breath and gave myself to the flow of the class, as opposed to hauling this big bag of resentment in with me.
  • Bring a Journal Here’s a big decision: Do you start an entire new journal, signaling you’re ready to launch a different journey? Or do you bring an old journal with the pages earmarked and filled with scribbles from the past? And, if so, do you risk carrying pieces of your harmful past with you? I recommend sticking with the old, only because I am old and I have so many half-finished journals it’s sinful. I have a new practice of actually finishing whatever journal I’ve started, even if it takes two years. So, I bring that old journal and it’s reassuring to page through it before class and see where I was then and where I am now.
  • Bring something to throw away You know how in yoga, they say, “Leave behind that which no longer serves you.” I ALWAYS have a ready answer for that one. Fear. My intention is always to leave fear behind. Have I ever succeeded? No, but I chip away at it little by little. Seane Corn talks a lot about “self-limiting beliefs.” (If you’re curious about this notion, you don’t have to take a yoga class. She writes about it in her book, Revolution of the Soul.) At my fall retreat with Seane, I decided to take the word “fear” out of my vocabulary and focus instead on self-limiting beliefs. Bouncing around with that in the stillness of poses, imagining that weight in my body gave me a lightness that no doubt chipped away at my tendency to get enmeshed in the wicked fear cycle.

My intention is always to leave fear behind.

  • Water Bottle I’m really keen on these Nomader collapsible water bottles. They collapse and don’t take much space in your luggage. However, just bring any spare water bottle you have because trust me, you’ll be drinking water like a fish and staying hydrated is vital to the experience.
  • Yoga bookBring Two Books. Two? Because until you get there, you really don’t know what you’ll want to read. When I’m doing a lot of yoga, my ability to sit and read for long stretches of time is astounding. However, I don’t recommend bringing self-actualization or other enlightening books. Why not? Because you want the words of your teacher and the learnings of your class to sink in. Sure, it’s always beneficial to read say, the Dalai Lama or Jon Kabat Zinn. However, staying immersed in a yoga retreat means just that. Every teacher has their own vocabulary and I believe it’s important to sit with whatever their words stirred up for you between classes.Because I’m a voracious reader, I usually bring a good novel and a book of poetry. Joy Harjo, an American, Muscogee (Creek) Nation poet was the perfect accompaniment to my Seane Corn retreat. In the quiet between sessions, I read Elizabeth Stout’s latest book “Oh, William!” If you’ve never read Elizabeth Stout (author of the Olive Kittredge series),hers are good ones to pull off the shelf. They are about ordinary people going through extraordinary emotional shifts and I find it soothing to step outside myself and watch her stories unfold. Also, it’s really interesting to explore a fictional character’s emotional unfolding while at a yoga retreat!

I’m a same old, same old kind of person when it comes to yoga gear.

  • Travel mat. I’m a same old, same old kind of person when it comes to yoga gear. If I have one yoga mat (which I do), I’m a  devotee of that one yoga mat, which is in my favorite shade of purple and has just the right padding. However, a rolled-up yoga mat measures in at 48 inches tall and that. my friends is too big for my suitcase. Sure, they’ll have yoga mats you can borrow but I really like mine  which comes with my own energy, my own smells and my own preferred padding. For my camper trip across the country, where space was at an all time premium, I bought the Rywell foldable yoga mat. It has surprisingly good padding despite being very lightweight and comes with a simple stringed back-pack. Weighing in at under 2 pounds, this is a no-brainer to throw in your suitcase or haul on your back. I even used it as my official carry-on bag on my last flight and managed to  fit in my laptop in as well.

Now comes the challenging part. What should you leave behind?

  • Connectivity. You’re going on a sacred journey, and you need to unplug. If your first question about the retreat is, “Is there Wifi?” Ahem. I don’t want to be judge-y, but that really should not be your first question. Of course, you need to be in touch with family. Trust me, there will be a telephone on the property and your peoples will be able to reach you in an emergency. But go away, leave Instagram, texting and the need to call home behind. The times I’ve called home during retreats have never gone well. Imagine me, standing on the one high spot in Topanga Canyon that has good cell service, calling home to the hubs, feeling all euphoric to be greeted with, “Babe. Bad news, our gutters need to be replaced and it’s going to cost a fortune and can I text you the color choices so you can pick them right now?” Aargh, you don’t need to be picking gutter colors on a yoga retreat, right?
  • Setting an Intention? Yeah, you can bring one with you but be prepared for that intention to change. In the moment, another intention you never knew even existed might bubble up.

That’s my list. The most important thing is that you make the time, that you give yourself the time to go. My first yoga retreat with Robin Duryea was at Ratna Ling, a Buddhist retreat high on a mountain somewhere in Sonoma. We’re not talking wine country; we’re talking winding roads up hills, past towns too small to warrant a post office. It’s a good 2-and-a-half-hour drive from the San Francisco airport. Yes, I flew across the country, rented a car and drove there and back. But I carved out the time, at a time when I was in the thick of running an agency and truly didn’t have a minute to spare. I found space in my life and going the distance made it all the more powerful for me. It also paved the way for my readiness to sell Everywhere Agency, although I spent very little time thinking about business while I was there.

If you know of any amazing yoga retreat I might want to consider, let me know in the comments. If you need to be talked into going or are curious about Seane Corn or Robin Duryea’s retreats, also let me know. Happy to share my experience with you!

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