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Women's Retreat About Much More Than Yoga

Some of us were there to get out of the house. Some of us were there to escape our grief. Some of us were there to strengthen our aging bodies. Some of us were there to get away from our husbands. Some of us were there to let go of stress and control. Some of us were called by a higher power to be there.

All of us were meant to be there.

That’s how I felt walking away from a recent women’s health & wellness yoga retreat at Lake Junaluska along with the 13 other women I met during the journey. As we closed the retreat with a sharing circle, the women all said they expected to do a lot of yoga, but what they didn’t expect was to find such a deep connection with complete strangers in such a short amount of time.

They didn’t expect to find themselves so emotional reflecting on the retreat and they didn’t expect to find complete understanding and camaraderie in a group of women from all walks of life — different states, ages, backgrounds, ethnicity and experience. We had to pass around a box of tissues as we moved around the room to each speaker.

Jay MacDonald, owner of Waynesville Yoga Center and retreat facilitator, just smiled as she listened to our closing thoughts. She wasn’t surprised at all — it’s exactly what she hoped to accomplish when she planned the women’s yoga retreat. It’s exactly what she envisioned when she opened the yoga center in Waynesville a few years ago.

As Jay pointed out to us, it’s not often a group of women can come together like that with no judgment or preconceived notions about one another, but when it does happen, it’s pretty magical.

Personally, I signed up so I could take a Monday and Tuesday off from work and destress with two days worth of meditation and yoga practice. I felt like it might help me up my personal yoga practice at home and help me cure this overwhelming feeling of burnout and stuckness lately.

I got everything I signed up for and more. We had great workshops about hormones, stress relief, inflammation and nutrition. We flowed, we meditated, we savasanaed, we learned about different styles of yoga and we did a lot of forward folds and upward dogs.

I was there dealing with my own burdens and grief, but as I heard more from the other ladies during the discussions, lunch break and small group work, I found I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one who’d lost a loved one — or many — in the last year. I wasn’t the only one grieving for someone with a terminal illness. I wasn’t the only one overwhelmed and exhausted from this pandemic. I wasn’t the only one struggling to take care of myself mentally, physically and emotionally.

There was something reassuring about hearing their stories and being present for that kind of vulnerability — something that isn’t my strong suit. I guess there’s no reason why that would make me feel any better, but for some reason I think it lessened the burden we were all carrying.

Jay had us number a piece of paper 1 through 14 with our name on the top of it and pass it around the circle until it came back around to us. Everyone was to write kind words about each person on their piece of paper. As the paper made its way back to each person, we each read all the kinds words from strangers in silence. The tears that followed told me something I know all too well — accepting kind words from others makes us uncomfortable because it’s something we’re not used to hearing.

We don’t tell ourselves enough about how amazing we are, so it can be a mind-boggling moment reading an entire page full of compliments from other women who’ve only spent a couple of days with you. I’m keeping that piece of notebook paper forever — hell, I may even frame it — so I can look back when I’m having a bad day and remember who I am and how others see me.

In a moment where I was feeling weak, sad and tired, these women saw me as joyful, fun, hilarious and insightful.

I went home walking a little taller with my shoulders more relaxed instead of up under my ears. I left a lot of resentment, anger and disappointments on the mat. I felt more at peace with where I am at in my life and with hope for my future, convinced I’m on the right path since it had put me in front of these amazingly strong women and teachers.

I’m working hard to maintain that feeling of peace and calm as I return to normal life. That’s the purpose of yoga — to be able to take what you’ve learned on the mat and integrate it into your everyday life.

The 13 other women in my group are already looking forward to returning to the lake next May for the second annual retreat. But if you don’t want to wait until then, Waynesville Yoga Center has two more retreats coming up this year — An Out of the Box Adventure Retreat in July and an Aging Gracefully retreat in September. Find more information on their website.

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