For my STEP project, I went to Helena, Montana and participated in a yoga retreat taught by Nat Kendall at The Feathered Pipe Ranch. Each day we had a morning mediation and yoga practice from 7:30 am to 930 am. Our morning practice was done on blankets which was a new experience I thoroughly enjoyed and embraced with an open mind. We then had the day to share meals together in the dining hall, enjoy nature, read and reflect. Evening practice began at 4:30 pm and lasted until 6:30 pm. Songs and chants were always included in practices and helped to invite unity and energy. Then, we all ate dinner together and relaxed. The meals at the retreat were vegetarian and cooked on site using local ingredients. The staff was extremely generous and some of the nicest people I’ve met. In addition, there is a sauna, hot tub and massage therapists on the ranch to help enhance our retreat experience.
While on my retreat, I truly understood that simplicity is the key to happiness and living a full life. At its core, life is simple. Finding happiness in the simple things is extremely important. I lived a week of simplicity and could not have been happier. The vegetarian meals we ate were prepared with love by the staff, the music by Nat was sung with joy, the rooms we stayed in were rustic, time on my phone was limited and the conversations with people were wholesome. I enjoyed hiking, reading outside and chatting with friends in my spare time. Through the little simplicities of the week, I realized that in people’s desire to reach some “happiness,” everyone is unhappy. Let me elaborate.
Nat would engage some reflection at the beginning of each practice. I would be settling into a pose as he would say something profound or something that made me think. One day he said something like “What if all we had was right here, the present. What if there wasn’t anything else.” He repeated this a few times. I really thought on this as I began my practice for the day. Initially, I was triggered by the phrase. I thought, “That’s settling! I’ve been taught to never settle. I always must be striving for something more.” That’s the problem, though. During the struggle to “always be striving for something more,” what’s truly important is lost in the mix. The little simplicities like love, relationships with others, feeling happiness on a sunny day and peace of mind are all sacrificed in the battle. Nat wasn’t suggesting we settle for a mediocre life, rather, he was saying was that we must be happy with the present. If we die tomorrow, would we be satisfied with how we treated others and ourselves in this life? What he said hit home for me because living in the present is something I wanted to improve upon attending this retreat. He was challenging me to find that true happiness in the most basic of poses, in the energy the chants brought out group and in the fresh Montana breeze. Happiness isn’t an A on every chemistry exam, looking the best at sorority formal or running as fast as others. Those things may create momentary happiness, but if recognition and love for the core simplicities of life are not present, true happiness is not there.
During our morning practices, Nat would encourage us to dedicate our practice to someone or something. I really enjoyed this aspect of the retreat because I treated it as an active mediation. Whoever or whatever I chose to dedicate my practice to was kept in the back of my mind for the duration of the practice. One day, he told us to dedicate the practice to something you are letting go of. “Honor it,” he said, “then respectfully let it go.” This was a really unique way to put it. At one point, what I was letting go of, perfectionism, served me. Instead of letting it go out of spite, I honored its presence in my life, then let it go.
Yoga is a practice of peace and serenity. I felt extremely rooted during my practices. I want to remember to remain rooted regardless of what is happing externally. I felt that my practice was deepened through a better mind body connection. I liked having something to lightly meditate during practice. In addition to my stronger feeling of being grounded, I felt that I have a greater respect for what is happening in the presently. We must respect the present and all it has to offer.
The atmosphere of the Feathered Pipe Ranch greatly contributed to my overall experience. It was secluded in the middle of the national forest near Helena on the base of the Rocky Mountains with no cell service. I loved being “unplugged” for the week. In addition, the ranch had a calming, welcoming feeling. The workers were all family and I felt comfortable and well-taken care of there. The vegetarian meals were made with love by the chef and his staff, the rooms were cozy, and the staff enjoyed interacting with us at meal times.
In addition, Nat’s yoga and meditation practices really enhanced my experience and fostered transformation. Due to the environment I was in, I was able to fully immerse myself in practice without having to worry about what assignment needed to be turned in, what errand needed done or what time I had to be in for work. All I had to focus on was yoga and being present at the retreat. Nat helped me in this process by being fully engaged at all times. I was able to truly feel his love for yoga through our practices. His calming presence helped me grow through my practice. I wasn’t afraid to make a mistake because I knew it was all part of the process. Like I mentioned, I enjoyed the questions Nat would pose throughout practice. Active thinking is something I enjoy, and I believe it definitely helped me with self-reflection. Nat asked the difficult questions like, “What do you want to let go in your life,” “What is holding you back,” and “What if you could be fully present, right here, right now?” Days get busy and long and I oftentimes forget to reflect and check-in with myself.
The third factor that played a large role in my transformative experience was the people I met on the retreat. Everyone was extremely open-minded, kind and excited to be in Montana practicing yoga. It was eye-opening to hear stories of what brought people to the ranch or how they got into yoga in the first place. To me, the best part was being able to make 38 new friends for the week. Talking about life, future goals and past struggles was unique because everyone has had different experiences. I learned that everyone has their own struggles they are dealing with and no one is ever alone in that struggle. Being in such good company made me more comfortable admitting my weaknesses, making small changes that I would take home, and being able to be one hundred percent myself.
Lastly, my openness to this experience greatly helped me get everything I wanted to out of this retreat. I went outside my comfort zone a bit and I couldn’t have done that if I was closed minded. I was open to learning to meditate, open to relaxing and taking a break from my routine. I learned many new songs and chants used in yoga as well. These were all new to me, and at first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about them. However, as the week went on, I became more comfortable with the musical aspect of yoga and I learned to love and appreciate it. Nat is an extremely talented musician who, along with Peter, Hannah and Lauren, brought beautiful music to the Feathered Pipe Ranch for us to enjoy and engage in. With this music came a sense of energy and unity amongst the group. Singing and chanting along was freeing an helped me to fully immerse myself in the practice. I’m blessed to have been able to participate in such a beautiful week of self-reflection, song, nature, yoga and friendship.
This change in my daily life is extremely important and affects all aspects of my life. Being a more grounded, less stressed person that isn’t as stuck to a schedule will help me far into the future. When I’m more at ease with myself, I’m able to better handle issues that arise, I’m able to give more to my relationships with others as well as my work life and school work as well. None of this gets easier as I get older so developing these techniques right now is very beneficial. Going on a yoga retreat has always been a goal of mine because I knew I would learn valuable things about myself, my practice and ways to mediate that would be helpful and benefit all aspects of my life.