I Did a Yoga Retreat and It Changed My Life

It was the summer of 2017. I was struggling after a particularly hard break-up and having moved back home to Portugal after a period in the UK. I felt myself going in a downward spiral but, in a moment of clarity, decided I needed to do something to pull myself back together — I enrolled in a yoga and meditation retreat.

At this point, I had only done yoga at home, following instructions from Youtube videos, so I had no idea what to expect from a retreat. I started doing some research online. After a while, I bumped into My Yogic Adventure’s Magic Mountain retreat and I immediately made up my mind when I saw this picture.

Drina River, flowing through Tara Mountain

How could a landscape like that be a bad decision, right? There was only one problem: I was living in Portugal and the retreat was in Serbia. I had never been to the Balkans, nor did I know much about the region, so I decided to make it all a memorable experience. I went backpacking for three weeks, at the end of which I arrived in Tara Mountain for the retreat.

The first couple of days at the retreat were hard. I had spent three weeks seeing new things every day, discovering new places, staying at hostels and talking to lots of different people. I was on fire! And, suddenly, the pace slowed down so much that I couldn’t help but feel impatient all the time. I thought about leaving — Sarajevo was not that far, and I hadn’t had the chance to visit the city. Should I go? I decided to give myself 3 days and see how I’d feel then. But on the third day, I started to feel better. I aligned my rhythm with the retreat’s and started to see things differently. It was the right move having given myself time to adjust.

The retreat location was in the mountains, a 45-minute drive away from the nearest town. There was no Wi-Fi and, very conveniently, my phone started having problems during the trip, so I had no mobile data either. I was cut out from the outside world. It was just me, my retreat colleagues, our instructor and some puppies.

Our days started early, with a morning yoga session of 1h30, followed by 30 minutes of meditation. After this, we had breakfast together, in silence. The rest of the day was free but, normally, we did a hike together or went on some activities, like a boat ride on the beautiful Drina river. In the evening, we had another yoga and meditation session, followed by dinner — and, here, we could talk during our meal.

Our instructor — a kind Serbian girl who learnt yoga in India and Nepal — alerted us at the beginning: we wouldn’t reach any kind of enlightenment during those days. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. But, a few weeks later, I realized she was wrong.

Well, sort of. I didn’t reach enlightenment. But I reached a healthier emotional state than ever before in my life. As I left the gorgeous Tara Mountain and went to Belgrade and, from there, flew back to Portugal, I didn’t feel anything different within me. But during the first days back home, I started noticing changes.

I kept my morning yoga and meditation practice (but abandoned the evening one) and made a conscious effort to keep the same attitude I had at the retreat. After the morning practice, I would have breakfast alone, in silence, and appreciate the food in front of me and all the people involved in the process of getting it to my table. I worked without anxiety in a very long time. I was sure of myself and where I was in life. I connected with family and friends, and even with other people, in ways I had never done before. I was feeling changes that I had never expected:

  • Improved mood and happiness level — in the months after the retreat, I was happy. Simply happy. For no specific reasons, regardless of what was going on in my days. It was a constant feeling of well-being, of perspective, of appreciating the fact that I was alive. And that showed: it was not only me feeling it, but friends commented that I seemed to be going through a great phase in my life — I truly was.
  • Greater appreciation of the present moment — I have always been quite oblivious of what goes on around me. But after the retreat, I started paying attention to more things, more often. The sunlight on my face was probably the simplest and one of the strongest sources of joy. My health, my family, my friends, my house — every day I woke up grateful for all this. When you are in this state, you catch yourself being grateful for the fact that you have two hands and two feet — some people don’t. And it’s incredibly easy to just take it all for granted. But we shouldn’t. And the moment you make a constant exercise of being grateful for all these seemingly irrelevant things, you can’t fight the happiness overload you feel.
  • Ability to read people and situations better — maybe due to being more present in the moment, I started to feel I could understand more clearly what was going on around me. I could understand the reasons behind what people told me and the way they acted. I had more empathy towards people’s bad attitudes because I could see the whole picture and realized that they were probably just hurting or afraid or insecure. This is a great skill to have and I feel it helped me improve my relationships and connect deeper with people.
  • Sex got better — the improved awareness of yourself and the others around you manifests itself in physical ways too. You feel more and in more intense ways. Mindful sex is good. It’s the best.
  • Less dependency on phone and Internet — having been disconnected from the outside world for a week, I was curious to see what would happen when I’d get Wi-Fi back. And what happened was… nothing. The world hadn’t ended, nobody had sent me any urgent emails or messages, I didn’t miss out on any meaningful conversations. For the first weeks, my usage of phone or Internet continued to be very low. It got to a point where I went on a date with someone who was moving away and, because I didn’t want to use my phone, we never talked again. But it was ok — it was worth it for that moment alone. I was able to stop the irrational scrolling through social media feeds and the constant need to check all my notifications. Unfortunately, as the weeks went by, the dependency gradually started to come back. I am now at the stage that I was before the retreat, but I greatly appreciated that feeling of being disconnected as it allowed me to be more connected with the real world.
Location of the retreat

Even though most of the benefits do wear out over time, two years later I still feel them regularly showing in small things in my life — in some periods more than others.

I was scared when I signed up for the retreat. I was afraid to be away from the world with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I was afraid to get bored. I was afraid to expose myself to others — and to myself. But it ended up being one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was beautiful while it lasted and it had a positive in my life — for the weeks that followed and, in a way, forever. I can’t wait to do another one!

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