I have been practicing yoga on and off for several years. My practice has included hot yoga, yin yoga, vinyasa flow, even a form of dance yoga known as buti yoga. When I lived in New York City, I had always wanted to visit Kripalu a yoga retreat center in Massachusetts. I moved to the South and had forgotten about this desire until I found myself back up North for a couple of weeks and within one hour by bus to Kripalu. I finally had the opportunity and I quickly went online to book a one week stay for their R&R package, retreat, relax, renew, and reconnect. It meant a week of as many yoga classes that I could take, organic meals meeting new people, evening musical entertainment, hiking, walking in their zen garden or just sitting by the lake. I was ready and envisioned my R&R would come from being in nature and all the yoga classes I would take.
When I got to Kripalu, towering trees lined the long driveway. My excitement grew as I rounded the bend and the mountains of the Berkshires framed a lake that extended beyond what I could see. I checked the week's schedule of yoga options, workshops, group hikes, guided kayaking and paddle boarding on the lake; rest and relaxation here I come, I thought. In my very first yoga class at Kripalu I unrolled my mat and waited to see if yoga on retreat felt any different than yoga at my hometown studio. It did, I think it was because it was away at this place surrounded by nature and part of this R&R I was seeking. Yoga class was followed by a long conversation with the people sitting closest to me. We did the usual introductions, where each of us called home and what had brought us to Kripalu. On my way to dinner that first night I passed a room with a sign on it that read, "Quiet Room, Eat in Silence". I couldn't remember the last time I had eaten in silence. Home for me was a family of five and a job as a Youth Director of teenagers. In fact, I was just coming off of a six day trip to New York City with my students so my meal times were filled with lots of talking. I was intrigued by this room of silence but I sat at dinner and talked for the next hour with a college student from California and a mother of three from New York.
The next morning when I entered the dining hall the only noise was the clanking of dishes. I discovered that breakfast every morning was to be taken in complete silence. I put my breakfast selections on my plate, sat down at a table nodding to my neighbor who looked up briefly from his book. I always carry my journal with me so I spent the next 30 minutes writing in it and eating without uttering a word. Now, I'm no stranger to silence, I've spent time with my students at Taize, a monastic community in France, where during the three times a day worship services there are long moments of silence. I also build moments of silence into the youth retreats I plan for my students and my yoga practices end with silence and meditation. So, truthfully 30 minutes of silence wasn't really that difficult. After breakfast I took a walk outside and found a bench between two trees, the perfect resting place and what would become one of my favorite writing spaces for the week. Under the shade of these trees I challenged myself to spend the rest of my week at Kripalu in silence. I challenged myself to take away the meditation aspects from my yoga practices that week into my entire day and to journal in this new silence.
That first day when I walked into the "Quiet Room" for lunch, three hours into my week of silence, I was ready for this new challenge. By the third day I began to feel invisible, it was like I was participating but not really there. I started to worry that people would think that I was antisocial or stuck up. So, what I couldn't speak I wrote about in my journal. I found my voice on the page, writing in the sunroom at Kripalu, in their cafe, on "my" bench and in outdoor spaces that Kripalu has created for these moments of quiet and reflection.
When the week was over, I had done it, I had gone silent for an entire week. I learned that when you go for a long period without talking, you physically lose your voice, you start to talk but no sound comes out. I realized that I had not let my own voice out for a long time, I had been so busy being what everyone else wanted me to be that I had lost me. I had hidden behind the words guilt, pain, fear, loss, criticism, resentment and carried them like a huge pack on my back. I had carried that heavy pack around for a long time.
The silence, had been a huge part of my R&R that week. In the silence I found my voice that is filled with passion, thoughtfulness and strength. I learned that I can speak without fear of judgment. I hold on to the voice that I found at Kripalu and these new words of self compassion: radiate, transformation, love, happiness and harmony.