Connection, Community & Confidence

THE RETREAT

It is April and I am back from a beautiful yoga retreat located in Asheville, NC on the bank of the French Broad River.  What can I say other than both co-leading  and attending the retreat changed my life.  The world feels brighter and easier.  It could simply be the spring flowers in bloom and the beautiful weather but I don’t think even the lingering winter could extinguish these feelings. I have never experienced a group of women come together, from varied experiences and backgrounds, and quickly fall into instant connection.  We all came from the same yoga community which supports both young and old, novice and experienced yogis alike.  Some were already close friends. Others met for the first time.  After the first evening there was an undeniable trust and connection that only expanded as the retreat progressed.

I had the honor of co-leading the retreat with Genevieve, the owner of iShine Yoga in Huntersville, NC.  She is a master facilitator and beautiful teacher.   She was kind enough to take me under her wing and show me the ropes of yoga retreat creation and facilitation.  The details of the retreat most likely run along the lines of many other yoga retreats: lots of yoga, good whole foods, personal inquiry and time to rest, relax and retreat from our daily lives.  However, the friendships forged and my own personal growth are on a level I could not have imagined before this experience.

WHAT I LEARNED

While I co-lead the retreat, I had the privilege to participate in the self-study and take some of the yoga classes.   If you know me, you know I am a little (maybe a lot) closed-off with my emotions.   Sharing them with close friends and family is a challenge.  Sharing them with a bunch of women I barely knew seemed impossible.  Boy how wrong I was! From the jump I vowed to push myself to be open and share ALL of myself.  And what I got in return: 12 women who were open and honest and shared ALL of themselves.  Go figure!  Three things seem to rise to the surface during the retreat and have remained with me since my return:

1. Connection

There are two kinds of connection in this world.  Connection to your self and connection to everyone and everything else. As human beings and naturally social creatures we spend inordinate amounts of time connecting with others: our friends, our family, our co-workers and our pets. These connections are as necessary for human existence as the air we breath.  There was recent Hidden Brain episode that discussed this need. Based on findings from a Harvard study that has been running for eight decades, it is obvious that human connection and fostering connections is better for your long-term health than diet and exercise.  Don’t cancel your coffee date to go to the gym, that time with others will ultimately benefit you more in the long run!

All our connections can ebb and flow based on the amount of time we dedicate to them.  The stronger the connections the better we feel.  However, without the ability to connect to ourselves, what are our friendships based on? Without the ability to connect with ourselves and move from that space it takes a lot of unnecessary work and energy to be with other people because you must perform and keep up whatever facade you present.  It can be exhausting.

On the second night of the retreat everyone had to find a partner and sit knee to knee and look into the other’s eyes.  My inclination was to look right beyond the person in front of me.  My mind also started running wild with thoughts about how I looked, what did my partner see, what did she think about me, me, me, me.  Until I realized, it wasn’t about me.  It was about us.  The connection between us in those moments seeing each other as human.  No more. No less.  The more I focused on the person in front of me, the closer I felt to her and the less concerned I was with myself.  It is liberating! Through this exercise and others on the retreat, what became evident is we are all the same.  While we have had numerous experiences that range from heart-wrenching pain to heart-warming joy we all hesitate to bear our souls and stand in our own personal power.  The very pieces of ourselves that we hide from each other and the world are the very pieces of ourselves that bond us most tightly to those around us.

2. Community

I am an urban planner by education and have spent many hours contemplating the definition of community.  Community comes in many forms.  Your family is a type of community.  Your neighborhood, your college, your job, your town, all these things can provide a community to help us find connection and support.  iShine as a yoga and wellness studio actively seeks to create a community for ALL the folks that come through the doors.   The desire to dive into a yoga practice; an outlet for stress relief; a referral from a doctor or a friend based on a persistent ache or pain that will not subside; a great introductory rate for the first month of practice; the list is as varied as the the folks that come.  Each and every person that decides to step onto their mat at iShine is a piece of the community.  Some I see frequently, some disappear only to return after months away from the studio and their mat, and some I may never see again.

As much as I thought I knew about community and its importance, I had never felt the power as clearly as I did on this retreat.  On the first evening we had to silently pick a word for what we hoped to discover during our time together.  Mine was COMMUNITY.  I didn’t know what it meant for me but that is what came to me and it is what I shared with the group.  I believed before and even more so now – where you place your energy and your intention is what will manifest in your life.  If you feel you are separate and different from others, you will be separate and different; if you put love and kindness out into the world, you will receive both love and kindness.

Though our ages, life-experience, physical health, and spirituality maybe different we are all, deep down, searching for the same things: love & support.  When I decided to drop the pretense of being an expert or looking a certain way or holding onto my carefully crafted facade of strength and knowledge the world opened.  The women around me fell, lock-step, into support for each other and by Sunday morning I felt a community had been formed.  This community will love and support each other whatever comes across our paths as we continue on our journeys. My hope is this tiny, powerful community of 13 will take whatever they gain from each other and share and cultivate it with other communities and groups of which they are part.

3. Confidence

I have always struggled with feeling confident.  All the way back to being a small child I can remember being anxious about being good enough and smart enough.  I thought I had to be able to read before I went to kindergarten.  I thought that I should be able to play the piano instantly.  The idea of not knowing or knowing less than others paralyzed me.  This has been my experience most of my life.  I have always stuffed it down, moved ahead and achieved what I wanted but never without the voice of doubt ringing loudly in my head.

On this retreat I stood in front of all the women before the last class I taught and said, “I am Nora Barger and I am confident!”  Do I believe it?  Some moments more than others.  But this is true:  After this past weekend, I know I can be confident.  And the confidence comes from my connection with others and the love and support of my community. Full circle: being open and confident in what I have to offer helps create connection which generates community.   The support of the community – both large and small – fosters confidence.  A beautiful circle in which every element, connection, community and confidence, is needed by each individual to perpetuate the cycle.

So if you have made it this far in my novel congrats on a good attention span!  And if you are interested in joining me for a retreat get in touch!  In the near future I will be offering both day and 1/2 day local retreats as well as extended retreats within the state, the surrounding region and even internationally.  I look forward to connecting with you soon!

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