Every summer I wholeheartedly look forward to my retreat days with Gilles and Valerie.
During 3,5 years I used to see them on a monthly basis, and after moving to the Netherlands this turned into a yearly retreat, with luck twice a year.
What I have learned in the last years is that the self practice is one of the most valuable things that you can have.
Every year, during the retreat, we get a flood of new information and techniques, but they are not worth much if they are not put into practice during the year that follows.
In my experience so far, I have never been able to apply everything I have learned during one retreat in a whole year of practice.
My point is that on the one hand I miss seeing my teachers regularly, but on the other hand being forced to practice and integrate techniques before I see them in the next year has proven to be very valuable! Just to be clear, if I could see them every month, or even every week, I definitely would!
I have been learning with Gilles and Valerie for the last 10 years and not one weekend seminar or retreat has been the same.
It is always a surprise what the seminars or retreats are about and every time I go home overfull of information, techniques, but also energy and motivation to keep exploring this amazing science of Yoga.
This year, yet again, was amazing.
For the last three years the retreats have been a bit different than usual.
Having been his student in Ecuador, I was able to integrate into the French group when I moved back to the Netherlands. I didn’t expect this, as most of his French students have been studying with him for at least 20-30 years, and here I was, studying with him for less than 4.
But I guess I have very good karma because apart from being honoured to study with Gilles, it has also been a truly humbling and inspring experience to practice together with practitioners of between 20 and 40 years of yoga and meditation practice.
However, three years ago Gilles decided to open the group to students of his students. Now every year the first weekend of the retreat is open to students who would like to meet Gilles and Valerie and get a taste of their teachings. Then the second part of the retreat is for his direct students, and their students who continue to study with him. And the last few days are still for his direct students only.
This year was very special because three of my own students travelled with me to the retreat. Finally for them, when I talk about my teachers during my classes, it will not be some person of whom I talk all the time, but they will be able to relate and mostly understand why I talk about them all the time.
For myself, I always try to go to the whole retreat. Even though the first weekend is usually about techniques and information that I have learned from them before, I cannot hear it enough. Gilles always seems to be able to bring it in a new light, or share something that he had not before. On top of that the energy of new and curious is something I enjoy being part of. I guess because I will always consider myself still merely a beginner.
During the first weekend we learned about how our two hemispheres should be in balance and that there exists something beyond our intellect. Part of why we practice is to balance these two energies, and touch this space beyond intellect in order to experience what is known as Samyama, or the state of fusion.
We learned about Yoga Nidra and the importance of Vinyasa Krama, or a gradual approach.
Furthermore, the importance of finding balance not in only in the physical body, but in the energetic body.
Second part of the retreat
After the weekend, the group shifts slightly as some people go home and new people arrive. Everyone is excited because we know now the ‘real’ practice begins.
During these days we touched different topics. It is hard to put it on paper as everything is organically intertwined and sometimes multiple topics and techniques are experienced during one session.
We looked at the five koshas. We looked at ways to manage our energy. We talked a lot about developing awareness and sensitivity to sensations. Different phases of yoga. The three gunas.
A main theme that came back multiple times during this retreat was the importance of grounding and practices to do that. We worked with different breathing techniques. We did wonderful asana practices. Of course we worked with a few mantras and bija mantras.
Like I said before, a lot of information and techniques to take home and further explore.
The last few days
As much as I love the first two parts of the retreat, I cannot deny that the last part is always the one I look forward to most. The group goes from around 30 to 15 and we are left behind with the ones from whom Gilles really expects that they have been doing the work.
The physical practices during this part of the retreat are relatively gentle. In fact, during the first part I notice that Gilles is having fun, because with a younger crowd he has started to make the asana practices more challenging again. (which I love always of course)
However, during the last part the intensity and duration of the seated and energetic practices augment drastically and I also love this!
The ‘older’ students inspire me with their powerful practices and remind me how much of a beginner I am. To give you an idea, most of them are retired but they kick my ass when it comes to pranayama or energetic practices and even though some of them are experiencing physical ‘old age’ complaints, they easily sit in meditation for more than an hour.
The energy and sensations during these few days is hard to describe. In fact it is only possible to understand if you are actually there. But by the end of the retreat I am so humbled and so grateful I come home with my heart overfull.
The people who make the retreat even more special
Aside from the yoga classes, just being in Marsanne is always a pleasure!
The retreat centre is a monastery turned into retreat centre. It really feels like a sacred place surrounded by nature. In fact, they say that in the olden days architects had knowledge of energetic lines under the surface of the earth, and where it was auspicious to build churches and other sacred buildings. During a previous retreat, we actually confirmed this for the two churches on the property using dowsing rods. Interestingly, the energy around the smaller, more humble church was much higher than the big church where the weekly mass is held!
During my breaks I enjoy going for walks, and foraging some of the local plants and herbs to add to my lunch! I love the combination of yoga and interacting with the environment and spotting the local plants and flowers! It feels good to connect inwards and outwards.
And finally, the people! Every year it is a moment I look forward to. To connect with friends made during previous retreats and to make new friends!
This year was extra special as three of my own students were there with me. But there were also fellow students who came all the way from Ecuador! Latin vibes always add a special energy to the group.
A group that used to be purely French has now grown into an international hub of seekers from France, Ecuador, Venezuela, and the representatives from Amsterdam! (South Africa, Italy, Spain en Netherlands).
I look forward to another year of experimentation and practice, and also sharing practice with you!
If you are curious to learn not just about physical asana, but other techniques such as breathing and mantra, don’t hesitate to contact me.
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