Sharing a recap of my experience at Women’s Week Retreat at Kripalu and how my learnings apply to body image healing and being an entrepreneur. It’s basically a Ted Talk so buckle up, fam.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend Women’s Week at Kripalu and my lodging and registration were covered. I was not compensated to write this blog post and all opinions are my own.
THE UNIVERSE HAS YOUR BACK
I believe that what you put out into the Universe comes back to you and I’ve seen this show up in different ways throughout my life and career. But sometimes I forget that the Universe has my back. That I can ask the Universe/a higher power for what I need.
This year has been challenging to say the least and I was really starting the feel the aftermath over the past couple months, leading to feelings of burnout, feeling unsure about next moves, life decisions, etc. I desperately craved space and stillness and time to just be and reflect. But I had gotten so in my head and leaned so hard into my inner critic that even this desire was judged. I’d say things to myself like, “you shouldn’t need to run away from your life when it gets difficult,” “you shouldn’t spend the money,” “it’s selfish to spend the money on yourself when you have to finish furnishing your home,” “you should be able to figure this out on your own” and so on…And yet I would spend time fantasizing about going on a retreat, remembering how I felt when I went on my first (and last) retreat in Costa Rica. The freedom and peace and clarity that I experienced. I would spend time looking at different retreat websites, only to feel depressed because “it didn’t make sense for me to go.” That inner critic voice is a bitch, yo.
The energy I put out into the Universe came back to me. A few weeks ago, I received an email from a PR company inviting me to attend Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health’s inaugural Women’s Week Retreat. At first, I thought it was a joke. This is too good to be true. It can’t be true. I emailed them back to make sure, wait you’re going to invite me to attend this retreat and comp my stay? It was true. And it was one week notice. The retreat began on Sunday and lasted 5 nights and it was Tuesday. The type A in me was like ahhh how can I rearrange my schedule last minute? What about my clients? What about that interview? What about that conference call? And oh, but then Steve and I won’t see each other for a total of 10 days. And then I was like EFF THE NOISE. I put this out there and the Universe so graciously gave me what I was asking for. So I decided to gratefully accept the invitation, knowing that it was more than worth the minor potential discomfort that comes along with last minute schedule changes.
On a deeper level, I’m sure a part of me was just scared. Scared of being vulnerable. Of opening up to complete strangers. Of venturing to a place I’d never been where I didn’t know anyone. Scared of what I might uncover about myself with a little space to just be.
And on the topic of being scared, I had to choose a morning program to attend – there were seven different programs to choose from and you’d spend three hours a day for four days at this program. Cue the pressure, I must choose the “right” program! I wanted to go to all of them. As I narrowed it down to three, I carefully read the descriptions of each one again, and noticed that there was one in particular that made me feel slightly uncomfortable when I read it. And immediately I knew that was the one I needed to attend.
Knowing that there was some slight apprehension, I decided to take my own advice (that I give to clients) and write myself a permission slip for the retreat as I rode the train from Boston to the Berkshires, where Kripalu is located. I don’t have the slip in front of me but I know it included things like permission to be seen, be heard, speak up, be curious, say no and take space, cry (by myself and in front of others), be uncomfortable, etc. If you’re embarking on something new or something you’re apprehensive about, I highly recommend writing yourself a permission slip beforehand – it can be really powerful.
WHAT’S IT LIKE STAYING AT KRIPALU?
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Kripalu is the largest yoga retreat center in North America, located in Stockbridge, MA (aka the Berkshires). It’s been on my radar and my bucket list ever since I became a yoga teacher. They hold retreats, programming (some of which qualify for CEUs!), and are open for R&R all year round. Even during the holidays. Steve and I are like um do we go to Kripalu for NYE?! It’s only been like 3 weeks since I left and already am itching to go back.
Staying at Kripalu is awesome. Their accommodations are pretty basic, no frills, but comfortable. You can choose from dorm-style rooms to private rooms with shared bath to private rooms with private bath. They provide three meals a day in their cafeteria and have a cafe that’s open all day in case you want to purchase snacks or their bomb chocolate cherry cookies!
The breakfast meal at Kripalu is sacred time – the meal is silent and cell phones are not allowed (and they do enforce this!). It was really nice to have the morning time be quiet and reflective. To focus on the food in front of me and stare out at the ground freshly covered with snow. The food is wonderful and they provide a wide variety for all dietary needs and preferences. Every day is something different so you won’t get bored.
The grounds are gorgeous. There are plenty of hiking trails surrounding Kripalu as well as a beautiful lake. It was pretty frigid while I was there but when the sun finally came out I did take advantage of the trails and connecting with nature.
Kripalu has a sauna room as well as a whirlpool that you can take advantage of. I did this a few times as it felt really nice to continue to engage in activities that would help me continue to feel embodied (more on that in a minute), especially when I was sore and crunchy. They also have a Healing Arts Center where you can enhance your stay with spa services like massage, facials, acupuncture and energy work.
Every morning and afternoon, Kripalu offers a variety of yoga classes for all levels: gentle, intermediate and vinyasa flow as well as YogaDance (which I loved!) and Yoga Nidra. There are dedicated quiet rooms for meditation, journaling, etc. as well as dedicated spaces for you to connect with the outside world (aka use your cell phone/computer).
WOMEN’S WEEK AT KRIPALU: THE REVOLUTION WITHIN
This was the first time that Kripalu hosted The Revolution Within: Women’s Week. The inspiration behind the program was to help womxn heal their inner pain so that they could go out in the world to advocate for social justice, equality, and peace. The world needs healing but we must first heal ourselves.
The morning programs offered opportunities for deep personal exploration and inquiry, the afternoons offered the opportunity to try something new – hiking outside, taking a yoga or dance class, listening to a talk, or visiting the Healing Arts Center (spa). And evenings offered keynote sessions by world renowned yoga teachers, civil rights activists, artists, and authors to inspire, motivate, and elicit hope.
MORNING PROGRAM WITH ALEXANDRA ROXO – PIERCING THE VEIL: MODERN-DAY MYTH, SPIRITUALITY AND SENSUALITY
It was this program that was most transformative for me. Alexandra Roxo is an artist and healer who is passionate about helping women get out of their heads and back into their bodies to touch their inner divine feminine. Each day of the program had a different theme:
Day One: Heal Your Wounds.
We practiced breath work for 30-ish minutes where we breathed DEEP into our bellies and let ourselves make noise with our breath. If we got into our heads, we had to breathe deeper and make our sounds louder. It’s fairly common when doing this type of breath work to have intense emotional releases. I cried. A lot. All of the baggage I’d been hanging onto came up and out. I felt a profound opening in my heart afterward. I felt lighter. I felt completely in my body for the first time in a long time. I took a yoga class later that afternoon and was like wow, this is what it feels like to practice yoga completely embodied. It’s incredible how sometimes you don’t realize how much life (and your inner critic) is weighing you down until the weight is lifted.
*Disclaimer* I don’t recommend trying to practice this type of breath work on your own at home if you’re not familiar with it. It’s best to practice in a safe space with a teacher who is skilled in facilitating this type of work.
Day Two: Release Your Fears
We practiced breath work again, to deepen what we had done the day before. Once again, the floodgates opened. After breath work, we sat in a close circle, closed our eyes, and started to say our fears out loud. The fears that hold us back. “They’ll say I’m too much” “What if I fail?” “I’m not good enough” “They’ll think I’m a bitch” “What if it’s messy?” “What if they don’t agree?” “They might not like it” “I’m not smart enough”….And I suddenly realized that my fears are not just my own fears, they are collective fears. They are human fears. In self-compassion, we practice common humanity, reminding ourselves that are struggles and suffering are collective, and this exercise was a powerful reminder of just that. We each went around the room and named one of our strongest fears and proclaimed that we were willing to feel the thing we feared the most. I said I was willing to be messy and imperfect (bc hi, recovering perfectionist over here).
Day Three: Connect To Your Divine Feminine
When you do this kind of deep work, you begin to feel a little crunchy. Almost hungover. Like a vulnerability hangover, but worse. On the morning of day three, I was sore. I felt kinda nauseous. I felt resistance to doing the work. And then the magic happened and that shifted. I forget the theme of day three but it was something along the lines of cultivating the thing you wanted more of in your life, for example, joy, playfulness, sensuality, weirdness, etc. The embodiment work we did on day three was awesome. We got on our hands and knees on our mats and just started freely moving to the music, eyes closed, cultivating and embodying what we wanted to exude more of. We were encouraged to feel and express anything that came up, through sound and movement.
If we felt rage, we were encouraged to scream and yell and growl; if we felt grief, we were encouraged to cry; if we felt bliss, we were encouraged to laugh. And we were reminded to let the emotions flow through us so that we didn’t get stuck on just one emotion. It was incredible to feel these waves of emotions moving through me and that each came and expressed and went. Rage, grief, joy, sensuality, bliss. About half way through, we were invited to stand up if we wanted more space to move freely. As I stood up, I felt wobbly on my feet; my feet were buzzing with energy. I was buzzing with energy. I continued to move my body, feeling an incredible sense of freedom in my being – body and mind.
After we were done with our individual work, we were invited to partner up. We looked into each other’s left eyes to truly see one another (they say the eyes are the gateways to the soul). And then we took turns moving in a way that embodied what we wanted to cultivate more of. So that someone else could see that part of us and be witness to it. We then had to express what it was we saw and ask them what they were trying to express. There were tears. It made me realize that we often don’t truly see one another. You can be looking at someone and not really see them. The person checking you out. Taking your order. Driving your ride share. Your partner. Your mother. Your friend. There is a vulnerability involved with truly being seen that most of us shy away from to play safe. But how beautiful it is to see someone else’s humanness. To see their heart and soul. To remember that we are all connected by our humanness. That we are all in process. We are all healing.
It was this day that I noticed I was walking around the campus differently. My shoulders were back, my belly was soft, my chest/heart was open, my steps were intentional. I was embodied. I was like wow, I don’t usually walk through life like this. It’s usually rounded shoulders, hunched over, looking down, or looking at my phone, listening to a podcast or music. What a profound difference.
Day Four: Open Your Heart
On the last day, we began with song. We were taught a short tune: “be open for something wonderful to happen; be open to the possibilities” and then all sang in unison, moving to the music as we pleased. Engaging in song and dance are two ways to come back to your body. To cultivate playfulness. To connect to your feminine energy. We were reminded how our ancestors engaged in traditional song and dance as healing modalities, and how far we’ve come from engaging in these artistic forms.
We then walked around the room to music as if we were walking with open hearts and then in contrast walked as if we were walking through a busy city street back in our lives, and then again walking connected to ourselves – quite the difference in your body.
We then partnered up and once again watched each other move showing each other the part of our hearts we wanted to express. Sharing with each other what we saw and something we felt compelled to share with them. It was another beautiful moment to have another soul connection.
TAKEAWAYS FROM MORNING PROGRAM
As womxn, we have all experienced some form of oppression (and for womxn with other marginalized identities, they have experienced more than one form of oppression). The wounds and the pain we hold within our bodies keep us stuck in our heads and in our fears and keep us from holding back our collective power. If we can practice embodiment work through breath, dance, song, sound, yoga, and making love, we can come back into our bodies where we connect with our deepest wisdom and our higher Selves (or the Divine Feminine). It is through this connection to Self, that we can share our creativity and artistry and healing with the world.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO BODY IMAGE HEALING
Although I attended this retreat primarily for personal growth, I knew there would be intersections with my professional growth and work. I began thinking about how so much of the body image healing work that I do with clients is talking about their body image and how this keeps people stuck in their heads. While I certainly believe that there is therapeutic value to this, I was also reminded of how essential embodiment work is to heal your relationship with your body. We need to be in our bodies, not just thinking about them, to heal.
Now I recognize that embodiment work may not be safe for everyone and that depending on your history of trauma, the body may not be a safe place to be. I don’t want to diminish this or invalidate that lived experience. There is powerful work that can be done with healing body image by simply showing up for your body and treating it with respect. If embodiment work is not safe for you right now, I see you, and would encourage you to continue exploring this with a skilled therapist.
One other body image takeaway I had came to me in the sauna. Everyone went into the sauna and whirlpool naked and I was like 1. how refreshing to see womxn embrace their bodies and vulnerability showing their naked selves to others and 2. we rarely see real, naked bodies. The naked bodies we usually see are in the media – magazines, movies, TV, social media, etc. and these are idealized, unrealistic and often airbrushed. The bodies I saw were real and not airbrushed and spoiler alert, they were all different and beautiful. No two were alike. And none of them looked like what you would see on a magazine cover.
One piece of feedback that I left for Kripalu in my evaluation is that there was no acknowledgment of sizeism during the week. There were mentions of all the other forms of oppression that exist – racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, but no mention of fat phobia. We talked about how womxn need to make their voices heard and reclaim their power, but no acknowledgment about taking up more physical space. There was no voice talking about how a patriarchal society keeps women small, both figuratively and literally. This just goes to show that we have more work to do in the wellness space to dismantle fat phobia and weight stigma.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS + RELATIONSHIPS
One question that bubbled up for me and I asked at the end of the retreat is: how do you balance masculine and feminine energy and is there a place for masculine energy? I realized that for myself, as a business owner of 5 years, I spend a lot of time in alignment with my masculine energy. I’m often thinking about achievements and accomplishments and how to grow and do more and be more. And then at the end of the day, it’s hard for me to shut this energy off. Enter complicated relationship dynamics. I’m all business with Steve when he’s trying to be playful with me and I’m like no time for play, dinner has to be cooked and dishes have to be cleaned and I have to do XYZ…this does not help our relationship in case you couldn’t have guessed it LOL. I know I’m not alone in this. Often women who are identify as being strong struggle with leaning into their soft, feminine side (this came up in a few convos I had with other women during the retreat). And maybe you can relate too. I asked this question because I can recognize how that masculine energy has served me and my business and helped it to grow and become viable.
Alexandra had a helpful response. She said that there are different types of masculine energy. There’s toxic masculinity, which is rooted in capitalism, and then there is the sort of father figure masculine energy. The toxic energy tells you you’re not doing enough, you need to be more, do more, grow, make more money, etc. And the father energy tells you you’re doing a great job baby girl, you got this, keep going, you’re doing awesome. See the difference?
Feminine energy helps us to align with our creativity, our artistic, side, our empathetic, soft side. All of which are also super valuable to run a business or advance your career. But as we know, our culture is dominated by toxic masculinity, and so it takes work and effort to detach from it.
HOW I’M INTEGRATING THESE TAKEAWAYS
I entered Kripalu feeling heavy, weighed down by my inner critic with walls built up around my heart. I left Kripalu broken open, light, and fluid.
I’m creating more space in my life for embodiment. Some days that looks like turning up the volume up on Spotify and dancing in my living room. Some days it’s singing. Other days it’s breath work. Some days it’s yoga. Or journaling.
I’m trying to give myself permission to slow down (it’s tough!) and to not have all the answers right now (and let that be okay).
I’m investigating ways to ignite my creative fire and soul self by looking into dance or theater classes. I did a ton of dance and theater in high school and college and I’m beginning to own that these things make me feel alive and that I can incorporate them back into my life now.
I’m exploring other healing modalities. I’ve been in traditional talk therapy for a few years now and while it’s been helpful, I’m curious about more somatic healing modalities.
I want to give myself permission to go on retreats more often (and not wait another 5 years to do so!).
I want to take up more space and encourage other womxn to do the same. Because the world needs all of us to speak up and share our unique gifts.
THANK YOU FOR COMING TO MY TED TALK.
That was A LOT. I wonder if this is my longest blog post ever. It sure feels like it. If you made it here, thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for being here. I hope you took one thing away from this post. Whether it’s something to explore or practice or get curious about within yourself.
I’m in reflection mode for 2020 and if there’s something here that resonated with you that you’d want to see more of from me next year in terms of content (future posts, e-courses, retreats, workshops, etc.), please let me know. Feel free to leave a comment below or DM me on Insta or send me a message using the Contact Form. I would truly love to hear from you.
Sending peace and love.