Going on Your First Meditation Retreat: What to Expect and How They Work

Amber Murphy
Amber Murphy

When searching for the appropriate methods of relieving your daily stress and everyday pressure which is accrued by the activities included in a day, then you should try and find your escape in meditation retreat. This discussion explores all the important things you need to understand when going on a meditation retreat. If you are interested in learning how to meditate or deepen your practice a short stay at a meditation retreat provides you with the ideal space and environment to practice meditation. Let’s go ahead and look at what you can expect at a meditation retreat.

What is a meditation retreat?

A meditation retreat normally offers you an opportunity to spend time away from your usual daily activities in a “spiritual or contemplative” environment. Given the pressures of modern-day life and conflicting demands on your time going on a retreat enables you to take a step back from your daily routine and regain a sense of calm and perspective.

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Meditation can also be described as a process whereby you are able to still and quieten your mind. The purpose is to completely get rid of any distractions and hence be able to calm down your thoughts effectively. During meditation, you achieve a heightened sense of awareness as you focus your mind on either an external object, e.g. a candle, a sacred image or sound; or on a more internal focus such as your breath or repetition of a mantra or prayer. When your mind wanders then you gently bring your attention back to your focus of attention. When one is in this state, one will surely experience a great sense of clarity and calmness which leaves you having a peaceful state of mind.

Meditation can also be defined as a condition that one gets into where the sense of calmness rules so that one attains the condition of inner sense. It is spelled out as the utmost state of relaxation time and you too can get this sort of wonderful experience. There are professional firms conducting workshops and meditation retreats and also when you are in these sessions, people will be taught about incredible techniques that will enable them to move steadily into spiritual nourishment.

A peaceful meditation retreat

This sort of detachment in the current pressurized lifestyle is highly important to rejuvenate oneself. Individuals can register themselves with these firms online via their website for participating in the retreat. Some people think that these retreats are only meant for people with a good level of experience in meditation. But, the fact is that beginners can also get the right kind of guidance.

The registrants will be taken to a silent location and the sessions are conducted for three days. During the sessions, the participants will be provided with the right kind of opportunity to explore their inner universe and the mysteries that are unknowingly hiding in their minds.

The meditation retreat coaching will be provided by experienced teachers and the participants will also be taught Hatha yoga and other instructions, which will bring about an improvement in their mental wellness. The vital role these retreats play is trying to fulfill one’s inner peace, joy, love, and happiness in the minds of participants.

People can participate in these retreats irrespective of the community they belong to. This is due to the fact that the idea of cohesion is followed by the organizing stakeholders, and being included in different walks of faith and being able to give people the proper awakening they require. At some point in time, some people begin to search for the purpose of their birth in the universe. When such a thought appears, they will feel more connected to others and this connection can be made stronger by learning the meditation techniques from the right coach.

Who goes on retreats?

Anyone can go on a retreat. Many faiths usually offer their members a retreat as a way to spend time together, often in prayer, to reflect and contemplate the true meaning and value of one’s faith. For instance, working mothers and those very busy moms normally will attend different spa retreat as a way to relax and unwind from their everyday routine. If you feel “something” is missing from your life, then time spent on a retreat may help you find what you are looking for.

What happens on a meditation retreat?

At a meditation retreat, one will normally carry on with their meditation session by carefully studying the practical and theoretical aspects of meditation. This can be done in workshops and lecture rooms being led by a Meditation Teacher.

Generally speaking, a retreat enables you to learn more about meditation. If you are a beginner, a retreat gives you space, time and resources to experience meditation. If you’re a practitioner with vast experience, then making the decision to go on retreat will greatly help you go further and deeper into your practice and learn more advanced techniques. If you haven’t meditated for a while, a retreat helps to kick-start your practice.

Most meditation retreats are silent and you’re often asked not to speak with other participants during the length of the retreat. The exception is when there’s a “question and answer” period, where you’re able to ask the teacher questions.

Most of the retreat is what you might expect: sitting and meditating. There are times for breaks, walks, listening to talks, and of course eating and sleeping.

Typical meditation retreat schedule

The first day is usually students arriving to the center, being introduced, and some sort of formal welcome talk by the retreat leader or teacher. That night, there may be tea or a snack before bed in the evening.

Most meditation retreats expect you to wake up early. Most start times are around 6am. Often, the day may start with a short talk with the day’s itinerary and focus. Sometimes there is a light breakfast or tea to start the morning.

From there, you may sit and meditate as a group for around an hour and a half before the first break. After this break, there may be another hour of meditation before lunch.

After lunch, meditation retreat schedules will vary depending on the center. However, often this is a chance to mix things up. Sometimes there’s a private meditation session for an hour or so, where everyone meditates alone in their room. Other centers use this as an opportunity to practice walking meditation.

From here there may be dinner served, although many meditation retreats may not offer dinner and instead allow for an evening tea before the final talk of the day as well as a short question and answer period.

This is the common schedule. There may be variations here and there between centers but this is more or less what you can expect on your first meditation retreat.

Extracurricular activities

There are also meditation retreats that can offer other supplemental treatments and activities such as colon cleanses, massages, yoga, Pilates, chanting, or tai chi. However, we recommend sticking to and trying a simple mindfulness meditation retreat.

Where can you go on a retreat?

Snow cabin for a meditation retreat

The most important thing you need to know about a retreat is when you need to undertake it. You can travel abroad or attend a retreat in your own country. Traveling abroad enables you to experience life in another culture, but is more costly in terms of travel and expenditure.

Some retreats expect you to take part in the daily running of the center, such as being asked to help prepare meals, wash up, and clean the shower area or garden duty. It all depends on the ethos and types of retreat you choose. Other places will cater to your every need. So, when looking for a retreat make sure you check what is on offer and, expectations.

Depending on your budget, you can go on day retreats, weekends, week-long ones or even longer. Again, within that, you can spend time on a retreat based in an urban environment or if you prefer, a rural countryside setting. I live in a busy inner London borough and love going on retreats away from the noise and bustle of London.

What do you need to bring?

Most retreats give all the material and resources needed for your stay. However, some meditation centers may expect you to provide your own bed linen, notebooks, and journals. Again check in with inquiries when making your reservations.

Other retreats may restrict items and ask you not to bring things such as your smartphone or a journal.

What do you need to wear?

Comfortable clothing is essential as you will be sitting for long periods of time. Clothing worn will also depend on the country, culture, and faith of the retreat you are visiting. If you follow a particular faith you may be expected to wear attire appropriate to your religion.

As you can see going on a meditation retreat is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to meditate and to deepen your meditation experience. The experience allows you to take time out of your everyday routine to release stress, rest your body, restore your spirits and calm your mind. Once you have decided where you want to go, how long for, and whether you wish to go to a religious/spiritual focus retreat or combine the experience with a holistic well-being holiday, the choice is yours. Have a wonderful time!

Where are retreats held?

Retreats are often held in purpose-built centers dedicated to creating a peaceful and tranquil environment to encourage you to relax, rest and unwind. Centers tend to be in natural settings with little distractions and interference from “the outside” world, e.g, near the coast, in rural countryside settings or in the mountains. Urban retreats may be in the midst of a busy inner-city yet strive to support a calm and peaceful internal environment.

Meditation retreat in the woods

Depending on the length of the retreat, the facilities will differ. For short retreats, you may stay at a meditation center or even a temple. For longer stays, there may be a specific facility with sleeping quarters, cafeteria, and space to walk outside.

For week (or weeks) long retreats, you may have to travel outside of the city and stay at a place that is both isolated and away from the noise.

Are there rules at a retreat?

Once you are inside a meditation center, you are expected to observe certain codes of behavior that are enforced to maintain the positive energy and sacredness of the center. For example, you are encouraged to switch off mobile phones, iPods and other electronic devices during the day. Smoking, drinking alcohol, using stimulants and drugs, excessive sexual behaviors and eating certain foods are not allowed.

How long can you stay at a retreat?

Retreats can last from a one day retreat to a weekend or even longer stay. There are no hard and fast rules. It all depends on the length of the program on offer by the retreat center. Some centers allow you to stay and volunteer at the center as part of your meditation experience.

The best part is you can choose the length of the retreat based on what’s offered by different centers. However, most meditation retreats expect you to stay the full length as to not disrupt other participants.

What else happens on a meditation retreat?

A lot of retreat centers may offer other mind and body activities such as yoga, massages, and healthy living workshops; Food-wise, most retreats prepare fresh healthy foods using organic or vegan and vegetarian dishes. Special diets are catered for. Some retreats expect you to voluntarily give a couple of hours of your day towards the running of the center, such as helping with the cooking, garden duties or administrative details.

Where can I find a meditation retreat?

There isn’t a directory or website we would recommend right now. Your best bet is to use Google to find a meditation retreat center in or near your area. Your best bet is searching “meditation center in X” or “meditation retreat in X”.

Most centers are very welcoming to newcomers and will more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

A meditation retreat is an excellent way to take some time to yourself. Not everyone wants to live a monastic life but a meditation retreat can help unlock some of the benefits of living a monastic life by disconnecting for a few days and practicing meditation.

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