Adventures in Yoga (Part Two)- Love, Sweat and Tears…The Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Do-one-thing-every-day-that-scares-you.

You are coming
You are coming among us.
We have everything prepared for you
and we are waiting.

– From  The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge: History and Contemporary Practice

My silent retreat in the Catskills was proving to be an amazing experience.

There was much to be learned when I shut my mouth. I think my biggest revelation was that not everything had to be fixed.

Being in the quiet with my thoughts helped me see that I was talking the talk of being happy but maybe there was a piece of me that was still insecure about my recent life choices.

If a steep (a steep a**) hike could help me be more at peace with every piece of me, what would a sweat lodge ceremony bring?

The night before we attended a Q&A with the leaders of the sweat. Both Sarah and Salvador followed the Lakota tradition of the sweat ceremony.

The sweat ritual would take place in a traditional inipi- it was a structure that had an igloo shape. Inside we would assemble in a circle around the stones that had been heated in a fire right outside of the inipi.

The Lakota see the inside of the inipi as a representation of the inside of Mother Earth’s womb. There are other interpretations but the idea is to cleanse and purify the soul.

sweat_lodge_22

You may be thinking sweat ceremony? Didn’t people die in a sweat ceremony?

I can’t speak about that experience, but I can say I felt really safe and comfortable with Sarah and Salvador.

They explained:

  • We would be dressed modesty (no nudity)
  • The ceremony consisted of four doors
  • The first door we were to let go of what was holding us back (fear, shame, guilt, past hurts, etc)
  • The second door we would focus on what we wanted to have
  • The third door was the pipe ceremony- no drugs. Salvador made it pretty clear that the pitch black, heat, steam and your own mind was plenty to deal with- drugs are not necessary.
  • The fourth door we show our gratitude

After each ’round’ or door, the door would physically open. So, you’re not sitting in the dark heat the entire time.

If it ever got too hot you could ask for the door to leave.

Yeah, yeah you’re saying.

We entered the inipi on all fours and said “Mitakuye. Oyasin”

Salvador asked if anyone was scared- I broke my silence to squeak, ‘ A little.’

He handed me some cedar to sprinkle on the first seven stones that were brought into the inipi. The stones are carefully chosen and are important to the Lakota because of all that they have seen.

After the rest of the stones were brought in the door closed it was dark and Salvador said, ‘It’s gonna be a ride!’

We all laughed- because we were thinking- uh-oh.

But Oneika, what was it like?

In a word- hot. How hot? Not sure- hotter than hot yoga- not so hot that my insides cooked.

In one more word- it was dark. Can’t see your hand on front of your face dark.

It was hot. And I was uncomfortable. I cried. Not a lot.

But enough.

And then I smiled. I hummed along with the songs.

Sharing the darkness with 15 other people and connecting with what they were feeling was a powerful and intimate experience.

It’s a very individual and personal experience.

On Sunday when we entered back into speaking we swapped a couple of experiences. I felt like the fourth door was the the hottest- almost about to call for the door hot.

Some other folks swore that the second door was unbearable. Which I thought was an otherworldly groove. So…

At times my hair was too hot to touch.

I laid down (which is hilarious to imagine because there isn’t much room and it’s pitch black) at one point to touch a space of cold dirt.

It. Felt. Awesome.

I didn’t see a wolf or feel a need to go on a vision quest. I’m not being funny (well maybe a little) but I did leave (on all fours, out of respect- and because I was exhausted) feeling peaceful.

I’m not here to recommend or dissuade anyone from participating in a sweat ceremony.

I think spiritual journeys are a very personal decision. This worked for me.

My hot yoga practice is also pretty intense so I think that may have also helped me deal with the heat element.

But as we shared stories we all got out of it what we needed.

And that seems like it is more than enough.

I’m grateful for the safe and transformative experience that Sarah and Salvador gave me.

Namaste y’all

Stay tuned for the last post on the retreat tomorrow!

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Adventures in Yoga – Silent Retreat in the Catskills (Part One)

Menla retreat

Silence is a true friend who never betrays.

– Confucius

When I heard about the Silent Retreat with Yoga to the People last year, I promised myself I would attend the next one.

This year when it was announced, I thought of reasons not to go.

I couldn’t think of one.

Silent retreat here I come.

A weekend in the Catskills with cool peeps.

The weekend would include, hiking, yoga and a sweat lodge ceremony – all while sipping on nothing but Master Cleanse juice.

Sound insane? Looking back maybe it was a little crazy- but it was bad ass fun.

Day One 

After a 3 hour ride in the rain we arrived at Menla Mountain.

The grounds were beautiful and I couldn’t wait for the rain to leave to walk around a bit.

I changed my clothes and headed to do some yoga and a Q&A about the sweat lodge ceremony.

Here’s the thing- I’m sort of socially awkward. Not creepily- just incredibly, painfully shy.

You wouldn’t know it and spending the better part of two decades in retail does a lot to mask that.
I’m the kind of person who always mostly bulldozes through what scares me.
This pushes fear aside without having to deal with it.
A silent retreat seemed like a perfect way to deal  avoid my shyness.  More on this later.
Let’s get back to it…
At the top of our class we had a ceremony that led us into silence.

As soon as the silence set in it was clear that I had not been listening to my surroundings or even myself.

Class started and no joke, MY THOUGHTS WERE SO LOUD that I couldn’t hear the teacher guiding us in a low tone. It took about 20-30 minutes to adjust. At one point I relaxed in balasana (child’s pose).
I used my breath to gently tell my mind shhhhh…. there will be time later, for now just let the body do the asanas.
It was as if the volume turned down in my mind and the teacher’s voice increased. I think by acknowledging that I would deal with whatever came up I was able to release it.
What an amazing practice. There was a tea light on the floor that we could blow out as we left the studio.
I sipped my cleanse drink and headed to bed excited for what the rest of the weekend held.
Sleep came easily.
Day Two 
Sun Menla
I popped up at 5:30 and decided to relax a bit more.
At 7:30 we would get our cleanse drink and find out the schedule.
There was a 2 hour steep hike and then my group would leave for the sweat ceremony.
After the ceremony there was an optional 90 minute class- then more cleanse drink a 60 minute class, a bonfire, then bed.
It was interesting to get the first drink and see folks from the night before. Everyone seemed to mill about comfortably. I smiled but wandered around a bit to check out the grounds.

 

Time for the hike.

 

Steep hike was an understatement. Holy f*cking shit.

 

So steep that midway, I had an Arrested Development moment and said to myself or course (because we’re in silence) I think I’ve made a huge mistake.

 

I huffed. My legs hurt. It was steep. The group was moving- quickly. I huffed. My legs hurt. It was steep.

 

The mind can fuck with you. It can tell you that you can’t do something that you actually can. My heart was pounding like crazy. I wasn’t gasping for air. My legs hurt. I was tired. I hadn’t physically pushed myself like this in awhile. I was uncomfortable, not dying.

 

Let me be clear- this was really hard for me.

 

But, how could it be a mistake? The hike was only two hours we were already 20 minutes in. I’m in fairly decent shape for crying out loud. And before I knew it we were at the top.

 

It was at this point my mind suddenly shifted to thinking about my shyness (It’s funny how our brains and emotions work).
I had a rough time with the hike. I have a rough time with being shy. I don’t  have to get over everything. Some things get dealt with in the moment. Not everything has to be handled, fixed or squashed.

 

Some things can just be.

 

This is the thing about tough times- if you aren’t careful you can miss the lesson while it’s happening. At the top- the sun was through the clouds. I was still thinking- wtf, this climb was hard but I was smiling.

 

As I caught my breath covered in sweat I took a look around at the group and the view.

 

On the way down I realized that the hike was definitely a bit much for me- I had fun getting down eventually- but the first few hundred feet there were a few drop offs that made me think of the nightmares you have about walking across bridges…

 

One foot in front of the other.

 

I thought two things- sthira and sukha.

 

That and Dory from Finding Nemo- just keep swimming.

 

I made it down.

 

It was a really big deal and was grateful for the experience.

 

Only 10:15am and I was already feeling more alive that I had felt in a while.

 

I went off to get changed for the sweat lodge ceremony.

 

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s on Love, Sweat and Tears….

 

Namaste y’all.
Hike