Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in (a cool rush of air). Breathe out (my own breath, carrying the warmth of my body).
Breathe in (fresh pine needles and sunshine). Breathe out (contentment…a bit of calm).
Shoshoni Yoga Retreat is welcoming, open and available to all levels of yoga practitioner, no matter your current knowledge of yoga practices. Visitors are invited to ascend into the mountains of Colorado, to participate in their own established yoga practice, experience an ashram for the first time, or simply to be be reunited with other likeminded individuals.
“In general, an ashram is a sacred place and very different from a hotel. It represents an opportunity to step away from worldly affairs and return to a simpler way of living. It’s a place to nourish your soul, deepen your spiritual practice, and awaken to your true Self. An ashram is a place for inner freedom.” (6 Important Lessons from the Ashram)
This style of retreat was just what my dear friend (a yogi herself, and certified yoga instructor) and I were looking for. We were far away from spa treatments and bellmen, though those do have their place elsewhere and serve a very different purpose. The luxury and indulgence of fine wine, professionally-trained servers to anticipate your needs, and 5-star meals were not to be found here.
In their place were quiet moments in a hammock, hung in a grove of tall, thin birch trees, sipping tea and reading poetry while gazing at the stillness of the water of a small pond. We discovered the gratitude of service in giving back to the community through physical labor. There is a daily schedule with hours of meditation, yoga, chanting, and interpersonal connection.
“Cooperative Retreats offer an immersive ashram experience. Choose from a variety of accommodations, and join a community of dedicated yogis for daily meditation, yoga, meals, and seva.” (Shoshoni website)
All of the group and solo activities are optional, except for the practice of seva, or selfless service. This is yoga-in-action, accomplished through focus attention, with the intention of being fully present in the moment and in the task at hand. Seva is assigned work, rather than self-selected, with the immediate needs of the Shoshoni community in mind.
“It is a priceless skill for a fulfilling life, because it teaches practitioners how to work with a sense of open-heartedness and shared purpose in support of community.” (Shoshoni website)
It was late summer and a wedding was upcoming, which would take place in the fire temple. The surrounding grounds, a natural setting, were made more beautiful when a group of us gave about an hour of our time to pull weeds, digging them out at the root. The wedding couple would enjoy the results of our labor, without ever seeing a “before” picture or know who had gifted them with this serene and beautiful setting. Knowledge of that impact made the work just a bit more satisfying; it was a treat to dig in the earth and feel the sun on my shoulders.
There so many other opportunities to engage with the community! Early morning time in the temple, quietly meditating or joining in the ritualistic chanting and worship practices, were available. Again, all were welcome, to participate or observe. Visitors could choose to sit on a meditation pillow, legs crossed and hands folded in their lap, or to rest more comfortable in rows of chairs at the back of the temple. I felt transported into another world – it reminded me of my travel to Thailand, which you can read about here: https://kathleenodowd.com/2015/11/17/art-architecture-adventure-in-thailand/
The beautiful Rocky Mountain surroundings, seated above Boulder, CO were breathtaking in themselves. Hiking trails allowed self-guided exploration. I discovered the spirituality of nature, embodied in flora and fauna in all stages of birth, growth, and decay. A fallen tree gives back, by providing the perfect environment for new species of life. One could spend hours taking in the diversity of species in that small section of the larger forest.
Tiny flowers dotted the paths, marked by rocks and larger tree branches. An overlook gave us a sense of how remote we were, while small areas market with artwork encouraged quiet reflection, a moment to sit and take in the surroundings, and reminders of how connected we all truly are. Our choices, our attitudes, and our expressions truly do have an impact on those around us. We have ample opportunity to make that impact positive, productive, and meaningful.
On my hike through the woods I stopped for a quiet moment, and to admire the natural surroundings and the man-made art that dotted the rocky surface.
A painted rock – so pretty in its colors and so intricately detailed – fit solidly in my palm, speaking to my heart in its beauty.
A group of yogis, training to become yoga instructors, were on the premises the weekend I was there for my retreat. They were going through an intensive teacher training, but took a break at sunset. Collectively they ascended a rocky incline, where they sprawled about, reliving the days events in a joyous chatter. Together they gazed out at the changing colors of the landscape, the sun sinking down behind the surrounding mountains. Arm-in-arm a pair descended, seeming to be at peace.
There was also laughter, comradery, and familiarity in the group. We saw them here and there, throughout the weekend — during meals, at morning temple, and participating in the group yoga classes, in addition to their training classes. I admired their dedication and the respect they showed for their practice. I also admired their youth and exuberance. They were excited to be on this quest.
Organic, locally, sourced, homemade food – real food, made from real ingredients, without processing, coloring, preservatives, or other “things” I would call artificial constituted the meals that weekend. A community garden supplied some of the ingredients and a brood of hens supplied eggs to the kitchen staff — who were also practitioners, teachers, and yogis. Vegetarian and vegan options were available – when we booked our trip we were asked about dietary preferences and restrictions, so ensure all of us were well-fed, nourished for our yoga practice.
Also being a creative community, Shoshoni offers engagement with the arts. Dancing, drumming, chanting, and hands-on creative expression are encouraged. An art building, filled with supplies made available to all, sits on the grounds. Running my hands over textures, choosing the creative tools I’d use, and deciding on a project to work on I felt like a kid, in the same moment that I felt like an artist, creative, a visionary. During my time spent in the art studio I had a choice – to paint, draw, bead, weave, or assemble. I was free to choose my own designs or consult instructional materials for guidance; an experience artist as on hand, to oversee our activities and provide encouragement. We could make the experience our own.
I have to remark on this painted rock that I discovered, along one of the rocky paths that cut through the Shoshoni campus. The yellow sun against a pale blue background caught my eye. Wanting to take a closer look, I turned the rock over, intending to pick it up to feel its weight and admire its details. On the bottom of the rock read “In Memory of Daniel.” A tightly folded paper was tucked under the rock — I can only imagine that it is a loved one’s hand-written letter, a message to Daniel. Not wanting to intrude, I replaced the rock, admiring it where it stood.
I would paint my own rock, in the art cabin.
The playlist that gave the art space its ambiance was controlled by a smart phone. The music, contemporary and dated, was a “best of,” pieced together by the varied students in the space that day. A single song was chosen by each. Each would brighten up a bit when their song came on. I find that listening to music chosen by others, following their whims and their preferences, discovering their personalities, is a special delight! I chose “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, and it was.
A comfortable, intimate meeting space doubled as an instrument room – I heard quiet tunes emerging from there several times as I passed by – and a library. As you’d expect, Buddhism and Hinduism were on the shelves, along with yoga-instructional volumes and poetry. Pulling a handful of interesting titles from the shelves I could settle in for a bit, take them back to my room for a deeper dive, or flip casually through picture books out on the wrap-around porch. Tibetan prayer flags surrounded that porch, with dogs snoozing in shaded corners while visitors chatted with retreat staff.
"Carry your own weight and don't weigh too much. Use less. Give more. Make your Contribution." Lightening doesn't Need Permission from the Sky: Original Modern Day Zen by Al Rafkind
Back outside, I spent time in a hammock each day of the retreat. It was a mixture of reading poetry in the light of early morning, swinging gently while watching the sun set, and taking a moment just to relax and breathe, gazing up at the treetops. There was a gentle breeze – we were lucky enough to have one sun-speckled day, then an equally beautiful day blanked by a thick morning fog that never quite broke into raindrops.
This diversity gave the landscape an ever-changing personality – from one day to the next I felt I was enjoying a different landscape. I remained close to the main cabins, but some others took the more lengthy trains into the mountains. I heard about their adventures at mealtime. They remained in groups, for safety, but there were no mishaps. The one visitor who encountered a bear did so from the porch of her cabin, in the early morning. He was likely making his rounds, before retreating to the woods, as the campus came to life for the day, breakfast being prepared for all.
All are truly welcome at Shoshoni, as long as they come with a heart of kindness and a spirit of community. “Shoshoni Yoga Retreat believes that everyone should have safe and equitable access to yoga and meditation. In drawing upon the resources of our inner spiritual work, we move forward as activists in the call for racial and social justice – we will listen, educate ourselves, engage, and continue to grow in ways that support Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities.” (Shoshoni website)
Even the domesticated (i.e. beloved) animals on the premises are well taken care of, and excited to see visitors. The smile on this pup’s face says it all! He was friendly, smothering me in kisses and showing me his belly for a quick rub. How could he be anything but happy, in this loving environment and these beautiful natural surroundings? He’s surrounded by a familiar group of practicing yogis AND gets to meet new visitors most weeks, on the premises for a getaway, a very special retreat.
I haven’t mentioned how good the yoga classes were for my body, with assistive equipment (straps, blocks, bolsters, etc.) available. The peace and quiet, with no cell service (except in the main building / library area), was refreshing and rejuvenating. Wholesome food nourished both body and spirit. Time with a dear friend who is also a mentor, and the deep connection it fostered, is invaluable.
What an amazing, transformative experience! I look forward to the next opportunity to visit this welcoming, cooperative, enlightened environment. Breathe in. . . . breathe out. Ahhhhhh.
Join me on my next adventure,
Zen Yoga: https://www.zenyogacolumbus.com/
Cooperative Retreats: https://www.shoshoni.org/plan-a-visit/cooperative-retreats/
Chopra: 6 Important Lessons From the Ashram by Roger Gabrial: https://chopra.com/articles/6-important-lessons-from-the-ashram
7 Min Yoga for Better Sleep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KDnmL4b6oY