In December of 2018, I was lucky enough to attend a fully paid trip to a four-day yoga retreat in Catskills, NY. I was informed of this retreat through an amazing woman named Julie Bottini. She is the founder of the Yoga and Reiki Club at Rutgers University and she is affiliated with Honor Yoga – the company who sponsors these trips to Orenda, a retreat center. She put a link for the application in the group chat for yoga club, and described what it entailed. I figured, “What the heck, gotta be in it to win it, right?” When I found out that I had been selected, I cried tears of happiness and couldn’t wait for the adventure! I attended this ‘Depression & Anxiety’ retreat because I wasn’t scared to ask for help, as many people are due to stigma associated with mental illness. Those who seek help when they need it are the bravest. I felt safe in this place. I felt free of judgment and walked around in comfy clothes all day with no makeup on. There was no need to impress anyone. The mission was to love and share love with one another. I am so honored and blessed to have experienced such an essential detox that enticed my soul and rescued my mind from distress.
It happened at Orenda and it was beautiful. The wonderful center rests in the calmness of the mountains. The purpose of this retreat was to heal and tend to anxiety and depression through fresh and organic plant-based food, exercise (yoga), and meditation to help work through potential traumas and heal. It absolutely changed my life. I learned so much from the amazing women and facilitators of the program there. Through workshops on how the ‘fight or flight’ system in our bodies work, we learned how to identify what situations and words cause outbursts of anger, stress, fear, and other negative emotions within us, since this varies by individuals. We also practiced guided meditation, and I learned which types of meditations I benefit from, and which I don’t. Sometimes during meditation it is advised to just let the breath be, and notice it. I find this very difficult and it actually causes me anxiety to experience shortness of breath. I learned that the mediation I enjoy is manipulating the breath to inhale and exhale deeply which lowers blood pressure. I released old fears and negative beliefs. I exchanged personal stories with strangers who became friends. I cried, and Iet go of ‘icky’ feelings that were holding me back. I laughed and I embraced the fireplace that warmed my heart. I healed. I grew. I took a bath and I practiced self love. I lived. I journaled. I nourished myself and my soul. I didn’t let limiting beliefs or feelings stop me from sharing my spiritual energy. I created a beautiful mandala that I admire daily to help restore my love for humanity. I listened to my thoughts. I admired the snow.
One of my journal entries from the Orenda trip:
“Morning Pages…” December 7, 2018
To the Universe, I thank you for this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the Catskills on this yoga retreat. I feel this is a huge step in my adult/mastering health journey in order to implement a new lifestyle. Waking up early today wasn’t dreadful at all, because I know what today holds is extraordinary. I’m trying to take it all in. The snow-capped mountains, the hot tub, the huge bed, the spectacular vegan food…it is really quite unreal. In this meditation room, and during this entire weekend, I am trying my best to be present and take control of my mind and body. I will remember how it feels to lay on the wooden floor with my chin propped up on this warm, soft bolster, while my chapped winter hands rest gracefully on the floor. My eyes are calm, and my body is in a restful state. I’m so excited for yoga and what’s to come. I’m enjoying every moment. Thank you, Universe.”
“Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to the happiness and freedom for all.”
This is a love and kindness meditation that we sang to while holding our mandalas. We repeated the mantra for each bead on the necklace. This was a challenging activity, yet it was so beautiful because it required self commitment, focus, and love – 3 major components that contribute to the overall well-being of life, in my opinion.
Seek help if you need it. You are strong, and you will find hope if you have lost if for a little while. You are important. You are needed on this earth.
During this retreat, I was able to connect with other women who have experienced both anxiety and depression in their lives. I think it’s important to recognize that more people than you think, of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status struggle with some sort of mental illness. Anxiety is common in so many people, and the term is often used lightly by some individuals who may not be experiencing actual anxiety, but another emotion or feeling. Anxiety can be caused by a myriad of things. To start, it may be from stress, which everyone experiences. It may be due to financial burdens, health issues, inability to cope with life, hormonal imbalances, conflict with relationships, hardships in career, death, abuse, addiction…the list is endless. It is not something that should be shamed. It is a part of life for many people across the globe, and there are innumerable resources out there. Anxiety can and should be managed by all people who experience it. It may be debilitating if not dealt with appropriately. Men are actually less likely to report symptoms of depression or anxiety to a professional because of the stereotype of being a ‘sissy’ attached to it along with other reasons. This is a serious problem, since some studies show that men are more likely to commit suicide, perhaps due to the common pattern of delayed seeking of help.
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to seek out and accept the help of medical professionals including psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, etc. Your life is worth it. Many insurances cover these services. If your doctor feels that a prescription medicine is suitable for you, perhaps you should consider it. Antidepressants and anxiolytics are extremely common, and do help curb symptoms. I can attest to this from personal usage with them. I want you to realize that you are never alone in your mental health journey.
Many people who are stuck in this destructive state of mind find it difficult to believe that lifestyle changes have the ability to make a tremendous difference in anyone’s quality of life. Yoga, meditation, and organic eating are just basics for managing anxiety and depression. Believe me, it has helped me so tremendously, and it does not take much effort to implement in daily life. I invite you to sign up for any type of wellness retreat that will better your physical and mental health. You are so worth it.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental illness, please seek help. There is always a way out of the darkness. You are never alone in your struggles, and there are so many beautiful reasons to live. Embrace love and you will always find the light.