Practice Presence: A Conscious Retreat With Robyn Engel
By Nikita Mehta
When I first arrived in the city, I was overwhelmed. I was here for graduate school, I didn’t know how I would handle the 1.5-hour commute from Calistoga every day and I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t make left turns on 19th Ave. So, instead of dealing with all of that, I walked into Yoga Flow Ocean on a Tuesday afternoon and into Robyn Engel’s class. The mantra drew me in immediately, the fluid flow kept me engaged and my post savasana mind was better equipped to make life decisions. I decided to move to the city, to immediately buy a class pass for the studio and to just accept the fact that left turns are frowned upon.
For all of you yogis who haven’t had the honor of attending one of Robyn’s classes, and for those of you who have been blessed with this opportunity, Robyn is leading a retreat in June, and this is an experience that is not to be missed. I sat down with the beautiful Robyn to talk yoga, inspiration and what it’s like to go on retreat with her.
What led you to yoga?
I was exposed to yoga at a very young age. Both my parents and early childhood education exposed me to yoga in various ways. So, in some ways it was always in my world vie. I started taking community center classes at 16. I was the odd one out. Always the youngest one in the room. Honestly, I can't even remember what those classes were like, but it was always something that I felt like I wanted it to be a part of my life. I continued to practice casually until my last year of college when I became quite enamored with the Ashtanga style of yoga. All the jump backs and forwards, the binds and inversions. I was young in that community, too, and it gave me access to a great range of people. When I moved to San Francisco before I even had a place to live or a job I had a 10-class pass at a yoga studio that taught vinyasa style yoga. This style was pretty amazing because it had variety which I needed and all of the fun elements of ashtanga. It was a place where I found community, community I am still involved with over a decade later.
There are so many ways that we can connect with the practice, we filter through them in our life, what are you connecting with the most these days? Asana, chanting, devotion?
Mantra. I love to sing! I love the vibration. Yogic chanting has been an especially grounding and centering practice. I have never quite fallen in the habit of traditional meditation. But chanting mantra is as close as it gets. The repetition, continuousness, the present moment awareness. Knowing that the practice of singing this way reveals my truest nature is incredibly healing and centering.
Asana still remains a very empowering and healing practice. But I have to be honest that there are a lot of days where I don't fit in an asana practice.
But everyday, I read something from the sacred texts of yoga. Like the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads, etc. These texts are sharing really relevant practices and beautiful ideas that are of great help to me, in how I show up for myself, my friends and family and my community. It is inspiring.
Tell us a little bit about the retreat that you are holding in June. Why this location? What can practitioner’s look forward to? What should they prepare for?
I am very excited about the retreat in June. I have called it Practice Presence: The discipline that sets us free. My idea is that we examine how something that is a discipline isn’t always what we want to do and isn't always comfortable and easy. But it is balanced by the promise that we will suffer less and be joyful more. We have to show up again and again, we have to choose practice, we have to choose presence, but it doesn't always have to be a chore. There are many elements of the practice that can be woven into the way we do all of our actions throughout each day.
I hope for the retreat to be a time we can become very grounded in ourselves in a way that clarifies our actions in the world. Time spent introspectively heals and rejuvenates us to go back to our daily life feeling connected in a way that lets in a little more joy.
We will, of course, practice asana 1-2 times per day. But I will also present some big ideas from the Bhagavad Gita. Elements of practice and essential ideas have really helped me. Things that are applicable immediately and very useful.
This will be the second time I have hosted a retreat at The Land of Medicine Buddha. The first time I went I just felt so relaxed and inspired I knew I would return. The place is in the mountains just South of Santa Cruz. The property has lovely trails to hike, swimming and a hot tub. The food is yummy, satisfying and vegetarian. I always look forward to not having to cook or do dishes for a few days.
Tell us about the first retreat you ever led, what was that experience like?
The first retreat I led was really special. The group was amazing. I was surprised how fast the time went by. And I was surprised that even though I was leading the retreat and there was a lot of work involved for me, I went home feeling exactly the way I hoped the participants would feel. Rejuvenated, inspired to practice, and charged for my daily life.
You can find out more about the retreat here. And to learn more about Robyn visit: www.robynengel.com.