“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear” – Rumi
What would you give up for a life with less stress, a greater sense of enthusiasm and happiness, better sleep, more clarity, and a deeper and more meaningful relationship with yourself and others?
A few years ago, I gave up my sense of communication by taking a vow of silence at a silent yoga retreat to get all of those and a whole lot more. In this article, I am going to explore with you what a silent yoga retreat is, the idea behind it, the benefits, tips on how to prepare for it, and more.
What Is a Silent Yoga Retreat?
A silent yoga retreat encourages participants to take a vow of silence. That means no verbal communication for a certain period. You don’t talk with other participants during meditation, asana practice, reading, or even eating.
In some lineages and retreats like Vipassana, which is what I did, the noble silence also means no eye contact with other retreat participants.
What Is the Idea Behind Silent Yoga Retreats?
The world is a noisy place. There’s noise everywhere—from people, TV, smartphones, and traffic. Then, there’s that noise inside your head—the incessant inner chatterbox.
Silent yoga retreats came from the practice of Vipassana. Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique that means “to see things as they are.” Sometimes called insight meditation, Vipassana focuses on connecting the mind and the body by refraining from communication. It is a Buddhist term that means “insight.”
Vippasana came from the Buddhist tradition that was later on rediscovered in Burma. It is a meditation technique that Buddhists, Hindus, and even Catholics use. But even if it started as a spiritual practice, people from all walks of life can benefit from it.
The idea behind silent yoga retreats is to withdraw your sense of communication with others so you can focus on listening to yourself and the people around you. Buddhists go to silent retreats for the following reasons:
To Control the Mind
People practice meditation to control the mind. As a form of meditation, silent retreats help you control the mind by focusing on it instead of engaging with the noise around you. When you can focus on your mind and your thoughts, you can control how your ideas flow.
You will learn what triggers your thoughts and eventually how to limit them. When you can manage your mind, you can control what you say.
To Control What You Say
Ever said something to a friend and regretted saying it? You are not alone. Buddhists think that going silent helps you to find the right words to say.
It trains you to think of what you will say first to pick out the right words. Being silent keeps you from hurting yourself or others with words.
To Listen More
Communication is a two-way street. To be a good communicator, you need to speak and listen. In silence, you can listen more. In the words of the poet Rumi, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
Taking a vow of silence in a silent yoga retreat helps you to develop a better listening ear. It allows you to learn and understand more.
To Become More Aware of Yourself
By withdrawing communication with others, you can become more aware of yourself. You can speak and listen to your thoughts more. By doing this, you will realize if and when you are talking to yourself with loving kindness or not.
As a result, you will develop compassion toward yourself. When you acquire this compassion toward yourself, it will be easier to share this compassion and love with others.
What Happens on a Silent Yoga Retreat?
What happens in a silent meditation retreat depends on the center that is offering it. Some centers provide a structured retreat where everything is planned from when you wake up and what you do in certain parts of the day.
In a typical Vipassana retreat, participants will sit in meditation for 10 hours a day. The day starts at four in the morning with the ring of a bell as a wake-up call. Then, you will meditate, take a break for meals or tea, have a lecture with your guru, and finally, lights out for sleep.
A common Vipassana silent retreat looks like this:
- 4:00 AM: Wake-up Bell
- 4:30 AM – 6:30 AM: Meditate
- 6:30 AM – 8:00 AM: Breakfast
- 8:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Meditate
- 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM: Lunch
- 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Meditate
- 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM: Tea Time
- 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM: Meditate
- 7:00 PM – 8:15 PM: Dharma Talk
- 8:30 PM – 9:00 PM: Meditate
- 10:00 PM: Sleep
In a Vipassana silent retreat, there will be guides on how to meditate. Some meditation sessions will also be led by a meditation teacher. It usually lasts for ten days, but you can also find retreats that last for three or 60 days.
A center that follows the traditional way of Vipassana will be donation-based. As such, you will have to do chores for the center to continue operating. You will also not be allowed to turn on any gadgets, read, exercise, and wear perfume or makeup.
Furthermore, you cannot sing, hum a tune, smile, and make eye contact. In some cases, you will only be fed once a day by the end of your stay.
Some retreats offer a carefree style of silent retreat. You can do any activity you want to do, such as walking meditation, and asana practice. The only thing you can’t do is to communicate with others.
These retreats can be quite expensive as they are often held in a beautiful location, far from the hustles and bustles in the city. They will also provide you with optimal conditions, such as a comfortable and beautiful meditation hall and vegan meals so you can meditate comfortably. In a way, silent retreats like these feel like a vacation.
Some retreats allow you to go public, use gadgets, and even go on social media. The only thing you can’t do is to use your vocal cords for speaking.
Whether it is a donation-based or an expensive silent yoga retreat, there will be a dharma talk with your meditation teacher. During this time, you can ask your teacher questions and get more insights.
Why Should You Go on a Silent Meditation Retreat?
As someone who completed a Vipassana retreat, I recommend going to any silent meditation retreat, whether it’s in a luxurious retreat center or a monastery in the middle of nowhere. It’s not just because I don’t want to talk and communicate with other people, but because of a whole lot of more reasons such as these:
You Gain Momentum
If you’re a meditator and do it 10 to 30 minutes a day, I’m sure at some point you will question yourself whether you’re even making any progress. Questioning your progress is very common in meditators, old and new.
Many times, we don’t see the progress because they are very subtle. When you do a silent yoga retreat, you gain momentum and may see more progress. That’s because you have fewer distractions, and your only goal is to finish the meditation session for the day.
You Will Become Less Judgmental
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from going to a Vipassana retreat is not to be judgmental. It makes sense since Vipassana means to see things as they are. Because you don’t talk in silent yoga retreats (and have no eye contact, in some cases), you don’t know what other people are going through.
It’s hard to give meaning when you can’t talk, so there is less judgment from you. When there is less judgment, it’s easier not to take things personally and see things as they are.
You Will Improve Your Brain Plasticity
Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt to change. In your daily life, you are constantly communicating through your laptops, smartphones, verbal in-person communication, letters, etc. We are so used to doing this that we don’t know how to connect with ourselves and other people on a deeper level.
When you go to a silent retreat, your brain will find new ways for you to survive the silence. It’s a great mental exercise to improve your resilience, self-love, and concentration.
You Will Know Yourself Better
Do you know what makes you tick? If you don’t, a silent yoga retreat might help you with that. When there is a deafening silence around you, and you are not allowed to talk, the only thing you can do is listen and observe your thoughts.
Introspection will help you gain more clarity about your thought process. You will learn how and why you do things.
You Will Become More Empowered
A silent yoga retreat is grueling. You are way out of your comfort zone. Doing it will make you go through many different emotions, some of which you have not experienced before.
What makes it more challenging is that you can’t talk about it until it’s time to speak with your meditation teacher. But once you finish your retreat, you will feel empowered that you were able to survive it.
How Do You Prepare for a Silent Meditation Retreat?
A silent meditation retreat is not a walk in the park, so it helps to come prepared. Here are tips on how to prepare for your silent yoga retreat:
If you don’t practice mindfulness meditation or any meditation technique, start with that before going to a silent retreat. If you have some experience with that but zero experience with silent meditation retreats, sign up for a day-long or weekend retreat first. These retreats are very physically and mentally challenging. Ten days might be too long for you yet.
Strengthen and Stretch Before Going
In silent yoga retreats, you will spend most of your day in seated meditation. Sitting for an extended time can be physically painful. If you already have an asana routine or you exercise regularly, good for you.
For those who don’t, it’s best to prepare for it by strengthening and stretching your body physically. Exercising will help sitting for long hours less painful.
Bring Comfortable Clothing
You will be in seated meditation most of the day. Make sure the clothes you wear are comfortable enough that you can cross your legs and kneel. Most retreats will not allow you to wear tight-fitting yoga pants and show your legs, so go for loose-fitting pants.
Bring Your Meditation Gear
Since you will be meditating all day, bring meditation gear to make you feel a little comfortable. Most retreat centers have meditation chairs or cushions. However, these gears are for public use. It’s best to bring your own, in case they run out of supplies.
Expect to Feel Uncomfortable
Silence is uncomfortable and sitting in silence for eight to ten hours a day is ten times more painful. Even if your silent yoga retreat is in a luxurious resort, it’s not a walk in the park. You will feel physical pain, emotional turmoil, and mental anguish. Expect that these can happen in your retreat.
Don’t Expect an Epiphany
The Buddha said that expectation is the cause of suffering. Don’t expect that you will have the wisdom of Buddha or the Dalai Lama or a billion-dollar tech startup idea during your silent yoga retreat. You are setting yourself up for disappointment if you do. A silent yoga retreat is all about being and observing.
Follow the Retreat Center’s Suggested Things to Bring
The retreat centers know what usually happens during the retreat. Most centers send you their suggested list days before the start of the retreat. If you receive a message from them, ask them.
A silent yoga retreat is not a vacation. While some centers will offer you luxurious accommodation and a meditation hall with a beautiful view, sitting in silence for long hours and not communicating is challenging. But if you are curious and have the time to do it, take that opportunity to experience something new with potential benefits.