Dallas-based Shannon Buffington shares her experience as a yoga retreat leader. Her uniqueness: she rents entire villas for her retreat group, making the experience special and intimate. Check out her latest found treasure.
What benefits do people reap from taking a yoga retreat?
The greatest benefit is getting away. Our practice naturally deepens when we are able to focus on it without the pressures of our everyday lives. A retreat allows us to let go of the things we are normally consumed with (jobs, family responsibilities, etc) and focus on simply being present with ourselves and our practice. On that line, another benefit is that we don’t have the pressure to “do” things. Meals are prepared for us and each day can be as simple as a practice and then time to relax or read, or if you are feeling more active, take an excursion, go hiking or swimming. There is nothing that “has” to be done.
Another benefit of taking a yoga retreat is the increased time in nature. Most retreats are held in places that hold a great deal of prana – near the ocean, in the forest, etc. When you practice in nature, you feel the prana around you and are also able to take that prana within you. Your practice can truly reach a new level in such an environment.
What makes the retreats you lead special?
One thing that makes my retreats special is that we always stay in a house or villa together. I like to rent a large home, rather than stay at retreat centers, which are usually set up more like hotels. Staying in a home together allows the participants to experience a more intimate retreat and they are more easily able to socialize and really get to know each other. It feels more like a large family than a group of strangers.
Another thing that makes my retreats special is that you will always learn something. Each retreat is centered upon a theme and the practices and discussions throughout the week will expand upon that theme so that not only is your practice deepened, but your knowledge of yoga is deepened as well.
How do you balance advanced yogis and yoginis during your retreats?
I do accept all levels. In the lineage that I teach, it is very easy to accommodate all levels of practitioners. Our practices are focused more on changing energy and thus complicated and advanced postures are not needed. We work with basic postures and breath. This makes it easier for a beginner to work alongside a more advanced practitioner. Modifications are always given and students work at a level that is appropriate for them on any given day.
What is a typical day like?
A typical day will begin around 7am with a light breakfast. We meet at 8am for pranayama and meditation that last about 45 minutes. We then take about a 20-30 minute break and at 9:15 we start our asana practice. We do asana, pranayama, savasana, and a shorter meditation, finishing up at 11:30am. At 11:30, a wonderful, homemade lunch awaits us. After lunch, participants are free to do whatever they choose – nap, relax by the pool, or take an excursion. We usually have 2 or 3 group excursions that are planned (but optional) and have included snorkeling, surfing, zip-lining, and hiking. Dinner is usually around 6pm and on a few nights we will meet again in the evening for a restorative practice, yoga nidra (deep relaxation), or perhaps some chanting.
Would you share a retreat story?
Perhaps the most memorable is the retreat in St. Lucia in 2010. On the final day of the retreat, we had a hurricane. So, instead of packing up and heading home, we were stuck. The airport had been washed out and there was no communication between the south (where the airport is located) and the north (where we were located) parts of the island. We lost electricity and only had water for cooking and drinking (no showers!). As a yoga teacher, I can tell you this was such a valuable experience. After “practicing” yoga for 7 days, it was truly amazing to watch how people dealt with the situation. We were never in any physical danger, but there was no clear information on when or how we would get home and many of our comforts were gone. Most of us made it home 4 days later, a few others made it home a week later than planned. Below is what I wrote about it after the retreat.
When I tell you that my yoga retreat ended with a hurricane, stranding us on an island with no electricity, limited water and communication, and no indication of when we’d get home, you’d probably say “man, I’m glad I didn’t go.” I’ll say, “I wish you could have been there.”
I have many regular and dedicated students. Those that show up several times a week to practice, those that practice with me on-line, even though they live many miles away, those that commit to in-depth studies and for 9 months immerse themselves in practice. But, the truth is, it is all just practice. We practice our asanas, we practice pranayama, and we practice concentration and meditation. We even practice cultivating peace of mind, compassion, gratitude, and other qualities we hope to embody. And most of my students do it very well. Beautifully executed asanas, proficiency in many pranayama techniques, and the ease of sitting for long periods with a steady body and a quiet mind. But, it’s still just practice. What is all this practice for? LIFE.
We have a million chances a day to live our yoga. To put our practice to work. But nothing truly shows us how well prepared we are like adversity. You’ll find out very quickly just how well your practice is serving you. How do you handle yourself in the midst of uncertainty? When life isn’t going as you’ve planned, when it begins to throw curve balls your way? Are you steady in the midst of turbulence, calm in the midst of change? That is what all this practice is about. If life were easy, we wouldn’t need yoga. Life is not easy. Life is a journey with many twists and turns and storms. Will you be able to brave them, or will you fall apart?
I could not have planned or executed a yoga retreat as valuable as this one. My students got a front row seat to nature’s glory. To witness first hand a power so much stronger than ourselves. And more importantly, a chance to see just how well they weathered the storm. Because, trust me, there are many more to come.
Have you taken a retreat yourself? What was your most profound moment?
Yes, I retreat with my teacher every other year. For me, it’s not so much about profound moments as it is about being able to be present in each moment. As a mother, my life at home is busy and often chaotic. I am “on” 24/7. My time on retreats is about letting go of responsibilities, worry, and work, and simply enjoying myself, my teacher, and my practice.
What is your favorite retreat place? Why?
My favorite place thus far has been Costa Rica. The home where we stayed was incredible; situated right between the sea and the rainforest. Wildlife surrounded us and you could literally feel the prana around you. Monkeys walked right up to our house, colorful birds sat in the trees on our lawn; it was truly an amazing space.
You have a retreat coming up in Mexico, tell us a little about it!
This year’s retreat is in the Mayan Riveria in Mexico, which is south of Playa de Carmen. It’s a very beautiful part of Mexico and our house is right on the beach. We will be in a large 10-bedroom villa and will have a chef that will prepare all of our meals in the house. We will have a couple of group excursions, which are optional. Most likely, a snorkeling excursion and a group trip to Chichen Itza, one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
This year’s topic is “Uncovering the Inner Self” – an exploration of the 5 Koshas (or layers) of the human being. Each day we will focus on one of the layers and how we can live harmoniously and skillfully at each layer and at the same time, how we transcend each layer to get closer to the inner Self that illumines them all. Each day’s practice and discussion will lead us deeper within, ultimately experiencing the peacefulness that resides at our core. It will be a week of relaxation, renewal, and transformation.
One of the main concerns I hear is about the safety of travel to Mexico. I have a friend and fellow yoga teacher that lives in Playa del Carmen (about 10 minutes from where our villa is located) with her teenage son. I asked her to comment on the issue and this is what she had to say:
I would like to say that it would be like no longer going to Newport Beach California because parts of New York City are unsafe. Playa del Carmen is an international beach town, not very traditional Mexico anymore. There are many Italians, French, Argentines etc. It is hip and cool. And safe. Puerto Adventures just 10 minutes from Playa (where you will be) is a little planned marina community. Mostly ex pats and hardly anything traditional Mexican.
Playa has a lower violent crime rate than Montana, Wyoming and the entire country of Canada….
In addition, our villa is in a gated community and we will travel together from Cancun to the villa and I encourage participants to travel as a group throughout the week. I have been to Mexico on retreat several times in the past few years and have never felt unsafe.
How did you first get introduced to yoga? And how did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
I began practicing yoga in college (some 20 years ago). I’m not sure why I was interested, I didn’t know anything about yoga, but I asked for a yoga video for Christmas my freshman year. I went to school in a very small town and there were no yoga studios, so I began practicing by video. It wasn’t until I moved to Dallas (in 2000) that I began taking classes and was asked by a friend to begin teaching. I was hesitant. I’m not sure why, because I have taught fitness classes since 1992, but for some reason, had no desire to teach yoga. All that changed…..I went through yoga teacher training in 2002, met a fellow teacher, and together we opened a yoga studio. I have since left the studio, but continue to teach and also now train teachers. I didn’t really “decide” to become a yoga teacher, in fact, I didn’t want to initially. But now, I know it is my dharma (purpose) to teach and often that is exactly how we end up where we are supposed to be – not because we decide to, but because the universe is pushing us in that direction even in spite of ourselves.
Who were you mostly influenced by?
I am most profoundly influenced by my teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker. As the universe would have it, that very first yoga video I picked out was choreographed by Rod. Many years later I would attend a training with Rod (out of curiosity) and knew right away that he was meant to be my teacher. His teachings, his teachers, and the lineage of which we are a part have changed my life in the most amazing ways. My goal is to continue to spread these timeless teachings and help others find more joy and freedom in their lives as well.
Where do you live and what is a typical day like for you?
I live in Dallas, TX with my husband, 7 year old son, and 4 cats. A typical day for me isn’t that exciting! I am up early, usually by 5:30am for my personal practice. I get my son up around 7 and then it’s time to make breakfast, pack a lunch, get ready, and get to school. I use the mornings to get stuff done around the house, run errands, and catch up on work. My work consists of the 200 and 300 hour teacher trainings that I conduct, as well as planning my regular, weekly classes. I teach on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings and conduct teacher trainings on the weekends. My son is out of school at 3pm, so my days are pretty short! After I pick him up, it’s homework time, then getting dinner ready. I am usually more than ready for bed by 9 or 9:30pm!
Thanks Shannon for opening a window in your life as a mum and a teacher. For more information about Shannon’s upcoming retreat, check out Uncovering the Inner Self Yoga Retreat in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico!