The Texas Yoga Retreat happens annually in Austin each fall.
It is held at a beautiful ashram, a spiritual community centered around the practice of yoga. The site itself is an immensely inspiring place where Bhakti yoga is practiced– devotional chanting and meditation. Situated in the peaceful countryside on over 200 acres of rolling green hills in southwest Austin, the ashram has been home to spiritual devotees for over thirty years. The vibration of unconditional love is palpable from the moment you step onto the property.
This year’s 18th annual Texas Yoga Retreat will be held the weekend of October 26-28.
In the early 2000s, I was a marketing/advertising volunteer for the retreat and was fortunate to attend several times. I participated in inspiring workshops led by talented teachers across many lineages and styles of yoga who come from across the U.S. and also internationally. There are teachers who come each year and others who rotate and change from year to year.
One memorable aftereffect of a powerful Kundalini class I attended in 2006 was the sudden inspiration to reflect the inward transformation I was feeling with a drastic outward change—so I shaved my shoulder-length hair into a buzz-cut. I was coming into my own as a yogi and yoga teacher and despite a very negative reaction from my boss at the time, my family and friends loved my new style. This was a huge turning point for me, a time when I truly began to embody my authentic self, without fretting over what others’ would think or say.
I was blessed to attend the retreat last year as well. This time, I brought my Colombian husband along for the experience. I was impressed by the quality of each workshop, due to the teachers’ ability to inspire us with practical knowledge that took us deeper into our spiritual practice, both formal and “off-the-mat”. The Yoga Therapy Conference sponsored by the International Association of Yoga Therapists is open to everyone and runs concurrent with the regular retreat.
There are plenty of asana-based classes offered, for beginner, intermediate and advanced students alike, and one can also delve deeper into the less-commonly-taught limbs of yoga which are often overlooked in a standard class yoga studio or gym.
We learned about Dharana, the sixth of the eight limbs of yoga, in a Friday afternoon workshop with Texas Yoga Retreat co-founder, Charles MacInerney. He overflows with an abundance of wisdom, practical knowledge, humor and motivation. We practiced “eye yoga,” which involves mindful movements and stretches of the eyeballs; the very advanced pranayama technique known as yawning; and were inspired by his reading of the Wendell Berry poem, “The Future”:
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.
Dharana means single-pointed concentration. It is traditionally taught through seated meditation. Charles encouraged us to expand our practice of dharana into our yoga poses and life in general. He shared a “trick”—to slow down when we are doing the things we dislike. For example, washing dishes. If we have an aversion to washing dishes, we should very mindfully, slowly and carefully wash them, making a ritual out of it, doing a great job and being totally present as we complete the task.
He defined dharana as being in the flow, the place where learning happens, rather than in a place of boredom with our routine or pain/fear that arises when we strive for lofty goals that are too far beyond our current skill level.
We also attended a class on “Prayala Yoga” focusing on the hips and legs with Houston yoga teacher, Robert Boustany. I have attended several workshops with him over the years and am always blown away by his grounded yet charismatic demeanor, coupled with his vast experience and knowledge of the physical and energetic bodies.
In addition to doing some intense hip, quadriceps and hamstring stretches with the use of blocks and straps, we also got to balance our chakras. Robert explained that the first knot of energy that prevents kundalini from moving up the spine is at the 2nd chakra , which is located in the pelvic bowl around the level of the sacrum. The second knot is of space, at the heart center. The third knot is of prana, also known as life-force, and is located at the brow point, the third eye chakra. The class ended with an awe-inspiring meditation on the space behind the brow, the soft pallet of the mouth, the throat and finally the space within and behind the heart center.