Returning Home

Returning Home


I just returned home from leading a 7 -day retreat at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala and I notice that my capacity for the busyness that is going on around me has diminished. I find myself overwhelmed by even the simple act of driving my car to the grocery store and shopping for food. What happens when we go on retreat and how do we return back to our daily life? Depending upon the type of retreat you go on, your days were probably filled with hours of meditation, yoga practice and quiet restful periods where you were removed from the usual tasks that fill up your days. Sounds heavenly’ right?  Well, it is.

Retreats offer us the opportunity to slow our days down so that the quality of our attention can focus more on being rather than doing.  We get the chance to re-organize how we spend our time.  We unplug.  Not just from our technological devices but also from the daily habits that may or may not be healthy for us. On retreat, our bodies re-adjust to new schedules and new ways of doing things.  We eat healthier, sleep better and exercise more.  New friends, new experiences and new insights inspire us. So after all of this, how do we come back home and return to our responsibilities?

Here are 6 things you can do to ease the transition back home:

1. Plant the Seeds

Your transition back home begins when you are on the retreat. If you can plant the seeds for your life after retreat while you are on the retreat, the chances of maintaining what you learned and experienced on the retreat will be more successful. Setting clear intentions to adopt different and healthier behaviors at home while you are in the supportive environment of the retreat is so important.

2. Give yourself time to come back

If possible, organize your schedule so that you have some days off at home before you have to return to work.  This will give you time to re-integrate slowly.  If you were out of the country, you may need some space to re-adjust to a time difference. You can also use the days off to process what you gained from your retreat experience. This off time can also be a great way of supporting your commitment to the healthy new behaviors you experienced on retreat; clearing your pantry of old foods and shopping for new healthier foods is a good way of continuing your retreat habits at home.  Setting up a new meditation space at home can help support the continuation of daily meditation practice. The first 3 days can be disorienting, so allow yourself time to settle back in slowly – even with social activities.  Keeping your calendar simple and un-busy is a good idea as you re-adjust back home.

3. Compassionately commit to changing your habits

I say compassionately commit because changing habits is hard.  You can use your time away on retreat to learn more about your patterns and when you return back home begin to make small adjustments in the areas of your life you would like to change.  But remember to do this with kindness.   Even adding in one small practice to your back home life can help you maintain your retreat.

4. Remember your family

You probably did not have family go with you on your retreat.  They stayed back home and tended to the things that you stepped away from.  It is a good idea to gently remind yourself of this as you transition back home. They did not have the experiences you did and they will most likely feel a little outside of your new sense of self.  It may be necessary to also remind them that you have been away and that you may need a little more quiet time the first few days. Helping your family understand this even before you go on retreat can be supportive. Also, it is good to remember to thank your family for their support.  They may have been taking care of the pets, the house, and other tasks while you were away.   Sharing your gratitude for them can help ease your transition back into your responsibilities.  They may even offer to continue taking over those tasks for the first few days of your return to allow you more time to come back. Sharing your experiences from the retreat and your new insights about what you want to change in your life can be tricky with members of your family as they may not share those same desires.  Be mindful of how to introduce these new ideas into the family household.  Getting everyone on board in a kind and inspiring way has a better chance of success.

5. Find a community that supports your new choices

If you do not already have a community around you that supports what you were engaged in on your retreat, healthy diet and lifestyle, yoga and meditation, now is a really good time to find that.
Look for a yoga studio or meditation hall where you can take classes to continue your practice.  Being around others who have the same healthy interests that you now do can strengthen your commitment to this new way of being.

6. Calendar in another retreat for the future

It is a great idea to schedule another retreat for yourself in 6 months to a year while you are still basking in the energy of the current retreat.  This will help support you when some months have passed and you find yourself losing the inspiration to keep up your good habits.  People who are successful at maintaining their yoga, diet, and meditation practices are those who take the time to refresh their healthy habits every six months or year with some type of immersive time away to practice.   Planning your year with an annual retreat is a good way to strengthen your life journey for years to come.

These are just a few ideas to support your return back home. The gift of retreat is the opportunity to step outside our normal routines and to spend some quality time focusing on you.  Remember when you are filled up, inspired and re-charged, you have more to give.  As I settle back into my daily life back at home, I can sense what I gained from my time in Guatemala in the smallest of ways.  I am still moving a little slower and more mindfully and my appreciation for my practice has deepened.

Rainbow Shower of Light Meditation

Rainbow Shower of Light Meditation

This is a simple but powerful healing practice. 

Allow yourself to become still and serene.  Taking some deep healing breaths in and out.  Settling into a comfortable seat.  And sitting up tall. 

Take your awareness to the crown of your head and imagine an opening here – like a satellite dish. 

Opening up this area to the vast space above you and beginning to imagine a beautiful healing light here and all around you. 

See this light grow brighter and brighter until you are surrounded by this healing light as if you are taking a shower of light.  Seeing this light pour down into the opening at the top of your head and flowing  within you and all around you. 

Beautiful, radiant ….cleansing and healing.  You are bathing in this shower of light. 

Now imagine the color red, beautiful and vibrant….like a ruby.  Imagine that red color showering down all around you and within you.  Healing and revitalizing.

Then allow that red color to change to orange.  Imagine a shower of orange light – raining down in you and all around you.  Allow some of that orange light to settle in to your adrenals …re-charging them.  Bringing you some vitality and healing.

Then let that color change to yellow…a bright, sunny yellow color.  Drink in that color as it pours down like a rain shower of light.    Sunshine yellow…filling you up. 

Now imagine green light coming down – soft and healing.  Green light all around you. 

Then a beautiful blue like the ocean – deep and calming.  Sapphire blue showering down with in you and all around you.

And now the color violet – spiritual uplifting, raising your vibration and cleansing any heaviness out of your aura.  Violet the color of transformation.   Breathing in this beautiful healing color.

Now imagine all of the colors of the rainbow flowing down like a rain shower …filling you up with all of their profound properties of healing. 

Coming back to your breath and back into your body now.  Rubbing your palms together and placing them over your eyes.  Feeling the warmth radiating from your hands.  Gently when you are ready open your eyes.  And release your hands back down to your legs.  Feeling recharged and ready to go about your day. 


Finding Refuge in Your Yoga Practice

Finding Refuge in Your Yoga Practice


 Podcast: Finding Refuge in Your Yoga Practice
Questions and answers with Erika Belanger on August 19, 2018

The actual Podcast recording can be found here at this link:
Below are the questions and my answers from the Podcast.  They vary a little from the actual recording.
I hope you enjoy both.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to yoga originally?

I found yoga in my early 20’s.  My husband at the time was a chiropractor and wholistic doctor and so he was the one who said we should try yoga.  It was not a particularly challenging time in my life…nothing major going on other than the usual.  I was just out of college, getting married and trying to sort out what I was going to do with the rest of my life…which is what you are asking yourself at that time. 

I had been a “spiritual seeker” from my early childhood so trying yoga seemed to make sense.  After my first class, I (like many long time yoga practitioners often say) had an immediate connection with it.  It felt like I had found my path. 

During that time, I was and had been training as a dancer and teaching dance to children.  I was dancing every day, teaching several times a week, doing shows which basically means I did not need more exercise or body movement in my life.  So I was not seeking that from yoga. 

I have told many of people that I did not go to yoga classes in the beginning for the asana practice.  I went for the philosophy, meditation, pranayama and the spiritual teachings.  Luckily for me, my early teachers were students of Krishnamacharya (who was still alive then)  and TKV Desikachar.  These early teachers taught classes that were a combination of asana, pranayama, philosophy and meditation. 

It was only later in my yoga life that I found myself diving deeper into the asana portion of the yogic path. 

How do you define or see the idea of refuge?

I read this statement somewhere written by a Buddhist monk:
When we trust that we are the Ocean, we are not afraid of the waves.”

That is what Refuge means to me.  Refuge is the place I can go  where I can feel that I am the ocean…that vast, infinite, connected to everything space where even the waves that are crashing all around me are OK. 

Of course, this is easier to say then do.  To experience yourself as that deep infinite…OK with everything that arises is a life-long or more likely many lives long practice. 

What does it mean to seek refuge in our practice for you?

Taking Refuge is something we do over and over again.  It is whatever you find that can help you find solid ground again and feel safe.  It is an internal “safe haven”. 

How is refuge different than sanctuary?

Refuge is different than Sanctuary only in the sense that a Sanctuary could be an actual place….like a temple, church, yoga studio, your home, out in nature….a place that you feel safe and secure and that can support you finding your center again.  A Sanctuary could also be a person or people …a community of people. 

They are both important..and often we need to have a Sanctuary to go to so that we can find refuge. 

I think for many people the yoga studio is a Sanctuary for them.  I like that…I often think of that when I am teaching.

How does that type of practice look like/feel like? Energetically, physically, mentally?

A practice that you can take refuge in should do the following:    

    • First  – it should calm you down and help you feel a certain inner peacefulness again
    • Secondly  – It should clear your energy and your mind.  Supporting you to have mental focus and some emotional stability.  This will help you to see things more truthfully as they really are  …help you gain perspective.

I like to say that a “good practice” will help clear my mind enough to give me some “space” from the issue that is bothering me.  That “space” is usually enough for me to then begin to see the issue differently .this often helps me to handle the issue with more skill.

    • And lastly the practice should support you in connecting to something bigger…it should help you experience that sense of being the Ocean…that we are part of something bigger more Divine….something Holy so that you can recognize the Infinite Awareness within …even if it is momentarily.

These 3 benefits must be there for us to truly feel “changed” by the practice. 

We should feel an inner calm, have a quieter heart/mind, able to focus our minds more steadily and to have an experience of being connected to Infinite Awareness….which arises out of our inner quietness.      

In most of the Wisdom/Spiritual Traditions taking refuge meant that you are seeking refuge in a particular Divine Being…like Krishna, Buddha, Christ or any other spiritual deity. 

Taking refuge in this Divine Being means that you both asking for that Divine Being’s support and guidance in your life and you are recognizing that those qualities that that Divine Being possesses, you also have. 

So; in other words, you are saying I will remember that I too am good, honest, courageous, loving, peaceful, holy. 

We also have those wise qualities that this Divine Being has and we bow to that and remember to live in more integrity with those qualities.    

Thomas Merton who was a Trappist Monk and wrote one of my favorite books called Entering the Stillness..wrote about refuge by saying….that he ended each day by being near God.

He said that he would be near God and talk about his day. What was he frustrated by?  What was he hopeful about?  What did he do well?  What did he not do well?  Just talking to “God” as a way to be near to the Divine. 

I like this image of Taking Refuge.  To just be near God, Universal Presence or any other word that helps you to invoke a sense of being connected to something sacred and holy. 

What in your life made you seek refuge in your yoga practice?

Honestly …..everything.

Every day of my life is a call for me to Take Refuge.  I am not sure how anyone else’s life goes but mine is almost always a series of “ups and downs”….some days are amazing…everything going perfectly and I am loving life…and then other days are either some internal battle I have going on….I feel uninspired or challenged by something outside of myself.  Relationships issues, health issues, family issues, etc…

The bigger answer to this question is that from an early age I found that I was looking for a deeper meaning to my existence.  I found most things to be a challenge and I wanted to know why?  And I began to ask the questions most spiritual seekers ask….who was I?….And what was this life about?   What was my purpose in this life? 

Big, deep questions that moved in me the desire to Take Refuge as I like to call it. 

What are your thoughts about pain and suffering in general, as part of the human experience

Hum?   I am not sure how to answer this question. 

I guess I could say that it seems to be a part of our human experience and as difficult as it is to go thru pain and suffering, these painful experiences are often our greatest teachers.  This is the paradox of human experience. 

None of us want to suffer but the suffering is what often moves us out of our unhealthy patterns. 

I think it is not so much that there will not be suffering but how we handle the pain and suffering rather than the suffering itself that becomes the powerful transformer in our lives. 

We can gain enormous inner strength from these experiences. 

This is where our daily practices can support us in finding an inner refuge where we can be in our center even amidst the challenges. 

What parts of the practice are the most potent in your opinion when what we seek safety and shelter?

I obviously think meditation is the most important thing you can do as part of a daily practice. 

A meditation practice that helps you to focus your mind away from all of the distractions of daily life, a practice that supports you in experiencing yourself as you are now, a practice that brings you into the present and a practice that awakens in you the experience that you are not alone, that we are connected to some Divine force…whether you call it God, Divine, Universal Presence, or a more specific name.  And that that Divine Presence is always there supporting you, guiding you and loving you.

And a meditation practice that supports you having an experience of a deeper awareness that is beyond your thoughts, emotions, worries, concerns.”

Many people find meditation to be difficult especially in the early years of their yoga practice.  If that is the case, your yoga asana practice can be your meditation.  As long as you do a asana practice that is mindful enough to help you feel an inner calm and clarity again and when you are done with it, you feel more at ease.   

You also do workshops about the Yamas and Niyamas, I see a clear connection between the two subjects. How are they related for you

According to my philosophy teacher, practicing the Yamas in particular but also the Niyamas help to create an environment around us that is peaceful and safe.

For instance; when we practice Ahimsa, being kind to others, not harming, it sets up both an inner environment and an outer environment which is non-violent.   When we are not “at war” with others in our lives or within ourselves,  the conditions for us to do a  practice are better.   We feel more at ease and the space around us is more at ease.    

Also; according to Patanjali, the reason we practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga, in which the first two limbs or stages of our yoga practice are the Yamas and the Niyamas is to clear away the obstacles that prevent us from clearly seeing the difference between the (never changing) permanent inner light of awareness and the ever changing …ever fluctuating and reactive part of our nature.

This is the reason for the 8 Limbs of Yoga beginning with the Yamas and the Niyamas. 

They are absolutely connected to our ability to Take Refuge. 

How much does traditional texts influence/support you in developing this kind of practice?

Quite a bit. 

I have been fortunate to have been exposed to these great wisdom texts from early in my yoga life. I also consider myself fortunate in that I took such a great interest in the study of these texts.  Often studying them even without the support of a teacher but of course I have also had teachers in philosophy. 

I believe that to be firmly grounded on a yogic path you must study the traditional texts.  They are sacred books that hold many keys to spiritual awakening. 

Why do you want to offer refuge to your students? What do they need refuge from? How did you know/when did you realize you could serve your community in that way?

I do not think I am offering refuge to my students.  I am merely sharing what has been shared with me.  I truly believe that having a good solid daily practice (whether you do it every day or most days) and a good teacher (this is important especially in the beginning) helps to offset the challenges that our lives will always present to us.  We need to develop an inner stability, a balanced and quieter mind that can see things a little clearer.  And I believe that having a connection with (shall we say) Spirit is also essential for up-lifting us on a daily basis.  This Spiritual connection helps to inspire us to become better people and therefore helping us (little by little) to up-lift the world around us. 

What kind of skill are you hoping to develop in your student

Really I hope to inspire them to want to do a daily practice of meditation and self-reflection.  In addition to their yoga asana practice. 

What’s the place or the importance of the community when we seek refuge

Very important. 

Having a good community around us is so important for support on this path.  In the Buddhist tradition, taking Refuge in the Sangha (community) is one of the 3 Refuges.   

Knowing that you are surrounded by like-minded people who are on this path together can bring great comfort.  Plus; we all know that many times the people in our Sangha become our sounding boards when we are going thru troubled times …offering support on so many levels.  And those same people since they are walking this same path can remind us of who we really are when we have lost that inner connection.   

Where can people find out more about you/this?   

I am a local Bay Area yoga/meditation teacher. 

My website is  You find more about my classes, workshops and retreats there.  Feel free to sign up for my mailing list on my website.  I am also offering a workshop the weekend of September 8 &  9, 2018  in Mill Valley at Yoga Works called The Refuge of Practice.  Just this topic. 

Is there anything important I’m forgetting you would like to touch on?

I think they only other thing I would like to say is that our practice can bring us so much but it is always important to realize that many times we need the support of someone outside of us when times are really challenging.  Asking for this support does not negate your practice but it is usually a direct result of your practice.  Because the practice has brought you some clarity and from this clarity you may see the need to ask for additional support in the way of counseling, or a spiritual mentor or body work or group classes, etc. 

It is important to recognize the role of the helpers in our lives.