Nearly two years ago, Abi approached me and asked if I would be willing to teach Yoga at a retreat that she was planing with her new side hustle "Present Experiences" a retreat business that aimed to support local, Malaysian resorts and hospitality. I, of course, loved the idea and was excited to support her new venture so I agreed immediately. She then planned an incredible getaway that would only come to fruition this past weekend, nearly two years later. But let me tell you my loves, it was worth the wait.
I'm here to recount all of the details of our little weekend extravaganza: where we stayed, what we did while we were there; and then chat a little bit about why retreats are awesome and how I sequence my yoga classes stress-free for an all-levels event like this (because it is not as scary or hard as some of you may think).
Photo by Melissa Toh.
WHERE WE STAYED.
We spent 3 days and 2 nights at The Enderong Resort in Tanarimba, a mountainous green space in Janda Baik, Pahang, Malaysia which is a quick 45 minute drive from Kuala Lumpur.
I drove up early in the morning on Friday with all of the Yoga props (bolsters, blankets and blocks) and met with Abi so we could set up and get a lay of the land. Then the retreat participants joined us later in afternoon.
There are two main routes to reach the resort after you exit the main highway: one takes you through a more scenic, winding, jungle road (not ideal for passengers like myself who experience motion sickness!) and a second, more direct route that takes you through Bukit Tinggi the small village at the base of the hill.
The Resort is situated at 2000 feet above sea level which affords a much cooler climate than the heat and humidity we're used to in KL. Depending on your needs and group size, the resort offers a number of different accommodation options. We chose to rent the entire main Enderong House for our retreat which, I think, was absolutely perfect for us.
The Enderong House is a mammoth stone and timber house with large glass windows that allow you to take in uninhibited views of the lush green rainforest and its accompanying nature sounds. The house has 8 bedrooms (7 with en-suite) so each of us had our own space which was really nice. It was seriously spacious, but still felt very cosy and cohesive which, I think, is important for a group event like this.
We used the main living area for our daily YOGA and IMMERSION classes. The space fit us so perfectly and it was surrounded by these enormous timber doors that could be opened fully to create a breezy, open-air vibe which was everything for our long and dreamy post-class Savasanas.
HOW WE SPENT OUR TIME ON RETREAT.
Our first order of business once everyone had arrived was to gather for a short reflection and intention setting exercise. I think that experiences like these are made so much more impactful when we are able to take stock of where we are at, and then create meaningful intentions for where we would like to be. So, before we began our first FLOW class on Friday, we took some time to check in and reflect on what it means to be truly "present" (as the theme of the retreat was: "immerse in presence") we journaled a bit about our experience with presence (when it is easiest/most challenging, etc.), and then I asked the participants to create a personal intention for the weekend in response to this question: how can my actions/experience of this weekend serve the person that I want to become?
Photo by Melissa Toh.
Over the weekend we worked our way through a total of four (4) Yoga/workout classes: 1x FLOW on Friday evening, 1x IMMERSION on Saturday morning, 1x YIN on Saturday evening, and 1x FLOW on Sunday morning.
The itinerary was, in my opinion, the perfect balance of movement, excursions and free-time. I really didn't want this weekend to feel overwhelmingly jam-packed with things to do every hour on the hour. I wanted it to be a weekend of reflection, wellness, and R&R, with maybe a little pool time ;)
While Janda Baik is usually known for having much cooler weather than KL, the weather in the afternoon was surprisingly hot and sunny which ended up being perfect for sun tanning on the lawn by the resort's pool and enjoying a cool dip right before lunch.
All of our meals (except breakfast which we had in the outdoor dining area of the main house) were served at the Enderong Cafe which is situated just off the entrance of the main house. The food the entire weekend was so incredible. There was always a fresh salad, a soup, a fish, one other meat protein, and a pasta. Oh and, THEY SERVED GARLIC BREAD WITH EVERY MEAL. That will always be a hells yes from me.
On Saturday after lunch we went on a nature walk with Gary, one of the nature guides on the resort, who told us more about the property and of the different animals and plants that inhabit the area. He was so sweet and earnest in his enthusiasm for "the nature" the way only a nature guide can be. He had this burlap bag with him which he'd dramatically reach into like a magician to reveal different plant samples, insect specimens, and, a one point a frog! (which he and other researchers had been studying that day in the office, he brought it along to release it safely back into the wild which one of the retreat participants had the honour of doing). Something that really caught my attention was his discussion of the different studies being performed to analyse the local animal populations, their breeding habits etc. It was really great to hear that despite being an area that welcomes (and thrives on) tourism, there are still concerted efforts being made to protect and maintain the natural ecosystem.
This is Gary, our nature guide.
BENEFITS OF DOING YOGA IN A RETREAT SETTING.
Truthfully, you can practice Yoga anywhere, so you don't exactly need to go on a retreat to get your Yoga "on". That being said, I think that the retreat setting offers something unique and special, whether it's for a weekend, or for an entire Yoga Teacher Training.
I'll give you an example: have you ever been on holiday, staring out into the horizon and you experience this intense moment of clarity or a feeling like you are truly "in the present moment"? This is the magic of retreating. Being away from our day-to-day space can help us to unplug and arrive in the present moment with greater ease than if we were still at home where distractions abound.
Having a change of scenery can also be hugely refreshing. I don't know about you, but I've stared at the same four walls all day everyday for the past two years and they grow less and less inspiring by the day. But after a weekend in the hills, waking up every day surrounding by lush green forest, even just practicing Yoga somewhere that's not the studio, I felt like my motivation and creativity had been totally recharged. I mean, I came home and wrote this ten thousand word blog post...need I say more? ;)
When it comes to trainings, I've had the great privilege to experience training at home and abroad. Both are great, but I cannot deny that there is a special immersive quality to learning in a retreat setting away from home. I'll write more on selecting a YTT and taking a Yoga teacher training abroad another day but suffice it to say that when there is no where to go but the shala, and the wifi is crap, you just drop into a space of presence like no other.
Photo by Melissa Toh.
TEACHING YOGA CLASSES IN A RETREAT SETTING.
Most retreats, like this one, are designed to cater to "all levels" and so that inevitably means that you, as an instructor, could have a mix of participants who are brand new to yoga as well as lifelong, intermediate practitioners which is basically every Yoga teacher's nightmare. But sequencing for this scenario doesn't have to be difficult or scary. In fact, there is a way to skilfully sequence for an all-levels retreat environment that is simple and stress-free.
Photo by Melissa Toh.
Something to remember when sequencing Yoga classes or movement classes for a retreat is that most people go on retreats to relax so they're likely not hoping to be pushed to their absolute physical limits in the classes they'll be taking. Likewise, retreats are not the moment to dive into ultra creative sequencing that nobody will understand or deep technical postural analysis (unless that is specifically the subject of your retreat). Retreat attendees are on holiday. Nobody wants to sit around and watch you explain triangle pose or how to do XYZ arm-balance transition for 15 minutes. They want to move and feel good in their bodies while being away on vacation. That's it.
Knowing this, here's how I planned my classes for this retreat weekend:
FLOW 1. The theme for our retreat was "IMMERSE IN PRESENCE". And the purpose of this class was to examine movement as a way to bring us into the present moment. So, I wanted to use a Yoga sequencing technique that would honour this theme by encouraging students to focus on coordinating their breath with their movements (hence tethering their focus to the present moment) and that would require minimal cueing on my part so as to allow them to fully immerse in their own experience. With this in mind, I decided to teach an "interval flow" for our first FLOW class of the weekend. Most participants were coming off of a full week of work and then a 40-minute drive so I knew that this would be a great way to get us all moving. This sequencing style uses repetition (each transition/"interval" in the sequence is repeated a few times before moving on to the next interval. The intervals link together to create a full yoga flow sequence and then at the end of class, the entire sequence is revisited but by flowing through only one of each pose/transition) which is a dynamic way to introduce newcomers to movement and breath connection without it feeling too "technical". At the same time, experienced practitioners receive a chance to experience a flow-state as they move through the reps. These types of sequences are always crowd pleasers which makes it a reliable pick for an event like this.
IMMERSION. The purpose with this class was to learn how to remain present during moments of discomfort. And that is likely why almost everyone on the retreat was anxious to move through it. To be fair, IMMERSION is a tough workout. It’s sweaty and it’s also deeply emotional. Despite the apprehension, we all managed to move, sweat and feel every single track all together. This was in large part due to the incredible strength, courage and perseverance of the participants, but also due to the flexible, options-based nature of my exercise sequence that incorporated options for both low impact and high impact movements. I wanted this class to feel challenging but doable so that the participants would remain engaged rather than discouraged. Low impact options were demonstrated in each track and we worked through several rounds together before I would introduce another (slightly more intense) option after-which I gave the cue for the participants to choose which movement resonated with them. Honestly, this class got me so choked up. We had a really diverse group but everyone completed all the exercises and gave it everything they had. It was the coolest thing to witness and it was a nice little reminder how this workout serves to show us just how strong and powerful we truly are.
YIN. This class was intentionally set in the evening after our big workout to release accumulated tension in the body. The purpose was to focus on remaining present in the midst of stillness. Because I brought the yoga props from the OMOLOGY studio (bolsters, blankets, blocks), this class was relatively easy to plan and not unlike anything I would teach in the studio. As I do with most of my YIN Yoga classes, I incorporated the Meridian (energy) Channels of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The postures of this class focused on stimulating the Spleen and the Stomach Meridian Channels both of which are energetically responsible for our mental and physical health as well as our ability to release anxiety/stress and live mindfully. As an extra special treat we finished up with a Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) meditation that incorporated a childhood visualisation of carefree, in-the-moment, playfulness. This is a concept which I would tie into our final class the following day.
FLOW 2. The purpose of this class was to incorporate all of the weekend's learnings into one moment of movement. Full disclosure, I did not plan the second FLOW class until after I had taught the first one on Friday night. Normally this would give me insane anxiety because, as an instructor, I believe deeply in being prepared for each and every Yoga class that I conduct, but, I really wanted to see how the students responded to the first class and how they navigated those movements before planning a subsequent class. Once I saw that FLOW 1 went smoothly, I then created a new sequence by borrowing some of the movements from the first FLOW and adding on a couple of new poses so that the class still felt fresh and (most importantly) fun! The final day's yoga flow sequencing style was a "peak flow" which essentially works through one round of movements and then the second time around dials the sequence up slightly with more challenging options. These are great because, again, it's a "pick your own adventure" kind of thing. Students who want an extra challenge will take it, and those who don't, won't. Most of all, in a "peak flow" all of the pieces of the sequence feel equally important, as opposed to alternative methods of sequencing like "peak pose" sequencing where everything is designed to lead up to one big pose at the end of class. This can feel a little defeating or disappointing for students who struggle with the final posture and I really wanted everyone to leave the mat (and the weekend) feeling good about what they had accomplished and experienced. The roll from bridge to side bow, to bow, to side bow and back, was a critical element of this class, finishing the weekend with a movement that never fails to bring about a sense of playfulness and laughter which is excellent for bringing us into the present moment but also just really good for the soul.
Photo by Melissa Toh.
The four classes all contained two "common threads" that tied them to one another making them feel like pieces of a whole experience rather than just random, one-off classes. The first common thread was, of course, the retreat theme: "immersing in presence". I could talk forever about the impact of theme on movement (another time in another post) but suffice it to say that the theme is the glue that holds the entire class (or classes in this case) together and that gives the movement feeling and purpose. Throughout each class we returned back to our theme and personalised intentions as a little reminder as to why we were on the mat.
The second thread was found in the movements. All of the classes used the same (or similar) movements. This allowed me to cue minimally and also allowed the participants to find their own sense of flow. To demonstrate the common links, I've shared both of the FLOW sequences that I taught this weekend so that you can see roughly how they complimented one another (reminder that FLOW 1 is shorter because the transitions between postures were done several times in interval repetitions).
ON TO THE NEXT ADVENTURE!
This weekend was literally food for the soul. I am so happy that we finally got to do it and I really cannot wait for our next adventure. If you're thinking of planning a Yoga retreat or you're going to be teaching at one, or you're considering joining our next excursion, I hope this was insightful.
I love you all. Until the next adventure.
Photo by Melissa Toh.