November/December 2015

Midwest Women’s Yoga Retreat
By Lisa Gniady

On the weekend of September 11–13, Spirit Rising Foundation transformed Perlman Retreat Center in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, into an autumn wonderland where women from all over the Midwest came together for the third annual Midwest Women’s yoga retreat. The event was fashioned in the tradition established by spiritual teacher and master of Kundalini yoga Yogi Bhajan in Española, New Mexico, in 1976. The retreat was led by Shabad Kaur Khalsa, a longtime student of Yogi Bhajan and co-director of Spirit Rising Foundation, a non-profit Kundalini yoga studio in Chicago. The theme was “Tapping into the Well of Stress Immunity.”

Thirty-five women of all ages and stages of life gathered to recharge, reboot, uplift one another, share joys and struggles, and connect with nature. The youngest, a senior in high school, was an inspiration to us all when she shared with the group how she felt she had spent her whole life planning for college, and now she just wanted to enjoy her final year home with her family. Jessica Harris, a mother-to-be, was enjoying a last weekend away before the huge transformation of entering the next stage in her life. In her words, “Being among other women was the icing on the cake.” As one of the Aquarian Sutras in Kundalini yoga states, “Recognize the other person is you.” Although we were at different stages in life, as we gathered together and shared, we could see our reflection in the other person’s eyes.

The community effort and attention to detail put forth by all the women involved in organizing and planning this year’s retreat event were evident everywhere, from the inspiring messages affixed to bathroom mirrors and accommodation doors to the hurricane lamps that lit up the pathway to guide us to the yurt, the setting for early-morning sadhana (practice). The team transformed a simple camp building into a beautiful sanctuary adorned in paper lanterns, candles, and colorful silk scarves, adding to the ambiance and magic of the event. Everyone contributed in the act of seva (service): some women taught classes; others contributed by sharing their gift of voice with beautiful live music; many, including myself, offered gong relaxations throughout the weekend.

                                                                                                   L-R: Martha Adrienne, Carol Crawford, Lisa Gniady, Michelle Fiore, Kitty Karn

                                                                                                   L-R: Martha Adrienne, Carol Crawford, Lisa Gniady, Michelle Fiore, Kitty Karn

The activities were well thought out and scheduled in a way that allowed smooth transitions between meals and activities without rushing or stress. Wonderful vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free food options were available. Plenty of time was offered to journal, connect with nature, and find solitude. The Kundalini yoga practices were inspiring, the group shares were healing, and the gong relaxations were rejuvenating. On Sunday, some of us sat under the trees to chant, drum, and celebrate living. The weather was beautiful, and the company of strangers who became friends was uplifting.

A favorite activity was beeswax candle dipping. One participant commented how each layer represented a layer of ourselves. If you dipped and didn’t like the color, you dipped again and covered up the part of you that you did not like. But, she pointed out, you could not hide behind that layer because when you burn the candle, all layers would be revealed. The analogy reminded us to accept all of ourselves, even the colors we don’t like. Her words were a gift to everyone.

We spent an enchanting evening with Theresa Rauworth, an Ojibwa woman, who shared with us her wisdom and knowledge of how her culture honors the land, protects the water, and values nature. We sat around the fires constructing our own personal medicine wheel and weaving into the wheel our positive intentions. What struck me was the similarity of Theresa’s wisdom and the teachings of Kundalini yoga, a reminder of the interconnectedness of all beings.

Some women came for strength, to de-stress, or to heal, but what we all left with was a new light in our hearts to shine out onto the world. Shabad Kaur said at the closing ceremony, “Women’s camp creates a container for the women’s energy so they can connect with their own divinity . . .  it is not a retreat, but an advance as we grow in our inner wisdom.”