A full day of not talking sounds like a near-impossible task for some… but for me, it was a welcoming change from my chaotic lifestyle! I first heard about silent retreats when I was in Bali. I was immediately drawn to the idea of attending one, but with a fairly structured 7-month schedule I didn’t have time to fit it in while in South East Asia. Luckily, the concept of a silent retreat isn’t restricted to Bali, and they offer them in Canada too! After a bit of online searching I found a silent retreat in Muskoka at Pura Vida Soul Institute and immediately knew it was exactly what I needed.
Quick disclaimer: In order to experience this silent retreat to it’s full extent, all pictures were taken before and after the retreat activities. Majority of our meditation and yoga classes took place inside their indoor studio due to the cold weather, however most of my pictures were taken at their stunning outdoor studio.
After signing up online, I packed my bags and headed to Muskoka for the weekend. The silent retreat at Pura Vida Soul Institute is a one-day retreat with an overnight option in one of their glamping tents. Despite really wanting to experience glamping for the first time, they didn’t have any overnight occupancy available so I stayed at a hotel in Gravenhurst. In the future, I would book far in advance so that I could reserve one of the glamping tents too, because they looked amazing!
Pura Vida Soul Institute is located 2 hours from Toronto, just 15 minutes away from Gravenhurst. The property was very easy to find, and when I arrived I was greeted with a warm welcome from the owner, Jen. Jen and her husband opened the doors to Pura Vida Soul Institute in 2013, after a life-changing trip to Costa Rica led to the purchase of this 20 acre forest property and a seriously impressive renovation job.
The day started with a 60 minute hot yoga class that was open to the public, and not part of the silent retreat. Signing up for the retreat gives you access to this class, but it’s not mandatory. Some people in attendance of the hot yoga class were locals, and they did not stay for the full day retreat. I’ve always enjoyed hot yoga because the heat really allows you get a deeper stretch, and there’s really nothing better than breaking a sweat first thing in the morning to wake yourself up! This yoga class was one of the best I’ve ever attended, because it was the perfect balance of varied poses and flows. We held each pose long enough to feel the benefit, but we flowed through the class fast enough to really get the body moving. I was so impressed with this first class that I would highly recommend Pura Vida Soul Institute not only for retreats, but also for drop-in yoga classes if you’re in the Muskoka region.
Immediately following the hot yoga class we had a 30 minute break where new arrivals could register at the front desk, and those of us who attended the hot yoga class could shower, change and get ready for the day ahead of us. Slowly, each of us arrived in the yoga studio with our mats, water bottles and curious sense of ambition for the day ahead. We all sat in a circle while Jen and the mediation instructor, Melissa, led us through a vow of silence for the day. And just like that, the silence began!
Our first session was a mediation class led by Melissa. It was a great introduction to the day, and helped us all focus our energy on the present moment. The meditation continued into the next session, where we headed outside for walking meditation. As I mentioned before, the property is 20 acres of forest… so this walking meditation exercise was one of the highlights of the day! Plenty of trails, animals and beautiful trees made this an enjoyable experience. I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors, so having a mediation class outside was perfect for me.
Before I knew it, we were at the halfway point of the day and lunch was served. Lunch was nothing short of spectacular, and homemade by Jen’s husband in their home above the studio! Seeing as I’m not vegetarian, I always worry that all-veggie meals might leave me unsatisfied but that wasn’t the case. We had a salad with kale and fresh veggies, a butternut squash soup and homemade desserts. Melissa led us through an ‘eating meditation’ before lunch began, then we had 45 minutes to eat and relax. Of the biggest benefits of such a light (but satisfying meal) was the fact that I didn’t feel tired or full afterwards – I just felt energized and ready for a full afternoon of yoga and meditation!
After lunch, our first session was 30 minutes of chanting. I have to admit, this was the activity I was least excited for (probably because I didn’t know what to expect). How were we suppose to have 30 minutes of chanting if we couldn’t talk? It ended up being the best part of the retreat! As we all sat around the yoga studio on our mats, cozied up with meditation blankets and lavender-infused eye masks, Jen started the chanting. We were instructed to sit or lay down in a comfortable position, while focusing on what she was chanting. “Chanting” is not the word I would use to describe this experience. As Jen started signing a phrase in Sanskrit I couldn’t help but momentarily lose focus as I noticed what a beautiful signing voice she had! Once I was able to re-focus, close my eyes, and listen to her chant I felt instantly relaxed. Obviously other people in the group felt the same way, because 10 minutes later I heard a few people lightly snoring – talk about relaxation!
After the chanting we moved into our last organized activity – Yin yoga and meditation. Yin yoga has always been one of my favourite styles for relaxation, because it’s a slow style of yoga that involves lots of deep stretching and mostly on-the-floor poses. Holding the poses can be challenging, but I’ve always considered Yin yoga to be my “lazy yoga” so it was very fitting that we ended our retreat with this style.
After another 15 minute break, we returned to our mats in the yoga studio where we released our vow of silence and finally got to talk after a full day of silence. Although it felt good to talk and discuss the highlights of the day we just enjoyed, I really could have stayed silent for much longer because the vow of silence had a certain relaxation element to it that I was enjoying. This release of our vow marked the end of the retreat, and the end of a beautiful day that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
After completing my first silent retreat I can honestly say that I would jump at the opportunity to do it again. I don’t think there’s a better way to unplug and rejuvenate than Pura Vida Soul Institute’s silent retreat, mostly because they’ve really mastered the balance between relaxation and activities and the result is beautiful! Unfortunately the silent retreat only happens twice a year, but hopefully that increases as more people learn about the retreat. They do offer different styles of retreats about once a month, and there’s a “Wine & Yoga” retreat next spring that I have my eye on! [view their retreat calendar here]
Pura Vida Soul Institute offers different types of retreats every month (including a “Wine & Yoga” retreat!), as well as glamping tents for overnight stay. Head to their website to read about their different retreats, and to sign up for one yourself!
The yoga mat featured in the images above is from Magic Carpet Yoga Mats. Click here to grab a 15% off coupon for their mats.