A more graceful chaturanga. A stronger Warrior II. Some new friends. I knew I’d probably gain these things, and a few more, from my yoga retreat — but what I didn’t anticipate was the ways it would change my life deeply, spiritually, and completely.

To the best of my ability, I will share them here, with you.

1. I don’t have to “do it right”: the intention is to feel better and nourish my body.

I still remember the moment that my teacher introduced the concept that my pose could look different from someone else’s, and that both could be right. There were no mirrors for me to check out my alignment, but I’d spent so much of my yoga journey focusing on making my pose look like my teacher that anything else seemed downright rebellious.  But sitting gracefully in front of the hall, she reminded us that the intention of our practice is to listen to the body, and offer this practice as medicine.

Apply that more globally to life, and it becomes the ultimate permission to live life in the most nourishing way possible: my way.

2. Slow is powerful, subtlety is everything, and I am stronger than I thought

I came to yoga in the Vinyasa tradition as an 18 year old runner, so I “did” yoga like I “did” running: fast, hard, and aggressive. Over the years I’ve learned to slow down, but my retreat showed me a style of practice that I never imagined: slow, subtle, and strong. Have you ever held Warrior II for two minutes? I found out that in slowness, there is strength. In moving slowly, there is consciousness in my practice. And accordingly… I am way, way stronger than I think when I slow down and allow it to be so.

3. The body is a beautiful and wise creature, and I must treat her with respect.

Pushing gets me nowhere except injured and in pain. I once came to my yoga practice in a struggle with my body — why wouldn’t it fold forward effortlessly, like that other woman? But a yoga retreat taught me that by respecting, nourishing, and inviting my body to unfold, the unfolding would happen with less effort and more grace.

4. Nobody is thinking about what I’m doing – they’re too involved wondering what I’m thinking of them.

In a room of 24 other yogis, there was always someone whose pose looked better than mine. Who would look like she was holding a balance pose effortlessly while I wobbled and struggled. But in small, intimate conversations in the moments between, over tropical smoothies or raw chocolates, we confided in one another about our insecurities.

Turns out? We all have them in abundance. And we’re all wasting our energy wondering what the others are thinking. So focus on my own journey on and off the mat, and I’ll be all set.

5. When the going gets hard, the yogis watch the hard stuff with love.

I remember holding Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana) in one practice for what seemed like an eternity. Though my arms and torso were moving, my thighs were screaming — and my mind couldn’t stop thinking about what seemed like agony. But the reminder was this: the suffering is in your mind. All that is truly happening is a burning sensation, and it’s only that: sensation. Become the witness, the observer, and you’ll no longer be swept up in the perception of suffering.

Beyond the shaking of my tired legs, this has become a mantra that I carry with me. Most of the time, the suffering is all in how my mind decides to perceive the events at hand — nothing more.

 Smaller copy- Blue DressAnkati Day is a writer, yoga teacher, and lifestyle coach who bounces back and forth between the northeast US and Costa Rica- and takes herself on retreat as often as she possibly can.

Find out more on her website at heatherdaywellness.com.