Article originally published in Dutch, in Yoga International magazine, Netherlands (January 2017)
by Lucy Draper-Clarke
I spent much of my childhood upside down; headstands, handstands, cartwheels, flips. It felt liberating to defy gravity, wave my legs in the air and see the world from a different perspective. Could this be why I moved south, from England to Botswana, and now South Africa? This is a part of the world where things feel upside down more often than not, and no day is ever predictable. Perhaps it was inevitable too that I would teach yoga and mindfulness, and help people navigate the uncertainty of living a human life.
Although I run regular classes, my favourite way to offer what I love is to lead retreats. People arrive in one mind state, hyped up and anxious from life in the urban centres, and depart in another, having touched on the tranquillity, clarity and contentedness that is our true nature. They feel different somehow, without their external world having changed at all.
Time on retreat is a wonderful opportunity to enter a transitional space consciously. We can recharge before heading back into the normal cycles of life, and it may help us to prioritize daily activities, or to clarify the intentions behind them so that we can make subtle shifts of realignment. These shifts may come in a number of forms:
·      Shifts in priority: making a commitment to spend more time on certain activities, particularly those that nourish us, and less time on those that we find depleting.
·      Shifts in attitude towards daily life activities: Once we learn to imbue daily chores with meaning, they can shift from feeling dull and dreary, to having significance and value. We find that the tasks we do to help others can also bring benefit to us.
·      Opportunities for healing: particularly from sickness, situations of trauma, or from addictive tendencies that keep us trapped in constant grasping or aversion.
·      Shifts in habit patterns: Once we learn to refine our awareness, the habits that others see so clearly, which we are often blind to, can be revealed and transformed into more skillful behaviours.
For the last eight years, I have led a New Year Intentions and Yoga Retreat at a beautiful haven, known as the Tara Rokpa Centre (www.tararokpacentre.co.za). It is located in a wooded valley, surrounded by streams, with unpolluted air and a fantastic night sky, half way between Johannesburg and Gaborone (Botswana). 
The retreat content and process has changed as I have evolved, and has become a way to witness my own unfolding, and the alignment of my inner world with my outer activities. It has become an annual opportunity for the yoga community to set their own intentions, to reconnect with what brings them joy, and to get a sense of how they might best contribute to the world around them. We combine asana and mindfulness practices, with an intentions setting process, so that we create a life of meaning and purpose, given our unique talents and interests.
We all find our life purpose in different ways. A few… a tiny few… seem clear from the beginning. They know who they are and what they want to do, and this intention gives them the courage to stay on the scent, whatever barriers cross their path. These are not usually the people who come to the retreats! Most of us have to feel our way, listen for clues, or chase up a few blind alleys before we realise we were probably following the right route from the beginning. We sometimes don’t even need to change what we are doing, but rather change the way we do it, or the perception we have of our contribution. At one stage in my life, I felt that I was following multiple paths simultaneously and my attention and energy felt too scattered. Then I realised that they were all tributaries leading into the same river; a sense of meaning emerged, my body relaxed and my mind felt soothed. Sometimes we don’t need to change the external circumstances, we need only release the internal sense of struggle or striving.
So now, whenever I feel turned upside down by the unpredictability of daily life, I check back in with my intentions to see whether I am still aligned. I ask whether the feeling of discomfort can provide a place of creativity, so that something new and unexpected might emerge, or whether I need to stop what I am doing and just breathe. My yoga adventure has taken me from school-based teaching, to a mindfulness doctorate, into doula work, and now I am a celebrant for weddings and other rites of passage. The retreat process is a rite of passage in itself, and I am learning to hold space for others while they explore their authentic selves, in the same way I might support someone as they try a headstand for the first time. It can be so liberating to wave our legs in the air and see our life from a new perspective, as long as we feel a sense of being held by our inner world of intention.
The Retreat Process: 5 steps
1. Present Moment Awareness
Mindfulness and yoga practice forms the core of the retreat. In order to identify what is deeply important to us, and then to gauge whether we are living our intentions, we require a constant, present-moment checking in at the levels of the body, heart and mind. We need to be aware of the moment our body or heart contracts and tightens, or opens and feel spacious and energised, as well as the inner commentary that takes us forwards, or holds us back.

2. Passion

We then tune in and remind ourselves what we love doing. Many people find it hard to identify what their passion might be as they are not used to opening up emotionally. However, by looking back over the year, we can highlight the moments of greatest joy, inspiration or achievement; the times we felt fully alive and engaged, or maybe lost track of time; the moments when we felt deeply content or happy. It can be subtle shifts that bring alignment, just as we experience in a yoga practice.

3. Life Purpose
Fulfilling our own personal needs is a critical first stage, but after that, many of us feel the need for something more. Most spiritual traditions teach that by helping others, we bring great happiness to ourselves, as long as we are giving from a place of fullness. When our daily activities help us to move away from an ego-centric focus, and we help wherever help is needed, then each day has been a success. By knowing that the work we do contributes meaningfully to others also provides motivation at times of difficulty.

4. The Inevitable Roadblocks
By recognising our passion and mission, our life purpose might emerge from that small quiet place in between. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride though! Combined with our intention to keep moving toward that purpose, we galvanise motivation to get us over the hurdles. Linked with this is the support we get from others, our sangha, or spiritual community. We co-create our existence, even though we often feel we are doing things single-handedly. Remember all the people who have helped you get to this moment, and then allow that sense of community support to carry you onward.

5. Living Daily Life with Intention
We often use the retreat opportunity to plan for the big events, yet we need to give equal consideration to the daily activities that can bring us joy and contentment. When we commit to daily life activities that soothe us, nourish us, or keep our hearts open to possibilities, then we have the energy for other intentions that may require a greater commitment.