Embracing the Longest Day: Reflecting on Our Summer Solstice Retreat in the Catskills

By Published On: July 2nd, 2024

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity” – BKS Iyengar

The Summer Solstice has always held a special place in many cultures around the world. It’s a time to celebrate the sun, the longest day of the year, and the onset of summer. This year, we had the profound joy of experiencing this celestial event during our Sparks of Divinity Retreat in the serene and picturesque Catskill Mountains.

18 of us arrived at the Menla Retreat Center in Phoenicia NY on Thursday afternoon and were greeted by lush mountains, wild deer and turkeys, and a comforting silence only interrupted by birdsong.

We began each morning with special Surya Namaskar sequences, turning our mats to face each cardinal direction after 27 repetitions of the classic poses found in Sun Salutations, for a total of 108 poses–an auspicious number in yoga tradition.

While facing each direction, we were prompted to reflect on the following –

  • “East is represented by Spring and new beginnings. Reflect on what you’ve started in the past 3 months and what new opportunities have come your way”

  • “South is the direction of Summer, rest, and finding your purpose and direction. Reflect on the biggest meaning of your life and where you should focus your energy and refine your attention”
  • “West is the direction of Fall and where the sun sets – representing a time to go within, detox, and shed. Ask for wisdom of knowing when to let go, when to release, and when to hold on”

  • “North represents Winter, wisdom, and protection. Ask what wisdom is needed for your journey. Reflect on your lineage and the road your energy has traveled across life times”

You could see the shift in energy throughout our salutations and reflections. Those of us who arrived tired began to wake up, those who arrived with anxious energy began to settle and go inward. It was a visible transformation and we each carried our renewed energy to breakfast, where we shared stories and contemplated the nature around and within us. Before long, we again found ourselves in the beautiful Ahimsa Yoga Studio where we discussed the Yoga Sutras, asked ourselves and each other questions, and explored asanas that brightened our “sparks of divinity”.

We continued with this routine each day and filled our free time with delicious, all-you-can-eat vegetarian meals, swimming in the pool, and welcoming thunderstorms which encouraged rest and renewal.

On Saturday night, our group gathered around a bonfire and were given small pieces of paper on which to write something that we wished to let go of, and then throw it into the fire. One by one we stood and gave over something that no longer served us to flame.

We had done this ceremony during our retreat in Vermont last year by burying our papers in the woods. Some of us who were there last year reflected that we were writing the same thing this year–we were still working to let go; others couldn’t remember what was written last year and thanked the Vermont soil for allowing us to forget.

A thunderstorm eventually rolled in, a sign that the fire had done it’s work and so had we. We sought respite in our rooms and gave ourselves over to a final night of sleep in the Catskills.

As we sit reflecting on this experience, we are filled with gratitude and a deep sense of renewal; with reverence we give thanks to those who came before us and carved the path of yoga, for it is what brings us all together and leads us deep into ourselves.

We hope to continue this retreat as an annual tradition. If you’d like to join us next year, please let us know by filling out our survey here.

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