Michelle Stortz gave up a career in dance/choreography after her husband’s death to teach yoga and meditation to cancer patients. (Photo by Carryn Golden)

Michelle Stortz gave up a career in dance/choreography after her husband’s death to teach yoga and meditation to cancer patients. (Photo by Carryn Golden)

by Michelle Stortz

Ed. Note: When Mt. Airy’s Michelle Stortz’s husband, Jonathan Mark Lustig, died in 2009 due to complications from cancer treatment, the tragedy motivated her to investigate teaching yoga to cancer patients. “My husband’s passing was a life-changing event,” she told us in an earlier interview. “I stopped trying to have a career in dance/choreography and began building my practice in teaching yoga to those with cancer or chronic illness.” She has been doing that now for almost six years.

Michelle now specializes in yoga for cancer and chronic illness and teaches in numerous medical settings. She co-leads yoga and meditation retreats with the intention of reducing stress and supporting healing. Day-long retreats include chair yoga and meditation instruction. She is on the board of Springboard Meditation Sangha in Mt. Airy and sees yoga clients in Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and Germantown.

Have you been curious about retreats — what they’re like, how you’d benefit? Why not just go on a vacation instead? While vacations can certainly be inspiring and rejuvenating, retreats can be an important time for self-care, for realigning with the vision for your life or for evaluating what is really important for you. They can be especially important if you are on a healing journey, whether that is physical or emotional/mental. It is time away to get much needed rest, regain strength and to listen to messages your body may be sending you. A retreat can create a state of internal peace and spaciousness, which in turn can allow for insight, a perspective shift or even a significant transformation.

Yoga and meditation retreats can be especially supportive in the healing process. They offer the opportunity to experience a more sustained shift into the quiet, calm state that these two ancient practices can generate. Facilitators often go deeper into practices that you might only taste in a typical yoga or meditation class such as yoga nidra (the yoga of sleep) or extended meditations.

In “retreat mode,” the nervous system has the opportunity to slow down and shift into the parasympathetic end of its pendulum, which is the part that says, “Everything is okay, we can relax, no need to stress out.” The immune system likes this and can operate more efficiently in this state. Retreat mode is also an opportunity to see how patterns of anxiety thinking may be affecting the body. And even if discomfort is present, perhaps you’ll come to a place where you simply allow it to be present and listen to what the body has to say. If that sounds impossible, you may actually be primed for a retreat.

If you are unsure if a retreat is the right thing for you, you can give yourself a taste of retreating even just for one hour. Do something to feed your soul — walk in the woods, take a hot bath, do some journaling. Doing one or all of these things could give you an idea of the potential a retreat could bring to your life. It’s best to do these alone or at least tell those around you that you will be in silence so that you can listen deeply to your own inner drives, your inner world.

Retreats are an opportunity to see what is really going on under the surface of your busyness; to allow mental chatter to slow down so that you can FEEL what’s connected to that chatter, even if it is uncomfortable. Often, when we look at our situations straight on, they are not as scary as our minds build them up to be.

Maybe this healing journey you’re on is not so scary, but simply an opportunity to make the lifestyle changes you’ve been telling yourself you’ll make someday. So then a retreat is just a much-needed break from your routine, an opportunity to make those changes or learn some new methods for self-care.

In any case, a retreat offers many benefits, the best of which might be creating breathing space to just BE. It might just turn out to be the best vacation of your life.

For more information, email m@michellestortz.com. Her next retreat is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 13, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Chestnut Hill, co-facilitated with meditation teacher, Deborah Cooper. Registration is at 9:30 a.m. with tea and coffee. The retreat goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.