A Celebration of Women – Who We Are and Where We’re Going
Chantel Carlson, recently attended the January Detox & Yoga Retreat, as well as a Yoga Nurture Retreat in June. I had the pleasure of visiting with her on both occasions. This is her story.
In May 2016 I made a difficult decision about my health. I was 43-years-old, and I had spent almost 30 years of my life suffering from the debilitating effects of endometriosis. After the latest round of hormone therapy failed me (yet again), I made an appointment to see my gynecologist. When she walked into the exam room, she sat down in front of me and said, “It’s time.” And even though I knew the time for a hysterectomy had come, it was still an emotional journey. I had accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to have any children of my own long before I met my husband, but knowing I was having my uterus, cervix, and one ovary removed was still difficult to imagine – it’s so much of who we are as women. What defines us. But I also knew what defined me was living a meaningful life without pain, and to me, that outweighed the negatives.
It took a full year to get used to my new body, and to be honest, the healing process was not as easy as I had hoped. My friends who had taken this journey told me to be patient and also said that one day I would wake up and forget my surgery had happened.
A year later that time came, and I began to think about my body in a different way. With the “diseased” parts removed, I wanted to honor and celebrate this new beginning, but I wasn’t sure how. I thought about a retreat, so I began doing random Google searches, not really knowing exactly what I was looking for. All I knew is I wanted a place focused on women – not just moms, not just single women, not just divorcees.
I wanted a retreat where women would gather in support of one another…gather in celebration of who we are. In celebration of where we are in our lives no matter what that looked like.
That’s when I clicked on “Retreat in the Pines.”
The retreat itself looked promising. It was only a short two-hour drive, the location was a beautiful wooded area away from the city, and there were quaint log cabins (with indoor plumbing and AC/heat – I’m all for adventure, but I still like a roof over my head and a place to shower while having one). One small issue: it was a yoga retreat. I don’t “do” yoga, nor had I ever even tried. I mean, I knew the words “Namaste” and “downward dog.” I knew that the people who participated in yoga found more than just gratification in their practice. But it did say “beginners welcome,” so I thought it was worth a try. I called one of my best friends, Julie, and asked her to join me for a weekend retreat in June 2017.
I could never have imagined not only what an amazing experience this would be, but also the incredible women that I would meet over the course of two days. I met a group of friends who were celebrating the year anniversary of one friend being cancer-free. A mom and daughter who are hundreds of miles apart and wanted to share quality time together. And the owner, Theresa Polley, who started Retreat in the Pines after a difficult divorce. She debated what exactly she was going to do with the property that her and her husband had purchased together. When he said they should sell, she rejected the offer. She had other plans. Over the course of the next ten years, she would build a place for women to gather, to share their stories, and to celebrate life. The strength and perseverance she showed when starting her life over lives in ever acre of The Pines – and you feel that with every step you take on the gravel roads that lead to the main cabin. To the new dining hall. To the yoga studio.
And my fears about doing yoga for the first time? Let’s just say that when I found myself struggling to do even the simplest pose, Amy (the woman who was celebrating being cancer free), walked over to me without hesitation, helped me with my pose, and carried on with what she was doing. She looked over at me and smiled – without judgment. I don’t know if I told her what that meant to me – it wasn’t just that she got out of her pose to come over and help me with mine. It was she shared part of her strength and selflessness with me in that moment. And that’s a moment that I won’t soon forget.
Retreat in the Pines is so much more than a yoga retreat or a place to get away. It’s an experience. An experience of strong women sitting together over breakfast and dinner. Over a glass (or two) of wine. An experience of women lit under the white lights of the yoga studio late at night finding their breath, their inner peace during Savasana. An experience of shared stories of survival and courage and hope for the future. It’s a celebration of women – for who we are and where we are going.
I returned in January from my second trip to The Pines, and I am already looking ahead to my next one. Thank you, Theresa, for sharing your dream and giving women like me a place to find new paths to discovery. And thank you to the women who I have met – I carry your stories with me.
Chantel L. Carlson