Could you go a week in a roomful of strangers without speaking a single word?
Tough as it may sound, silent meditation retreats can be incredibly transformative.
The basic idea is that through practicing silence for a prolonged period, you are able to channel all the energy you usually devote to communication and interactions with others, inwards.
This helps us calm the noise in our mind, recharge our batteries and gain clarity.
This article is your one-stop guide to everything you need to know about silent retreats, from why you should do one to what to expect to how to prepare.
Specifically, we’ll explore:
- What is a silent retreat?
- The benefits of a silent retreat
- 8 ways to prepare for a silent retreat
- What happens in a silent retreat?
And with no further ado…
What is a silent retreat?
Silent meditation retreats are rooted in an ancient Indian meditation technique known as Vipassana.
Meaning ‘to see things as they really are’, Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. This mode of meditation involves taking conscious steps to unlearn established habits and thought patterns that distract you from going inward.
Whilst Vipassana is rooted in Buddhism, you don’t need to identify as Buddhist to participate in silent retreats. All that is required is an interest in inner exploration and a commitment to the Vipassana Code of Discipline.
1. to abstain from killing any being
2. to abstain from stealing
3. to abstain from all sexual activity
4. to abstain from telling lies
5. to abstain from all intoxicants
During a silent meditation retreat, you’ll be guided as part of a group through Vipassana and the practice of Noble Silence by a teacher, alongside other exercises that promote introversion and help you release buried emotions.
But bear in mind that Noble Silence is about much more than refraining from talking.
Noble Silence means silence of the body, speech, and mind. Therefore, making eye contact, gesturing, sign language, reading, writing, exercising, listening to music and using technology are also prohibited during your stay.
That means no yoga, in case you’re wondering! Thankfully, gentle stretching is still encouraged.
Silent meditation retreats can range anywhere between 1 and 10 days, but most last for 7 days.
You’ll likely be tested harder than you ever have. But rest assured that it will be worth it.
What are the benefits of a silent retreat?
Silent retreats are an invaluable opportunity to escape the constant bombardment of emails, social media notifications, messages, and incoming phone calls.
But even more valuable is what you’ll gain from meditating 7-10 hours per day.
Science has proven that meditation physically alters the structure of your brain by thickening the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, increasing volume in areas associated with emotional regulation, and decreasing volume in areas associated with fear and anxiety.
20 benefits of a silent meditation retreat:
4. Better sleep
12. Improved memory
19. Trauma release
20. And last but not least, a sense of profound achievement!
8 ways to prepare for a silent retreat
Embarking on a silent retreat means swapping the constant stimulation of modern living for stillness and silence, which is no mean feat.
In fact, there’s a high chance that completing a silent meditation retreat might just be the hardest thing you’ll ever do!
Going ‘cold turkey’ is guaranteed to make the adjustment process much harder, so it’s a good idea to start preparing for your silent treat a few weeks in advance.
1. Wean off technology
Silent retreats ban the use of phones and digital devices. To avoid anxiety and stress, we recommend breaking your phone addiction at least a month before your retreat.
Limit the amount of time you spend on apps or browsing the internet, delete social apps from your phone, leave your phone behind when you go out and try not to check your device first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
2. Increase Your Daily Meditation Time
Even if you already meditate for 15-30 minutes every day, silent meditation retreats can be challenging as you’re expected to meditate for 7-10 hours per day. Gradually increase your number of daily meditations and try to meditate for over an hour at least once.
3. Take a Group Meditation Class
Most silent retreats host anywhere between 20 to 100 people at once, so try out a few group meditation classes. You’ll find that it feels very different to practicing alone.
4. Decide On Your Preferred Posture
If you’re not used to sitting for a long period of time, you may find discomfort in your back and knees. Working through this discomfort is part of your practice.
Given that you’ll spend between 7-10 hours per day sitting, it’s a good idea to decide on your preferred posture and practice sitting in it for an extended period. Most people prefer cross-legged on top of a cushion but see what works for you.
5. Eat healthily
In the lead up to your silent retreat, you’ll want to cut out junk food and anything high in sugar or salt. You should also try to eat smaller portions, especially in the evening, because most retreats replace dinner with a late-afternoon snack. Get your body used to eating healthy foods such as pulses, grains, vegetables and fruits, and cut down on meat.
6. Wean off caffeine
All retreats are different, but most prohibit coffee. If your day doesn’t begin until you’ve inhaled a big cup of joe, you may want to think about weaning yourself off it before your retreat – or else risk suffering caffeine withdrawal.
7. Adjust your sleeping schedule
Save yourself frustration by adjusting your sleep schedule and body clock in advance. Most silent retreats begin with a 4am wake up call, so get used to early nights and early starts a few weeks before your retreat.
8. Know What You’re Getting Into
Perhaps the most important point! Check out the section below to see what to expect from a typical day at a silent meditation retreat.
What happens in a silent retreat?
Silent retreats are experiences like no other and can be hugely transformational.
However, it’s important to understand that silent meditation retreats aren’t designed to be relaxing getaways in nature. If you’re expecting a spa holiday or a yoga retreat, you’re going to be in for a bit of a shock!
Whilst silent retreats can vary hugely across countries, we’ve put together a typical day in a silent meditation retreat for you.
A day in the life at a silent retreat:
4:00 – 4:30 AM:
Rise and shine! Part of your practice involves waking very early in the morning, before even the sun.
4:30 – 6:30 AM:
You can choose to meditate in your room or the group meditation hall, or take a slow, mindful walk around the designated walking areas.
6:30 – 7:30 AM:
You will eat a simple, nourishing breakfast. Breakfast often consists of oatmeal, fruit, yoghurt, bread, butter, jam and tea. During this time, you can also shower.
7:30 – 11:00 AM:
You will participate in a group meditation session in the hall, and then your instructor will tell you whether to remain in the hall or if you can choose to take your practice to your room.
Don’t worry – you’ll never meditate for more than one hour at a time and are encouraged to stretch and readjust your posture between hour blocks.
11:00 – 12:00 AM:
Time for lunch! Lunch usually consists of protein, such as pasta or rice, and vegetables. There may also be salad and dessert available. This will be your last full meal of the day.
12:00 – 1:00 PM:
After lunch, you can rest or choose to schedule an interview with your teacher. Now is the time to nap, walk the grounds, or do some gentle stretching.
1:00 – 5:00 PM:
Now you’ll continue meditating as a group or by yourself, taking short breaks when each hour is up.
5:00 – 6:00 PM:
A short tea and snack break. Here you have the option of fruits, juice, tea and more.
6:00 – 9:00 PM
You’ll spend the evening participating in group meditation and listening to a lecture from your teacher. People tend to enjoy this part of the day as they get to hear someone talking! There’s also the opportunity to ask your teacher questions during the last half hour.
At 9pm, you’ll retire to your room. This is where your day will end.
And there you have it! In summary, your typical day will involve ten hours of meditation, two meals, napping, walking and stretching between meditation sessions, and listening to lectures from your teacher.
Do you think you’ve got what it takes?
Ready to channel your energy inwards for self-exploration?
Check out our article on Meditation Mudras for 8 easy hand mudras that you can use to level up your meditation.