For Mirka Scalco Kraftsow, the Heart-Mind Retreats that she conducts alongside Gary Kraftsow “are for anyone interested in diving deeper into the inner landscape of one’s Self with the support of the yogic teachings and the tools of tantric yoga.” When we realize the gift of the spiritual path of yoga, she says, we can use these well-tested tools to “transform…from a life of separation to an integrated, full life of wholeness.” And this path is available to everyone.
The experience offers four days of immersion “in a celebration of coming together to support one another in expanded awareness, with a generosity of heart and mind,” Mirka says. It will give us the chance for personal nourishment, retreat, and evolution in “a place of renewal, deeper contemplation, and meditation. We take the time to be guided in the science of the tantra of yoga,” she says, using conscious movement, breath, visualization, sound, mantra, affirmation, silence and communion.
The work of everyday life—whatever that means for each of us—is “quite demanding,” says Mirka. Even when we maintain our personal practice, she says, that doesn’t always allow for “the deep spiritual work.” By taking the time for personal retreat, we give ourselves that opportunity to go intensive and intimately into the practice, she says. As always, “Gary offers us a challenge, inspires us, and nourishes us” with mana, she says, the gift of the lineage and its blessings.
Practitioners of any yoga style can benefit from Heart-Mind, but the retreats hold particular appeal for students and teachers dedicated to the Viniyoga path. “It gives them a chance to come back and nurture themselves and rekindle the fire that first brought them to us,” says Mirka. The workshops often attract an “inter-generational reunion” of the AVI sangha. “It’s remarkable how we can inspire one another and come closer to each other and nourish each other,” she says. But beyond social support and fun, the sangha itself becomes a powerful tool in the quest to do deep work, she says. “Not only is it nice to be together,” says Mirka, but “we have the consciousness of each other…which provides more transformational power than we experience by studying on our own.”
Mirka describes the flow of the Heart-Mind retreat. A quiet early-morning practice might include asana, pranayama, and selected chanting. Breakfast time gives us the chance for socializing and for journaling. The main session of the morning will include the day’s core teachings and a practice led by Gary Kraftsow. These teachings, says Mirka, will introduce us to specific elements of tantra and the science of yoga while supporting us in meditation. Each day’s teachings will build on the day before, adding new elements, and “the inner practices will require more concentration and focus.” After the practices, “ we make time for long savasana,” says Mirka, affording the chance to engage in feedback with our entire body-mind system and to “allow insight to arise from the silence of meditation.” Ultimately, our whole system can be transformed, and we can realize our true nature through this process of uncovering.
In the afternoons, Mirka will support the group with a re-experience of the morning’s practice in some form, followed by time for questions, clarification, and sharing about the practice. The evening sessions will offer more time for chanting, and also to come together and share our unique experiences. “It gives us the chance to hear from each other in reverence.” Perhaps the most important aim of the retreat is to help students continue to deepen their practice with these tools once they return home. “ Here, we take a vital opportunity to support the integration of these rich practices to make them as personal as possible, so that students can benefit from them and then go on to share them with others, Mirka says.
In order to reap the rewards of the teachings, we need to find a way to ground them in ourselves, she says. Mirka hopes that the retreat will inspire students to remember the depth of insight and the presence they experience with the practice, and to make these tools a more elemental part of their everyday life. This might mean choosing one particular practice that resonates with you, Mirka says. “There is an alchemy within us,” she says. The experience “comes alive as we offer ourselves sincerely to it…and it offers gifts back to us.” For students interested in continuing their study with her support, Mirka also makes herself available for personal as well as long-distance communication following the retreat.
Mirka hopes to grow this Heart-Mind branch of AVI aimed at deeper study of the more mystical, spiritual path of yoga. “Truly it needs to be watered. The seeds have been planted, now we must cultivate this practice and these opportunities, and harvest the fruit of insight, transformation, and healing…and share them.” “Each time we partake of the teachings...we cultivate our loving, wise, and spiritual Heart-Mind,” says Mirka. We’re working to support “the promise of the path of yoga in this lifetime: one breath at a time, for the benefit of all beings, everywhere.”
by Stephani Sutherland
Stephani Sutherland, PhD, is a freelance writer, neuroscientist, and yogi who has been practicing for over 15 years. Stephani is currently training with AVI in the Viniyoga Foundations Program and actively contributes to AVI's blog. You can find her other writings in Scientific American Mind, Spirituality & Health, and online at stephanisutherland.com.