Diving Deeper: The Container of A Retreat

Spring Breathwork Retreat x Ashley Neese

I attended my first spiritual retreat nearly ten years ago. It was in the middle of winter on a off the grid property in Oregon. The retreat was centered around meditation and recovery. At that time I had been sober and meditating for six years and was seeking an experience to support deepening my practices. I had been studying meditation formally in the Zen tradition and while this wasn’t a Zen retreat, it was an opportunity to unplug from my daily life and immerse myself in nature, practice, and community.

For thousands of years spiritual seekers have taken time away from their everyday lives to attend to their inner work. Whether it’s an annual pilgrimage to the Holy City, a coming of age vision quest, or a ten day silent retreat in the woods, setting aside this time to go within, away from home is essential.

During my first retreat I was amazed at how uncomfortable I felt. I had been wanting to go on a retreat for nearly two years before I made the leap. It was a birthday gift to myself and for a number of reasons I decided it was time for me to face that fear. I had many friends who had gone on all different types of meditation retreats and they all shared that they had to face some part of themselves on retreat that was very confronting. Several spoke of near break down experiences, where they just completely fell apart on retreat. These same people that had such tough times also shared about the repair they felt within themselves as they grew and expanded to new depths, depths that would have taken much longer to reach had they not gone on those retreats.

I found their accounts so intriguing and terrifying that eventually I made the choice to go on my first retreat. I showed up with fear and also with curiosity for a different experience than I received when I practiced at home or in the Zen center that I went to several times a week. I already had an affinity for practicing in community, but I’d never been held in the container of an intentional retreat away from home.

It was on this retreat that I had an opportunity to witness just how fast I was moving in my everyday life. I would feel hints of that in my breathing, meditation and yoga practices, but nothing came close to the awareness that I gained on retreat. It’s incredible what happens when you’re plucked from your day to day comings and goings and familiar surroundings to being face to face with yourself in a way that is so intimate it’s difficult to describe if you’ve never had the experience.

That whole weekend I felt one opening after another and, like my friends shared, the breakdowns came as well. Though I don’t view those experiences where I was confronted with parts of myself that I repressed as breakdowns today, they were some of the most powerful moments I had during that retreat. They changed the course of my life. They taught me what I’m capable of and they pointed me in an honest, and true direction, giving me answers on what I had previously been on the fence about.

During the group meditations I observed my mind and body in ways that I never imagined possible. The clarity I received from choosing to practice outside of my familiar surroundings,  with access to such healing nature was the salve my body needed to let go of a relationship that wasn’t working in my life and begin stepping into who I had become. During the down time I spent hours in soaking in the hot tubs, letting the waters melt my stress and tension away. It was in those waters that I connected the dots, feeling how much my body needed a reset and what a gift it was to give to myself.

By the end of that retreat I felt more alive, more connected than I had in such a long time. As I left the retreat property and made the drive back to Portland I knew in my heart nothing would be the same. I was different, I could feel it, and though I knew there was challenging work ahead, I knew, after fumbling my way through that retreat, that I could take care of myself through it.

Spring Breathwork Retreat x Ashley Neese

There is a reason pilgrimages, vision quests, and retreats have been such an integral part of the human experience. Even before computers, social media and any other technological advance you can think of, people, across the world, have known that if you want to deepen your connection to yourself, to each other and to the planet, you have to step out of your everyday life. You must participate in the intensely challenging and intimate work of being with yourself. Time to unplug from the everyday hustle, drop into your body with tenderness, and face whatever it is you’ve been afraid to face in community is the ultimate medicine for this modern life. I can’t think of any better remedy you can give yourself which is why I have been so called to lead retreats and hold this type of space in community.

Something that shows up in most of my early sessions with clients is how fast they are moving, how often they override their own bodies, how scared they feel to unplug from the hustle and how much healing and restoration shows up when we practice slowing down in a safe container.  And believe me, I understand what it’s like to move quickly, to override my own needs, and the palpable fear of learning to develop a relationship with my own softness. This is the work I have been practicing and studying for what feels like lifetimes, and it’s why I am so passionate about being a witness for my clients and students. Because what we need, what our society needs are safe containers to explore our feelings, sensations, and memories, so that we can heal, build resilience, and become pillars for each other.

At the end of that first retreat all those years ago a seed was planted in my heart. There was a tiny flicker of an idea that one day, I would be leading retreats, holding space for people to unplug from matrix and dive deep into their own bodies. I was an art teacher and meditation student at the time and had no idea what it would look like, when it might happen, or what life experiences I would need to collect before being ready to hold that seat, a seat that I still at times have insecurity about holding but believe is my right place. And I am grateful for the doubts that surface because they keep me practicing, learning, and reminding me that I will always be a student first.

Spring Breathwork Retreat x Ashley Neese

So here I am, nearly ten years later, sharing my deepest and most precious offering with you: an intimate breathwork retreat. I have been slowly, steadily, cultivating this retreat for months and couldn’t be more excited to share it with you. After attending over two dozen retreats since that first one in Oregon, I have created a best of offering based on what I learned as a student on retreat and what I am now here to share as a teacher.

I chose the desert for this inaugural retreat because it is a place that is very close to my heart. I’ve had some of the most illuminating and transformative experiences in the heat of the desert which can push you beyond your self imposed limits and give you more than enough space to process what’s surfacing. The desert is powerful, intense, and detoxifying. The desert provides a healing backdrop for the work we will be doing together on retreat.  In addition to this dynamic space the beautiful, sustainable resort that is our retreat home has access to some of the most therapeutic waters in California. These mineral rich waters are the perfect compliment to the desert and to the intention of the retreat, to soften.

The retreat will take place this coming May and I am having so much fun planning out the workshops, breathing practices, and group work that we will be doing together. There will be plenty of time for solo introspection as well as space to simply rest and let nature support your healing. If you have been seeking time to yourself to grow, to explore, to expand, to ground, to grieve, to let go, to replenish, this retreat is for you.

At a time when the world seems like it is only going faster by the day and there are more and more demands on our energy, I want to extend this invitation to unplug, restore, and come together to be held in a space of respect, compassion, and gratitude.

For the full retreat details please view the retreat brochure. When you’re ready to register, visit the registration page. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or email me.

Wishing you a nourishing week and more soon.



  • Meg

    You are such a wonderful and a beauty and wise beyond your years, my dear old soul friend x x

    all love, meg in az

    • ashley

      Hi Meg,
      Thank you for taking the time to read. I continue to be grateful for the ways that you show up and support me and this journey we’re on. Wishing you a beautiful week! x

  • Meg

    *wonder and beauty

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