Yoga Rockford: Meditation in 10 days — or fewer?

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

The initial course of Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, is a 10-day-long residential silent retreat. This always seems to stun even the most interested of students. Why not a weekend retreat, something shorter and/or easier?

Meditation is most useful not as a temporary escape, but as a lifelong tool if we want to eradicate or at least begin to manage our suffering. Weekend “retreats” may provide temporary relief in that moment, but Monday always rolls around with the same old frustrations. Easily thrown off balance again, we are left wishing for the next escape.

The 10-day Vipassana Meditation course, as taught by S.N. Goenka, is not just a retreat. It is a course for learning a meditation technique that will serve you in life, leaving you with an experience and practice that can change your mental perspective for the long term. The 10 days are set up in a very thoughtful manner, with a day-by-day routine that builds on the practice and technique of Vipassana Meditation.

The translation of “Vipassana” means to see things as they really are. The whole technique of Vipassana Meditation is a practice in training the mind out of its vicious cycles of craving, aversion, reaction and suffering. We spend our life in this vicious cycle, so we have to understand that these habits are deep and ingrained. It takes time to recognize and address them at their source.

First, we must be pulled away from our usual grasping of external sensory distractions. You are asked to leave behind books, phones, writing supplies, computers and any other time-consuming, mind-distracting devices. From Day 1, participants refrain from speaking to anyone except managers and assistant teachers. Away from distraction, the first three course days are spent focusing the mind toward one thing: the breath. This draws us back to our own self, our own time and our own sensations.

By Day 4, the mind has become more concentrated and is prepared to learn Vipassana, the process of “seeing.” The Vipassana technique focuses on body scans of sensation, with the belief that every reaction that we have begins in the body with a sensation, no matter how subtle or obvious. By “sitting” and observing these sensations without immediate reaction, we begin to lessen agitation and aggravation, both known and unknown, within the mind and, ultimately, within our life.

Days 4-6 follow a step-by-step process of learning to watch sensation without reaction. Each day of self-practice and “group sittings,” plus each night of video discourse, allows students the time and space to learn at their own level. At noon each day, there is time for questions with an assistant teacher, as needed, to clarify the technique. Days 7-9 are for practice, practice, practice, encouraging a new, more stable habit for the mind.

Day 10 is a day of smiles and chatting as students slowly reintroduce their mind and body back to distraction. There is relief from the hard work of focusing the mind in every moment, and happiness pervades the campus.

After failed attempts at learning other meditations on weekends here and there, nine years after my first 10-Day Vipassana course, I am still practicing and have no doubt of the benefits of the technique. But don’t just take my word for it. May 18, the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center (10076 Fish Hatchery Road, Pecatonica, Ill.) will be holding its annual open house. Tour the center, have a Q & A with assistant teachers, and watch videos for more information. See you there!

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the April 30-May 6, 2014 issue

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