How to Survive (& Thrive in) A Silent Meditation Retreat in Mexico

Do you think you could stay silent for 10 straight days?

Are you considering a Mexico meditation retreat? You’ve come to the right place for info, because I did one!

To those considering doing the same, please read on to discover everything you need to know before, during & after the retreat.

More specifically than simply a “meditation retreat,” this experience was a 10 day silent meditation retreat. This retreat was very similar to a Vipassana retreat, but with some differences I’ll outline later.

It took place at the Hridaya Yoga retreat center in Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico, in October 2018.

I had never heard of this place & had no (conscious) intention to do a silent meditation retreat. It just kind of happened.

Let me explain:

I was wrapping up a two-month stint in Mexico City, when a friend recommended Mazunte as a place to decompress from the big city madness that is CDMX.

🇲🇽Read my story of how I started solo traveling in Mexico!

How I found Hridaya Yoga in Mazunte

Mazunte looked beautiful, so I booked two weeks in an AirBnB; a really pretty one. After booking, I started reading deep into the reviews & saw one saying something along these lines.

If you’re doing the silent meditation retreat at Hridaya Yoga, this is the perfect AirBnB because the retreat center is right across the street.

I googled “Hridaya Yoga Mexico Meditation Retreat” and serendipitously enough, there was actually a 10 day silent meditation retreat that fell during the two weeks I had just booked the AirB&B for. My inner voice & my higher self decided this was too coincidental to ignore.

Going to this meditation retreat on a whim

Then, with no knowledge of what a silent meditation retreat even entailed, other than uhhh… silence & meditation, I registered.

I will say that while I hadn’t researched a silent meditation retreat or Vipassana, I did have a preexisting spiritual practice of my own when I booked. The spiritual & woo-woo worlds were not unfamiliar to me. I wasn’t new to meditation, yoga, or even yoga retreats.

I was however, new to 10 days of silence. Let’s be honest: 

Aside from sleeping, I was new to even 6 hours of straight silence.

Everything you need to know (that I didn’t know!)

In an effort to help other first time Hridaya silent Mexico meditation retreat journeyers, here’s everything you’ll need to prepare mentally, physically & emotionally. I’m also covering what to pack for your 10 day journey to Hridaya Yoga in Mazunte, and what to expect from the retreat itself.

I want to be honest though:

There is no way to truly prepare for your first time doing 10 days of silence & meditation. However, here’s everything you need to know, & some stuff I wish I knew before, during & after the retreat.

Let’s dive in!

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Day 11: After the Retreat

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Day 11: What to Expect After the Retreat

I wanted to start at the end, like so many cool movies do! The #1 question everyone asks when they find you did a 10 day silent meditation retreat is this:

So what was it like?

Now, there’s the obvious answers of “transcendental” & “life-changing,” and those are both accurate. However, neither word felt like my true, honest answer. In fact, even writing this 20 months post-retreat, I still don’t really have the words.

The closest thing I can say is this:

Ten days of silence was kind of like skydiving. It’s just something you have to do to understand. 

That answer makes sense to anyone who’s been skydiving, and seems to just annoy anyone who hasn’t. It’s the closest answer that makes sense for me though.

My Hridaya silent meditation retreat was all of these things: great, awful, fuc+ing awful, beautiful, super cool, annoying, enlightening, calming & frustrating. It was the worst & it was also the best; sometimes simultaneously.

It was an emotional rollercoaster! 

Honestly, I think that’s the point. Since humans invented spirituality, the whole point of “radical” practices, such as extended periods of silence & solitude, was to shake up some internal dust. 

The outward silence seems to allow our inner voices to say what they need to, while they have our full & undivided attention. 

Like many spiritual leaders & practitioners, we sit in silence to connect to the dark & cobweb-infested corners of our psyche. This isn’t always pretty, but we do always come out the other changed, and closer to our Truth.

So, to answer the always-asked question of What was it like? I want to say all of that. However, I usually just say “it’s kind of like skydiving” as the abridged version.

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Day 0: Before the Retreat

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Day 0: How to Prepare Before the Retreat

Diet Alterations

Day 0 means you’re still home! Enjoy it. Pay close(r) attention to what brings you joy: ie. your comfy bed, chocolate, air conditioning! You’ll likely miss this stuff during your Mexico meditation retreat experience.

You also might want to consider adjusting your diet before your retreat.

The retreat food will be 100% vegan. I personally thought the food at Hridaya was pretty good, but the shock to your system of going from standard American diet to uber-vegan can have negative effects on your mood & stomach.

Even those without an overtly high sugar intake, meaning you don’t regularly spoon sugar directly onto your food, packaged American foods tend to contain sugar and high fructose corn syrup as preservatives. Your 10 days at Hridaya will be sugar-free.

I’ve done stints of the sugar-free Keto diet, so I know just how awful a sugar detox can be. Aside from all the physical stuff, it can make you depressed, anxious & tired — basically all the things you don’t want to feel during a wellness & meditation retreat!

Practice Sitting

While this seems bizarre, you should practice sitting on the floor, cross-legged, for as long as you can. This may seem easy, and for some bodies, it will be, but for others (like mine) this was really hard.

Regardless of how easy or difficult it is for you, I can assure you this:

You’ve likely never sat on the floor cross-legged for three straight hours, so you can’t really know how easy or challenging this will be for your body. 

For me, my feet fall asleep pretty fast. I wish I had taken the time to learn how to make effective micro movements to promote blood circulation. 

The seated position also challenges your back & core muscles to keep you upright. You might want to consider some strengthening exercises for these areas as well.

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What to Pack

When the time to pack finally arrives, think: minimal.

In addition to the obvious “you’re going to a spiritual retreat, not your BFFs weeklong wedding extravaganza in Paris,” Mazunte, Mexico, is hot pretty much year-round.

The temperature actually ranges from hot to hot af, depending on the month. In general, October to April is hot; March to September is hot af.

Retreat attire erred on the modest side of yoga wear. There was no Lululemon in site, however, as this was more of a yoga-pants-meets-elephant-pants vibe. I wore yoga class clothes in the morning & switched to a sundress for the evening/night portion of the retreat. 

Being right across the street from the Hridaya Yoga center, I was able to do a costume change during the 2.5-hour lunch break. Though this was definitely not a yoga retreat, there was a 90-minute Hatha yoga session each day. This took place just before lunch.

After getting sweaty during yoga & then eating, I’d walk to my AirBnB across the street, shower and change. I “cleaned” my clothes in the shower with body soap, which maybe helped a little, but you should consider actual detergent.

Mexico Meditation Retreat Packing List
  • Modest yoga class attire
  • Loose fitting sundresses
  • Cotton, breathable clothes
  • Journal/pen
  • Water bottle
  • Hand-wash detergent
  • Insect repellent 
  • Meds (esp. headache meds & antidiarrheals)
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Arriving in Mazunte, Mexico

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How to Get to Mazunte

You have two airport options! Both are about 1-hour from Hridaya Yoga. They are Bahías de Huatulco International Airport (HUX) & Puerto Escondido International Airport (PXM). 

Before arriving, I’d recommend checking with your hostel, hotel or AirBnB host to see if they can recommend anyone who does airport pickups. 

If not, you can just grab a taxi from the airport. What you’ll see many people doing is heading to the main road rather than taking a curb-side taxi. This cuts the fare in half, so you might want to consider following suit.

The cost of a taxi for the 1-hour drive should be around $500 pesos, or $25.

There are also colectivos (small shared vans), but since I didn’t take one, I won’t advise on that. If this were something you’re considering, just ask someone heading to the main road to catch one of the colectivos to help you.

If you’re coming any other way than by plane, Hridaya’s site has very thorough transport info.

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Accommodations in Mazunte

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Places to Stay in Mazunte

Hridaya did have on-site lodging, but since I booked maybe a week before the actual meditation retreat started, they were sold out.

Truth be told:

I’m not a shared room/couch surfer style traveler, so I wouldn’t have done this anyway.

Casa Tamarindos

If I did it again, I’d go with my same accommodations at Casa TamarindosThis place is very cute, the host was attentive & it’s located literally 50 steps from Hridaya Yoga.

Being right across the street from Hridaya was convenient & safe. The retreat goes until 9pm each night, so it was great to not have to walk anywhere solo at night (although Mazunte is pretty safe).

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This AirBnB is also right on Mazunte’s main road. 

Downtown Mazunte is only about a 10 minute walk down this road. There you’ll find restaurants, bars, pharmacies, ATMs, doctors, mini-supermarkets, tours, etc. You also have nearby beach access less than 5-minutes away.

If you’re not feelin’ Casa Tamarindos, check out all of Mazunte’s lodging options!

 

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Orientation Before the Retreat

10 Days in Silence — Hridaya Mexico Meditation Retreat

Hridaya’s Pre-Retreat Orientation

The evening before the retreat, Hridaya hosts a welcome reception/orientation. If possible, do your best to make it. This is the last time anyone from Hridaya will actually speak to you, barring emergencies, of course!

This isn’t always the case, but my retreat was led by the founder & spiritual leader of Hridaya, Sahajananda

He went over the particulars of the retreat, including that the main retreat room was segregated by sex. There were male & female sides of the room, and also separate entrances. The intention was to desexualize the experience. 

Did it work? 

I think so. I mean, your eye gravitates to anyone you find attractive. However, knowing there was the intent of separation did create an invisible barrier. I definitely felt like I was in a safe space.

Then Sahajananda dropped a bomb!

He mentioned we’d be working up to 3-hour long meditation sessions.

Wait. Wat? And is that even humanly possible?

I realize at this point, I should have done some Hridaya homework! 

When I last-minute booked this retreat, I had no knowledge of the Hridaya Yoga Center, or meditation retreats in general. I consciously decided to keep it that way, and just let the experience unfold in real time.

Translation: I didn’t read ahead.

This was when I started questioning that decision.

Can a human physically meditate for 3-hours? Am I a human who can physically meditate for 3-hours? Do I still care about doing this? Should I just go to the beach instead?

Those were some real thoughts. A part of me wanted to just quit right then & there.

Nevertheless, I persisted.

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The Actual Retreat: Day 1-5

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Silent Meditation Retreat: Days 1-5

Day 1 is just so weird. You don’t really get what it means to not talk yet. As muscle memory kicks in, you physically want to speak to express yourself. You have to physically stop yourself from doing so. 

In addition to the silence, participants are also encouraged not to make eye contact. Some people went as far as to wear sleep masks throughout the retreat, or wrap their head in a scarf  with only a tiny eye opening.

I should also mention we were in very close quarters, while being asked not to make eye contact. By close quarters, I mean the distance between my yoga mat & my neighbors’ mats was only about 6 inches.

I feel like Day 1, in a way, doesn’t count. You’re still really confused. You basically just do what you were told to do the night before at the orientation. You’re pretty much in talking detox & everything is awkward. You just go through the motions.

For me, this WTF feeling continued through Day 5. For some people, that feeling subsided sooner, some later, some never.

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Hours & Hours of Meditation

The retreat schedule is the same from day to day: Meditation, breakfast, lecture from Sahajananda about a different “spiritual” topic each day (he was the only one who spoke), meditation, 90-minutes of Hatha yoga, lunch, break, meditation, dinner, Q&A, another lecture, meditation. 

This retreat is a whole day affair — from 7am to 9pm — with a 2.5-hour break for lunch & whatever else you want/need to do. For some, this meant more meditation or journaling. For me, this meant a shower & laying in the hammock at my AirBnB.

Not gonna lie: For a meditation retreat, this was a physically demanding experience! 

Hridaya provides everyone with a yoga mat, and there were communal meditation benches & pillows available on a first-come-first-served basis.

You’d think sitting all day is easy. It is not. In fact, it’s super hard. My feet fall asleep easily, so being in any position for more than 20 minutes physically does not work for me. I shuffled around when I needed to. #NoShame

While I tried to keep this to a minimum, total physical stillness isn’t an option for my body. For those who needed to move at any time, we did have options.

At the orientation, we were instructed to either stand up on our yoga mat during meditation until we could comfortably return to seated. The other option was to move to one of the chairs located on the perimeter of the room.

With 50+ total meditation hours over the course of the 10 day silent retreat, I assume everyone used the chairs at least once or twice!

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My Spiritual Breakthrough

Who cares?

For the nightly Q&A, Sahajananda had two small bowls at the front of the room where you could leave hand-written questions for him to answer. During the Q&A, he answered all the questions left that day.

One day, I submitted a question. I asked if there was some correlation he knew about lengthy meditation sessions & the need for less sleeping. I wrote that I found myself only able to sleep for 6 hours, instead of the 8 I required for literally the other 37 years of my entire life up until this retreat.

His response:

Who cares?

Well, Ok then. After being butt-hurt for a few minutes because he pretty much gave actual answers to every other question throughout the 10-day retreat, I had to get over it. 

Maybe he was right though: Who cares?

Maybe this was the whole point of the retreat (for me): that minutiae & how many hours I sleep doesn’t matter. But then, does anything matter? Do things only matter because you’re thinking about them; and further still, do they only matter when you’re thinking about them?

Either way, this moment was a microcosm of the entire retreat for me. If I had any “breakthroughs” during my Hridaya meditation retreat, it was this:

Witness consciousness

If nothing else, I 100% learned how to be the witness to my thoughts. In 3-hour meditation sessions, you do physically start to see your thoughts. They move like clouds in your mind; yeah, I went there with the clouds metaphor. 

I really started to understand how thoughts are only “important” when we’re thinking about them. This was my breakthrough: Being more conscious in deciding which thoughts were important & which I could just watch pass by.

 I gained a lot of clarity in how I could better master my entire thought/feeling process. First, a thought unconsciously enters the mind, next I witness it, then I decide how to proceed. 

The mantra we’re encouraged to (silently) chant, and constantly come back to is Who Am I? This mantra, attributed to Ramana Maharshi is rhetorical, meaning it has no real answer.

Who Am I? is a cyclical contemplation that never ends. It is an ouroboros of a question! It is also one of the keys to unlocking the door to mindfulness.

If we are constantly asking Who Am I? we’re always in the moment. We’re always fully aware of the being we are right now & not the characteristics we assign to ourselves based on past experiences.

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The Actual Retreat: Day 6-9

10 Days in Silence — Hridaya Mexico Meditation Retreat

Silent Meditation Retreat: Days 6-9

Hating & Loving this Retreat

You will, at times, really fuc+ing hate this experience. On Day 6, my journal starts getting, well, mean. I started to really dislike the strangers in the room with me, for no apparent reason. 

The only time I seriously contemplated quitting was during the lunch break on Day 7.

After eating lunch, I went back to my AirBnB, showered, laid down on my bed & thought Yeah, I’m done. I said to myself, You made it a week. That’s pretty cool; one whole week in silence. You’re awesome. 

I can’t be certain of what brought my butt back to my yoga mat, but it ended up there. 

Days 6-9 were the hardest for me.

I think the newness of the experience finally lost its luster & everything just became “another day.” I was experiencing that so-close-yet-so-far-away feeling; I could see the finish line, but it felt like it was two planets away.

But then, only a moment later, I’d start feeling joy because I could actually see the finish line. 

It became clear just how much my immediate reaction to a thought became the truth about that thought. Example: I can see the finish line. 

When you’re in a great mood, it’s more of “YES!!! There’s that glorious finish line.” When you’re not in a great mood, it’s more of an “Ugh, I can see the finish line but I’m not at it, so everything sucks.”

Same finish line. Also the same distance from you. Two very different emotions & truths assigned to it.

For me, this is one of the discoveries through silence. Being the Witness means letting the thought sit in your mind, for even just an extra second, before immediately verbalizing & assigning it a “truth.” 

I had to challenge myself to not see my feelings of frustration as negative. Maybe this was the silence, maybe this was me all along, but honestly, being the Witness became pretty easy to do after 10 days of STFUing.

While I can’t honestly say I experienced some quantum level of Earth-shattering personal growth, I did grow during my silent meditation retreat experience.

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The Actual Retreat: Day 10

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Silent Meditation Retreat: Days 10

This day started like any other, but as it went on & on, people seemed to start getting restless. It was like the last day of school — which, let’s face it, isn’t really a day of school. It’s more of a hangout & you’re pretty much just there physically.

I was physically at Hridaya Yoga in Mazunte, Mexico, but my body was laying on nearby Playa Mermejita in Mazunte, Mexico. I kept trying to be in the moment with my Who Am I? Mantra, but I wasn’t.

Who Am I? was a chick on a beach. 

As the day went on, I was increasingly back to my Day 1 self of just going through the motions. This was a really intense mental & physical experience, and all I cared about on Day 10 was being done.

We can talk again!

After the very last lecture from Sahajananda, when we could speak again(!!), he opened the floor up for shares. 

One by one, everyone expressed how for them too, this experience was hard af. Some of the people speaking were there for their 3rd, 7th, 15th silent meditation retreat! I loved hearing from the veterans, who also said they struggled to get through it.

Even though we’re not supposed to make eye contact, you do notice who’s who. Some people definitely have more of a stereotypical yogi/yogini vibe than others…. But even they admitted to struggling. 

I thought this was a great ending to the retreat to hear these stories & sentiments. After maybe 10 people spoke, and I noticed everyone collectively agreeing 10 days of silence is difficult, I decided I was actually done now.

The queue for people who wanted to share still had another 20+ people in it, and my Who Am I? in that moment was “chick who needs to GTFO.” So I left, maybe 30 minutes early, maybe an 90-minutes early. Who knows.

I left and I started walking solo towards downtown. The WiFi is not great in Mazunte, but when I finally got a signal, I looked for the best restaurant near me.

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May all the gods bless all the people who submit reviews to Google, because y’all led me to La Pizzería. You see, there are a lot of Italian expats in Oaxaca’s coastal towns, so there is also amazing Italian food. I’m talkin’ brick oven pizza amazing.

After 10 days of veganism & sobriety, I ordered an entire prosciutto pizza & a bottle of wine — for me. I ate & drank it all. Truthfully, I considered ordering another pizza to celebrate the sound of my own voice, but I settled on a tiramisu.

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Should you do a silent meditation retreat?

10 Days in Silence — Hridaya Mexico Meditation Retreat

Would I recommend a silent meditation retreat?

My answer might shock you, but…

Truthfully, I don’t think I would. 

This isn’t for everyone. In fact, I can see a lot of people being super turned off by this experience. This isn’t a push out of your comfort zone; this is a forceful shove.

Now, do I think everyone should be more mindful & take up a meditation practice? Absolutely 1000% HELL YES.

I think anyone who wants to do a 10 day silent meditation retreat, should. For anyone who’s on the fence or wondering if it’s for them, imo, it’s likely not. 

For those who want to do one, I wholeheartedly recommend that you do! It was quite the trip.

Will I do another one?

I often wonder about this myself. In all likelihood, no; and definitely not in the foreseeable future. For me, I learned some important things about myself and the human psyche.

Could I go again & learn even more?

Absolutely.

I never want to stop learning, growing & discovering. My whole life I have been a spiritual seeker; that’s not going to change based on whether or not I do another silent meditation retreat.

For me, I think I’d grow most by exploring a different, but equally “intense,” spiritual practice, rather than the same one another time.

Meaning: I wouldn’t not do another silent meditation retreat because I didn’t enjoy the retreat. Rather, I don’t think I’ll do another retreat because I want to experience all of the consciousness expanding practices I can!

Is this Vipanasna?

The technical answer is no. Vipassana yoga retreats are offered exclusively through dhamma.org.

However, the daily schedule is pretty much identical, as are the personal recommendations. These include: discontinuing any other spiritual practices, sobriety, modesty of dress, a vegan diet, separation of the sexes, abstinence, etc.

From my perspective, the two main differences are these. First, the Who Am I? Mantra. Vipassana actually discourages the use of mantra throughout its 10-days of silence. 

The second distinction: Hridaya charges a fee, and Vipassana is completely donation based. I don’t exactly think Hridaya is making much money off these retreats, but they aren’t free. I believe I paid about $400 for the retreat and 3 meals a day for the 10 days.

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Considering a silent meditation retreat?

Let’s chat in the comments down below! Ask me anything that wasn’t covered in the blog so I can help you decide if a silent meditation retreat seems like it’s right for you.

¡Hola Chicas!

👋I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor, who ditched the office for the world! I have been a solo female traveler in Mexico for 2 years now, and want to pass my experience + expertise on to you.

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