Everything You Need To Know About A 10 day Vipassana Retreat

I attended my second 10-day Vipassana retreat at the beginning of October. It was exactly one year since my first one and thought it would be a good idea to share what it was like. I have found both courses challenging but so rewarding and feel they improved my meditation practice ten fold. Over the 10 days you sit for over 100 hours of meditation.

I am writing this post to give any of you who may be interested that extra nudge to go ahead and book a course. I feel the benefits are there for everyone to experience.

What is Vipassana?

Vipassana means “to see things are they are”. It is one of the oldest meditation techniques believed to originate 2500 years ago by Gotama Buddha. The practice was revived by the recently deceased S.N. Goenka originally from Burma. There are now over 200 centers throughout the world.

The Vipassana technique trains you to experience the present moment exactly as it is through building awareness of your breathing and progressing to experiencing sensations throughout the body.

The course in not affiliated with any sect or religion of any sort. It does not try and push any beliefs on you. Goenka encourages you to experience his teachings and make your own mind up about whether you want to pursue the practice or not.

“All persons must be free to profess and follow their faith. In doing so, however, they must be careful not to neglect the practice of the essence of their religion, not to disturb others by their own religious practices, and not to condemn or belittle other faiths.” – S.N. Goenka

Course Rules and Timetable

All who attend a Vipassana course must undertake the following five precepts for the duration of the course:

  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.

DSCN0767You must also avoid the following:

  • No talking, eye contact, touching, or gestures towards other students
  • Complete segregation between males and females
  • No phones, no Internet
  • No outside food, no books, no writing materials, no cameras
  • No religious/superstitious symbols
  • No yoga/jogging/exercise except walking
  • No smoking, alcohol, or other drugs

We all signed a contract stating that we would stay for the entire 10 days. Goenka explains that the 10 days is a surgery of the mind. He states that it can be damaging to leave the course before it finishes just like leaving a physical surgery before the doctors have finished.

10 Day Schedule

DSCN0764

My room

Day 0

I arrived at the center at about 3pm. I filled out the required paperwork and gave in all my belonging other than clothing and toiletries. I made some small talk with the other participants and went to the dorms. After sorting out my things I made my way to the dining hall for dinner.

It would be my last dinner for 10 days.

Noble silence commenced after dinner.

 Days 1-3 – Developing awareness of the breath and sensations

The first 3 days were a shock to my body. 4 am wake ups took me a while to get used to and I spent most rest periods napping. The 4.30 – 6.30 a.m. block was most challenging for me as it was the longest block of solid meditation without a break. On top of that the last 30 minutes consisted of Goenka chanting in Pali which made it difficult to focus on meditating.

The teachings for these 3 days is putting focus on the area around your nose. You focus on the nostrils and feel the sensation of the air coming in and out of the nose. On day three we were told to become aware of any subtle sensations – heat, cold, air, tickles, itchiness.

I found the sitting okay for the first 3 days as anytime I experienced pain I would change my position.

Days 4 – 9 Vipassana and sitting of strong determination

DSCN0772

The meditation hall

From day 4 onwards we were introduced to the official Vipassana technique. The first three days was an induction course which helped develop our concentration and awareness of sensations around the nose.

From day 4 we were taught body scanning. Body scanning teaches you to scan your body with a one inch circle moving from the head all the way to the feet. Goenka recommends each scan to last about 10 minutes. At each section you try and feel sensations of any sort.

The exact teachings are way beyond the scope of this article and require many hours of practice. If you are interested in more about the technique I recommend you attend a 10 day course.

This was also the start of 3 hour sessions called “sitting of strong determination”. One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.

This was when the real fun started.

During each of these hours you are required to keep your eyes closed and keep your hands and feet in the same position. The theory behind this is to remain equanimous no matter how you feel. So while my knees, hips and back are burning with physical pain I should observe the pain with my mind but not get attached to the pain.

This was horrible!

Days 4,5 and 6 I tried so hard to stay calm and equanimous after 40 minutes I had to move. Tears were starting to come out with the pain.

Day 5 was the most challenging day of the retreat. I had been doing quite well up to this stage but my mind started getting the better of me. I started looking in envy at my zen like peers. None of them seemed to be going through any discomfort or pain. This along with not experiencing one enjoyable session made me question my reason for being there in the first place. There were so many things I could be doing now but I am living like a monk for 10 days!

Of course my mood changed. Thanks to Goenka’s evening talks full of wisdom and inspiration. The evening talk discussed how everything originates in the mind.

  • You think it
  • You verbalize it
  • You act on it

My thoughts had been full of envy of other students and guilt because I hadn’t experienced one decent meditation session. Realising that it was my own thinking that was causing me to feel bad allowed me to change my thoughts and mood.

During the morning session of day 7 I finally sat for the full hour sitting. This is when I started to understand the teaching. Instead of averting the pain and wanting it to end I accepted it. I observed the different sensations around my hips and knees and moved on like a doctor examining a patient.

How many times do we avert bad sensations in life and crave good ones?

Realising that everything is impermanent allows us to be thankful for the good times and realize that the bad times will pass.

“The observation of the physical sensations without reaction during Vipassana meditation produces a remarkable effect. It causes the old stored-up past conditionings such as anger, hatred, ill-will, passion, etc. to come to the surface of the mind and manifest as sensations. Observation of these sensations without any reaction causes them to pass away, layer after layer. Your mind is then free of many of these old conditionings and can deal with experiences in the life without the color of past experiences.” – S.N. Goenka

Day 10 – The end of noble silence

The feeling of anticipation was similar to that which I used to get as a child the night before Christmas. We were allowed to speak after the morning sessions. After spending a bit of time alone I introduced myself to the other participants and we shared our stories. It was a great experience and interesting hearing about everyones experiences.
We also got dinner on day 10 which was awesome.

Day 11

We woke at 4am and after a final talk and some chanting we had breakfast and parted ways.

Benefits of the retreat

There was a huge difference between my first and second 10 day retreat. The major benefits from the first course was the detox from the world. I realized how occupied my mind was all the time. I was always talking, reading, writing, listening to music or watching movies. I was always active in some way. Then all of a sudden there was silence. I found this incredibly challenging. I woke at 4 am thinking about how long the day ahead was going to be. It was emotionally draining and on two occasions I came close to leaving (day 3 and 7).

Then there was the long periods of sitting. I wasn’t used to sitting on the ground so the pain was unbearable at times and I found it difficult to complete a one hour meditation session without moving every 5 minutes.

My ego got my through the first retreat. I had told people I was doing it and couldn’t bare to say I didn’t complete it. People could leave this retreat if they wanted and about 30% of the people left before the end of the 10 days. The meditation hall was open with just a roof so there were also lots of insects crawling into my pants.

All in all thinking back it was challenging but so so rewarding. I learned more about myself in them 10 days than in my previous 25 years. I had 16 hours a day with no distractions to contemplate my life. No noise to distract me.

I found out so many parts that needed work and so many parts that made me thankful. I started appreciating all the amazing people and things in my life. At the end of the 10 days you could speak in front of everyone about your experience if you felt like it. I chose not to. It was the last thing I wanted to do after silence for 10 days.

This really wrapped up the retreat with even more insights. People I had perceived as calm and collected meditation experts shared how lost and difficult the experience was. This made me realize we are always comparing ourselves to others. Thinking how they have it all worked out. Taking life in their stride. After this I realized we are all facing the same daily struggles and anxieties.

The retreat I attended last week was much more beneficial for my meditation practice. The silence and isolation from the outside world no longer affected me. The sitting was still painful but on day 7 I managed to sit for an entire hour without needing to switch legs.

DSCN0752

This quote was on display throughout the retreat

The ability to sit allowed me to deepen my practice. That being said my mind was still all over the place. 10 seconds of focus then 10 minutes later I realise I have been day dreaming. Back to my breath…15 minutes pass and I realize I’m day dreaming again. 1 minute of concentration….5 minutes and so the process went on again and again.

I find that I am constantly failing during meditation. Even though I constantly fail I still do it everyday. This habit has formed a positive foundation for other areas of my life and I feel I’m less afraid at trying new things since adopting this practice.

More Information

If you are interested in meditation and are considering attending a course you can find the official timetable on the Vipassana website here. There’s also lots more information about Vipassana on the site. If you have done a Vipassana retreat I would love to hear about your experiences.

If you have any other questions please let me know in the comments below.

About The Author

Conor

I am a wellness coach from Ireland currently based in Melbourne Australia. I love teaching and learning about physical autonomy and sustainable lifestyle habits.

23 Comments

  • pratik

    Reply Reply 6 November, 2014

    “The observation of the physical sensations without reaction during Vipassana meditation produces a remarkable effect. It causes the old stored-up past conditionings such as anger, hatred, ill-will, passion, etc. to come to the surface of the mind and manifest as sensations. Observation of these sensations without any reaction causes them to pass away, layer after layer. Your mind is then free of many of these old conditionings and can deal with experiences in the life without the color of past experiences.” – S.N. Goenka

    Step 1. Its your inner experience that give you pain and pleasure (its not outer world where you feel pain or pleasure. Stop blaming outer world for your inner reactions). We have been taught from childhood to focus totally on outer world. From this technique and retreat you first know and later understand that pleasure and pain are both arising inside yourself.

    Step 2. Observe your inner sensations as taught by technique and do not react to sensations, accept it as they are.

    Step3. slowly by practice you you become free internally.When you become free inside, no force outside can hold you from becoming blissful inside

    Peace!!!

  • Conor

    Reply Reply 7 November, 2014

    Thanks for sharing Pratik.

  • Dave

    Reply Reply 12 March, 2015

    Thanks for the link to this Conor,

    I’ve met three people who have done this course and they all seemed to share similar experiences to your account. At the same time this retreat intrigues and terrifies me!

    Dave

    • Conor

      Reply Reply 12 March, 2015

      Yes it is a challenging experience David but it is more than worth the discomfort for what you gain.

      I will check you blog for updates on your experience 🙂

  • Shripad Lale

    Reply Reply 23 May, 2015

    Your article about Vipassana was exactly what I was looking for. I have registered for a course starting 03 June 2015, and I will be honest that I am very anxious! It is not the silence and isolation that I fear, as much as the prospect of not physically moving, or enduring an uncomfortable position. Your article is very honest and candid about this, which has helped manage my expectations. I will try and share my experience after I finish the course. Thanks once again.

    • Conor

      Reply Reply 7 June, 2015

      Hey Shripad,

      Thanks for commenting. It’s great to hear that you have booked the course. I’m sure you won’t regret it. Yes the sitting was a huge challenge for me. You are taught to observe these uncomfortable feelings, like a doctor to his patient, staying unattached. Of course, this is much easier said than done when it feels like your knees are going to snap! Let me know how you get on 🙂

      • Shripad Lale

        Reply Reply 14 June, 2015

        Just returned from my first 10 day Vipassana session, and as expected it was an eye opener! I enjoyed every bit of it, except, as expected, the long sitting. I could do 40 minutes, and then had to open my leg up for about 15 seconds, and then could complete the next 20 minutes. Took solace in Mr. Goenka’s statement that Vipassana is not about torturing yourself, but feeling sufficient pain so that you can teach your body to ignore it as an undesirable sensation that will not last. Absolutely no pain is no good, but crippling pain is has no real advantage.

        Now, the tougher challenge starts today: to continue to practice vipassana, at home, for the next ONE YEAR! If one does not do this follow up, you might as well have not done the 10 day course.

        Would be curious to know how you are managing the daily routine.

        Nice talking to you!

        Cheers!

        shripad.

        • Conor

          Reply Reply 17 June, 2015

          Hey Shripad,

          Great to hear you enjoyed the retreat and of course the sitting is very challenging.

          In October 2013 I completed my first 10 day retreat in Suan Mokkh in Thailand. This retreat only thought anapanasati which is focusing on the breath. It was run by Buddhist monks. After the retreat they recommended a practice of 20 minutes a day. I was able to do that quite comfortably every morning until my last retreat in October 2014.

          This was an official Goenka retreat. After that I tried the 1 hour in the morning and the evening for about four weeks but could not maintain it. I would love to but found it too much to take on. Now I do 40-60 minutes every morning (depending on time). Meditation always comes first for me because I feel it has the most profound impact on my health.

          My only advice about the 1 year of 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening is to try it. If you manage then that is amazing and you will see huge benefit. One thing I would watch out for is failing and quitting altogether. I would prefer to build a daily practice first that is sustainable and then adding more if you are able.

          Hope this helps,

          C

  • Takin Khorasanchian

    Reply Reply 28 November, 2016

    Thank you.

  • Hari

    Reply Reply 9 December, 2016

    Hi Friends,

    Just completed my 10 days course in Hyderabad India. It was a great experience i had. My Day 1 meditation course started with more energetic, but due to some back pain my body doesn’t supported the same, So the only bad thing i did on my 4th day is i requested a chair to sit and they accepted. But once my course got completed i realized as i did mistake on sitting on chair.

    Guys, my sincere request to every one is at least once in a life a person should visit Vipassana and complete 10 days course, though it is very hard but you will learn much more good things about the life.

    Thanks to S.N.Goenka Jee for spreading Meditation centers through out the world.

    Hari.

    • Conor

      Reply Reply 19 December, 2016

      Hey Hari,

      Glad you enjoyed it and yes I totally agree that it’s something everyone should try.

  • Nuruddin Abjani

    Reply Reply 13 January, 2017

    Dear Conor, Thanks for letting all of us know about your experience.

    I am off to Myanmar in a couple of weeks for the Vipassana Course.

    Your post and thoughts will surely help me throughout the course.

    And thanks to all of you guys who have commented, I have learnt from you as well.

    Thanks a lot!

    Stay blessed.

    • Conor

      Reply Reply 16 January, 2017

      Hey Nuraddin,

      Happy to help. Hope you enjoy the experience!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field