Are you looking to do a Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar? A meditation retreat can be a rewarding experience that allows you to unlock a new way of viewing and living your life.
After doing the Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar, I returned as a completely renewed and energized person. The experience has continued to reward me ever since, allowing me to filter my thoughts, be more mindful, and generally more happy.
If you are looking to have a similar experience, stick around. Below, I’ll share my experience, some good practices, and practical information about how to do a Vipassana retreat in Myanmar.
Introduction to Vipassana Meditation
What Is Vipassana Meditation?
In the Indian language of the Buddha (called Pali), the word for meditation, “Bhavana”, means development. The idea is that we develop our minds by being methodically aware and present with it.
Vipassana meditating is the oldest that exists. However, it is still popular around the world today. People have been practicing Vipassana meditation globally for more than 2,500 years since the Buddha made it popular.
In general, Vipassana meditation is about acquiring an optimistic view of life. People reach a state of contentment and peace by learning to connect their minds with their bodies.
They feel secure in their existence and can search for better solutions to everyday problems.
Where Can I Do a Meditation Retreat in Myanmar?
There are several different locations in Myanmar where you can do a Vipassana meditation retreat. However, they are not as famous or well-promoted as you see in India.
The majority of the meditation centers are in the bigger cities or around Yangon.
Check out this list of meditation centers in Myanmar and research them. Find one that aligns with your needs and expectations.
Also, ask around when you are in Myanmar. My tour guide in Bagan had many great insights.
Personal Experience: Vipassana Meditation Retreat in Myanmar
Okay, so I guess we should start at the beginning. I believe most people want to do a Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar to get close to a spiritual source and make improvements in their lives.
At least that was the truth for me.
As a teenager and young adult, I used to struggle with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. It went on for so long that it became the status quo, and I didn’t know what to do about it. However, I wanted to make improvements and feel better in my mind and body.
After my world was turned upside down by a bad relationship and later breakup, I finally started feeling determined to make some changes.
At that exact time, a friend of mine was getting into spirituality and he gave me a book to read.
Sceptical at first, I began to read the pages of what later shaped a change of mindset, an idea, and later, a desire to travel to Myanmar to do a silent Vipassana meditation retreat.
The Book and Feeling of Enlightenment
Whether my friend could see my struggle or it was by coincidence, I don’t know. But the book called The Seat of The Soul found its way into my life – and I was ready to grasp anything that could make me feel better.
After reading a few pages I got completely obsessed. Every word hit me with such a force and profound feeling of truth, that I almost made myself dizzy. It felt like the book was reminding me of something that I had always known, but somehow forgotten.
I felt empowered, energized, adventurous, and reassured that I could control my state of mind.
It sparked a fire in my chest or even a slight obsession. Suddenly it was all I could think about and all I could talk about. If I have ever had a moment of enlightenment, this must have been it.
Vipassana Meditation Retreat Destination: Myanmar
I knew I wanted proper guidance and I also knew that I needed to be in a setting that felt pure. Finding a course at home simply would not cut it. Also, I had never meditated before in my life and I wanted to be introduced properly.
I have traveled alone many times before, but I did not want to go to India by myself.
I randomly ended up speaking to a friend of a friend. He was telling me that he had just come back from Myanmar.
The thing that had impacted him the most was the pure spirituality of the country.
I told him that this was a funny coincidence since I was actually looking for a destination to do a meditation retreat.
Before speaking to him, I did not know about Myanmar as a spiritual destination. However, this convinced me, and I quickly started planning, buying, and organising myself to head to take off.
I started to research, but doing a Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar is not as common as staying at an ashram in India. It was hard to find any helpful information at all!
After many hours of searching, I found a website with a list of some mediation centers in Myanmar that I could pick from.
The Vipassana Meditation Center
I picked a meditation center from the list after researching about the different options.
I’ll avoid coloring anyone’s choice and invite you to do the same. That way you can pick exactly what sounds right for you.
Also, there are many meditation retreats, not just in Myanmar. I’ve met people who have done great stays in, for instance, New Zealand, India, and their home countries.
Depending on where you wish to go, you can do some research. If only doing meditation seems like a little much to you, then another great alternative is to do a yoga retreat in a good yoga and meditation retreat destination.
When I first arrived at the meditation center, I have to say that I was a little disappointed. I was expecting some scenic temple setting. Maybe on a mountainside with a blissful view?
That would be nice, right?
This was not the case at all. The meditation center was made up of grey concrete buildings that needed some serious maintenance, all set in a grey court. There were a couple of bigger flat buildings too, that reminded me of sports halls. Set in the middle of Yangon, it was both polluted and had a constant soundtrack of heavy city traffic.
As I stood there in the court, a couple of monks walking around started to notice me. I have to say, I have never felt more blonde or out of place in my life.
The look they were giving me was an exact reflection of what I was thinking: ‘What on Earth am I doing here?’
After some minutes a monk stopped and asked what I needed. I explained that I wanted to stay, and he took me to a small balcony. Here he sat me down and asked me to wait.
Moments later an older, kind-looking monk came to see me.
The next that happened surprised me.
He started to interview me. Asked about my travels, checked my passport (disapproved that I had a transit through China), and wanted to know about my life back home.
He was assessing whether or not I could stay.
He decided I would stay for 10 days and get started immediately.
This would later be my mentor, and every day, I would meet with him at 4 pm to discuss my progress.
The Practicalities and Minimalistic Approach
First I went to hand over my phone (AKA no photos, I’m sorry) and any unnecessary possessions.
Next, the female monk at the front desk handed me an overview of the rules and the schedule.
I was to obtain from any sexual activities, respect the silent retreat, and would fast after midday.
The only time I was allowed to break the noble silence was during my daily interview with my mentor.
Furthermore, I was to get up every day at 4:30 am and would have house chores.
My schedule included ten hours of meditation every day. A mix of seated and walking meditation, an hour each time.
Breakfast was served at 5:30 am and ended at 6 am. Lunch 11:30 am – 12 pm. After that, you only drink water since the holy script says that any food after midday is an excess.
Generally, a Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar is at least a 10-day retreat. Here, you are expected to do the full 10-day silent meditation course and follow all the rules determined by the meditation center.
Facilities of the Vipassana Meditation Center in Myanmar
The female monk took me to the foreigners’ building.
Here I was led to my room. A small room with two single beds inside and a tiny cupboard. For the moment I had the room to myself but if needed, I would have to share. The mattress was the equivalent of a thick blanket and the bed was like a rock.
I started to get curious about the bathrooms and sure thing – the toilets we holes in the ground and there were some simple shower cabinets. At least it was all clean though.
The best part about my new accommodation? The whole foreigners’ building had a strong odor of urine.
My only thought: ‘This is going to be interesting.’
Upstairs was the foreigner’s meditation hall. A big empty room, with a wooden floor, a few pillows, and a buddha statue.
In another building was the food hall. Another big room filled with small round tables. We would sit on the floor here for our meals and the monks placed up the front by a long table.
At the back of the room, there was a massive open kitchen. Here, volunteers would cook us breakfast and lunch. In total, the room probably fit around 300 people.
This was the full extent of the center and where I would spend the next 10 days.
The Vipassana Meditation Technique
The only introduction I received was a one-hour video. It showed a monk explaining the overall concept of Vipassana meditation and the basic meditation technique.
I was to note every sensation in my mind.
While practicing walking meditation I was to think of every little movement. While walking in slow-motion I had to think: lifting, pushing, dropping, setting – with each step.
Any distraction in your mind you kill with a note. If the mind starts to wander, you note “thinking” repeatedly until the mind is silent. If the noise is sidetracking, you note “hearing” until the sounds become unnoticeable.
Seated meditation practice was dedicated to noticing your breath and possibly your pain. Sitting down for one hour straight, crossed-legged, without being allowed to move, is tough on the back and the legs. Especially the knees. Wow, they would hurt at times!
Other than the one-hour video, I did not have any introduction.
Every day I would come back and watch the next video tutorial. Explaining the next and deeper practices of Vipassana meditation. Here, I could also consult with my mentor if I had any questions.
Practicing Vipassana Meditation
During the 10-day course, I went from never having meditated in my life to doing nothing else.
Even when you’re not in the meditation hall, you are expected to be mindful of every daily activity. You walk and move around in slow motion, thinking about every movement and never making eye contact with anyone.
When you eat, it’s the same. You are gazing down the front of your nose, and you never speak at all times.
As the retreat was a silent vipassana meditation retreat, it is forbidden to speak outside of your daily discussion with your mentor. Everyone always assumes that being silent is the hardest part.
For me, it was actually the easiest. When everyone is dead quiet, speaking feels like a crime. Also, after spending the first day silent, it becomes much easier for the rest.
My biggest struggle was the speed – especially during meals.
I was starving by breakfast and lunch, and the tables were filled with every Burmese dish imaginable. The best food I had in Myanmar was during my Vipassana meditation course.
But I was not allowed to chew at normal speed or even ask for the dish on the other side of the table.
Walking anywhere took forever and I never had such a strong urge to run!
The Meditation and Mindful Progress
From the beginning, I was able to sit down and meditate but I would get very distracted. Walking meditation felt tougher.
However, even the first time I sat down for the first morning meditation, I felt something.
It was a deep connection to something inside my chest, and though fighting my mind, coming out of meditation felt like coming back from a deep haze.
I couldn’t sit for 1-hour without opening my eyes to check the time. I think I hit an average of 25 minutes before I could not contain myself anymore. It felt frustrating and disappointing every time it happened.
My mentor told me it takes three days for the mind to slow down, so I persisted. The first three days of the Vipassana meditation course felt like two weeks – at least!
On the morning of day four, I expected some magic trick to have happened overnight.
That morning I had my worst practice so far.
Even though I was making progress, I was frustrated with myself and felt like there was no systematic improvement. I could sit down easy one session, and the next would be a mess. Because of this, I was desperate to have a better meditation experience and to see some real progress.
I expressed my frustrations to my mentor. He told me that you can not expect your practice to evolve specifically and systematically. The mind is neither systematic nor linear.
What he was saying was annoyingly true, but it did not help me very much.
That afternoon I sat down for what started out as another horrible practice.
The noise that was in my head was insane. It felt like I was in a room full of people shouting and scraping chairs around. The more I tried to note and calm it down, the louder it would get.
By the end, I felt like my head or eardrums would explode. The pain was almost unbearable.
After fighting for what felt like hours the most incredible thing happened. Like the snapping of two fingers, everything went dead silent – and I mean like Outerspace silent!
I was so relieved and surprised that I almost opened my eyes.
For the first time, my brain was not racing anymore or planning ahead. There was nothing but bliss and joy. The sensation overwhelmed me so much that I cried and laughed simultaneously in my room.
I must have looked insane, but it was a reaction of complete gratitude.
The Last Days of the Meditation Retreat
If the first three days of the retreat felt like weeks, then the last seven felt like hours.
Truthfully, I have never been happier in my life than those last seven days of the retreat.
The place smelled like piss, looked even worse, had no air-conditioning, and I literally just sat or walked around doing absolutely NOTHING. I should have been bored and hated it – the reality was the opposite.
Time flew by so fast and before I knew it, I was picking up my things and making my donation.
Doing a meditation stay in Myanmar is free. Everything works through volunteering and donations. Though never spoken of, I knew that it was expected of me to donate something. It can be things like pens, shirts, USB cards, or other utilities. Or it can be money.
I left the meditation center with nostalgia and a promise to myself to return. Today, I still have that ambition.
The Effects of Vipassana Meditation
Vipassana meditation teaches you to be mindful and makes you realize that nothing is permanent. It empowers you to take responsibility for your own emotions and state of mind.
All things come and pass exactly as they should. Sure, the feeling of sadness or pain is real, but it will pass. You are not a product of your emotions or thoughts anymore.
As it can sound scary to take full responsibility for everything you think and feel, it also means complete liberty. You are a hundred percent in control of yourself and have the power to change any negativity.
Doing a Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar is not a magic trick. It requires continuous practice, dedication, and hard work. Otherwise, we fall straight back into our old habits and routines.
I still have occasional struggles in terms of stress and at times insomnia – but it is almost nothing compared to before!
The tools I learned during those ten days in Myanmar have improved my life and state of mind tremendously. It has been my biggest gift to become aware of my mind and understand how it works.
The Benefits of a Vipassana Meditation Retreat
- Improves Your Ability to Observe: Seeing is not the same as observing. When we begin to meditate persistently, we strengthen our ability to discover more than we see. This does not mean just sitting alone and looking yourself in the eye. It’s more about describing and interpreting what we see in order to achieve an accurate observation of reality.
- Promotes Relaxation: Meditation helps reduce stress levels and is good to do after a stressful. For this reason, it’s best to meditate before going to bed. However, you can practice this at any time. For example, when you come home from work or school, or in the morning to be mindful during your day.
- Improves Your Mood: Stress is one of the factors that can cause outbursts of rage. With that in mind, meditation also positively impacts maintaining your good mood. This is not only because it reduces your stress levels but also because it helps you regulate your emotions through self-discovery.
- Reduces Anxiety: As we learn to evaluate our realities from a more optimistic perspective (without losing sight of the facts), anxiety begins to be significantly reduced. This does not mean that we become eternal optimists, but rather that we begin to see events less catastrophically.
- Reduces Blood Pressure: One of the biggest benefits to your physical health is that it reduces your blood pressure. This, of course, is related to the other benefits we have already mentioned. By reducing stress and anxiety and improving your mood, your body will also benefit from it. Remember that your mind is well-connected to your body.
- Boosts Motivation: When we begin to meditate, we will feel rewarded with all the personal benefits we receive. It is then logical that our motivation to meditate will constantly increase, not because we are paid to do so, but because it is something we genuinely enjoy.
The Fundamental Techniques of Vipassana Meditation
Each time a thought or other object diverts attention, attention is re-focused on the sensation of the movement of the breath. This purposeful immersion in a single focus, repeated over and over for a long time at a time, is the recipe for the development of meditative concentration (samadhi).
There are different ways to practice breathing meditation. Anagarika Munindra-ji recommended meditating on the raising and lowering of the abdominal muscles at each inhalation and exhalation.
The sensation of the movement of the breath about a hand’s width below the navel is associated with the deep, slow, de-stressing, and relaxed way of breathing.
When you relax the body, it is easy to prolong the focus on the breath. The longer the attention remains focused on the movement of inhalation and exhalation, the lower the respiratory rate tends to become. This increases bodily relaxation and the immersion of concentration.
This positive self-reinforcing circle is relatively easy to get into when concentration gains ground. The purpose, however, is not the relaxation of the body. Relaxation is only a side benefit of the real purpose, which to begin with is the mind’s ability to immerse itself in concentrated focus.
Focusing and Re-focusing
If you take a really deep breath and, at the same time, place your hand on your stomach so that your index finger aligns horizontally with your navel, you will get a clear sense of the size of the area of your meditation object that you need to focus on.
You can hold your hand on your stomach until the sensation of the movement of the breath is clear to you. Then, remove your hand again and sharpen your attention to the movement you previously felt in the palm of your hand.
If a thought wanders with your attention away from the focus, patiently draw the attention back to the focus again and again.
Purposefully focusing and re-focusing attention on an object is a valuable resource in all life contexts.
It is, for example, the prerequisite for all learning. There is hardly any situation in our lives where it is not appropriate to be able to stay focused on an object for a long time at a time in accordance with our intention.
Meditation for Everyday Awareness
In the context of Vipassana (insight meditation), we first develop the ability to concentrate through breathing meditation. Concentration anchors attention and makes it deep, stable, and controllable.
Next, we develop a penetrating intuitive understanding of what manifests itself in the focus of attention when we meditate with an openly focused presence on the mind’s natural flow of objects.
Vipassana, which in Pali means to see with clarity, encompasses this alternation between closed attention focused on the breath and open attention focused on the flow of everyday consciousness’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
In Vipassana, therefore, we begin to understand everyday consciousness in a different and deeper way than that which the non-meditating everyday consciousness does. We meditate in all body positions, in all situations. When we sit, when we walk, when we eat, and in other contexts.
We develop insights into the mind in the flow of objects of everyday consciousness. For the purpose of getting to know ourselves in this meditative clarity.
Everyday consciousness is the source of wisdom as we develop concentration and clarity to see into it.
As you have hopefully learned from this article, doing a Vipassana meditation retreat can have tremendous positive impacts on your mental health and on your life in general.
Traveling to Myanmar to seek further depth in meditation and spirituality has been the most significant traveling I have done so far in my life.
Thank you for reading. As usual, feel free to leave a comment below
Read about the Kasol Kheerganga Trek – A Himalayan Adventure Worth Taking for more spiritual and adventurous travel inspiration.
FAQs: Vipassana Meditation Retreat in Myanmar
Doing a Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar is free in most places and works like an NGO. However, donations are expected and much appreciated. They can be things like pens, notepads, clothes, SD cards, USB sticks, money, and more.
Most meditation retreats in Myanmar are silent. While some are stricter than others, they usually include not speaking for at least a few hours during the day.
You are expected to follow the establishment’s rules and respect the surroundings. This includes following the meditation schedule, participating in meals, taking care of the facilities, respecting others’ space and belongings, and fulfilling any assigned tasks.
A meditation retreat in Myanmar lasts at least ten days. It is believed that a minimum of ten days is needed in order to reach the correct state of mindfulness. However, many stay longer, and a retreat can last several weeks or months.
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