Vipassana Preparation: How to Be Ready for Your 10-Day Meditation Retreat
vipassana preparation

Vipassana Preparation: How to Be Ready for Your First Ten-Day Silent Meditation Retreat

So you’re thinking about attending a Vipassana retreat? Or maybe you have already registered for one. And now you’re wondering how best to prepare for it. I’ve got you covered.

First of all, realize there’s no preparation necessary. On my own retreat, many people attended without any meditation experience and no clue of what to expect. Did they struggle more than the well-prepared among us? Probably. Did they make it through and benefit anyway? Absolutely.

Whether you want to prepare or not is up to you. I’ll give you some ideas; feel free to do with them whatever you want.

1. Adjust Your Circadian Rhythm

On the retreat, you’ll wake up at 4 a.m. and begin the first meditation (2-hour session) at 4:30 a.m.. Depending on your usual wake time, this can create a jetlag with all its unwanted consequences: fatigue, insomnia, confusion, irritability, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and so on.

I’ve seen many fellow meditators struggle with this. Some were so tired that they skipped the 4:30 a.m. meditation completely. Some skipped parts of it. Others gave up halfway through because they were too tired. These are the kind of setbacks you want to avoid on a retreat, especially from a psychological standpoint.

For me, waking up at 4 a.m. was a breeze. I had woken up at that time for the five days leading up to the retreat, so my circadian rhythm was already adjusted. I felt fully awake for the first meditation and had stable energy and concentration throughout the day. Frankly, I had barely any problems with fatigue at all. #Winning!

So, how do you adjust your circadian rhythm? I recommend these six steps for three to five days prior to your retreat:

  1. Dim the lights and wear blue-blocking glasses starting at around 7 p.m.
  2. Take 200-300mcg melatonin at around 8 p.m.
  3. Go to bed between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
  4. Get up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. in the morning
  5. Immediately upon waking up, blast yourself for ten to twenty minutes with a bright light device
  6. Also immediately upon waking up, kick yourself into high gear with a strong cup of coffee

That’s what I did, and it worked like a charm.

2. Get Familiar With Different Meditation Postures

During my first meditations, I could not sit still for more than five minutes. I was uncomfortable, everything was hurting, and my body was unbearably restless.

Thankfully, this improved quickly. Once I was “acclimatized” I just switched between two or three postures and could easily sit without moving for 20-30 minutes. In the beginning, however, knowing more postures to cycle through would have been very helpful.

I recommend reading some articles or watching some YouTube videos to get familiar with meditation postures. This article by Giovanni from liveanddare.com gives a great overview. 

3. Know The Rules and Guidelines

You want to know what you sign(ed) up for. Head over to the official website and read through the guidelines at least once prior to your retreat.

4. Arrive Early to Meet Other Meditators

Check-in on your arrival is between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.. At 6 p.m. you’ll have dinner and then the noble silence begins.

I recommend arriving early, say 3 or 4 p.m.. This gives you enough time to meet your roommates and other fellow meditators. You’ll feel more comfortable and as part of the group if you get to know them.

Living with strangers for ten days without being able to talk to them can be stressful. “Are they friends or foes?” “Do they like me?” “What do they think of me?” “Will they even talk with me when the silence is over?” Getting to know some of them beforehand helps you calm down and reduce some of the accompanying uncertainty.

5. Learn About Self-Compassion

The way you relate to yourself on the retreat has a massive influence on your experience. Self-compassion can be your best friend; self-criticism your greatest enemy.

Being hard on yourself will make everything 10x harder. You’ll “fail” and come up short all the time on your retreat. You’ll feel like the worst meditator ever. You’ll feel like everyone else is doing much better. You’ll fail to concentrate. You’ll feel fatigued. You’ll get caught up in depressing stories.

If you treat yourself with harsh self-criticism, you’ll only make it worse. Opt instead for a warm, understanding, kind, patient, and self-compassionate relationship with yourself.

If I could give you only one tip prior to your retreat, it would be to choose self-compassion over self-criticism. I talk more about its importance during retreats here, and how it helped me during my own experience here.

6. Read My Article on How to Survive on Your Vipassana Retreat

I wrote an article with lots of helpful tips for during the retreat, including what to do when you feel like giving up or how to get out of a rut. You can check it out here.

And there you have it. If you follow just some of these recommendations, you’ll be well prepared for your retreat.

If you still feel a bit nervous or intimidated, that’s normal. Once you’re there, you’ll acclimatize quickly and you’ll have an unforgettable time. You’ll learn a lot about the nature of your mind, its tricks, errors, and shortcomings. You’ll gain a new level of clarity and awareness. You’ll improve your concentration, willpower, emotion regulation, and peace of mind. Whatever happens, I’m positive you’ll benefit from the experience.

I wish you all the best on your retreat. And when you come back, please share your experience with us.

Learn More About Meditation and Vipassana:

If you're new to meditation, check out our beginner's guide here.

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Nils Salzgeber

Nils Salzgeber is an Amazon #1 bestselling author and co-founder of NJlifehacks. He is a productivity and personal transformation specialist who combines personal experience with modern science. He quit university at the age of 21 after successfully making the leap to entrepreneurship. Since then, he has been traveling the world, built several successful online businesses, and published two books.

  • Rei says:

    Dear :Thank you very much for the great information.
    Re:how do you adjust your circadian rhythm?
    I think that the dosage you posted melatonin( 200mg to 300mg) is way too high , too dangerous.—Almost 100 times of the normal dose!!
    Please check with your pharmacist or physician. Everyone is different.

    Usually starting from the lower dose 0.5 mg tablet , up to 3-5 mg higher dose
    ( in your article
    Take 200-300mg melatonin at around 8 p.m.)

    Highly appreciate your articles ,I enjoy a lot .
    Be well and happy .

  • Jeevan Sunkersett says:

    This is my first try at a Vipasnna retreat.
    I found your “preparation” info a bit scary too follow.

    I work in the IT industry, from India, where we have to attend to client calls/ meetings (who are in the US) – so it is habitual for us to sleep late. (sometimes 1:00 am)
    …………….. so practice sleeping between 8 or 9 pm might be difficult.

    Also getting up at 4:30 (at the retreat – that too without an alarm clock) will be really difficult.

    • Hey Jeevan, I didn’t mean to scare you with those preparation tips. Please note that many fellow meditators arrived with no preparation whatsoever at my retreat. And most of them went through the course and completed it just fine.

      Let me make this clear: You do NOT need to prepare for a vipassana retreat at all. (Most people don’t prepare.) Better to unprepared than not to go at all.

      Best of luck! 🙂

  • Niru says:

    Hi

    I am going to go on my first vipassana retreat this December, though my husband and daughter have done it at least a couple of times over the last several years. So I was familiar with it. But your articles are really helpful, because I am definitely a bit anxious and nervous about the actual sitting in silence and not exercising etc. But also a little excited because I have wanted to do it for so long. Thanks for your forum and blogs.

  • Westside Smitty says:

    I’ve put in my application and proceeding to prepare. So glad your site was the first to come up under ”preparation for 10 day vipassana retreat. If I could only have one , yours would be a most fortuitous choice (I went on a checked out others). Even the strong language you use relative to the brain and it’s ”bullshit” games amounts to ”skillful means” of preparation. Just the right perspective to be prepared. The observation on Affective forecasting is priceless, almost a weapon of clarity. I was almost obsessive in making sure I followed up every link- time well spent. And as per the great article on ”happiness”, I wanted to sent you a letter of gratitude”! And it feels good to thank a great teacher! Meta!

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m glad you found my tips helpful. How was your retreat? I’ve just come back from my 2nd retreat and the affective forecasting thing is so crucial. I might do a new post with some of the insights I’ve had on my 2nd round. Be happy.

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