What Retreats Have Done For Me

Prior to experiencing my first ever retreat my holidays tended to consist of cultural touring, lots of physical activity (skiing, riding and hiking) or, occasionally, lying on the beach somewhere in the Indian Ocean. I would come back feeling somewhat refreshed by the break from work but often not very relaxed or feeling I had had any real time to myself.

Going on retreats was a revelation and I’d like to share with you the reasons why.

Looking after ‘me’
I travel solo when I go on a retreat so there’s no danger of my precious ‘me’ time being hi-jacked by a friend or partner. No matter how much you love being with someone, it’s so important to give yourself time to do what you need to do for you and I would urge anyone (even if you have a family) to try to give yourself just a week each year when you get to focus on yourself. It’ll do wonders for your relationships too.

Time to reflect
Travelling solo allows me time to reflect on what’s going on in my life and what could be improved, both physically and mentally. Dedicating some time to this gives me a much better chance of achieving change. I also sometimes find that my goals shift a little once I’m away from my daily routines and influences.

Like-minded people
I’ve met some wonderful people while on retreats and many have become genuine friends. Having people in my life who share my outlook and support me in my desire to improve my health and wellbeing makes it easier and more enjoyable to stick to a healthier routine when I get back home.

Real relaxation
This does not mean sleeping all morning and lying on a sun lounger all afternoon. Your body relaxes properly when you give it a break from processing toxins (e.g. alcohol/caffeine/unhealthy food) and take it out of fight or flight mode (i.e. being at the beck and call of your smartphone).

Many retreats do not serve alcohol and almost all ban smoking and discourage the use of too much modern technology, especially social media. This is a good time to establish a routine that is beneficial to you and allows plenty of time for exercise and rest.

Improved awareness of my body
Rather than rushing through my day, expecting my body to ‘perform’, regardless of what I put into it or how much rest it’s had, there is time to re-acquaint myself with its rhythms and capabilities.

Having time to do such simple-sounding things as eat proper, nutritionally balance meals and take daily exercise is a real blessing. I feel the benefits almost immediately and this motivates me to take good habits home with me. I now listen to what my body is telling me and eat, rest and exercise accordingly.

Acceptance of my physical and mental needs
Sometimes we all need a little help.

I don’t cry much but the times I find myself shedding a few tears tend to be when someone is really listening to me. This is often with a therapist (of any kind – it’s as likely to happen with a nutritional therapist as a traditional counsellor) but could also just be when chatting to a new friend I have met on a retreat. This reminds me that it’s important not to try to cope with everything on my own and that the simple act of sharing one’s fears with a sympathetic other can do wonders to alleviate stress and help me to see a clearer path forward.

Samantha Gee climbing a wall in Como Shambhala

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