It’s the end of a long week, and rather than sat out in the sunshine after a busy day, I find myself still at my laptop, a slight stress headache lurking. Having spent the day jumping from task to task, I’ve not given myself time for a lunchbreak today, just time to grab my usual carb-heavy sandwich. I’m noticing this is becoming a bad habit. My mind feels tired and my energy has gone. All I want to do is reach for the biscuit tin and relax on the sofa. I know this is not doing me any good.
Working as a freelancer has its benefits, but lately I’ve been feeling burned out and frazzled. I run my own business and find it hard to switch off and take proper breaks. I know the benefits of walking in nature, of taking time to switch off from the 24/7 connectivity of emails, phone and internet. Yet, somehow, I seem to always be ‘on’ and it’s exhausting.
Over the years I have been to several retreats, both in the UK and abroad, as I do try and take time out from the busyness of life. However, it’s been a few years. Heading off on retreat is not a practical option for many, either financially or logistically, so how can we escape the constant hamster-wheel to get that much needed rest from time to time? Lizzie Jones, founder of State of Liberty (SOL), an online retreat company based in Bristol, has come up with the unique concept of retreating at home – taking two days out of your schedule every season to reset and restore.
‘We live in a very busy, noisy world that’s full of distractions and it can be tricky to find the time and space we need to connect with ourselves. We all need to rest and reset occasionally; rather than urging you to get away and escape reality to improve your health and wellbeing, we believe the best place to start is in the home, making small changes to your daily routine and forming habits that will last,’ she explains.
Together with a team of wellbeing experts, Lizzie has created a supportive and nurturing weekend retreat programme centred around nutrition, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, quality sleep and pampering.
The wellbeing practices that SOL have created are designed to be short and enjoyable, simple acts of self-care that support and nourish you day-to-day, month-to-month, season-to-season and year-to-year, positively contributing to your future health, wellbeing and happiness.
I was attracted to the idea of taking two days out to ‘retreat’ at home, and so I signed up for their Spring retreat, in the hope of learning to incorporate some healthy practices into my life. I’m always on the go, finding it hard to slow down, but as Lizzie pointed out ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’. To live our best lives, we need to take care of both our physical and mental health, have the energy and head space to be creative, and enjoy what makes us happy, so rest and reconnection with ourselves regularly is key. I was ready to dive in!
Before you begin:
SOL have carefully thought out all aspects to guide and support participants on their home retreat. A week or so before the retreat begins, we are given access to SOL’s online platform. I take some time to explore what’s coming up and find the website intuitive and user-friendly. This will be the hub of the retreat and where I start by downloading the seasonal grocery shopping list for the weekend’s healthy eating plan (all meals have been created by SOL’s holistic chef).
Then a few days before the retreat, the most beautifully designed pamper box arrives in the post. The scent when I opened the box was divine. It was so thoughtfully curated with products carefully sourced, containing all we would need for a weekend of pampering – a set of stunning recipe cards, linen face cloth, Epsom salts, scented candle, seasonally inspired essential oil blend, coconut oil for massage and face clay.
I was starting to feel pampered and ready to unwind for the next few days.
Day 1: Creating a nurturing space at home
I was grateful not to have to drive or catch a train to a retreat this time, and instead looked to how I could create a nurturing space at home to switch off. Wellbeing can be found in the smallest interactions, and by simply learning to be more present in our lives brings many benefits. For example, when I clear a space in my favourite room in the house to sit and relax and add a vase of freshly cut flowers it can make a huge difference to how I feel.
The retreat begins on Saturday morning with an introduction to the SOL team of experts and a chance for all participants to introduce themselves on the online forum. I read comments from women who are all yearning to find some space for their own self-care. It’s humbling to know that I’m not alone, and we are all juggling life’s responsibilities in different ways, yet ultimately crave some down time.
I cook the most delicious vegan breakfast – scrambled tofu with turmeric, lemon and fresh herbs with spicy baked beans. I’m not a fan of cooking, so am surprised at how quick this dish is to whip up, and proud of myself for preparing a new wholesome and tasty dish that I can add to my kitchen repertoire.
Feeling satisfied from breakfast, I listen to the 10-minute mindfulness meditation recording that’s provided. As I get in a comfortable position and close my eyes, I can feel myself sinking into the quiet that surrounds me. My mind wanders, and I am reminded to come back to focus on my breath. I find it hard to concentrate for long, but the soothing voice of Gemma, the meditation teacher, helps me stay in the moment.
I start to discover that the beauty of retreating at home is that I can incorporate the day’s practices into my life to suit my own rhythms and unique needs. Although SOL provide a guided schedule, with suggested timings for each practice, you can be flexible with this. I cook and eat lunch and dinner from the menu at a time that feels right for me, tweaking the dishes slightly to my taste, and although conscious that I don’t want to get to bed late, I decide to do the yoga practice a little later than suggested… in my PJs!
I did vow to turn my phone off for the whole weekend and focus on this quiet time. However, I notice that by Saturday afternoon my mind starts to wander, and I habitually go online. I’m disappointed in myself for being distracted so easily. Lunch on Saturday is a healthy ‘Buddha Bowl’ made up of a variety of tasty vegetables, grains, toasted seeds and a lovely dressing. I decide that I NEED to find the ideal bowl for this lunch going forward and search for one on my phone. I try not to beat myself up for this.
Saturday afternoon we are led in a group discussion by Sas, one of the SOL team, around resistance and self-care. I share with the group that although I’m enjoying this time to reconnect with myself and slow down, I am still thinking about all the tasks I ‘should’ be doing. Sas asks me to consider how I would characterise my relationship with time, and if time were an animal or person, what would it be? I ponder this, and consider how I am now, and the roadrunner cartoon comes to mind, rushing around. I explain how I’d much prefer to be a swan, gracefully going about my day. I decide I need to buy a swan ornament to remind me, but resist looking online again.
Despite this, I’m finding the whole experience empowering and already feel like I’m learning to slow down. Each evening, rather than my usual Netflix and (occasional) chocolate binge, I find myself instead mindfully preparing and enjoying a homemade face mask and body scrub from the ingredients included in the pamper box. Rather than the instant gratification of grabbing an unhealthy snack or turning on the TV, I take time to appreciate the scent of the essential oil blend, to feel the benefits of the scrub and mask on my skin, and to slowly nurture my body.
It’s then time to immerse myself in some therapeutic Epsom salts; as I don’t have a bath, this is in the form of a relaxing foot soak. Following a 20-minute bedtime yoga practice, I climb into bed, happy and ready for sleep, proud that I have given myself this quality time to restore.
Day 2: Reflection on incorporating wellbeing into my life
Even after my nurturing bedtime routine, I awake on Sunday tired and decide to have a lie-in and start the schedule a little later. I begin the day with a delicious breakfast from the menu of gluten free pancakes with cardamom bananas and cashew nut cream. I’m so chuffed at the cooking I’ve done over the weekend and having learned some great new recipes. I then play the 30-minute restorative yoga video which I thoroughly enjoy; there’s lots of stretching and slow movements, which helps ease me into the day.
Today’s group discussion is around how we can weave self-care into our everyday lives. I decide that what I would find most helpful in my life is waking up a little earlier to enjoy the quiet, to go for a walk and ease myself into the day. To take an hour for lunch away from my laptop, and to incorporate one or two elements of the pamper practice we’ve been shown before bed, along with some restorative yoga or meditation. One of the other participants agrees that she too finds taking a lunch break hard to do. We vow to try harder at giving this time to ourselves.
Today I practise this and enjoy a proper lunch break sat in the Spring sunshine. I spend some time journaling and reflecting on my experiences this weekend. Over the past two days I feel I have gained more knowledge and the tools to carry my newly learned wellbeing routine forward. With the support of the SOL team, I have started to make small changes that feel manageable to continue day to day, despite the busyness of life. Cooking more mindfully rather than mindlessly binge eating has been a bit of a revelation for me and something I hope I can continue to do. I have also made space at home to practice yoga or meditation a few times a week, before bed, even just for 10 minutes.
It has been empowering to decide which of the wellbeing practices suit my own individual needs and incorporate them into my life.
‘It is one thing to go on a retreat and have everything organised for you, and retreats can play a powerful role in a person’s life, but quite a different challenge to find the time and space to continue the healthy practices at home,’ Lizzie says.
I am feeling more swan than roadrunner as I climb into bed on Sunday night, and notice that the following week I am starting to take longer lunch breaks away from my PC – maybe not quite an hour, but I’m getting there. I’ve swapped a few evenings of nibbling on chocolate for an herbal tea and foot soak and try to go about my days more mindfully. It’s a work in progress, but I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn more about wellbeing and self-care. I feel this is the start of something really important in my personal journey to health.