Bringing the Retreat to You

And Keeping It There...


September 25, 2016

Angela Romero

Ever wanted to go to a wellness retreat?  Be it yoga, meditation, massage, holistic health, the choices are endless.  Retreats can be an expensive expedition, and you often feel amazing while you’re away, but then come back to reality and forget to implement all your learnings into your everyday life.  Before you know it, your phone is again attached to you like a third limb, your mind is wandering all the time, and you’ve been to yoga only once this week.

I recently spent a long weekend up at the Byron Yoga Centre.  In light of that retreat, I wanted to share how I’ve learnt to create my own retreat here at home, and how you too can create your own oasis to escape anytime you like.

If you’re currently experiencing an overwhelming urge to pack your bags and permanently escape reality (while a supported idea!) there are a few ways to bring the retreat to your life here, and prepare you to confront the world refreshed, renewed and revitalised.

Set Aside 4-7 Hours A Week for YOU

While the movie “Yes Man” taught us a lot about embracing new adventures, society has almost gone too far in saying “yes” to everything.  When was the last time you said “yes” to something, but really didn’t want to go? Learning to say “no” is both empowering and one of the main ways to help you recharge.  But it is also hard! Having scheduled downtime is key to rebooting the system and making sure that everything you have said “yes” to is enjoyed.  Schedule time in your diary for YOU that you treat like any other important meeting – it is non-negotiable and cannot be moved.  This may just be 30 minutes before bed where you read your latest book, or an hour on Saturday mornings before heading out for brunch.  Use this time how you like it and sometimes to do NOTHING.  It is amazing what an hour a day can do for your overall wellbeing.

Give Yourself a Technology Detox

While in Byron, I turned off my phone for a whole 56 hours (not that I was counting!).  It was blissful.  Not having to answer to anyone.  Not feeling the desire to check what I’d missed on all social media channels.  Not needing to take a photo of everything I was doing.  Heaven.  It’s probably not realistic for us to all throw our phones away and revert to snail mail to communicate.  However, you can integrate a technology detox into your day.  Have set hours where your phone is OFF.  8pm-8am.  They are my new hours.  I am uncontactable in that time.  I do not access any social mediums in that time.  My brain is switched off from technology.  Giving yourself the permission to switch off is like your own recharging time.  See what hours you can play with and start to build it up till you have 12 hours of detox a day.

Work On Your Sleeping Patterns

With all the time you’ll now have away from your phone you can use it to work out your sleeping patterns.  I used to be a night owl, up all hours, but felt terrible waking up in the morning.  The retreat had us up every morning at 5.30am which was a big shock to the system!  But its a trend I’ve continued in my daily life, and its revolutionised how I spend my time.  That’s not to say everyone should be waking up at 5.30am, but it is a good reminder to look at the quantity, quality and patterns of our sleep.  Figure out what your ideal hours are and stick to them like an appointment!


Integrating Meditation and Yoga

Coming home after spending four hours a day practising yoga and countless hours in the depths of meditation, I vowed that it would cross over into my life at home.  None of us have the time to be spending hours in the strength of Warrior 2 pose or on a grassy patch meditating with our thoughts.  But we can find small snippets of time.  I now meditate on my commute – 20 minutes on the bus ride in and 20 minutes home.  There is something tranquillising about the hum of the bus, and with my earphones in and sunglasses on, no one else knows the better!  You also don’t need to join a prestigious yoga studio to feel the benefits of a daily practice.  Even the franchise gyms have caught on, and places like Fitness First have LOADS of yoga classes.  Once you know a few moves you can integrate this into your daily routine (now that you’re getting up so much earlier) and throughout the day in your breaks (see my previous blog on how to integrate movement into the office).  Little additions here and there quickly add up till you find yourself managing to fit an hour of meditation and yoga easily into your schedule.

Take A Look At Your Eating Habits

I am going to make it clear up front – I am not a vegetarian.  When I learnt that the weekend retreat was ONLY vegetarian food, I immediately thought I’d be eating lettuce and fruit for the weekend.  The food turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.  The chefs creatively prepared some amazing dishes for our meals, and without the ability to fall back on the flavour from meat, the fresh ingredients could stand alone and be relished.  While the weekend hasn’t turned me vegetarian, it has made me more creative in my own cooking, and curious as to the mixture of texture and flavours that I can produce in a vegetarian meal.  I now take three days a week meat free.  Try it for just one day – you’ll be amazed at the flavours.

One Day A Month

When I’m feeling extra indulgent, I allow myself a whole day to do all of the above.  That is really bringing the retreat to you!  Once a month (usually on a Sunday but sometimes a Monday) I go into full retreat mode.  No phone for 24 hours.  I go to yoga classes twice a day. I meditate throughout the day in little 20 minute pockets.  I prepare delicious and creative vegetarian foods that I don’t have time for during the week.  I read parts of my favourite books.  At times I do NOTHING.  Send your better half out for the day.  If you have kids send them to a slumber party.  Pets are allowed.  Really allow yourself to have the space and the mindset to reboot.  Trust me, your family / friends / colleagues will be asking you how you look so young, refreshed and zen all the time.

Sometimes you just need to get away and go on a retreat.  And you should. Research where you want to go, the classes and options they offer you, and different cost scales.  Set an intention for your retreat so you really get the most out of your time away.  Then dive in.  Head first.  Give it your all.  Retreats are like unicorns; they occur rarely and provide little nuggets of gold.  So embrace them and then bring everything you’ve learnt back home!

Ever find yourself struggling to remember what you ate for breakfast?  Or whether you locked the front door before you left?  Or maybe found some important information that your boss told you yesterday to follow up on has now slipped your mind?

In our plugged-in paradigm, when we often have three or more activities on the go at once,  it’s very easy for our minds to wander and forget to retain vital information.  But there is good news.  Researchers have recently discovered a protein released by our muscles during exercise that stimulates nerve growth in the brain which is related to memory.

The study, published in Cell Metabolism, found that movement is an important trigger for memory processes.  Lead author Professor Emrah Duzel has revealed that “whenever we change our location, our brain expects new information, so there is a hard-wired relationship between bodily movement and cognition”.

So what does this study mean to you?  If you want to improve your memory recall you need to get that body moving!  Arianna Huffington suggested the idea of ‘walking meetings’.  She said “When the body is still the mind will wander.  So when I move my body, my mind is focused.”

Could walking meetings be something that you implement?  Maybe when you have a scheduled conference call you can get outside the office and go for a walk around the block.  Or a coffee hookup could instead be a walking brainstorm.  Getting the body moving and stimulated throughout the day not only has benefits for your health, but now there is the scientific proof that it also improves your memory and your performance.  So get moving!


We don’t really need an excuse to see our friends more often, but I’m about to give you FIVE reasons so that you can. Having a training partner is not only great for your body, but it helps with your mental capacity as well. Training alone is not that fun, but when you have someone there it can really improve your mood and make your workout intensity double compared to going at it alone!
There is something potent in the mentality about ‘strength in numbers’ and while I’m ok to train on my own, I much prefer having someone to train with. Below are the top five benefits of having a training buddy:


#1: Helps You Achieve Your Fitness Goals
Research shows that having an accountability partner makes you answerable to the goals you set yourself. A recent study from Stanford University has shown that simply receiving a phone call every fortnight can increase the amount of exercise you do by up to 78%! This study was done with someone the participant didn’t know, so imagine the numbers if it was a friend or colleague that you were accountable to. Get dialing.


#2: Healthy Competition Motivates you and Increases the Intensity of the Workout
We all have a sliding scale of ‘healthy competition’ within us. For some, that means beating your colleague to the bus stop (even at the age of 43) and for others that can involve something as simple as being the first to grab an alcoholic beverage on a Friday afternoon in the office. Whatever your level of competition, for training it can significantly help motivate you and boost the intensity of your workout. A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine looked at the effects of training with a partner on a cardio workout. They discovered doing aerobic work with a partner DOES improve your results. We all know that the last five minutes of a workout are the hardest, but with a training partner, racing to the finish line can just be that much better.


#3: It Makes the Workout More Fun
Being on a treadmill isn’t fun alone. But linked to #2, having someone with you can make it seem fun. You can have races (working on intervals and intensity), run uphill (changing dynamics) or be throwing medicine balls around, all in the name of a workout. You can be more creative or try new things when there are others around, and creativity is the antidote to a boring workout. Coming up with a workout together, or writing one up to drill each other with can take the monotony out of ‘Leg Day’.


#4: Increases your Commitment to Training
Prioritising is hard. Juggling a job, partners, pets, cooking, cleaning and sleeping is no easy feat in a 24 hour period. All of these things can often mean that exercising gets the flick when prioritising what ‘needs’ to be done. Having a training partner forces exercise up the scale of importance because you both have to schedule it in and give it precedence. It can make the difference between getting stuck at work on things that could’ve been done during the day and actually turning up to workout.


#5: There’s Many Different Types of ‘Training Partners’ to Suit You
You may not want to just be locked into one person, or you may have your mind ticking already as to who your soulmate is for your workout. There are different types that you can try to find what suits you. The ‘buddy system’ works best for those who tend to be more introverted and a bit intimidated by the idea of working out (especially in a gym). Or you may be better off looking for ‘the group effect’ for those who want to mingle social time and exercise. Finally there is the ‘couple collaborative’ where you exercise with your significant other to increase quality time and boost support for each other.


Now if you have a training partner – fantastic. Make sure you go and thank them and share this article with them so they continue to be! If you don’t, go and find one. It can be as easy as striking up a conversation at your local gym or on a run in the park or when you’re walking the dog. Finding someone with similar goals and fitness levels is important so that you can mutually benefit from the relationship.

The concept of happiness has become a well studied phenomenon in the last decade or so, as more and more authors are writing self-help books, while magazines are coming up with the ‘top tips to be happier’ and Ted Talks are littered with the concept. Everyone wants to be happier. But we all seem to be on the search for it in different way. So is there only one answer?

Researching and reading into what defines happiness for others proved an insightful way to find my own ‘happiness recipe’. Books like the Happiness Project show Gretchen Rubin’s own journey of what happiness meant to her, and is great gateway to opening your own mind for what happiness looks like to you.

Robert Waldinger conducted a 75 year study trying to find out what makes us happy – notably the longest study on happiness ever. His study neatly boils it down to three thing that are going to make us happy:

1. Social connections
2. Number of friends
3. Quality relationships.

I struggle with the notion of being able to conveniently quantify three key elements as to what will make everyone happy, but what a search journey nevertheless!
These two are not alone in their quest for happiness, which is often why the notion of happiness has become a bit of an overused buzzword in our society. HOWEVER, there is some merit to the search behind it all. The quest for happiness is really what makes us happier. Authors, bloggers, columnists, anyone who can write the ‘ABC’ are fundamentally on the search for their own happiness. Their findings are purely their own, and you can choose whether you align with those outcomes or not. The simple task of searching ourselves is what will ultimately lead to more enriched, full and happy lives so embrace the search!

This wouldn’t be a post about ‘happiness’ without some of my own key findings as to what my experimentation has led me to believe are my triggers for happiness. For me, they all relate in some way to ‘health’. But when I say ‘health’, I mean this in the broadest concept of the word. Health and Happiness go together like Ying and Yang for me; one can’t exist without the other. Fundamentally I have found three elements that matter to me the most and I try to incorporate daily to make me happier.

Energy and the nutrients we eat: when I eat bad foods I tend to feel bad as well. I feel sluggish, tired and lacking in energy and vitality. When I eat nourishing, clean and wholefoods my body responds in amazing ways. ‘You are what you eat’ really takes on a whole new meaning. While I don’t calorie count or follow any particular ‘diet’, I am mindful as to what I’m eating and listen to my body’s own bioindividuality as to what it needs. If I’m feeling energised, rejuvinated and satisfied after eating, I by default feel much happier.
Body and the way we move it: this one is a must for me. It’s like my subconscious can tell the days that I haven’t exercised. I’m really jittery but lazy and lacking energy (I know everything that you think is the opposite!). The endorphins I gain from exercising and the satisfaction of every session is unparalleled. Even the simplest thing like a walk can reset my mind and puts me on track to a healthier and happier place.
Mind and the techniques to use it: when I feel like my day is getting out of control – the heart starts to pound and 1000 thoughts all come flooding in for my never ending ‘to do list’ – meditation is my saviour. I routinely take out 10 to 20 minutes a day to repeat my mantra to allow my thoughts to become more streamline, prioritised and clear. If you can get back control of your mind, everything else seems to fall into place.

One final thought on happiness. It seems in today’s society that it’s very easy to get caught up in the joy of ‘one extra like’ on Instagram or ‘a friend request’ on Facebook. Research shows it is the quality of relationships that is much more important than the quantity. It helps me to feel more recharged and energised when I’ve spend decent quality time with those closest to me, rather than long or big catch up session with lots of friends.

In the end, while I do think ‘Happiness’ is becoming somewhat of a buzzword, there is some merit in it’s quest. In your own research, you make take on one, you may take on everyone’s, or you may take on no one’s findings. But if anything, I hope that just thinking about happiness helps you to start to do your own search for what is happiness to YOU.

What will your happiness quest involve?

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