If you’ve been thinking about going away on a retreat, or have one planned in the near future, there’s a chance that you’ve been wondering what’s going to happen while you’re on retreat. You’re also probably wondering how to make the most of the time and money you’re investing into the retreat. Whether or not it’s an in-person retreat or a virtual one, I’m going to share with you 3 ways to make the most out of your next retreat.
Retreats have been one of the most powerful ways that I’ve experienced transformation. It’s when we are truly in an immersive experience, one that completely wraps us up in its intention of healing, growth and development that we often feel the focus that’s necessary to truly understand what we are experiencing and how to move forward. In a world full of distractions, we rarely sit with something long enough to see it through. Whether it’s a problem or an opportunity, these things come and go and come and go with us using all sorts of things in the external world to make us feel better, but not truly addressing the root cause.
I remember my first retreat was when I was 8 years old. I went to a Buddha Camp in upstate New York. It was a family affair but the parents had a different camp then the kids. I remember waking up at dawn, walking into the morning stillness to head off to meditation hall for our morning meditation. I remember hearing the different gongs play as we began to meditate and chant. Whether or not I truly understood the neuroscience and processes behind what was happening around me with the vibrations of sound as well as the experience of meditation, I felt it and it changed me. That’s when I began my meditation practice. The rest of the days were spent as kids spend their days. We played, made up skits, and ate together. It was vegetarian food (which I even remember the resident dog ate) and we ate together in community. I looked for turtles, spent time in nature and explored. When I returned home, I began meditating at the foot of my bed each night and sending love to each of the members of my family – even my pets. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first retreat experience. It was one of the reasons why retreats have always resonated with me. I knew from a young age that these experiences have the power to change your daily life when you return.
Since then, I’ve gone on retreats that were centered around wellness, healing, spiritual entrepreneurship, chakras and yoga. I’ve also started leading my own retreats, virtually and in-person and whether we are talking business or personal life, what matters is the intention and focus that comes when we start to quiet our minds. I’ve found that it is through meditation and these moments of mindfulness that I’ve witnessed the greatest transformations.
There was a study conducted in 2016 by Mount Sinai, University of California, San Francisco and Harvard Medical School that measured the “vacation effect” compared with the “meditation effect”. There were 3 groups that went to a retreat center. One that did a regular resort vacation, one that were novice meditators that participated in a yoga/meditation program, and a third that were regular meditators that participated in the meditation program. It showed that not only were there was significant changes in the genetic expression of stress and immune pathways for all groups due to the vacation effect, but for the ones that learned meditation- they also had the meditation effect. The meditation effect was a positive change in the cellular network of genes responsible for healthy aging. Novice meditators showed significant decreases in psychological stress over a longer time then the group that was just on vacation.
In summary, meditation on retreat was shown to improve genetic expression, pyschological stress, well-being and aging.
So how do you make the most out of your next retreat?
These are the 3 ways you can really utilize your time most effectively:
- Clear your calendar
- Set an intention
- Release expectations
Clear your calendar: We are often so busy with the external world’s demands that we are still dealing with them while we’re on vacation or even a retreat. One of the reasons why the vacation effect occurs is because we lower our stress levels in our minds and bodies, which improve our psychological and physical health. If we cannot remove ourselves from our daily stressors, we will not have that healing effect we so long to have. It seems simple, but it is what will make this time and experience most effective.
Tell people ahead of time that you’ll be gone. Put an out of office into place. Remove appointments. We often feel that we cannot delay the things that are in motion before we go away so we keep ourselves connected, but what’s the point of going away if we are just doing the same thing somewhere else? I know that it can be challenging to do this if you’re used to constantly delivering and your life and work feels so demanding, but this is for you. If you want to see improvements in your life to your well-being, you’ll have to make some changes. One of these include the additional of regular moments of rest like a retreat.
This may feel like a luxury, but rest is not a luxury. You don’t have to do something extremely fancy or spend money you don’t have, but taking breaks will be critical to your well-being. One of the reasons retreats work so well for true breaks is because you’re asked to be truly present in the activities, lessons and experiences happening in a retreat so it’s not as easy to be working on retreat. Clear your calendar for a few days or a week. Give it a try and see if that changes your ability to be present. It may feel scary, but giving it a try is well worth the feeling of disconnection from your daily to-dos. Life will go on without you, my friend. It truly will.
Set an intention: You’ve carved out your time and resources to make this retreat happen so let’s make the most out of the time by setting an intention. Many retreats have a theme and that might be the intention that resonates the most with you. You might also have a specific intention that is personal for you aside from the theme of the retreat you signed up for. I’ve gone on retreats with the intention to fully be present and open my mind to whatever happens. I’ve also gone on retreats to improve my well-being and health. I’ve also gone on retreats to work through a difficult topic that I was experiencing at the time. I’ve gone on retreats to learn a new skill and to connect with others in a community. Take time before the retreat to think about what would make the most difference in your life right now, if you could feel a shift. What would that be? That would likely be your most relevant intention. If you’re still struggling to think through an intention, you can answer this question: “What is the most important thing for you to experience right now?”
Release expectations: While I just shared with you some of the ways in which your health and well-being will be affected by a retreat, the ability to release our expectations and have an open mind will be so important to allowing for change to occur. Expectations can help us set an intention for the type of transformation that you’re wanting to experience. On the flip side, letting go of expectations once you have an intention for exactly how everything is going to work on the retreat will be the way for you to be open to surprises that are even better. If you are a person who likes to know everything and control everything, releasing expectations for how everything will go during the retreat may feel difficult. Retreats come with an itinerary, but you will also feel more present if you hold onto that itinerary loosely. If you can let time shift, and be flexible with whatever happens you are removing a stressor from your retreat experience. This is also an analogy for how we live our lives. Practice living on retreat the way you want to live in life and that will be one of the ways you embody and integrate your learnings. Many people want to go on retreat to experience less stress. Stress comes from resisting what is present in your life. If we decide to go on retreat, see if you can witness what comes and goes throughout your retreat with a sense of acceptance.
If you’d like to go even further, in this month’s Leadership group coaching, we’ll be covering the mind/body practices. How do we learn what our bodies are telling us, connect to these external experiences from a place of internal truth, and live our healthiest lives. If you enjoy these kinds of topics, you can go to www.mayempson.com/contact to learn more.
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