Here’s the big lesson I’ve learned in 24 years of practicing yoga and meditation: Relaxing is the key to doing anything well. The reason? When you are relaxed, you become fully present. Being fully present is the key to making wise and healthy choices.
Maybe you are more familiar with the opposite feeling of being overwhelmed with details, juggling too much to rest in the peace of the present moment. When that happens, clarity disappears, stress takes charge, and you might feel the need to hit the pause button. When I find myself in that situation, rather than fight the current or make wild guesses about how to proceed, I schedule a mini retreat.
A mini retreat is a period of intensive meditation practice. It can be as short as a Sunday morning or last a whole weekend. Block off time on your calendar, and treat it like you would any program you’ve registered and paid for.
Why is this important? Research has proved just how detrimental stress can be to health, happiness, and productivity (as if you need scientists to tell you that). And other studies have shown that meditation helps to ease stress and may help with depression. When overwhelmed by outside influences, you need to find your guidance within. The best way to do this is to slow down, minimize distractions, get quiet, and LISTEN. I've been amazed by how consistently reliable this practice is.
If you've never done a meditation retreat before, the idea may be a bit daunting. But it's easier than it sounds, and it's worth every second. Here's a quick guide to get you started.
Set your intention.
This may be the most important part of the whole retreat. Once you know your “why,” then you’ve already made an important shift in your mindset. Get clear on the intention of your retreat so you know what to focus on. Write down what you hope to experience or get clarity on by undertaking the retreat. The more specific you are, the better.
Schedule a time and place.
Mark it on your calendar. If you don’t make a conscious commitment to creating that time and space, it’s not gonna happen. Identify a place where you can be quiet and free of distraction for the duration. Decide beforehand what practices you will do, so you don’t spend the day wondering what to do. If you plan ahead, you save yourself from having to make decisions during the retreat. This will help your mind to settle.
Prepare an area to practice by making it clean, spacious, airy, and temperate. (Bonus if it has a scenic view.) Decide on your menu and shop for nourishing food. It's helpful to eat light, nutrient-packed foods. Too much sugar or too many carbohydrates can make you feel heavy and sleepy. Too much fruit or caffeine can make it hard to focus or settle down. Gather practice materials—cushion, mat, candles, incense—and make an altar if you like. Create an environment that inspires you so you'll actually want to sit on your meditation cushion.
Set your retreat boundaries.
Tell friends you will be unavailable. Turn on auto-responders or lock your devices in your closet. Find a timer or regular clock to use during your retreat so you won't have to use your smartphone and be tempted to check email or use social media. Silence is a powerful practice in itself. Set yourself up to benefit from this experience.
Print out your schedule.
Write or print out your daily schedule of practice and tape it to the wall. Include formal practice, meals, rest, writing if you want, inspirational reading, and/or listening. Make a schedule that feels doable, and be firm but gentle in keeping to it: not too tight, not too loose. Here's a sample of what it might look like:
Make retreat a regular practice.
Meditation is the foundation for getting in touch with the source of wisdom. It’s fine to include other practices, but think of them as support for the main practice, which is to relax, settle your mind, and clarify awareness.
Taking a periodic retreat is a way of resetting your internal navigational system to guide you to your highest potential. I would also argue that it is imperative for mental health and well-being. If you’re one of those people who needs justification to take time for yourself, consider this your permission slip to retreat, relax, renew, and review your life.