Lucy Hill, founder of Chaya Yoga Retreats and wellbeing expert, explains how you can create your own retreat at home
A retreat weekend at home is something simple (and cheap) you can do to make a big impact on your overall well-being. We all suffer from burnout from time to time, however a regular self care practice, in the form of solo time and nourishing activities at home, can be a game-changer.
What’s important to how well your rejuvenation weekend goes is making a commitment to yourself and your boundaries with people, time and space. Regularly taking one or two days out from social, family and work interaction is absolutely necessary for true well-being.
Make a plan in advance, prepare all the things you need and let your friends and family know you’re taking time out – then put away your phone and devices. Create a sanctuary space at home and try these simple practices to bring yourself back into balance.
Step #1 Go a few days without stimulants and stick to water
When life gets overwhelming, simplification is the key. How we treat our bodies and what we consume is no exception. With food and drink, there are three major aspects which support the wellbeing of the physical self and the return to balance: hydration, alkalisation and nourishment.
Hydration is a fundamental aspect to calming the nervous system, as stress and dehydration are directly linked. So a few days without stimulants like coffee, sugar and alcohol, will do your adrenal glands a world of good. The adrenals are two tiny glands that sit above the kidneys and govern your reactions to life’s pressures through the release of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol.
This is also similar to a ‘sattvic’ diet as followed by yogis which limits any foods and drinks that create stimulation, include caffeinated drinks and red meat. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing system, it’s believed this encourages deeper meditative states because the body is more likely to be in a state of rest.
During your retreat time, treat your body to lots of nourishing drinks, like plant-based milks, alkaline-forming juices (see the green juice recipe below), activated waters and your favourite herbal teas.
On the retreats we run, we add everything from crystals to mantras, charcoal to goji berries to our waters on retreat. It sounds out-there but everything has a vibration and water is a carrier for energetic messages, we believe. And as you’re made of up to 75 per cent water, on a cellular level, you can easily absorb these messages.
Step #2 Try eating ‘mono’ meals (one type of food per meal)
The idea of eating just one type of food per meal sounds pretty boring. But the body loves simplicity and best digests when there’s fewer complicated ingredient combos going on in the belly. You also absorb up to 25 per cent more nutrients by giving the body space to focus on one thing at a time. This isn’t a strategy for long-term eating but during this time it can help calm your digestive system.
Try out a few days where you eat one meal a day as fruit, one as steamed vegetables and one easy-to-digest nourishing cooked food like kichari (recipe below). The effects of simple meals work on the mind also, enabling a calmer headspace and more time to relax.
Step #3 Make time for some cleansing yoga
Yoga has so many wonderful benefits. Whether it be gaining flexibility, building muscle strength, better blood flow, improved bone health or boosting immunity. By its very nature yoga is cleansing and detoxifying; yoga literally clears the junk from the trunk every time we hit the mat.
The simple act of moving around, in and out of poses, helps to cleanse the body via the lymphatic system. As muscles contract we increase the drainage of the lymph. The lymph nodes are responsible for fighting infection and getting rid of toxic waste and are positioned throughout the entire body.
Some postures and practices are specifically designed to super charge the body’s ability to cleanse itself. Twists are an effective tool as they quite literally wring the body out by causing the twisting of the core muscles and their underlying intestinal structure, creating a clarifying and cleansing effect on both the body and the mind.
When twisting, breathe deep into the belly and exhale completely. This squeezes out the stale air and brings in fresh prana (life force) enriched air to the internal organs.
Twisting yoga postures help the digestive tract and are great not only when cleansing, but also when you’re feeling bloated and low energy from slow digestion.
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes pose)
- Jathara Parivartanasana (Supine Twist)
- Salabhasana (Locust pose)
- Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
To note – if you are practicing these during your retreat weekend, do them in a slow, mindful and conscious way, without getting out of breath and taking rest in savasana (corpse pose) between each posture. If you usually do a more dynamic practice, see how it feels to take the postures slowly.
Step #4 Disconnect from your devices
Make a commitment to creating and maintaining a calm and nourishing space for yourself, with no interruptions. The amount of energy we lose through phone use and internet browsing is huge. So put away the devices for the weekend.
Keeping phones out of sight entirely will mean you feel less triggered to pick them up. Keep the TV and radio off too. Try to be in silence or if you feel the need to listen to music, keep it ambient and beautiful. The aim of the retreat space is to allow the nervous systems to slow and calm and return to normal.
When we start to create a space for ourselves, often feelings and thoughts we’ve been avoiding or suppressing can come up.
Rather than distract yourself from experiencing these, try some of the following tools to support the emotional and physical clearing process. Allowing what is coming up to surface and then dealing it with one of the empowering tools below will create more mental and emotional freedom for you if it’s allowed to move through. Ultimately, that will lead to a better sense of relaxation and wellbeing.
Step #5 Start journalling
When you wake, before you engage with the day, start writing. What you write may make zero sense, be a jumble of words, be a rage on a page, a poem, a letter to yourself. Write whatever comes up without editing yourself or worrying about grammar and neatness, punctuation and politeness.
You might be surprised at how much you write and how much better you feel. Many studies have shown, the physical act of writing can be deeply cathartic. It can also be supportive of a deeper meditation practice.
Step #6 Practice breathing exercises
The quality of our breath is directly linked to our thoughts. For thousands of years yogis have been practicing breath control as a way of calming the mind. And there are loads of other benefits also, including increased energy levels, the balancing of left and right hemispheres of the brain and the detoxification of the lungs.
After your journaling, try these breathing exercises before your meditation practice:
1. ‘Anuloma Viloma’ or alternate nostril breathing Anuloma Viloma or ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’ cleanses and strengthens the lungs and balances the energies in the body.
2. Kapalbhati or ‘Skull Shining Breath’ is a strong internal cleansing breath which energises the whole system.
Step #7 Nap, snooze and cosy up
As you disconnect from distractions and begin to relax, you may experience deep tiredness. As you relax more and more deeply, the stress hormone adrenaline stops firing and what is often revealed is a lot of fatigue.
So nap, snooze, cosy up, listen to some yoga nidra or guided meditations and take it easy. Listen to your body and let it guide you to what it needs. This deep relaxation time is when your body can do its work of re-setting and healing. And, if your body wants to sleep, let it.
Step #8 Get as much fresh air as you can
One of the major issues with modern western working life, is the lack of fresh air, access to nature and working outside our natural rhythms. And as a medicine, spending time in nature is one of the simplest ways to balance and ground yourself.
Our lifestyles can often disconnect us from the reality that we belong in nature; that we are ‘human animals’. And when we go through prolonged periods without connecting back to the earth, we become ungrounded and out of balance.
So, during your retreat weekend, get outside and take your shoes off. Walk with your bare feet in some grass and lean against a tree and breathe deeply. Lie down and look at the sky. Connect to the idea that your stress and tension are being absorbed by the earth.
Try going to your local woods or forest to hang out – literally to bathe in nature. ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘shinrin yoku’ as it is known in Japan where the practice originates, has been proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and enhance creativity. It can also help lower the heart rate and blood pressure whilst boosting the immune system and accelerating recovery from illness.
Step #9 Try meditation
Try the following simple meditation as a grounding and heart opening way to expand your awareness and connect to wider states of consciousness, for healing and inspiration:
1. Start by sitting comfortably and coming into stillness and connection with the body, taking long deep breaths and connecting to the earth you are sat on.
2. Open and feel into any questions you may want to answer. What do you want healing or shifting? What do you want to bring into your life and need support with?
3. Once you have clarified a/some question/questions, start to connect to following elements: Starting with earth, then water, then fire, then air (begin by acknowledging them, with gratitude, and inviting them to connect) How do you experience each one? What sensations, feelings, emotions, impressions and visuals, or insights do you get?
4. Raise any questions you have, gently and see if something comes up – a visual, a feeling. Don’t worry if nothing comes – the intention alone is enough. Just be open to the experience.
5. Then move on to the forces of nature, starting with the plant kingdom, acknowledging, feeling and sharing gratitude and open an invitation to connect. What do you see? What do you sense, feel, etc.
6. Repeat this with the animal kingdom
7. Repeat this with the planets, the sun, moon, stars. Same again.
8. You can continue with any aspect of nature that you wish, anything that comes up.
9. When you feel a sense that you are ready to finish, begin to come back to the body, to the stillness of the physical form.
10. Bring your hands together in prayer. Acknowledging the forces that you’ve had contact with and any form, whether subtle or clear, giving thanks and thus closing the space you opened.
Super alkalising green juice recipe
Makes 1 litre
- 5 x sticks celery
- 1 x cucumber
- 1 x apple
- small handful parsley
- big handful greens – spinach or kale
- 1 inch of ginger
- 1 whole lemon, peeled
- tsp spirulina
1. After juicing, optionally blend with 1 tsp spirulina (or any other green powders you prefer).
- 1 cup split yellow mung dahl beans*
- ¼ – ½ cup long grain white or white basmati rice
- 1 tbs fresh ginger root
- 1 tsp each: black mustard seeds, cumin, and turmeric powder
- ½ tsp each: coriander powder, fennel and fenugreek seeds
- 3 cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 7-10 cup water
- ½ tsp salt (rock salt is best) or liquid aminos
- 1 small handful chopped fresh coriander leaves
1. Wash split yellow mung beans and rice together until water runs clear
2. In a pre-heated large pot, dry roast the ginger and all the spices (except the bay leaves) on medium heat for a few minutes. This dry-roasting will enhance the flavor.
3. Add dahl and rice and stir, coating the rice and beans with the spices.
4. Add water and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
5. Boil for 10 minutes.
6. Turn heat to low, cover pot and continue to cook until dahl and rice become soft (about 30-40 minutes).
7. The cilantro leaves can be added just before serving. Add salt or Bragg’s to taste.
For weak digestion, gas or bloating: before starting to prepare the kitchadi, first par-boil the split mung dahl (cover with water and bring to boil), drain, and rinse. Repeat 2-3 times. Or, soak beans overnight and then drain. Cook as above.
Alkalinity is directly related to stress within the body, so avoiding acid-forming foods (caffeine, alcohol, sugar, wheat, meat and dairy – full list here) for a few days will give your body time and space to re-set. Adding in some alkaline-forming foods and drinks, like this green juice or cardamom milk, will give your body the right ingredients to calm the nervous system and de-stress the body.
Calming almond cardamom mylk recipe
Makes 1 litre
- 125 g raw, organic almonds (use more if you want a creamier consistency)
- 1 litre filtered water
- A pinch salt
- 1 tbs lecithin (optional)
- 1 date (or to taste)
- 3 cardamom pods
1. Soak nuts or seeds over night or for a minimum of 4 hours in filtered water
2. Rinse and place in your blender with the water until the bits of nuts or seeds are very fine
3. Strain the milk through a nut mylk bag and serve
Soya lecithin – adds a real creaminess to the mylk, acts as an emulsifier and helps the body to metabolise the oils.
Sweetener – honey, dates, mesquite, coconut sugar – anything you desire or which suits the purpose of the mylk.
Experience a magical Chaya yoga retreat and get clear and connected with a Yoga Cleanse and Digital Detox in Ibiza this May 11th – 18th.
Prices start at £1661
Healthista readers can get 15% by using code: Chayayoga making the price £1411 inclusive of all meals and activities.
Chaya’s Founder, Lucy Hill (left) has curated a week that will combine yoga designed to purify body, mind and soul, a nourishing detox menu from locally sourced foods, shamanic rituals, breath work, holistic therapies and restrictions on use of digital devices to leave guests feeling reviving and shining inside and out on returning to the real world.
Chaya Yoga Retreats was selected by The Observer as one of Europe’s top retreats.