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How To Do an At-Home Retreat: Part I

There are times when I haven’t been able to afford a retreat, couldn’t find a retreat with one of my teachers that fits into my work schedule, or just didn’t feel like dealing with the hassle of travel, because I was feeling frazzled and run down.

Just as eating a nourishing meal is the best thing to do when you’re hungry, and sleeping is the best thing to do when you’re tired and overwhelmed,“retreating” is the best thing to do when we start feeling under-resourced and disconnected from ourselves, our inner wisdom, and our joy.

Those of you, who have been part of our sisterhood for a while, know that I am a big champion of retreats. I went on my first 10-day, silent Vipassana meditation retreat at a Thai forest monastery 14 years ago. Since then, I’ve been on dozens and dozens of retreats ranging in length from 7 to 45 days.

Because I believe so strongly in the transformative power of retreats, I currently lead monthly (video) mini-retreats for the women in The SHE School, as well as several of other live retreats around the world each year.

I personally partake in at least two weeklong retreats once a year, while inserting smaller doses of “retreat time” each day (during my morning practice), each week (over the weekends), and each month (during my moon cycle).

These sacred pauses are crucial for my health, sanity, and creativity. They are the still point out of which I create my life, including this community.

Here are the ingredients that I find to be essential for creating an at-home retreat. These “time outs” can be for 1/2 a day, 1 full day, a weekend, or up to a week.

  • Schedule it.

    Look ahead to a stretch of time when you can step away from your worldly roles and responsibilities. Remember, there will never be a perfect time. Like anything else in life, if you want it to happen, you have to add it to your calendar, schedule your life accordingly, and make it happen!


    Let the people you love and work with know that you’re going on retreat and that you aren’t going to be available at all, for any reason, during that time.

    Secure childcare, pet care, vacation days, and whatever else you need to cover all of your bases. It’s not easy, but it is possible.

    Learn more about how and why, exactly, I carve out “white space” in my life and work here.

  • Find a venue.

    If you can’t do a retreat in your own home (because of housemates or family members), there are other low-cost alternatives you can explore. See if a friend is going away or if there are any house sitting opportunities.


    I have also gone on solo retreats in nearby Catholic monasteries and Buddhist retreat centers here in Colorado (where I can rent a cabin for a minimal fee), or I have found a home to rent for a week on websites like Airbnb or HomeAway. Make sure that the home is in a quiet location, ideally in nature.
  • Clarify your intention.


    There are many kinds of retreats that you can do. Here are some examples of retreats that I have done: writing, yoga and meditation, study and creativity, feminine spiritual practice and devotion.
    Usually, whatever is most “up” for me (like a book deadline right now, or in a couple of weeks, to recover and fully immerse myself in my inner wisdom), is my central focus. Then, I structure my practices around that.If I’m at a Catholic monastery, I partake in their daily services and include their lineage in my practice.


    If I’m at a Buddhist center, I do that with their lineage. A cabin in the middle of a national forest will have more of a nature devotion practice to it. The point is, that the exterior container can help to reinforce your interior practice, so that you are working with your surroundings.

  • Decide on the schedule, structure & container.


    Map out your schedule ahead of time. If your retreat is longer than 1-day, have the first day be a rest day. Sleep as long as you need and want to you. Follow the flow of your own desire and spontaneity. Use this day to start to decompress from the stress of your day-to-day life and to ease into “retreat mode.”

    Then, set your schedule for the following days. Decide what time you’re going to wake up. Or, if it’s more of a healing retreat, decide that you’ll allow yourself to sleep until you wake up, without an alarm. Schedule your meal times, a time for a leisurely walk outside, time for journaling, bathing, taking a nap, and going to sleep. Also schedule your practice times.

    What kinds of practices will you do and for how long? Yoga? Will this practice be sitting, walking, and/or standing meditation? Prayer? Dancing? Studying? Will you spend time in nature? Making art? Will you be in silence? Or will there be periods of mindful conversation? Again, let your practices support your intention.

    Wherever you retreat, set up a sacred space or an altar. Include a candle, some incense (if you’re not sensitive to fragrance), fresh flowers, and images that inspire you.

  • Clarify your container.


    I find that the container is the most important piece of the retreat. Over the years, I’ve cultivated a superpower: to able to create strong and safe containers for huge transformation to happen in short periods of time (both for myself and for others), because I have attended so many retreats over the years and have experienced how these kinds of sacred spaces are created and maintained.

    At the very least, turn off your phone, unplug from the Internet, and stay disconnected from the world. Don’t fill up empty space with distractions. Instead, use those as openings to explore what you usually resist and avoid.

  • Get clear on the benefits.


    One of my teachers, Sarah Powers, a mentor in the art of retreating, explains some of its far-reaching benefits here:“In removing ourselves from our familiar surroundings and busy schedules, retreats afford us the opportunity to see accumulated habits of distraction and begin to soften them.In removing everything we do that is not supportive of living with freshness and wakefulness, practice retreats realign us with our deepest values, helping us discover ways to upgrade how we live our lives on a daily basis.”

    You will have hard moments on retreat when you face your resistance. The times when you most want to run and call it quits are always the moments right before a breakthrough is coming.

    Stay with it! Come back to remembering the benefits. And the more you retreat, the more you will trust and respect the process.

  • Get support.


    Before I head off the grid, I always connect with close friends and my teacher. I tell them where I’m going, and what my intention is. I ask my teacher to help hold my container with me, and often I send her a text right before I start the retreat and when it’s finished, so that we can complete the arc of my journey together.

  • Celebrate and act on your insights.


    On the last day of retreat, I always take some extra time after breakfast with my journal. I write down all of the big insights and “ah-hah’s” from my retreat. I list the things that I know I absolutely want to take action on when I return to my “real life.”


    Then, I make sure to take action on these as soon as possible. If I don’t, I know that I will then slip into my old routine and won’t be able to integrate new rhythms and ways of being that I know are more supportive of my deepest desires.When I return home, I always make sure to celebrate. A dinner out. A bubble bath. A glass of wine. Some luxurious sex. Chocolate. Healthy and satisfying outlets for pleasure that I abstained from while on retreat.

  • Rinse & repeat.


    Right away, when I’m feeling the post-retreat high, I schedule my next retreat. If I don’t do this then, I will easily fall back into the mindset that “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t have enough time,” or “I don’t have the money.”

We are all creative, resourceful women. Whether you’re a mother of five, the CEO of your own company, or a student struggling to pay off her student loans— there are options for all of us to carve out this essential time for ourselves.

Remember, retreats, done regularly, are the cornerstone for a creative, joyful, and sustainable life.

If we want to bring our best selves to our daily lives … we MUST learn to carve out small, meaningful spaces for silence, spiritual practice, and self-care, right in the thick of our daily lives.

Click here to read Part II of this article.

Ready for your own at-home retreat?

For the first time ever, I’m leading a single, stand alone video retreat.

Please join me for:

INNER REFUGE:
AN AT-HOME SHE RETREAT

SATURDAY, MARCH 25
9-12 PDT/12-3 EDT/5-8 GMT

In this special, virtual event, you’ll experience the framework I use at all my retreats (and in my personal practice) including:

  • SHE Dharma talk – Hear my wisdom teachings on holding steady in uncertain times
  • Women’s yin and flow yoga – Gentle, pleasurable practice for all levels
  • Silent meditation – Go deeper than your worries
  • Guided self-inquiry – So you can emerge more clear, coherent, and self-loving
  • Women’s circle practices – Feel the power and support of feminine community

Because of the uncertain times we’re finding ourselves in, I feel called now more than ever to make feminine spiritual practice as accessible, affordable, and do-able as possible.

Remember: retreats aren’t a luxury. They’re an essential form of self-care.

Click here to join us for this special event.

It would be an honor to have you.

 

SARA AVANT STOVER

Hello, beautiful. I’m Sara: a teacher of feminine spiritual and empowerment, author, and founder of The Way of the Happy Woman. I’m also the leader of The SHE School and the SHE Yoga & Meditation Teacher Training. Here’s the truth: I don’t want to be your guru. But I am wholeheartedly devoted to guiding women back to their own, inner wisdom, through feminine spiritual practices, yoga, meditation, and a whole lotta love (and guts). This work is my truest calling and greatest joy. I’m so happy to have the chance to share it with you.

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