How to Take a Retreat (Without Leaving Home)

The saddle-rash on my inner thigh is gone, and a cut across my left knee cap has just about healed. These were the couple of scrapes that I brought home with me after co-hosting my first destination retreat in Costa Rica earlier this month.

Alongside my friend Kate Marolt (who’s a yoga teacher, coach and body shaman based in Oakland, California), we hosted 19 cool, conscientious, creatively-inclined everyday yogis who wanted to vacation with purpose.

So we retreated to an isolated eco-resort in the jungle of Costa Rica, on the edge of the ocean.

Here’s what our days looked like:

We woke up every morning between 4:30 and 5 AM – fully rested, and without alarms (although we could largely thank the howling monkeys for acting as alarms for us).

Every day, we engaged in a simple, nourishing yoga practice: a beautiful balance of breath and body movement.

Every afternoon, we returned to our mats to move, breathe, and then self-express. By embracing the moving meditation of yoga, body, mind and spirit feel more embodied. Self-expression is a natural result. We journaled from our mats, reflecting on what brought us all the way from our homes to Costa Rica.

Why were we there – really?

Who were we seeking the company of – half a world away?

What foundations of “everyday life” were we desiring to experience – to bring back home with us?

Wait a sec. Slow down. Pause. Backup.

I’m not writing you today to tell you about this lovely a trip that you weren’t able to join me on.

I’m writing to tell you that the principles that make for a nourishing, invigorating, perspective-changing retreat half a world away are accessible to you at home, right now.

I want you to take a retreat of your own – today, tomorrow, this weekend.

As soon as you can.

It’s a retreat from what you know. A retreat from what’s familiar, constrained, and predictable. When I say “take a retreat at home,” I don’t necessarily mean a stay-cation or sneaking off to a hotel nearby for a getaway or some self-indulgence. (If you want to, by all means, do!)

I fully believe that the true power of “retreating” (whether vacationing with your family at a resort, or backpacking solo through southeast Asia) is how it opens your mind, exposes you to new things and challenges your brain to rethink everything it assumes to be true.

When you leave your comfort zones of home, and your routines, and the people around you (many of whom reinforce the stories and narratives that you believe about yourself, for better or for worse), you awaken to the genuine reality that anything is possible.

That nothing is dictated.

That you, and your life, are not as stuck as you may feel.

Real talk: I live a good life. I’m lucky as hell, privileged, and blessed. And there are still a LOT of days when I feel stuck. Because my head tells me I’m stuck.

My mind feels stuck when I’m too caught up in routines, habits and familiarity. I feel stuck when my head gets too focused on the wrong priorities – and when quiet narratives and beliefs start to restrict the bigness, broadness and beauty of letting go and loving lots.

Travel physically moves you out of the places – from your home to unfamiliar sights, scenes, routines, people and habits – and forces you to witness everything new.

Anything becomes possible.

Who you are. “What you do.” What you desire.

And you don’t need to go to Costa Rica or half a world away to start to tap this power of potential and newness. You just need to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zones – in the one place where you’re most comfortable of all. Your home.

1) Change Your Environment.

Begin your “home retreat” by seeking out new spaces and places that already exist – right under your nose. Do you visit the same coffee shop every day? Google for a new one, or ask a friend for a recommendation.

How about where you set up your yoga mat at the studio – or which treadmill you pick at the gym? Move it. Choose a new spot.

Changing your physical location alters your physical perspective, and in turn, changes how your brain processes information. 

Moving a place over may not change your life – but when “what you see” changes, so does “how you see it.” Subtle, small shifts – even in microcosm – stir a bigger affect with time.

Seek out new nature trails, new parks, different restaurants, and neighborhoods where no one knows you. It’s harder than you might assume to sidestep easy habits – but a change in your environments is crucial to seeking deep inner transformation.

2) Change Your People.

We get very comfortable having familiar, polite conversations with the same groups of people.

Our brains like to compartmentalize everything — even dialogue. We instinctively use familiar words, phrases and cadence. So do others — your friends, family, peers, coworkers and social circles.

But if you’re yearning for change and newness, it’s these kinds of routine interactions that your soul might yearn to escape. Why? The same old conversations with the same people reinforce the very stories, narratives, feelings and experiences that we’re already familiar with.

When you cross paths with new people and engage them in meaningful, open dialogue, something profound happens.

The stories and narratives are gone. You get to choose who you are, what you do, and what you believe — fresh from the start.

When someone you know isn’t filling in the blank spaces of “who you are” and “what you do,” you find a rare opportunity to leave the old you behind.

No need to blow up your social circles or swear off longtime friends. Just find a new person, group or social circle to spend some time with… even just once. For a day. For an hour. For 15 minutes!

3) Change Your Daily Practices

The third and final component of a “Retreat at home” is to get into the meaningful practices that are revealing, reflective, creative, experiential – and ultimately, transformative.

My daily practices (which, for the record, I use pretty liberally to mean “every-other-daily” or “almost-daily” – I’m not big into boxing myself into strict habits) revolve around waking early, morning meditation, writing by hand, and light yoga – and that’s just to get my day started on the right foot.

  1. What are the practices that engage you in a sense of awe, awareness, light and love?
  2. Which practice is one that illuminates your True Self?
  3. What “doing” is a healthy challenge – that leaves you feeling more you, more at home in your skin?

It could be yoga, writing, painting, running, singing, playing with the dog, hiking, sewing… any practice that requires an intentional awareness or deliberate energy about it.

Whatever you choose, pull yourself into the practice.

Bonus points if your practice comes at the cost of spending less time on the couch, idly watching Netflix re-runs. (Trust me, this is a reminder to myself, here!)

The same key ingredients that apply to an amazing retreat experience a half-world away are just as accessible wherever you call home.

All it takes is a bit of adventuring outside of your habits, familiarity and comfort zones to get there.

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PS – I’m co-hosting a new workshop event in London on Sunday, June 19 with my friend Clare Barry — it’s ideal for local Londoners who want to embrace these 3 principles above through urban exploration of their hometown to find new creative sources. Plus, I’ll be there to teach my 4-step personal narrative storytelling process, which can help you talk about who you are and what you do.

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