How to do a DIY retreat

Sometimes we need to get away from it all but we can’t just drop everything and take off. Instead, with a little forward planning, you can give yourself a total reboot with a DIY retreat without leaving home

Sometimes, and it needn’t just be because it’s the depths of winter but perhaps after a stressful week at work or an emotionally draining episode, we need a lift: an escape from the hugger-mugger of life, to be transported to a place of quiet tranquillity, in which we can take stock and revive.

Helpfully at this time of year there are usually no shortage of adverts for sanctuaries in the UK and beyond, that promise to calm any inner tempests and return a slimmer, more serene you back into the maelstrom of life after a week of yoga or tai chi.

That’s all well and good but what if you don’t have a week to spare? Well it’s easier than you might think to create your own. DIY retreats can bring you some much-needed R&R without you even having to get out your bus pass. All it takes is a little organisation and a certain amount of planning beforehand.

The week before

Make sure that you have booked the time off work, or are not otherwise engaged for the entire duration of your “retreat”. Let all your nearest and dearest know that you may well be out of contact, so not to worry if they do not hear from you. If you have children and partners, try and farm them off on family or friends or maybe you decide the path of least resistance is best, in which case go for a whole-family retreat. I’ll assume (and hope), however, you have an obliging family and offer suggestions for a solo break.

If you plan on doing a fast as part of a detox, you might first need to run it by your GP, to make sure that it’s not likely to cause you any physical problems. At this time of year, give yourself plenty of time if you need to do this.

Two days before

Go shopping. No, not the expensive I-must-have-one-of-those-or-else-life-has-no-meaning sort of shopping. This is a trip to the supermarket. Stock up on fruit and veg and filtered water, enough to see you through the duration of your retreat. Fresh herbs are particularly useful if you are doing a fast, as are lemons and limes. Follow the recommendations of your chosen diet/detox and buy more veg than you think you might need, especially if you are juicing. Besides, your retreat is about restoring and recharging, not making yourself feel miserable or famished. If you are not doing a detox or following a special diet, do still try to give the booze and caffeine a rest. This retreat is not just a spiritual but also a physical reboot. Your body will thank you for it.

The day before

Do the housework. No, seriously. You want a calm, clean and ordered house which is not going to make any demands of you on your retreat. Not only is it more uplifting to look at, it’s practical too. You are left to concentrate all your energies on restoring your inner balance not worrying about taking the bins out. There is also nothing quite like getting into freshly laundered sheets to induce the most delicious sense of calm. The last thing you want is to be emptying your washing machine or draping duvet covers over your radiators, so try and make sure the laundry and other chores are done.

The night before

If you want to contemplate goals or address other life issues, it might be helpful to make a list. Is anything bothering you? Do you have a thorny problem to solve? Once you’ve written your list, park it in a drawer. This is not just a physical filing away but a psychological one too. Make a pact with yourself that you are not going to fret about these things for the duration of your retreat, it will be counter-productive if you do.

You might want to select some reading matter. Perhaps something inspirational – a biography of someone you admire possibly; or what about a guide to mindfulness to focus your thoughts; an absorbing novel – a classic you’ve always wanted to read but never quite got round to; an escapist page-turner or romance? It doesn’t matter what you choose, it’s your retreat and your choice but you must really want to read it.

You might also want to plan how to spend your day, to make sure that you allow a sufficient amount of time for contemplation, exercise or relaxation. When daylight is short, this may dictate your timetable to a certain extent.

Your retreat

  1. Turn off the TV. If anything has rings, bells or beeps, turn it off or at least mute it. Do not be tempted to look at your
    email, social media or what’s happening in the world at large, it will distract you from your spiritual cleanse.
  2. Make yourself a healthy breakfast or prepare whatever detox meals you have committed yourself to. Try and wean yourself off the caffeine. Drink lots of water throughout the day.
  3. You have the luxury of the whole day ahead with no interruptions and if you have a timetable to follow, all well and good. If not, here are some suggestions.

Try meditating: You may already know how to do this, if not you could use one of the countless free apps available (OK, so you have to use a phone for this but if you are a novice, you may well find an app helpful, I did).

Try silence: This may be easy or not, depending on where you live. If you are in a city with its background hum of horns, sirens and train rumblings, put the noise-cancelling headphones on.

Listen to nature: You may live deep in the countryside or on the coast but if you don’t, there are plenty of apps to make you feel as if you do. I can particularly recommend the free app Forest Sounds. It is a wonderful combination of woodland sound effects, some with water, with the occasional call of a forest bird. It is deeply relaxing. The Zen garden features a Tibetan singing bowl; the Music Spa app has light chimes and birdsong; Nature Sounds Relax and Sleep features a forest, with frogs and crickets and the almost imperceptible sound of the wind through trees. All of these will help transport you to a different plane, soothe away anxieties or send you off to sleep.

Step outside: it is one thing to listen to nature, even better to get out in it. Wherever you live, you will be able to find a green space to wander in and drink in the beauty of the natural world. Find a park, a fountain, a municipal garden, a stream. Those lucky enough to live in big country need no guidance from me about how to explore it. Just take your time to notice things that perhaps you often overlook: the way the wind whips through branches; how frost catches the sunlight and sparkles, the joyful chatter of birds. The more you can stop your mind wandering and thinking about your daily routine or work, and just savour the moment and what’s in front of you, the more relaxed and energised you will feel.

Water therapy: After a bracing walk, cycle ride or run, come home and enjoy a good soak. Most of the time we do not have the luxury of spending as much time as we might like in the bathroom and this is the closest you can get to actually mirroring a spa. Light some scented candles, give yourself a salt scrub, then relax under a long pummelling shower or in a bath. Slap on a face mask. In this way you are helping to rejuvenate your body as well as your mind. And you’ll smell gorgeous afterwards.

Turn off the lights: As it gets dark, see if you can do without much electric lighting and go instead for natural candle light or a real fire if you are able. There is something atavistic about watching a fire in a grate that engenders a deep sense of wellbeing and contentment. The crackle and hiss of logs burning and the warm cheery glow of the fire is hypnotic. This works for candles too, with their dancing shadows and soft gentle light.

Turn in: Your first day of retreat is over and you should be feeling relaxed and content. Your pristine sheets beckon and after your day of contemplation and mindful solitude you should be ready to sleep. Tomorrow you do it all again. Lucky you!

After your retreat is over, you may want to go back to the drawer with your list of anxieties. Is it still as worrying as you first thought? Perhaps the past 48 hours brought you some clarity and perspective? Solutions may well have presented themselves, or at least you will now feel more energised to tackle whatever was bothering you.

Nano-retreats: If you do not have the luxury of a whole weekend to spare or have commitments that make cutting yourself off from the world for 48 hours impossible, you can do a nano-retreat which can be compressed into a lunch hour, a shopping expedition or any lull in the day when you can feasibly escape without causing yourself or others problems. Get your noise cancelling headphones on, get out into some green space; practise your breathing in a park or walking round a garden and really look at nature’s exquisite handiwork wherever you can find it. Feel your breathing slow, try to clear your head of work and family issues and take joy in the moment of peace.