Have your four walls been a welcome sanctuary these past months? Perhaps, far from being desperate to return to your old way of living, you’re more comfortable and content with your new, home-centric normal. You are not alone. You can, however, be creative about how to make the most of your summer and recharge your batteries. Let’s face it, we’ve been all been through the mill. Even if you could travel freely, and the world and her husband hadn’t booked every last campsite, B&B, hotel and self-catering cottage as far as the eye can see, chances are that you don’t want to chase ‘the ultimate British staycation’ – because it doesn’t feel right and you are not ready to switch back to how things were… yet. If so, there’s a simple and natural way of making staying at home a joyful, retreat-like experience, while avoiding the ‘same old, same old’ feeling that threatens when you do notl eave your home and physically go on holiday. Aestivation is the scientific name for the practice of summer hibernation, and we can take our lead from the natural world.
What is aestivation?
Yes, we’re more used to the idea of hibernation in winter – ‘hiber’ is the Latin root word for winter – when many animals sleep for a few months to get out of the cold and conserve their energy when food is scarce. But some creatures, particularly in hot, dusty countries, will enter a similar state in summer during extreme heat and drought. Desert tortoises, Nile crocodiles, four-toed hedgehogs, cactus mice, ladybirds, snails, salamanders and red-legged frogs can all have a summer sleep, during which they lower their heart rate and metabolism as a survival strategy. We can harness this idea as a beautiful metaphor if we choose to stay in one place this summer to be calm, rally and grow personally. Getting the process right involves some planning.
How to do it…
Firstly, make a pledge to yourself to retreat for whatever period works for you. It could be an hour a day, a day a week, a weekend a month, a week, a fortnight or even a month. You will know what feels right and what you can achieve. Next, create a beautiful space for your retreat. Identify and clean an area for your activities, and make it comfortable and inviting. It could be a room in your house, an area of your garden or even a tent on the lawn. The key is to make the space yours –somewhere you can be still. Thirdly, set an intention around what you want from your retreat. Is there something in particular that you wish to learn or explore? If you have the budget and time, draw in help for af ocused experience, such as a bespoke virtual retreat with an expert. Lastly, fill in the detail by carving out a light daily schedule that is manageable for your retreat. Allow it to give you the space and time to achieve your goals. One key rule is that even if you areat home with family, you are in retreat mode and do so fully. Coach Jessica McGregor Johnson explains: ‘Set it up in advance and let people know youare not available. Turn off your phone, computer and TV. Plan ahead so you can nurture yourself with healthy meals, baths, relaxing music, uplifting books and inspiring podcasts. ’Devising a gentle rhythm ofmorning, afternoon and evening activities is a good place to start for some, but don’t be too prescriptive. Lean in and listen to yourself and your needs, and the right path will unfold. You may want to start your day with journalling or meditation, body brushing or gentle movement. Your mornings could be spent writing, drawing or painting, making and reconnecting with your dreams and ambitions. Afternoons might be spent dancing, running, walking or swimming and, in the evenings, you could try yoga nidra, massage or simply watching the fading light. Rest is vital. Relaxation is crucial. Try to finish every day with a list of a things that felt meaningful or inspired awe, no matter how small. jessicamcgregorjohnson.com
“This worked for me”
Louise Chester, founder of Mindfulness at Work and Witherdens Hall spa retreatin Kent, says: ‘My workinglife takes me away to the busybusiness world, so I alwaysdesignate August as my timeto retreat within – at home withmy family.‘This is my chance to remindmyself of the beauty of simple things – to pay attention to the soothing cadence of the natural light-led day, the pleasure of a slow meal, the awe induced by a weed piercing through hard-baked earth, the icy tingle of the sea or a conversation taken deeper with my daughter. ‘I invite rituals to develop, rather than impose themas structure on my day. I notice that my body prefers to stretch and swim before I settle down to meditate; that breakfast gets postponed until brunch, and lunch becomes an early evening mezze.‘ I spend time after meals in the garden picking courgettes and finding freshly laid eggs. I attend to the present and note what I find as I capture both beauty and any sorrow that may emerge. From this place of equanimity, I decide – what is mine to do?’.
Breakthrough tasks to try
Mind: Get unstuck
‘The feeling of being stuck is usually because one of your inner voices is too loud and not letting any of the others speak, or every one is speaking at once!’ says Tania Carriere, coach and founder of Advivum Journeys, which runs real and virtual retreats. ‘This exercise allows you to create calm and intention by engaging each one individually. ‘First, make a list of all the “yous” you want involved in your decision. In my case, there is fun-loving me, responsible me, weary me and optimistic me. Sometimes, there are even a few borrowed mes that sound like my mum, my wise aunt or boss. ‘Write each “you” on a piece of paper and place them on different chairs. Next, articulate your question – the matter on which you want their opinion – such as, “How should I be balancing my time differently?”
‘Your challenge is to spend 15 minutes in each chair, giving yourself advice from only the perspective of the persona on that particular chair. Journal around the answer or say it out loud. By the end, you will have sat in all the chairs, opened your perspective and heard from the whole advisory board of you. Inevitably, you will find momentum too, as you will clearly hear the advice you had to offer yourself all along.’
Body: Internal massage with spinal waves
‘Spinal waves are a brilliant way to work on the suppleness of your spine, eliminate aches and pains and give yourself what I call an “internal massage”,’ explains Hannah Beadle, CEO and head coach of Wildfitness retreats. ‘Start by facing a wall, approximately half a foot away. Touch one part of your body to the wall at a time, starting at the nose, then chin, chest, breastbone, belly button, pelvis and, lastly, the knees, before starting again at the nose. Make sure that only the cue point is touching the wall at any one time. At first it will feel odd, and you may have to pause between each point, which is absolutely fine. ‘Once you are used to this motion, start to make it more fluid. Putting on some music can help you zone out and find a rhythm. Do this for five to 10 minutes at least once a day, first thing in the morning before your day starts.’
Life: Create a new direction
‘This exercise is about establishing a direction for your emergence after your aestivation,’ explains Julie Hosler, narrative strategist at Strategic Space Retreats. ‘Take a pen and paper, and give yourself uninterrupted time so you can write freely. Project your life fi ve years from now. Imagine that you are in your ideal situation, and you have succeeded at everything you tried and aimed for in your life. ‘Dream big. Really go there in your mind as if it is already happening for you. Don’t hold back and don’t edit yourself. Describe a specific day in this imagined future. Go into as much detail as you like. Write in full sentences and paragraphs. Keep writing until you have nothing else to write. ‘These prompts will get your creative juices fl owing: Where are you living – city, country, flat or house? What type of work are you doing? Is it in an office, in a vast field or on a conference stage? What excites you? What are you reading, wearing, making, creating and learning? Who are you spending time with? Who is sharing your space? What is the next thing on the horizon?
Over the course of your aestivation, take purposeful steps in the direction of this future that you seek. ‘Lastly, name three people who can support your future vision. List three qualities or skills you will need most to achieve this future. What is one deliberate action you can take to create forward momentum? Put your vision document somewhere safe and revisit it annually. You’ll be surprised how it will begin unfolding.’
“This worked for me”
Desri Goodwin, nutritionist and life coach at Haven on Earth ‘I have withdrawn into my home or another space many times to heal or find acceptance of situations. One of my most memorable was when I stayed in a teepee in Wales for three weeks with my husband. It was early summer, so mornings and evenings were cool, and there was a wood burner inside that I watched as I snuggled down to sleep. I felt the pull of my Welsh roots and a definite homing instinct. I heard no news, used no social media, interacted very little with people and found an incredible, profound and blissful peace. ‘On the way there, I had been drawn to a craft shop and was tempted by piles of coloured fleece, which inspired me to work on a tapestry. When I started, my stitching was chaotic – different directions and tensions. After five days of picking it up and putting it down as I wished, it became uniform, calm and smooth – just like my mind. That, for me, is aestivation, It is healing and nurturing. I find it essential in times of need, and as indulgent as a holiday.’
Virtual retreats to explore
WRITE with Arvon at Home. Whether you sign up to a writing week or masterclass, or tune in every Wednesday night for a live guest reading, this could be the summer that you find inspiration, kick-start your creativity and make your writing dreams a reality.
ENERGISE with Haven on Earth. Discover how to work with your life energy and unleash the power of the universe to heal your traumas and improve your life.
CREATE with Artful at Home. You won’t learn to draw or paint on this retreat, but you will learn to use clever art therapy techniques to help you check in with where you are in life, and where you want to go.
For more virtual retreat ideas, go to queenofretreats.com/virtual