How to create your own retreat at home

Going on a day, weekend, week or longer retreat can be really beneficial. Depending on the retreat chosen you might have a digital detox, be outdoors on adventures, learning to meditate, deepening your yoga practice, eating home-cooked healthy food, making new friends, spending time alone … the list could go on.

But in the last couple of years retreats have either not been allowed (due to changing Covid-19 regulations), or there’s too much uncertainty to commit to something, and increasingly with the rising cost of living in the UK, a retreat may feel like a luxury that you can’t afford.

But the good news is that you can create your own retreat at home!

In this blog post I will:

  • explain how to plan your own retreat at home
  • give ideas on what to do on your home retreat
  • give some top tips on how to make the most of your retreat at home

Although I mainly talk about yoga and meditation retreats, the information applies to most types of retreats e.g. creative writing.

Photo of corner of room with yoga mat in middle and fairy lights around fireplace.
My yoga room (with various things removed!)

How to plan your own retreat at home

When creating your retreat you might prefer to start planning a one day retreat. This might feel more doable for a first time, and if you have family or other commitments, it might mean less of a big ask to carve out some time for yourself.

Think about when you’ll start and end the retreat e.g. from waking until bedtime, or 10 till 5, and where you will ‘hold’ the retreat. Do you have a room in your house you could take over for the day? If you’re doing outdoor things, do you have a garden (and will you be on your own there?), or will you walk/cycle somewhere?

Food and drink is important during the day. Plan what you will have at each meal, and where possible, prepare things the day before. For example, your breakfast could be overnight oats (original was Bircher or Swiss muesli) or similar; lunch could be a pasta salad and fruit in summer or a soup in winter, and your evening meal could be soup and bread, dahl and rice or similar. Making things like soup or dahl the day before will reduce the ‘tasks/chores’ time on your retreat day.

If you want to have something sweet (and I always do!), maybe make or buy ‘energy balls’ of dried fruit and nuts as they will give you the sweet sensation but are good for you.

It’s also helpful to plan in advance what you’ll do on the retreat (see below). If you’ve not been on a retreat before, or for a while, search online and look at programmes of upcoming retreats. This will give you ideas for what to include on your day/days.

If you have family or caring responsibilities, are there other people who could cover for you for one day? Could children be taken out for the day by another adult or stay with friends? How can you best manage expectations of those around you, and your expectations for your retreat?

Don’t worry if your retreat day is 11am to 3pm, or a morning or afternoon, that’s still a sizeable chunk of time invested in your wellbeing.

Decide if you want to do this on your own, or with another person (if there’s space in the room you plan to use). Retreats can often be social experiences, so if that’s something that means a lot to you, remember a home retreat doesn’t have to be solitary. If you are doing the home retreat with someone else, decide if you’ll have some silent time (outside of meditation).

There may be other things you need to plan for or organise in order to make the most of your time. The more things you can decide or arrange in advance, the more enjoyable your retreat will be.

Alyson in downward facing dog yoga pose outside
You might do some of the retreat outside (me in adho mukha svanasana – downward facing dog)

What to do on your home retreat

If you’ve been on retreats before you’ll know there’s a general schedule for each day which often looks like this (for a weekend retreat on the full length days):

  • 7am Morning meditation
  • 8am Morning yoga
  • 9am Breakfast
  • 10:30am Yoga class/workshop
  • 12:30pm Lunch
  • 1:30pm Free time / walk / sleep / journal / treatments / lecture / video etc
  • 4pm Yoga class
  • 6pm Dinner
  • 7:30pm Discussion / free time / chat / film etc
  • 8pm Evening yoga / meditation

Day retreats often are shorter e.g. 10am to 4pm but follow a similar pattern. Your yoga sessions are best before eating, or 1.5-2 hours after eating. Some retreats which are ‘yoga + something’ may feature more things like walks, outdoor swimming, other complementary practices etc.

This is your retreat so you can put what you want on the timetable! Maybe make a list of all the things you like doing, that make you feel good, but which you never get the time to do. This might be craft things, reading, playing music, cycling, bird watching, creative writing etc. Plan to do some of these on the retreat. You may want a theme for your retreat perhaps linked to the season, or things your want to work on such as personal improvement, future plans, emotions etc.

If you are scheduling in yoga (including pranayama) and meditation sessions, decide in advance if you are going to do your own thing, or watch/follow along with videos.

If you feel confident to do your own thing, you might make a rough plan of what you’ll focus on in each yoga session, which pranayama and meditation techniques you might use etc. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to them but they’re there as useful guides.

If you would prefer to be instructed (and this reduces pressure and work!) you might book online classes, a special workshop, or pre-select things on YouTube. (My online classes can be booked and taken any time, or I could provide something specific, just get in touch!)

For any non-yoga sessions you’ve planned, decide if any of them will be outside, and if so where, and if you need to have a back-up plan due to very bad weather. A little bit of rain on a walk is fine, but gale force winds and torrential rain might need a re-think! If you don’t live near any green or blue (river/loch/sea) spaces, you can still take a mindful walk through urban areas, looking out for flowers, trees, birds, and smiling at people. Maybe choose a route through quieter residential areas rather than the shopping centre though!

You could also add some Ayurveda practices and yoga philosophy to the day. If you want a massage or other treatment, book a qualified, insured and recommended mobile therapist to come to your house — maybe one you’ve used before so there’s no issues with knowing what to expect etc.

What not to do on your retreat!

Do not do work — paid or unpaid. Do not do housework. Do not sort out your finances or file away papers. Do not check social media. Try not to read or watch the news. Try not to use the internet for things other than classes/programmed content you’ve planned.

Generally on a retreat you get away from things — you retreat, withdraw. Ideally you’d switch your mobile phone off and put it outside the room so you’re not tempted to use it. If you need it in the room as a timer, turn off all notifications, wifi, mobile data download etc, so you aren’t distracted by it.

Although on your own retreat you’ll have to do a little bit of food and drink prep, you may have someone around who can do this for you! (Then repay the favour sometime if you can). Some retreats do involve karma yoga (selfless service) such as food prep, cleaning etc, but ideally you’d minimise this on your own one at home.

Cat on yoga mat in attic room with wooden floor
You may share your retreat space with companion animals who like the calm vibes! This is my cat in my former yoga space (attic)

Top tips on making the most of your home retreat

“Don’t just do something, sit there.”

(Book title)

This phrase comes from a title of a book I saw when I was, ironically, on a retreat. I was brought up the opposite of this approach, so just sitting or planning not to do very much feels terribly guilt-inducing. If this is you too, see if you can allow your self some unstructured time to just relax, guilt-free. Have a nap even! (Naps are good for you).

  • Have music, incense, candles available, if you like those things
  • Have layers like socks and jumpers, blankets etc handy so you don’t have to go off and get them if you cool down
  • Have other yoga equipment handy like blocks, bolster, strap etc
  • If you’ll be doing craft work, writing, playing music etc, have all the necessary equipment in the room (if small like pen and pad) or just outside the room
  • Set up your room the day before if possible, but don’t worry if this isn’t realistic
  • Change the room from its normal use to be a little different — maybe covering piles of things with a cloth, or moving things out of the room temporarily — declutter it as best you can
  • Have plenty of charge in any devices you plan to use e.g. for watching TED talk / doing online yoga class
  • Hope not to have interruptions, but it’s not the end of the world if they happen (you could put a sign outside the door!)
  • Be realistic with your time, energy, inspiration and don’t over-plan / over-cram the day

The transition out of a retreat back to ‘normal’ life can be very jarring. If you are suddenly thrown back into children squabbling or having to cook for 4 people straight away, you might lose some of your new stillness. If you can, plan transition time to ease yourself back into things. One way to do this might be that your retreat ends when you go to bed, so you start the next day as ‘normal’. However you may not be able to do this, so think about what would work for you.

Above all, enjoy your time!

Here’s a two minute mindful breathing video in nature for you

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