One of the most important reasons why people attend a retreat is the opportunity it provides to ‘change their headspace’. Perhaps you are feeling burned out, or need to recover from a particularly stressful event. Or perhaps you recognise that something in your lifestyle needs to change. Whatever the specific reason, most people sign up for a retreat with the desire to get themselves on a healthy track.
People arrive with all their physical and emotional ‘baggage’. And a week or so later, many are totally transformed. People drop their baggage, and make connections to an inner wellspring of energy. They become inspired with new ideas and possibilities. They meet other like-minded people. And they have found themselves again.
How does this happen?
When we relax into the retreat environment, our body starts to let go of the chemicals built up in response to stress. Then, ‘feel good’ chemicals come into play. As we recover physically, we become open and receptive to new ideas. Our brain can be ‘re-mapped’ a phenomenon known by Neuroscience as ‘brain plasticity’.
In the comfortable environment of a health retreat, our bodies decrease the production of Cortisol – the chemical which floods in response to feeling anxious or ‘hyper-vigilant’ to potential threat. With Cortisol calmed, we are then able to produce helpful chemicals – endorphins, seratonin and oxytocin.
Here is what these chemicals do:
Endorphins – give us sustained energy; allow us to endure the ‘hunting’ experience in order to survive; for example – the runner’s ‘high’ where the endorphins flood the body in response to the event give us the motivation for winning (or, in historical context, for catching that dinner on four legs we may have been hunting for days);
Endorphins mask physical pain. Laughter produces it as well. Have you heard the phrase ‘I laughed until it hurt’? The intense movements of the diaphram, ribs and intercostal muscles which causes physical discomfort is managed by the flood of endorphins before the dopamine effect takes over and we get ‘high’.
Dopamine. You know that feeling you get when you have accomplished something – ticked it off your ’to do’ list? It’s the ‘YES!’ we feel when we’ve met a goal. Endorphins and dopamine together are what makes us endure just about any experience in order to get a reward. They help us focus on our goals.
Humans are visual animals: by ‘seeing’ the goal we are motivated to stay focused. As the rewards get closer we get the dopamine ‘fix’. It makes us feel the progress.
So goal setting and visualization support the production of this chemical.
WARNING: These hormones are highly addictive! Other things that release dopamine are alcohol, smoking, gambling, technology addiction. People sometimes do anything to get a hit. And they may overstress relationships or squander resources to get it.
Seratonin. This one gives us a feeling of safety, and our sense of ‘connection’ to inner self and others. When we ‘stand together’ we feel reinforced in our relationships, because seratonin is produced by connection with others.
Seratonin is the tribal hormone; it allows us to feel confident and proud especially in our interactions with others. It helps us to feel our status and to rise in a positive sense. It’s also the leadership chemical that prompts people to look out for their tribe.
Our confidence goes up as we experience surges of seratonin. And there’s a knock on effect: others around us experience a surge as well. However, seratonin can be evoked by material purchases that make us feel good. But it’s not sustaining, so we keep accumulating more and more and wondering why we don’t feel any better for it.
Oxytocin – promotes feelings of love, trust, friendship, and bonds of trust. It creates the intense feeling of safety with others and is brought on by physical contact like hugging and touch.
Oxytocin comes through acts of generosity – giving of your time and energy without expectation. Even witnessing acts of generosity will release oxytocin. It actually inhibits addiction and boosts the immune system. Oxytocin increases creativity, resilience and the ability to solve problems.
The retreats I facilitate are specifically designed to support the neurological process described above. I create a safe and supportive environment to calm the effects of stress (cortisol), increase the production of endorphins, seratonin and oxytocin through yoga and meditation, goal setting, visualisation, massage and all things that promote the production of these helpful hormones. This encourages a receptive mind to plant the seeds of positive change.
For more information about retreat opportunities with me please get in touch!