Emma Heatherington: Take time to push yourself to the top of your priority list
HAVE you ever come home from vacation feeling exhausted and exhausted? I know I certainly have. Too many late nights, too much sangria, the stress of traveling with kids, and long lines at the airport can all take their toll, and I’ve often come back feeling like I need another vacation. to recover.
It was a similar ride feeling that gave Jordan Stinson of Just Start Fitness Gym in Dungannon the vision to create a different experience for women who rarely put themselves first. Through her “Revive Retreats” wellness break package, Jordan recently decided to host a time for busy women to challenge their bodies and minds and leave them feeling refreshed, revived and fulfilled; a moment to reflect and review one’s lifestyle and choices; a time to “get off the roller coaster” of life and really look within to find out what’s important to them.
Now, everyone who knows me will agree that I’m not the most active guy. I’m a night owl who writes novels for a living and you’ll normally find me hammering words into the wee hours rather than hammering out a workout on the beach at 6am, but when Jordan approached me about incorporating a creative writing session into her women-only retreat, I was excited to do it – but I also had a choice.
I could arrive the same day, do the workshop with the participants and go home, or… I could participate in the full weekend and discover a whole new world far from the rat race of life. I could get off my own roller coaster and take time for myself like I never have before.
But could I really do it? The itinerary was enough to bring tears to my eyes – 5:30 a.m. get up to exercise on the beach at 6 a.m., mindfulness sessions that dug deep into the soul, cold water swimming in the Irish Sea (ha), evening yoga and meditation that I would never have tried before, and as a grand finale, the challenge of climbing Slieve Donard, Ulster’s highest mountain.
Ouch. I could have found a million excuses not to participate. I couldn’t leave the house for three whole days to do something just for myself, could I? I have a seven-year-old son who is very attached to me (I blame the confinement, not the fact that he is a little, uh, spoiled). I’m on a deadline for my new novel this month.
The dates clashed with my partner’s art exhibition in Galway, which meant childcare wasn’t exactly straightforward. Besides, I had never dreamed of climbing a big mountain like Donard before and I wasn’t even sure I could.
Add to that a bit of parental guilt and the fear that the house will fall apart without me…the list goes on.
Even the day before I arrived at the magnificent venue, Murlough House in Co Down, I was about to retire. But I did not do it. And I can truly say that the whole experience was life changing in way more ways than I can possibly explain.
The first challenge for me was the early morning start, but I quickly realized that there really was no “impossible”. In fact, from the moment I took the highway to Dundrum and Murlough House for a 6am arrival, I already felt a sense of accomplishment. Who knew a whole day could be so fulfilling when it starts a little earlier?
After an uplifting welcome meeting where we laid out our hopes for the weekend, the 22 women took part in a refreshing workout on the beautiful private beach at the edge of a verdant forest. This was followed each day by mindfulness sessions led by therapist and life coach Peter McCammon, whose gentle delivery was intoxicating as he spoke to us about many different elements of how our mind works and how it can control us – but only if we let it.
Peter’s words and examples, not to mention his moderation of some deep and honest discussions, spilled over into our conversations over meals and we found ourselves putting them into practice from that very moment. We have learned that much of what we listen to is just noise that should be ignored, and that we have a choice to be a victim or a creator. We shared stories, trusted each other, and counseled on many everyday issues with empathy and understanding.
Soon it was time for me to host a writing session, and I’ll never forget the look on some women’s faces as I explained my plan for the next 90 minutes. I saw old fears from school days and English lessons in their eyes, but they instantly relaxed into the exercise and their pens were moving at record speed as they poured out so many thoughts and emotions on the pages of their notebooks.
As each participant read their offerings aloud, there were laughter, tears and enthusiastic applause as they each bared their souls aloud. It was one of the many highlights of a breathtaking weekend.
My older kids were especially looking forward to hearing how I did with the Saturday morning cold water bath in the sea, because they thought it was hilarious that I was even considering doing it. It’s the one thing that stood out to me as the biggest challenge of all (bless my cotton socks. I didn’t know what I was going to do with Slieve Donard…) but, ironically, that’s turned out to be one of the main highlights for me.
The 22 women – aged in their early 20s to early 50s – linked arms and entered the water together in the morning sun.
On the count of three we went shoulder deep underwater where we stayed for four minutes – wow, it was freezing cold yes, but it was also an eye-opening and jaw-dropping moment that awoke each of my senses. My skin was tingling. I felt very alive. I felt part of something bigger. It was girl power on a whole new level.
Jordan also had some surprises in store for us throughout the weekend. He took us back to our youth with a game that made some faces light up in joy and others almost go blank in horror. I was always the one who ‘forgot’ my PE stuff at school, so when it was suggested that I play at the beach, my inner reaction was to come up with a quick excuse as to why I couldn’t. to participate.
However, being with such a powerful group of women was a bit like riding the crest of a wave, and I found myself swept up in the magic of teamwork. I discovered that I could throw and catch a ball (who knew?) and although Mo Farah had nothing to worry about with my running skills, I found that I could also run if I tried. Most importantly it was such a good craic and I absolutely loved it.
After a lot of introspection and movement during the day, a yoga and meditation session was the perfect and “zen” end to each evening. Laura Campbell, whose soft tones should be bottled and sold to all, led us through various ‘yin yoga’ poses, followed by a candlelit meditation practice with lavender eye masks which were so relaxing they even put a few to sleep. . I really pulled away, imagining myself floating through the bluebells and the woods. It was happiness.
At Murlough House we ate the best of the food and with full bellies and hearts in the evening we walked on the beach and watched the beautiful sunset over the sea together, reflecting on all we had achieved. in so little time.
Participant Chloe Terris shared her heartfelt journey with us and invited us to try mirror work – not the easiest task, but again an interesting and challenging experience. Bedtime came early every night and silence was in the air by 10:30 p.m. It wasn’t my usual weekend routine – there wasn’t a drop of wine in sight, and I wasn’t bothered at all. I slept like a baby.
But then it was time for the big one. Sunday morning at 6 o’clock in the morning, we found ourselves at the foot of the majestic Slieve Donard which rises to an altitude of 850 m. My jaw dropped at the thought of ever reaching the top. It was so not me.
We set off together and I nearly bowed just minutes into the climb when my calf muscles started throbbing, but that’s when I experienced the strength of the work of team for the umpteenth time over the weekend. Some of the girls came together to help me through the pain, one of them lent me a trekking pole to go on. Along the way, we took our time, stopped for photos, took in the breathtaking views, and most importantly, even when the going got tough, we burst out laughing.
I find it hard to put into words what I felt when we got to the top. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could take on such a big challenge, and as the cold wind blew through my hair and my fingers stinged with cold, I felt like I was literally on top. of the world. We hugged, we laughed more. We celebrated. We did it.
Over a truly exhilarating weekend, many life encounters were shared and we all did one thing that we should probably learn to do more of – we listened to each other. There were no heavy debates, no egos, no judgments or strong opinions; just enough time to listen, to think and above all to learn.
I’ve learned that even the strongest relationships can benefit from time apart. You will be surprised how everyone can find their way without you. In fact, you might even be much more appreciated when you return.
I learned the joy of making new friends and the power of women.
It also reminded me of how the modern world forces us all to live exceptionally busy lives. Anxiety levels are at an all time high. Social networks push us to perfection on a daily basis. The news is depressing. As many of us are now working from home, the boundaries of work/life balance are becoming increasingly blurred and mobile phones allow us to be reachable 24/7.
Getting away on your own for a weekend can be tough, yes, but pushing yourself to the top of your priority list isn’t selfish at all. Indeed, it will lead to less stress, better health and an improvement in your quality of life.
When it comes to self-care, we can all start small and build on it however we can. Take a few minutes to read a book, or half an hour to take a walk in nature, or find time to laugh with positive, like-minded people. Just a little can go a long way – and never be afraid to ask everyone for help.
:: More information about Revive Retreats at juststartfitness.co.uk/revive-retreats.
:: Emma Heatherington is the bestselling author of The Legacy of Lucy Harte, A Part of Me and You, A Miracle on Hope Street, Rewrite the Stars, Secrets in the Snow and The Promise. His latest book One More Day (HarperCollins) is now available in paperback.