Friends of Salt & Light Retreat will already know that we are all about wellbeing. Not the quick-fix trends, but genuine, sustainable support for a lifestyle of wellbeing.
This post is exploring the foundations of Salt & Light Retreat; the pillars that I see as the imperative elements to maintain, and improve our wellbeing. It is useful to start by acknowledging that wellbeing, and self care can look very different at different stages in life. I like to consider three layers of wellbeing - Nurture (for times of crisis, simply getting through each day), Serenity (for maintaining, and gently improving wellbeing in steadier times), and Thrive (when we have capacity to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and strive towards bigger things).
The foundations of Salt & Light Retreat have all come from within myself - from recognising the features of my own life that I believe have helped me to be resilient and stay well. I do want to highlight that the access I've had to these elements hugely comes from the privileged life I was born into; however, the beauty of them is that they are all accessible to anybody. You don't need to be well-off to be well. I also want to note that just like anyone else, I have my fair share of wobbles and challenging times, but it is these foundations that have helped me come back to being well again and again.
We all know that there is a wealth of research backing up our instinct that nature is good for our wellbeing. Did you know that studies have even shown people to heal from surgery faster when they have a view of nature than those who don't (Ulrich, 1984), and there is an abundance of research proving its usefulness for improving and maintaining wellbeing - both physically and mentally. Whether it's taking a moment to look out of the window and see some trees, bringing nature into your own home with potted plants, or living aligned with nature as best you can - it can all help bring you closer to your optimal state of wellbeing, and be an antidote to the stressors we experience. Furthermore, within Salt & Light Retreat we also see the positive effects of caring for our natural surroundings on our own and collective wellbeing. Doing our part to take care of the planet can bring huge benefits to ourselves as well, as research by Venhoeven and others (2016) explains.
Being part of a community can have positive effects on mental health and wellbeing. Research supports this notion, with plenty of evidence proving it, such as Kutek and colleagues (2011), who found that social support was a significant factor in mediating stress within a population of rural men. Loneliness is known to have a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing, and people experiencing isolation are more likely to develop poor health habits. Simply eating together improves our health and wellbeing by increasing the nutritional density in meals and slowing down our consumption; we're also more likely to be eating whilst relaxed which benefits our ability to digest the meal. A sense of connectedness is now recognised for its protective factor on resilience and wellbeing; whether it is reaching out to charities such as Samaritans for emergency support, leaning on friends and loved ones for connection or being part of a wider community - the experience of togetherness aids our ability to stay well, and to live long, happy lives.
Unless we are covering the basics, we are unlikely to enable our health and wellbeing to thrive. Getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and consuming nutritious foods are all vitals for our physical and mental health. These three are all interlinked, and improving just one can hugely benefit another...and vice versa. For example, not getting enough sleep tends to lead to increased food consumption, and dehydration can reduce or destroy some minerals and vitamins in our bodies. We can keep things simple to improve our quality of life by staying hydrated, consuming a wide range of whole foods, and setting ourselves up for a good night's sleep. Staying on top of the basics can help reduce the stress on our bodies and the risk of disease, whilst improving our cognition and enabling our body to function optimally. Through Salt & Light Retreat, we also consider the way we nourish our bodies from the other side; connecting to the foods we consume, and implementing our values of being mindful and compassionate into the way we eat. This is why we choose plastic free packaging & local wherever possible, and only ever serve plant based foods.
No matter your mobility, we can all benefit from moving our bodies however we can. Sometimes that might look like taking a long yoga class, going for a walk or run - and sometimes that will be simply imagining the movement instead. All of these are shown to have physical benefits, so everybody can be included in embracing the joy of moving our bodies. Regular aerobic exercise is shown to improve mood disorders, moving mindfully improves our ability to feel calm - and synchronising our movement with somebody else's can improve our self esteem. One of the greatest things we can take from moving mindfully - however that looks, is that it enables our mind and body to connect, in a world where we are drawn into our heads so frequently, it is vital that we reconnect to the vehicle that we experience our lives through. Research also shows that movement can play a role in alleviating symptoms of emotional distress in those who have experienced trauma, and there is an abundance of evidence proving time and time again that various types of exercise improve physical and psychological health for people of any age. As well as improving connection to self, and self esteem - it can also increase our tolerance to stress; developing our resilience.
At the root of wellbeing, I believe is self study. In yoga, this is called Svadhyaya, and encompasses studying spiritual scriptures as well as understanding oneself. In order to move beyond the (small 's') self that is caught up in our day to day stressors, we must get to know the (big 's') Self. This is our truest nature - which I believe is a place within us all that is constant, still and stable. Instead of being pulled this way and that way by the fluctuations of our mind, we can connect to the part of us that doesn't waiver in such ways. We might not be able to come from that place 24/7 (I still have a very long way to go!), but we can reach into that place of peace within us frequently, and allow ourselves to access it more easily. Practices that enable us to reconnect to our true Self can include mindfulness, pranayama (breath/energy control), as well as therapy, journaling and meditation. The ancient yogis already knew it, and now we have science proving it - that there is an abundance of benefits to spending time in meditation practices. From reducing risk of disease, to improved cognitive functioning, and reduce experiences of anxiety, pain and depression - we can bring these traditional practices into our modern day lives, and still experience the holistic benefits.
Our wellbeing, just like our health fluctuates from time to time - so we might find ourselves able to stay on top of all of these factors to a high degree, or we may be focusing on just one thing to help us stay well enough during tough times. I believe that we can empower ourselves to take care of our own wellbeing and thrive more by simply understanding these elements, and doing whatever it is we can do to help ourselves be well, and stay well.