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  How a Retreat Changed My Mind and My Habits
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How a Retreat Changed My Mind and My Habits

The routines, habits and aha moments formed in the spaciousness of a retreat can make the best souvenirs of all

April M. Short

“Experiencing a retreat can quite literally feel like dimension-hopping.” This is what Nicole Sciandra wrote, after returning home from her first-ever retreat: a five-day experience at Selva Armonia in Costa Rica in early January 2023 called “Awaken the Dream.” The retreat was hosted by Sky Cowans, founder of Sky Life, who is a video creator with an online community of more than 600,000 followers. Cowans created the retreat—her first—to bring her online community together in real life. 

Sciandra—a mother of two and certified holistic health coach, who also describes herself as a “water enthusiast and sea glass collector”—was selected from a pool of applicants to receive a scholarship to attend the retreat, sponsored by MUD\WTR and Sky Life. 

While she and her partner Paul are dedicated to parenting intentionally and living each day with purpose, Sciandra—like many parents (and people in general living in our grind-obsessed culture)—rarely took time for herself. That is, until she traveled to Costa Rica for the retreat. 

Taking this slice of time away from her day-to-day and stepping into intention-setting ceremonies, manifestation rituals, daily yoga, breathwork practice and nature excursions was an experience that brought her “that much closer to my highest self," Sciandra says. 

Sciandra said she doesn’t typically apply for opportunities like the retreat, but between a long-time love of MUD\WTR, and reading about the itinerary for the week, she felt compelled to “shoot [her] shot.” She had a discovery call with the MUD\WTR team, was selected and soon found herself surrounded by blue skies, tropical flowers and toucans squawking in a spiky green canopy.

After about a month of reflection, Sciandra shared some of her takeaways and habits from the retreat, which she is working to integrate into her life back home: 

Self-Love Also Supports Those We Love

“‘Mom guilt’ is a very real thing that I experienced throughout the entire process,” Sciandra says. “I was constantly trying to remind myself that I was worthy of pouring into my cup in such an extravagant way, and that I’d be a better mom for it.”

Because we live in a culture drenched in toxic levels of hustle, many people—especially parents—develop the subconscious belief that taking time for self-love and personal nourishment is selfish. In reality, the opposite is true. When we fill our own cups, we are that much more able to nourish those around us.

For Sciandra, being away from her family for the retreat was by far the most challenging part and she grappled with intense feelings of guilt. 

“In hindsight, I think I’ve associated so much of my worthiness with my productivity as a mother and partner,” she says. “‘Clocking out’ for a full week felt crazy scary.”

But as she stared out of the bus window on the way to the retreat site on day one, she had a realization: The work she was about to embark on was just as important as the work going on at home.

“It’s healthy for our kids, family and friends to see us filling ourselves with things that authentically bring us joy,” she says. “I want my boys to know that mommy prioritizes her yoga practice, leans on breathwork when she's feeling overwhelmed and loves walking barefoot in nature. The only way for that to happen is to show up authentically and give our children the gift of seeing us in our fullest expression. So ditch the guilt.” 

A Journaling Practice Can Help Manifest Dreams

She says over the past few years her journaling practice had fallen by the wayside, but during the retreat her journaling routine returned. Throughout the retreat's many workshops, Cowans taught journaling with a focus on writing practices designed to channel the wisdom of the heart and higher self.

“This retreat reignited my passion for that practice and I'm so happy to have implemented that daily again,” she says. “There's something so therapeutic about getting my thoughts down on paper and that physical act of writing has played a major role in my manifestation process.”

Daily MUD Is Non-Negotiable

At the retreat, each morning started with a warm MUD\WTR beverage of choice—something that was familiar and well-appreciated by Sciandra.

“My daily MUD\WTR is a non-negotiable, and has been for the last four years,” she says. “I really try finding these pockets in the day to get grounded, and starting my (often early) mornings with the boys, sipping on something that I know is supporting my body in a big way feels really sacred to me. I try to pour as much intention into it as possible while I'm preparing it, and sip it with the same mindfulness while doing puzzles, building blocks or making forts with my little dudes.”

Intentional Movement Practice Is Vital

“There were so many beautiful habits that were woven into this experience, but intentional movement would be at the top of the list for me,” she says, noting that for a long time, physical activity had felt like a chore or punishment. “Trying to get back into ‘pre-baby’ shape is a belief system I’m happy to have officially ditched.”

She said prior to the retreat, she would often beat herself up if she missed a workout and would “spiral downward from there.” 

“A massive takeaway for me was the concept of fluidity with moving my body,” she says. “It might not look the same every day because life happens, but that’s okay. The important thing is to connect with my body and intentionally move this vessel that provides me with so much. That may mean a yoga class one day, a walk around the block another day—or maybe a dance party in the living room with my kids if that’s the best I’m able to do that day.” 

She says moving forward, she’ll be moving “because I love my body, not because I hate it.” 

Gratitude for Relationships and Community

Among many breakthrough moments during what Sciandra calls a “completely transformative week” was an experience of deep gratitude for the people in her life—and in particular her romantic partner Paul. While it’s easy for any long-term relationship to shift into autopilot mode, she says taking time and space, “really breathed new life into our dynamic.” 

“I remember sitting in our first group meditation session, hearing the toucans in the surrounding treetops, feeling the warm breeze on my skin, and feeling really, really grateful for Paul—and what he was pulling off back home to make this possible for me.”

She says the retreat also surprised her with new friends and “lifelong relationships.” 

“Making friends as an adult can be weird, uncomfortable and downright challenging, but this experience served as a lovely reminder of what can happen when you allow yourself to really be seen,” she says. “There's something magical that happens when we allow ourselves to be supported by community, and I'm so lucky to have experienced that in such a profound way.”

Connecting With Nature—and Your Body—Is Powerful

Taking time to reflect on life and connect with the body in beautiful, natural settings might sound simple, but it can be life-altering. Sciandra says one of the most valuable takeaways from the retreat was the opportunity to slow down and connect with her body. 

“The entire experience felt like a deep sigh of relief for my nervous system,” she says. “This sensation of peace and harmony is what I aim to recreate daily now that I'm home.”

She says her focus has shifted from productivity to joy. 

“I have really aimed to weave joy, curiosity, and laughter into as many moments as possible,” she says of her time post-retreat. “And when all else fails, gratitude. Whenever I feel myself slipping, I reconnect with my breath and remember how damn lucky I am to have woken up to experience another day. Life is so freakin' beautiful!”

Sciandra says spending time outside as a family has always been a priority of hers, but the retreat reminded her of the power of spending solo time in nature, too.  

“It reminded me of the absolute gift that experiencing solitude in nature can be,” she said. “Solo walks, outdoor meditation, and lots more tree hugging in my future for sure! P.S. If you haven't hugged a tree recently, I highly recommend you give it a try! “

When Integrating, Be Patient With Yourself 

Sciandra says returning home from the retreat and reintegrating to daily life was, “definitely a bit of culture shock.” She has experienced the whole spectrum of emotion, but says the polarities of her experience have come packed with insights about herself and her life.

Her biggest piece of advice to anyone integrating from a retreat—or any life-changing experience—is this: Be patient with yourself.

“[Integration is] a process, and it sure as hell isn’t a linear one,” she says. “I've come to learn that the real big shifts happen back home, after the retreat, when you're integrating everything you've learned with the person you were before embarking on the journey. Have the difficult conversations, implement the new habits, and start showing up right away as this newly nourished version of you.”

April M. Short is a journalist, editor, yoga teacher and feminine rites practitioner. She's helped co-found multiple psychedelics-focused media outlets and her writing is published in the San Francisco Chronicle, LA Yoga, Salon, The Conversation and many others. Follow her yoga and ritual work on Instagram: @AprilClarkYoga. 

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Photo credit: Allyssa Sayers

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