Melt Into a New Year and a New You –  Learning The Art of Self-Care
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Melt Into a New Year and a New You – Learning The Art of Self-Care

By Denise Benoit, hospitality marketing consultant,, @dfbenoit on Twitter

Coming off a busy holiday season, I wasn’t looking for more to add to my schedule when I was invited to be part of a test group for a New Year’s Day Retreat at Hands & Heart Studio. When Rebecca Brouwer, the studio’s owner, explained that the half-day program would include the chance to focus on self-care and innovative mind-body relaxation practices, I thought it might be just the perfect way to spend New Year’s Day.

So, January 1st, I found myself making the drive to Shepherds Corner Farm on a hilltop north of Purcellville with a stunning view of the Hillsboro Gap. Upon arrival we started with a tour of the farm’s restored 1780’s

Hands & Heart Studio

Hands & Heart Studio

vintage log cabin, currently serving as the retreat facility’s guest house. It was clear I was about to enter a unique environment with a fresh perspective, where stress and the busyness of my Holiday schedule began to melt away.

Rebecca formally began studying yoga and related practices in 2005. As a RYT 200 yoga instructor, she has used yoga as a segue to study and integrate a number of other disciplines into her philosophy of wellbeing. The grander purpose at Hands and Heart is to pull it all together to teach the art of self-care of mind, body and spirit. The notion of giving oneself permission to be nurtured is absolutely brilliant!

With six people in the group, we made introductions and chatted for a bit and proceeded to settle into a restorative pose. Lying on the floor with bolsters under our knees, our heads cradled on a blanket, and our bodies draped with a warmed blanket, we were instructed to give ourselves permission to relax. I was in heaven. I felt I was treasured and loved.

Thoroughly relaxed and able to establish a connection between my mind, my breathing and my body, I was led into a gentle transition of yoga poses where each movement was coordinated with the inhalation… and exhalation… of my breath.

Next came my personal favorite, an introduction to the studio’s hammocks, which are long swaths of stretchy fabric draped from sturdy ceiling mounts.  As I was carefully instructed how to lie back and recline in the hammock, the weight of my own body caused the fabric to immediately hug around me. I felt nurtured, swaddled, and supported as I was weightlessly suspended above the floor.  Once again, we focused our breathing and explored the mind/body connection through the movements of Stargazer, Cocoon, and best of all, the Womb Pose.

By this time we were primed for a series of focused relaxation and self-care practices.  We started with the MELT method on our hands and feet, using small soft balls specially designed for hands-off bodywork, a technique

Studio space with hammocks

Studio space with hammocks

which rehydrates the connective tissue throughout the body and releases accumulated stress caused by the repetitive postures and movements of everyday living. It is a breakthrough technique that keeps our connective tissue and nervous system in top condition.

Specifically, MELT combats chronic pain, makes your whole body feel better, provides relief from neck and low back pain, arthritis, bunions, plantar fasciitis and carpal tunnel. It’s for anyone who wants to slow down the aging process and reduce pain.

For the remainder of the day we proceeded independently through a series of stations. My first choice was going to the Zero Balancing (ZB) table.  ZB was explained as a powerful body-mind therapy where the practitioner uses skilled touch to address the relationship between energy and structures of the body.  Following a protocol that typically lasts 30 to 45 minutes, the practitioner uses finger pressure and gentle traction on areas of tension in the bones, joints, and soft tissue to create fulcrums, or points of balance, around which the body can relax and reorganize.  It felt fantastic.

Another personal favorite was the BioMat, a heating mat that uses far infrared technology to produce soothing heat which penetrates deep into the body. With a warm blanket, a light-weight eye pillow and quiet music, it was positively sublime.

The final relaxation technique I tried was with biofeedback technology called HeartMath.  Rebecca’s husband Dennis, who is a certified executive coach, attached a clip with a pulse monitor to my earlobe, showed me how to use the app on his computer, and coached me through the associated heart-focused breathing and relaxation techniques. Pop on a set of noise-canceling headphones with more calming music, and the results? Bliss.

What did I take away from all this intentional focus on the connection of mind and body relaxation?

I have a new appreciation for the saying…”Life is so busy, I must rest.” What a shame it would have been if I had passed up the opportunity Rebecca shared with me at Hands & Heart Studio. We were all challenged to find a method of relaxation we could practice and to adopt Rebecca’s formula of ten minutes a day, one hour a week, one day a month and one week a year into our practice for the New Year. I would highly recommend making Hands & Heart Studio a weekly, monthly or annual experience.

From the goodness of my heart to the goodness of yours, Namaste!

Hands & Heart Studio is located at The Retreat Center at Shepherds Corner Farm, two miles north of Purcellville, and on the web at  Customized half-day or overnight retreats for small groups, couples and individuals are available. The next available half-day retreat is scheduled for Sunday, April 12, 2015.  You may sign up for MELT workshops which are scheduled Thursday mornings. More information can be obtained by emailing or call (540) 454-2400.  Overnight lodging is available for up to six people in an immaculate and charming log cabin guesthouse on-site.

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