Hidden in the hills above Santa Barbara, Belmond El Encanto is a magical place. As the nights start to grow longer,curl up beside your own personal fireplace. Or lose yourself, wine in hand, to the lights of town spread out below. This year there’s a new way to celebrate the change of season: an exclusive Winter Solstice Wellness Retreat, hosted by wellness master Chris Matesic, MATP.
For many, the shortest day of the year starts the countdown to the holiday season. The rapid roll towards turkey, twinkling lights and beautifully-wrapped presents. However humans have long held a deep respect for the winter solstice, possibly dating back to the days of the cavemen.
Every part of life depended on agriculture, and so marking the seasons was of the utmost importance. The winter solstice was the beginning of winter; a time of hardship and shortages. As trees shed and animals begin to hibernate, it was a time for people to take stock. It was also a last chance to celebrate and be thankful for the bounties of summer.
The significance quickly became tied up with mysticism and tradition around the world. People across East Asia began to celebrate Dongzhi; one of the most important festivals of the calendar. Participants would celebrate that the days following would become longer, bringing more positive energy. For the pagans the solstice became ‘yule’, a twelve-day midwinter celebration. Many traditions of the yule festivities became part of Christmas; including wreaths and decorated trees.
“Throughout history, cultures around the world believe the solstice marks the rebirth of the Sun. This celestial phenomenon mirrors our individual process of renewal and regeneration,” Chris explains. “The longest night of the year symbolizes the death of the ego and the potentiality of the growing light represents our Soul. It’s an ideal time of year to be with like hearted beings in the celebration of life.”
In his early years, Chris pursued his dream of becoming a professional basketball player, but was hampered by physical injury. “My ego was writing checks my body could no longer cash.” Looking to restore his body, he found solace in the movement arts of yoga and tai-chi. As he delved deeper into the practice, he found his awareness expanding, discovering the soul itself was a source of wellness. He has now spent more than 20 years helping others on a path to self-actualisation.
The two-day retreat runs from December 20–21. Thursday begins with a grounding exercise to bring guests together. Preparing yourself to shed the expectations and disappointments of the previous year. A fire ceremony is the chance to liberate from these negative feelings, before a delicious welcome dinner. On Friday guests begin with chakra yoga, a contemplative art that aims to invoke your heart’s intention. Break off into groups to work on other activities that help set these intentions, including guided meditation, vision mapping and practicing the art of open communication. Those who wish to continue their learning can extend the retreat for individual sessions and full moon yoga on December 22.
For Chris, working at Belmond El Encanto is a perfect partnership. “My family is from the Adriatic coast of Croatia and I spent many summers enjoying its wonders. Belmond El Encanto embodies the same natural beauty and charm of the Croatian Riviera,” he tells us. ”The breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean invoke a sense of peace and happiness. I’m inspired to partner with the Spa, who are so like-hearted in sharing my values, to offer an authentic soul crafting experience.”
For those unable to attend, you can still take the opportunity to rebalance in your own home. “I recommend creating a sacred space in your home during the solstice and lighting a candle. Take your time to settle into your body by gently lengthening your exhalations as you ground your awareness into the earth. Allow yourself to recognize an aspect of your ego that no longer serves you and write it down. Wholeheartedly let go of this worn out pattern by safely burning or recycling the paper. Then I would bring focus to the light within as symbolized by the candle and ask yourself, “What is my heart’s intention for the next year of my life?” Take time to listen, and allow the wisdom of your soul to guide you. Make a vow to live consistent with this intention. Happy Solstice!
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