1 February 2021

Meet Rachel Podger

A Q&A with the host of our next Insider Retreat

This year we launched The Insider Retreats. Led by experts in creativity, health and wellbeing, these retreats give small groups of people space to reset and replenish. We can’t think of a better person to lead our first Retreat for women in the second chapter of life than the therapist and mindfulness expert, Rachel Podger.

We asked Rachel 10 questions about her groundbreaking Mind your Menopause programme and how she finds calm and clarity in turbulent times.

1. What can women expect to discover about themselves and how to better manage their own progression in the second half of life after this Insider Retreat?

This experience creates space to explore what the next chapter of life means to the individual rather than what many of us have been programmed to believe. We will look at nurturing that spark within that ignites interest and excitement, allowing room for creation and fulfillment. After an unprecedented year, I want to show our group of women how to slow down and give themselves more time for self care.

Very often this stage of life can come with feelings of anxiety or depression. Some women may need to grieve the moving on of their children and learn what to do with an empty space or a feeling of emptiness. They may feel that nurturing a family has been done now and the next question is ‘what do I do with my life from here?’ Perhaps they feel all their energy has gone into children and they haven’t stopped to think about their own passions or life goals. A phrase I hear again and again is, ‘I’ve put everyone before myself’.

In many cases that phrase includes a career that has come before others. Some women may have worked harder than they intended to or they have not found themselves where they wished to be at this stage in life. Now is the time to learn from the past and explore what you want to be different; to build on that relationship you might have missed out on and always hoped for.

2. How do the venue and natural surroundings of the Retreat play a part in enhancing the experience?

Heckfield’s ethos and approach to sustainability is very much aligned with my interests and beliefs. Their relationship with nature and how important it is to look after our natural world is inspiring to me. The private grounds allow for over four acres of land per guest so there is ample space to connect with the tranquil surroundings. This experience needs to feel special for our guests and I am confident that the highly experienced team looking after us and the stylish but warm and cosy interiors of the house will ensure everyone enjoys a well deserved treat away.

3. What is the most important advice you have for women who are struggling with the menopause?

To reach out and talk to a really good friend. This takes courage but the act of talking will do wonders. If you don’t have someone to talk to remember this is about being with the menopause and not pushing it away. Acknowledge this fear because anxiety and panic attacks are real. Our body changing can make us feel like we are out of control but there are ways to manage this. I love Dr Christiane Northrop’s book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom for guidance.

I’ll also reiterate the importance of connecting with nature, which is proven to reduce stress caused by fluctuating levels of cortisol. Women must acknowledge the stress and pressure we are putting ourselves under and see this change as a positive chance to reassess how we manage anxiety.

Another way to manage stress is to find something we're interested in and carve some time out for learning a new skill. It might be picking up a paint brush or making furniture - a new hobby will enhance mental health and it may also connect you to a new community. Many women are time-starved but finding a little time each week or month for something new and creative can have positive effects.

4. What would you say to people who feel daunted by the prospect of using meditation or mindfulness as a tool for self care?

Keep the meditation short - the hardest thing is sitting down to do it. I want to encourage women to know that if they can master the discipline in a few minutes it is possible to slowly build up from there. The mind is the most wonderful thing but we have to learn to override it sometimes; to develop new habits and take ourselves off autopilot.

I would also say that a lot of people find meditative moments without realising it and it’s much more accessible than they may think. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that I haven’t meditated for long enough and I notice that I’ve stopped and watched a song thrush chirping in a tree - that in itself is a meditation.

5. A few women in the public eye have stepped forward recently to talk about the often debilitating effects the menopause has had on their mental health. Have you seen a shift in attitude towards the way we talk about the menopause as a society?

I have seen a shift amongst women but it is a small one. I’ve heard it is now being talked about in schools but I will be interested to hear more from women joining our group whether they are perimenopausal or menopausal and beyond. It’s one of the reasons I’m excited about this Retreat; I’m keen to discuss the issue of shame. I see the embarrassment of a woman having a hot flush and I detect a lot of social discomfort. We need to reprogramme societal expectations so women can be free to navigate this stage of life without shame.

6. Why do you think this is a subject many people are still uncomfortable talking about? What first steps need to be taken to offer more support to women?

I think it must be connected to women feeling that they have to ’put up with it’ and, therefore, not talking openly. We don’t talk about periods and we don’t talk about the menopause. We are programmed to glide through life quietly and this needs to change.

There is a difference between secrecy and privacy; everyone is entitled to be private but the menopause and getting older shouldn’t be a secret that is shameful. We need to ask ourselves, ‘what is the fire within us that wants to be expressed?’ Where is that inner passion? Has it been contained and is now the time to truly express it? Many women find themselves feeling burnt out with soaring levels of cortisol at this stage in life. We can learn to express ourselves at a different pace and use our wisdom to teach the next generation of women to do the same.

7. You have a deep connection with the natural world; how do you help others use their natural surroundings for their own wellbeing?

I encourage them to go out into nature and if they can’t do that then buy a small plant or window box or some herbs to care for. Open a window and listen to the birds outside. Step outside on a clear night and look at the sky. When you find yourself on grass take your socks off or, even better, lie on it and take a long, deep breath. We have the earth, water, fire and air all around us and we can use all our senses to connect with nature. I often ask clients to visualise nature; picture yourself by the sea or in a meadow and this sows a seed of hope for a future connected with nature.

8. You have some beautiful quotes on your website. Who are some of the voices you turn to for inspiration and guidance?

I turn to my mindfulness supervisor and teacher for guidance. For inspiration I love Mary Oliver, Rumi and Ram Dass, their work is so simple and easy to listen to. I love poetry as a whole - I often find a line of a poem can change the way I feel almost immediately. I also love Maya Angelou. I’m currently reading The Well Gardended Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith, who writes so eloquently about the restorative power of nature.

9. What is one of your favourite travel memories?

Walking up to the Tiger's Nest monastery in Bhutan. We were the first people to get there as the sun was rising and it is a memory that will remain vivid and treasured with me forever.

10. Can you tell us something about yourself people may not know?

I have a special voice for my dog, Tiger but I won’t elaborate on that! I also believe that it is meditation that keeps me young and alive. I don’t say this enough but I am aware of my lines and my body changing and I am owning that change and proud of it. If we give enough time and space to nurture ourselves we can really connect with who we are now.

2021 dates for The Insider Retreat: The Next Chapter with Rachel Podger will be announced soon. The maximum group size is eight guests. If you are interested in hearing more or you would like to reserve a space in advance, please contact Jenny Wilkinson: jenny@theinsidertravel.com.