Monthly Archives: September 2009

yoga.surf.retreat.reflect.

The following reflection was first published on Sangha Yoga Shala’s blog.

Yogini-At-Large: Retreating to Costa Rica

boards on playa guiones

July, 2009: I wake up to the sound of howler monkeys in the branches above my cabina. This is the morning’s singsong: creatures great and small roaring and chirping and chattering, the whole Costa Rican jungle humming with energy. Every day for the past week has begun this way. No alarm clock needed when your internal clock syncs to nature.

I head out to the yoga deck to lead our daily practice and after a requisite café con leche, and my students meet me on the mat for a vigorous morning vinyasa flow. We begin in stillness, seated in sukhasana, and I implore them to turn inward. Our external offerings are only as good as what we first offer ourselves: a little softness, kindness, understanding. Compassion begets compassion. As our practice begins and the internal heat starts to build, so does the heat of the morning sun as it climbs up the sky.

When the morning practice is over, a spread of fresh fruit and homemade granola awaits us, and we head down to Playa Guiones, a two-mile stretch of pristine, white sand beach, for our surf lesson. Yoga and surfing practically exist to complement each other: they are both distinctly different disciplines, and yet also perfectly alike. After you’ve schlepped your longboard awkwardly down to the beach, slathered on your SPF 50, and hesitantly stepped into the saltwater, you arrive at a point where nothing else seems to register as important: it’s just you, a board, and the entire ocean pushing back at you.

The euphoric experience of standing up on my surfboard reminds me of the first time that I was able to balance in Sirsasana A (headstand) without the support of a wall: equally empowering and humbling. This seems to become the natural theme of the retreat as our experience plays out: finding that place between powerfully and consciously making our efforts with strength and grace, and then surrendering the results of those efforts with humility and compassion.

Everyday begins with yoga and is followed by surfing, relaxation and reflection, and then more yoga in the afternoon. On our last morning, we arise together and practice Sun Salutations facing the ocean as our final offering. The challenge that now faces us is how to maintain this inner softness and peace as we go back out into the world. That’s often the heart of any yoga retreat: to remove ourselves from our day-to-day lives and rediscover inspiration and perception, and then to figure out how to carry that with us into our routines. Bring the extraordinary to the ordinary.

Costa Rica was an extraordinary experience, and we’ll be returning in the winter for another yoga/surf retreat. Join Alana and I for the week of February 6-12, 2010. More details at www.nosarayogaretreat.com.

More photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/yogasara07/

september spotlight on: balance

September is a month known for transitions and changes, as we move away from one set of habits and behaviors to another. It often means back to work, back to school, transforming afternoons of complacency and relaxation to times of preparation and industriousness. At our best, we welcome shorter days and a sun that burns cooler with acceptance, an understanding that seasons change, like all things, and that summer will return. Then again, we also find ourselves mourning the loss of flip flops, fat juicy slices of watermelon, and anticipating the cold, dark winter that lurks not far off.

Our ability to remain in the present helps determine how likely we’re able to be balanced, healthy beings. That being said, likewise our ability to stay balanced helps keep us rooted to the present as it unfolds. The greatest challenge at the turn of any season is to maintain a sense of wholeness and evenness, even as the world around us changes. To do this takes equal parts courage and conviction in yourself, and also a sincere willingness to adapt.

Something I’ve noticed about myself (and my students) is that when I come into a balancing pose like Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose), my tendency is to inhale sharply and hold my breath as if becoming more statue-like and rigid will allow me to hold the balance. But there is so much learning to be had from freedom of movement, even in this one-legged, one-armed hip-opening challenge. Not only because holding your breath is unsustainable, but also because the gentle sway, gentle contraction and expansion of your body that comes with breathing fully is what true balance really is: a place between stillness and movement, hardness and softness, exertion and comfort.