Monday, February 24, 2014

Salute the Sun Retreats to Guatemala

This past January I developed and lead two retreats to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. These were my first retreats. I knew Atitlan was the place. It's so overwhelmingly beautiful, culturally rich, and I was grateful to know of some beautiful and responsible businesses to enlist in this endeavor.

It was more beautiful than I remembered. However, it's funny what you don't remember. I had traveled on rough Guatemalan roads, but last time I headed to Atitlan, I took a more traveled and maintained road from Antigua to Panajachel and then a water taxi to San Marcos. In the hope to give my groups a more direct route, I organized shuttles to take us from Guatemala City straight to San Marcos. Most of the road was fine. However! In the last hour, you take a pot-hole filled, steep, switchback road from Santa Clara to San Pablo. It is rough. Plus, due to weather, both weeks the flights into Guatemala were delayed, which meant we arrived during rush-hour traffic. Trips that were estimated at three hours took five!

So, travel-weary, both groups arrived. We settled in, slept the travel away, and woke to this.

 Our breakfasts and dinners were shared on this patio. Some mornings we practiced silence. I watched hummingbirds and felt the sun on my face.

Both weeks the participants had an opportunity to go to the market of Chichicastenango. While the adrenhaline was strong, we once more braved the switchback road into the north Guatemalan highlands. We moved through micro-climates of orchids and pines. Eventually, into the market town and the high holy services, and intoxicating blend of Mayan and Catholic tradition.

 Both groups experienced these type of processionals, which is fairly unpredictable to the short-term visitor. Gun powder blasted off (in these crowds!) to send a petitioner's prayers to heaven. Vendors used brooms to knock errant powder off their tarp roofs.

Back in our home-base of San Marcos la Laguna, we walked these tiny foot paths daily. We stayed in a eco-hotel built into cliffs near the lake's edge. Our studio had a higher elevation and accompanying view. The walk took twice daily practice took about ten minutes.

I think the votes were unanimous: it was worth it.

Each morning, we held a meditation sit. We learned and practiced a variety of meditation techniques. It was also a nice way to digest breakfast!

After meditation practice, active vinyasa, featuring cues like, "Turn to face the volcano. Now turn to face the banana trees."

After practice, we made time to answer questions and workshop poses. Students were able to truly advance their practices.

Our studio host took orders for fresh coconuts or super-food smoothies, featuring ingredients like shaman-blessed cacao, cinnamon, MACA, papaya, and avocado. Delivered lovingly after practice.

Some days we hiked into the nature reserve for good swimming points. Another change from my last visit-- it used to be free and open to the public. This time we had to pay 15Q to enter but that's only about $2 USD.

There are many ways to enter the lake. One is a thirty foot jump. I made it once. Kevin, many times.

The rope swing is pretty low now that the waters have risen. Emily gave it the college try!

Another benefit of our studio was it's Temescal sauna! These are saunas designed after traditional Mayan saunas. They are heated by wood fire. You can create steam by pouring water over the heater. We took rolling saunas, then wandering upstairs for Yin practice in the studio.

The sunsets were mind-boggling.

Week 1's participants.

Week 2's participants.

As organizer and instructor, I worked to take care of logistics, so that the participants could simply be. I didn't anticipate the amazing ways that they would co-create the experience. Each group was so different, but both cared for one another so sweetly. People made sure to invite one another to meals or on adventures. They checked in and were present.

I realized that as a yoga instructor, I work to hold space. I sometimes teach a daunting pose, like a handstand. Many students are scared-- it brings up a response. Obviously, my job is to keep them safe, but it's also to help them stretch into what's possible. Offering these retreats felt like teaching handstand on a much grander scale. Traveling internationally is scary at times. The roads can be really unpredictable. You might encounter new-to-you bugs. The water might not agree with your digestive system. Yet, if you breathe and stretch into what's possible, you might also find yourself awash in jaw-dropping surroundings. You might experience culture that's so palpably self-aware and deeply rooted. You might find a home in your own body and in the world.

We hope to offer these retreats again. We learned that our retreats are hopefully accessible (especially financially), culturally aware, environmentally-conscious, and unique. I'm scouting out other spots on the globe, studios, and housing that let you know where you are, and give you permission to just be. We're also inter-mixing domestic retreats that hopefully feel more possible to parents and those with demanding work schedules. Next up is a weekend yoga immersion in Vermont. I'd love to share the experience with you!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My naked crisis: Anonymity vs. Intimacy

Yesterday, I took an impromptu adventure up to Manhattan for a Jivamukti yoga class and to conduct an interview for Project Inkblot. The BoltBus dropped me where it does, in some super west-side industrial waste land. I walked the long avenue blocks back to downtown-bound subways. I recalled the shower in an open changing room at the Jivamukti studio. My Puritanical self has been often scandalized by the easy nudity in that space. Towel in bag, I vowed that today I would be Bohemian. European. Naked. I began imagining myself confidently shedding it all. Showers in use? No worries. I'll just wait here, naked.

If you know me at all you know this bravado is straight fiction. My husband calls me a prude. Unfortunately, I'm a WASP. I come by it naturally. Sometimes I try to fake like I'm OK with skin. I've hung with friends who are truly comfortable in various states of undress and pretended that I wasn't internally freaking out. (What do I do with my eyes? I saw nipple! Does this friend now think that I want to get with them? What does this mean for our friendship? Fuck! Put on clothes! I can't handle this!)

I realized that I would try on this mature, comfortable, body-positive identity in a space where I was completely anonymous. If I tried to pull this at home, where I'm known, obviously I'd be encouraged, but it'd also be understood that as of now this is all an effort for me. I'm known. Through time and engagement, I've developed intimacy in many relationships.

Ah. Anonymity vs. intimacy. I'm largely anonymous in the Jivamukti studio. I'm less self-conscious about my yoga practice because I have no expectation of seeing many of my classmates or the teacher ever again. I can parade around naked in the changing room because there's no follow-up to the (non)event.

My brazen self is bold without consequence. Bravery is being open to accountability.

I've begun to realize the depth of intimacy; probably because I've only recently experienced the longevity and commitment it takes to create it. It's fucking terrifying. I always heard talk about commitment-phobes or folks who run from long-term relationships. As a serial monogamist, I really didn't understand. I am a serial monogamist who's only held long-term relationships, but I withhold plenty. At a certain point, if the relationship is functional, you have to reveal more. You become more transparent to your partner (or friend or family member) and in that mirror, more known to yourself. Jesus. Who needs that? Let me pretend to be a body-positive dancer as I shed my clothes in front of these strangers.

I've never had a hard time being bold when the stakes are low. Thankfully, I largely came of age before lots of internet, cell phones, and social media. We were untraceable! I had no problem introducing myself to someone who intrigued me as a friend or potential date. If they said no, I'd never see them again. But being naked in front of close friends who know and love me? Now that's just crazy talk.

I'm increasingly drawn to situations that necessitate intimacy. Low population communities where you have less choice for relationships. Being interdependent financially and socially. I'm not saying that I'm always happy in these situations, but I'm stimulated. I start to understand my own resistance better. I think about how privacy is often culturally constructed. I think about the potential freedom of being truly seen.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The world behind my house

There was an adventure. It happened behind my house.

Kevin made it happen. After I complained that there were no good hills within walking distance to sled, he explored. His scouting yielded a discovery: an abandoned rail line created a hill in woods behind our house. Let there be sledding.

Two other friends donated super light-weight sleds. Kevin and I trudged into the football field at the end of our block. Our feet cracked the ice and sunk into the snow. And sometimes they didn't. Sometimes our weight balanced evenly and we stayed supported on the snow surface. Mostly it was crunch, fall, lift, step, repeat. So quickly, I warmed and even felt sore from the unfamiliar leg movement.

Through brambles and branches. Deer tracks. Raccoon tracks with their little fingers. The creek only partially iced over. Tree bark graffiti'd with a teenage hand, "Trippy Squad." Yeah you are.

Up the steep cliff on stairs made of compacted snow. Down the steep slope on a flimsy sled that deposited us in some type of ditch. Kevin became my catcher to ensure that I didn't land in the increasingly puddled ditch nor slam into a tree. I hadn't heard him laugh so hard in a long time. "Why is this so funny?" "You look like you're jumping off a cliff!"

I see my house so near landmarks that usually seem further from one another. I see my house the way I imagine animals would. Deer who go human watching.

Kevin says, "this would be a perfect place for teenagers to get high and have sex." Obviously. But where are they? There's no one out here! Are they too occupied with iPhones? Did we just scare them off? And yet, tracks are easy evidence of presence right now.

We begin to note the train tracks. The ones that created our sledding hill are obviously defunct. We know that neighboring tracks are in use. Kevin has begun charting the route to Atlantic City, the other to Norfolk. And yet, the tracks are not clear. Has the snow chased the trains away too?

Up and down, up and down. I suddenly remember how frequently I sledded as a kid! There was a steep slope that lead into an open, treeless front yard within my childhood cul de sac. We marched over and spent hours walking up the side of the hill (to not mar the sledding slope) and taking turns riding down. I was absolutely fearless then and often overly cautious now. I remembered how easily I could note what snow would give us a perfect ride, what compacted too quickly, what was too icy and slick, and what type of powder gathered and formed moguls on our track. Years of snowless winters buried those memories.

I remembered that slow burn in the thighs of marching and climbing snow. I remembered the proper attire to not pack ice wrists and ankles. I remembered backyard adventures and the stories they inspired.

In the snowy quiet, I heard stories of animals spying on humans. I saw stories of teenagers marking their territory in blue paint and strange names. The stories the trains tell, and their passengers. The stories the plants tell. ("What are these brambles?" I asked Kevin. "Greenbriar." "What do they do?" I asked annoyed at the stickers. "They produce berries the birds like to eat." Oh. Carry on.)

In the adventure, memory, story, the two as one. Step breaks ice, sinks to snow, lifts, and repeats.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Making Space

A little travel can offer a lot of perspective.  I stay intentional about mandating travel, at least annually, to insert that pause into the day-to-day momentum.  All fall I felt really over-extended and spread thin.  I struggled with what to do.  I was so grateful to have had work opportunities-- especially when Kevin and I needed money.  I'm very appreciative for the ability to work!  However, I felt like I was always rushing around.  I was always too busy.  It was really hard to find enough time, let alone enough time for myself.

Despite the robbery, while in El Salvador I was able to carve some time to lay in a hammock and stare out to sea.  I remembered how I want my life to feel.  I remembered what's important to me.  While I'm grateful for work, I also know that I have to strive for balance.  I made the decision to leave three of my regular yoga classes each week.  When I came home, I gave a month's notice at the two studios.  I offered to teach for the duration of February to give the owners time to find a replacement or cancel those classes.

I still feel a little nervous about my decision.  I don't ever want to take opportunities lightly.  But I also feel a sense of calm.  I'm grateful to have met the students at those studios, for the opportunity that I had, and I hope to continue to grow with these communities in the future.  For now, I've made some more space.  I'm actively cultivating balance.  That's fertile work.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Project Inkblot!

My friends Boyuan and Jahan are the sparks behind Project Inkblot, a space devoted to exploring and nurturing the creative process.  They've curated badass content-- it's international and multi-dimensional.  I'm honored to be a regular contributor on wellness and self-care.

Check out my first piece, "Don't forget you are divine."  Sign up to get regular content & keep the creative fires stoked!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Blinking, and home

I'm washing Guatemalan dust off towels.  I'm shaking El Salvadoran sand from tee-shirts.  I'm shedding that reality for this one-- a small suburban plot with fruit trees and relationships and the decision to call it home.  With the shedding, I still find the markings.  Sun streaks in my hair.  Spanish vocabulary surfacing, unprompted.  The internal clock set to scan for sunrise and sunset.

We took a crazy Spirit flight home from San Salvador, El Salvador.  The flight was crazy because it left San Salvador at 2 am.  There were multiple lines, security check points, and much waiting.  In addition to normal metal detectors we had to open up all carry-ons for personal inspection.  I never saw so much perfume and cologne thrown away.  No shops were open at that hour, so there was no hope of purchasing water after security.  Dry mouth, crying babies, a delayed flight.  Eventually, we boarded for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA.

While waiting in these multiple lines, I became fairly familiar with my fellow travelers.  I spied that the group of men staying close to one another held Honduran passports.  Two of the group sported cowboy hats and boots.  They reminded me a bit of Argentine gauchos, though that look isn't uncommon in Central America.  I wondered if they were traveling to the US for work.  I wouldn't want to make assumptions, but we all start developing stories.  For these men to travel without partners nor children it seemed likely that they may be going for a stint of saving money or mailing remittances.

A grandmother was distraught to learn that she had to pay by weight for her luggage.  She tried to argue with the attendant to no avail.  Everything is systematized.  I think the attendant would have worked with her, but it was out of her control.  Eventually, brow furrowed, the grandmother dug into her bra for the additional money.  I was sad to see her patting her chest again as later security check points took her perfumes and potions.  I wondered if she was visiting family.  She pushed her hat against her brow and delved into a conversation with a beautiful white-haired woman sitting next to her.

There was one other couple recognizably not Central American.  I say recognizably due to several markers, the main one being the scuffed backpacks with French Canadian patches.  An El Salvadoran man spoke to them during one line wait and shared that he had moved to the US in the 90s.  This was his first time back to visit his ailing father.

When we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale we were obligated to clear customs and baggage claim before moving to our connecting flight.  Kevin and I moved to the customs line for US citizens and watched the majority of our flight gather there as well.  The group of Honduran men were in front of us in line, all with their residency cards.  People who had seemed so El Salvadoran (what does that mean, exactly?) or Central American (and what constitutes that identity?) now seemed so recognizably of the United States (?).  We now heard English.  Cowboy hats were packed into backpacks.  Even the expressions and demeanor seemed changed.

I found myself wondering how much the setting impacted my perceptions, or the late hour of night when we all gathered.  Were my assumptions prejudicial, or simply the act of trying to make sense of your environment?

We moved to the terminal to await our final flight home.  We were certainly in the United States.  Expressions were bored, wary, world-weary.  A child played with a video game-- loud.  All eyes were studiously down, on phones and devices.  I remembered a retreat participant commenting on his early perceptions of Guatemala-- "people here have clear eyes."  I was grateful for my reprieve from computers and phones.  And also grateful to be back in such familiar environs.  I watched a kiosk attendant smack gum and flirt with Kevin.  I do love the swagger and attitude of so many in the United States.  But I love parts of the world with less to distract us from the sunset, the sunrise.

This river marks one border between Guatemala and El Salvador.