Yoga retreat recap: Temazcal sweat lodge

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sweat lodge

Temazcal sweat lodge in Tulum, Mexico

“I’m not going to do the sweat lodge.” I said.

“No? Why not?”

“I don’t like the heat and I won’t be able to leave whenever I want to and I don’t want to be in there with all those sweaty people.”

As the words left my mouth, I knew they sounded familiar. They were all excuses that someone had given me for not attending a Bikram yoga class. I only needed to say “I’m not flexible enough” and I would have covered everything.

Well, now I had to do the sweat lodge.

I was at this yoga retreat in Mexico and this was part of the experience, right? Daily yoga, vegan food and transformative spiritual experiences. I had to do it.

Just after sundown, about 18 of us gathered in a circle and were smudged in sage smoke — something that felt both spiritually significant and like it might act as a helpful anti-mosquito aid.

The Temazcal is an ancient Mayan tradition and the hut is representative of the womb. The purpose of this whole thing was to emerge reborn. We all crammed into the dome and sat, with our legs pulled up close, our bodies pressed up against the person next to us. There was no room to stand or move around. You just had to be there and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Then, the rocks came in. They had been sitting in the blazing fire-pit outside and were glowing red. We invited them in by saying “Welcome, Grandmother” in Spanish as they were shoveled into a pit in the middle of the Temazcal. Then, water infused with herbs was pored over the rocks. The steam rose and filled the Temazcal like a sauna.

It was hot. Really hot. Hotter than a Bikram Yoga hot room. At this point you kind of wanted to yell at the rocks – “get the hell out, Grandma” – but that would have been disrespectful.

Then the chanting began. And the singing. And I think some people had instruments but I couldn’t really see them and didn’t have enough wits about me to even shake a tambourine. The light-headedness took over, but at least the people on either side of me were propping me up so I couldn’t fall face-first into the rocks.

The total Temazcal lasted about two hours but it was separated into four parts or “doors.” After each door we had the chance to leave if we wanted to; I left after the second door, sat out the third door in the cool(er) night air, where I laid in savasana and some sort of tamascal assistant offered me water and played drums over me. After my break, I decided I wanted more of this experience, what ever it was. I went back in for the last door.

We sang about showing appreciation for ancestors and all that had come before us. We sang about acceptance of ourselves and letting go of anything from the past that didn’t serve us. We sang about our gratitude for the whole world and something about intergalactic eagles that I really didn’t understand but I was totally digging.

I did feel that when I crawled out, sweaty and dirty and delirious, I was reborn. The whole experience for me was about surrender. It was so similar to my early experiences with Bikram yoga. I was so apprehensive about the whole thing, but the process gave me the chance to let go – of my fear, my anxiety, my baggage. We all went and jumped in the ocean to complete the ritual and celebrate in the waves.

It absolutely felt cleansing and I really do feel changed by the experience, even weeks later. There was a shift. Something happened, but I can’t quite tell you how or why.

But, I definitely left something behind in that hot, smokey hut – something I just didn’t need anymore. It mixed with my sweat and my grateful tears and it melted into the sand and disappeared forever.

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Dear K: thoughts for the yoga-curious

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A while ago, a friend asked me some questions about getting started with a yoga practice.

I’m not sure if she expected the impassioned diatribe that her email evoked.

Her concerns were pretty universal; I was worried about all these things when I first started, too. I’ve heard them many times from all kinds of people. When I say I do yoga, they say they would like to try it, but…

So, here is what I said to my friend. Maybe this can be useful to someone else.

Dear K,

Let me address your concerns.

“I am unbendy.”

Yes – that’s because you don’t do yoga, yet. Yoga is where you go to learn to get bendy. When someone tells me they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible, that’s like saying you can’t take piano lessons because you can’t play Mozart. As you go, you get bendy. I had a really hard time touching my toes when I started. There will be people in class that are bendier than you, but that’s okay. They were unbendy when they started.

“My body hurts.”

Absolutely. But the thing with finding a great yoga class/teacher is that it is a very safe way to get yourself moving. It’s still a hell of a workout, so in the beginning you are going to be as sore as you would be in a Body Pump class. But you’ll get strong as hell, too. When I walked into a yoga studio at the age of 30, I didn’t know it would lead to being pain-free for the first time in almost 20 years. Yeah, it ached a little getting there, but it was so worth it.

“I feel ridiculous.”

I love this point because it is honest and so very important. Yoga deals with the body but it is so much more about managing the mind. It’s a moving meditation and everything that you need to deal with emotionally is going to come up. You are doing yoga so that you can let go and kill your ego. Everyone in the class, regardless of how skinny or bendy or cute they look in their short-shorts, had a first class where they felt lost and scared and incompetent. It’s just part of the deal. The yoga studio is where you learn to stop being so hard on yourself, stop judging yourself and just be in the moment and do the best you can. Ditch the desire to be the best yogi in the room. I’ve been doing this 4 years, 4 times a week and work really hard at it – I’m nowhere near the best in the room. But that is not the point in the slightest. It’s your own time, your own workout, your own mediation to deal with your own stuff.

Yogis tend to be a very non-judgmental group. They are usually just thrilled that you are interested in learning about the practice that they love. No one expects you to be good when you are a beginner. (And you are considered a beginner for like, 10 years.)

I’ve struggled through classes – right after my dog died, right after a long flight and right after I made some unfortunate food/drink choices. And sometimes my classes are really hard for no discernible reason.  But I’ve always felt like my class has embraced me and it was totally fine, because we’ve all been there. No one wondered why I wasn’t doing a better backbend or why I sat down so early. We do yoga in a group and love that communal energy but it’s a totally individual practice.

Yoga has stopped my panic attacks, fixed issues lingering from my broken back and strengthened my marriage. I will be eternally grateful to the practice.

So, take a deep breath, get out there and play around with different styles. Give it at least three classes before you decided if you like it. Give yourself permission to fall down and look silly and be new. You deserve that.

With all my love (to all you budding yogis)

~Lisa

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Yoga retreat recap

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934154_10100934878542716_824618607_nThe idea of recapping my recent yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico is daunting. How do I even begin to capture it?

There was yoga everyday and beautiful whole foods (mostly vegan) and unbelievably pristine beaches where you could plop yourself down on the sand and meditate on the vastness of the universe.

There were also oceanside hammocks where you could spend the afternoon in blissful semi-consciousness while rarely clothed, joyful people frolicked in the blue-green waves. We played with Synergy and swam in caves and visited the Mayan ruins.

We also practiced Bikram yoga every morning. We sucked in our bellies and locked our knees and did our 80/20 breathing. Francisco and Esak (lovingly) picked on us and challenged us and cheered us on.

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The palapa where we practiced yoga every day

We did yoga in a palapa, outside, so the temperature was much chillier than us Bikram yogis are used to. Without the heat and without the mirrors, my familiar 26+2 yoga practice was transformed into something very different. It forced even more presence and acceptance. Backbends were not as deep, but grips were stronger. The heat didn’t exhaust me, but it also didn’t allow for the nice, sweaty sliding of legs in eagle pose. Without being able to see my alignment in the mirror, I just had to feel it, I had to tune into my body more and connect on a deeper level.

It wasn’t better or worse than a regular practice. It just was.

But the most significant part of the retreat for me, was the thing that I find most significant about Bikram yoga in general – the sense of community.

I’m really shy. I’m incredibly introverted and somewhat socially awkward, though I’m getting a little better. I was nervous about a “group vacation” with group meals and group excursions and just so damn much togetherness.

But it was such joy to meet this group of yogis. What fun it was to sit around at dinner and geek out on the nuances of spinal alignment and quad strength. How wonderful to share our passion and learn about studios in other parts of the world. What a great feeling to come home and have 20 new yogi friends.

Big pile of yogis

Big pile of yogis

We were students, teachers and studio owners. Some of us had been practicing for decades, others had discovered the practice just six months ago. But we were all bonded by this love of yoga. We shared stories of how the hot room had healed our broken backs and broken hearts. It was a pretty special thing.

I think I’m still processing this retreat, so expect more stories to come. I HAVE to tell you guys about the sweat lodge…

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Yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico

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Husband and I are leaving soon for our first yoga retreat.

I’m so excited I can’t stand it. Apparently, the place we are staying in Tulum looks like this:

tulum

Photo courtesy of Esak Garcia

We’ll be staying in a little hut, doing Bikram yoga in the morning, eating yummy, healthy food for lunch and spending the afternoon swimming in caves and napping on the beach. We will also be playing around with Synergy, which is a combination of Thai massage and partner yoga, which I absolutely love!

It sounds like heaven.

The trip will be led by Esak Garcia and Francisco Morales Bermudez, two devoted yogis and all around good guys. I am so thrilled to be able to learn from both of them.

The trip is not a yoga intensive, we’re not there to get competitive. It’s simply a way to share the spirit of yoga in an enchanting, meaningful place. Tulum was one of the last places inhabited by the Mayans, so it seems to have a bit of magic about it. There is very limited electricity at our eco-lodge, offering the chance to really unplug and focus on being in the moment.

I’m so excited to be able to have this experience – I promise to bring back lots of photos to share.

Have you been on a yoga/wellness retreat? Any tips?

Namaste, yogis!

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Back bending in the Big Apple

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Bikram NYC

I recently hopped a train to New York. There was a writing conference in Manhattan and it seemed to be a good opportunity for me to be brave and embrace this writer thing.

I sound very calm and collected about the whole experience now, mostly because it was wonderful. (In fact, I ended up signing with a literary agent I met at the conference, so score one for being brave!) But before I went, I was a hot mess. This whole idea of embracing your authenticity is nice and all, but it can be really damn terrifying.

Many, many friends listened to me freak out about how nervous I was about going to this conference –  where I would know no one, needed to make the dreaded “small talk” and was scheduled to spend a horrific 90 minutes in a “Pitch Slam” which is like speed dating where you pitch your book idea to agents.

Essentially, it triggered every anxiety I’ve ever had.

But somehow I made it through. The response to my book was very positive and I actually had fun and learned something.

And how did I reward myself for surviving something called a Pitch Slam?? 90 minutes in the NYC Bikram Torture Chamber, of course!

Oh, how I love travel yoga. I love seeing the difference in studios, yet having the stability of the same 26+2 postures. And this particular studio was super handy because I could just run next door after class for all of my XXX video needs.

It’s always interesting to see the little individualities of a studio. Do you turn sideways on your mat for Standing Separate Leg Stretching or not? What is the floor made of? Which side of the room is the hot side??

But regardless of how different a studio might seem, there is something other than the postures that I can always depend on while doing travel yoga.

Peace.

It’s always there, whether I’m back bending in Rome, Prague or Midtown Manhattan. I walk out with that same deep contentment, that same feeling of having my soul wrung out.

And let me tell you, after the suffering that I imposed upon myself prior to the trip, there was a lot of crap to wring out.

So, thanks again yoga, for reminding me of what I am really capable of.

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Nothing to say

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I had a post all ready to go for this morning, but in light of the tragedy in Boston, I didn’t feel right posting about anything else.

But I don’t really know what I can contribute to the conversation.

I always want to say something profound and healing in times like these. I want to say something about looking for the helpers or the fact that the good people outnumber the bad. I want to say something optimistic about how we really can go on in the face of this craziness.

But today, I’m at a bit of a loss.

So, I’ll just say that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry to those people who were scared and injured and suffered unimaginable loss.

I’m sorry that the Boston Marathon now has something evil attached to it, like Virginia Tech and Oklahoma City.

I’m sorry that this is no longer the type of event that is rare.

But here’s what I’m not sorry about.

I’m not sorry that the world gets to see brave people rushing towards danger to help out fellow humans.

I’m not sorry that we can come together and show our strength and resilience in the face of tragedy.

I’m not sorry that we will take a stand to say what is acceptable in our society and what is not.

We are all together in this – in this sadness – but we can also be together in sending light and love to people everywhere who are scared, lost and brokenhearted.

Peace, peace, peace.

The day of Grace

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Grace

Two years ago today, J and I walked into the SPCA, just to “look.”

We walked out with my guru.

She was a malnourished little mutt with claws so long they wrapped around and dug into the pads of her feet. She didn’t know how to play. The sound of clapping made her cower. She had terrible nightmares that left her snarling and whimpering in her sleep. Life had not been easy for this dog.

Even with that history, no one in my life has taught me more about stillness, joy, acceptance, love and indeed, grace, than Grace.

We almost didn’t adopt her. The information sheet hanging on the door of her cage read “senior.” We couldn’t imagine enduring the loss of her so soon. But one look into her blue eye, and then her brown eye, and we knew that whatever time we had with her was worth it.

We joyfully surrendered to the unknown.

When I stand in the middle of my yoga mat, I often take a moment of stillness to devote my practice to Grace. I want to show my gratitude for all that she has taught me about getting over the stuff that I hold on to from my own past. She is a master class is being present. She is the living example of everything that I try to access by bringing yoga into my life.

Happy birthday, Grace. Thank you for finding us.

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The Bikram lawsuit: gurus and the problem with celebrity

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Sigh. Bikram Choudhury is being accused of sexual harassment. Again. (Ben Lorr hinted at Bikram’s rampant sexism in his wonderful book, Hell-Bent.)

Of course, Bikram is innocent until proven guilty, but let’s face it – this is a well-worn story for yoga instructors. John FriendSwami Satchidananda and many others have dealt with similar charges.

It is truly awful that so many women have suffered because of this practice that should be grounded in wellness. I hope that they can find their peace.

The whole thing so cliché that it’s pathetic. You can almost hear the cheesy music as the yoga master gives caressing corrections to the lithe young yogi who is doing downdog in her too-sheer Lululemon yoga pants. Gag.

But Sarah Baughn’s accusations go way beyond that and it’s shameful for those of us who love this practice.

But, to me, that is an important distinction. I love the practice. The man who coined the practice, who gave it his name and trademarked it and bought a fleet of luxury cars because of it – I am allowed to have a different view of him. Yoga has taught me about balance and how to get comfortable with the gray areas so I can hold this discrepancy.

I’m devoted to the practice. I make no excuses for the man.

But what it the real problem here? Yes, these yoga dudes can’t keep it in their pants, but why? (And no, I will not give any credit to the studies that say that yoga increases testosterone and blood flow to the genitals and that’s why these guys are acting like crazed rabbits – that’s a cop-out.)

I think it’s because of the really messed up relationship our society has with fame, celebrity and charisma. We get way too excited about it. We revere our celebrities to the point that being famous seems to be the only worthy goal in life. We have reality shows that make people famous for doing absolutely nothing. Then, we make these charismatic people infallible and raise them up to this super-human level.

That’s a big problem because the resulting power trip fuels this sort of entitled behavior (or drug/alcohol abuse/crashing Porsches/going on bigotry-filled public rants). Famous people make mistakes and do stupid shit, just like the rest of us. We just tend to give them a higher, more influential platform from which to fall, and they tend to hurt a lot of people on the way down. We see it all the time.

I love the reminder that word guru is spelled – Gee, You Are You. You don’t need a guru to attain spiritual wellbeing. You need yourself, your breath and an understanding of your own body and mind. That’s it. A great teacher is a wonderful tool and can be a good friend, but we don’t need to give all our power away in the name of finding inner peace.

We already have everything we need.

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Lost and found: dealing with life’s disappointments

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mats

It was just one of those things that happen.

You know the sort of thing. The specifics of it are unimportant because the feeling is universally understood. Feeling disappointed. Feeling rejected. Being a little lost.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s just one of those things that covers you in a cloud of sadness. It makes you feel tired and wonder why it has to be this complicated.

I wore my big sunglasses to yoga. I wondered if I could get away with wearing them in the hot room, so that no one could see that I had been crying in the car on my way to the studio.

I don’t totally understand why yoga works. Why sweating and putting my forehead to my knee reminds me of my own self worth. I don’t know why doing a back bend makes me a kinder person. I don’t know why pranayama breathing re-introduces me to myself. I don’t know why a spine twist straightens out my priorities.

But it does. Every time.

There are thousands of years of documentation of this phenomenon, complicated scriptures and impressive-sounding Sanskrit words like svadhyaya. I’ve read Patanjali…and I guess I sort of get it, in theory. But here’s the great thing, you don’t have to completely understand it for it to work. It works anyway.

It doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t beat me up anymore. It still does. I still get disheartened and whiney. I’m just able to get into the hot room and remember what it’s really all about. I bounce back much faster than I used to.

And then I get down on my knees and press my forehead to the ground and profess my undying gratitude for yoga. Because yoga wakes me up to the joyous realities of my life and encourages me to let go of everything else.

And then I promise to do it again tomorrow. Whatever it is.

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Fly away: a Synergy partner yoga workshop

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yoga smiles

My husband J and I, flying! (Many thanks to Lizzie Clark for the photos.)

Remember when you were a kid and you would play airplane? Remember when you’d soar through the air, arms flung wide and you’d giggle and squeal and feel like you could fly forever?

Yeah. Me, too.

But then I grew up. I learned to be anxious and I learned not to trust people and I worried about falling on my face, both figuratively and literally.

So, a few years ago, when my studio posted the information for a partner yoga workshop, my grown up (anxious, untrusting, worried) self said it wasn’t really my thing.

I can’t do that. I can’t fly anymore.

But somehow, when the partner yoga sign-up sheet appeared again, I got up the guts to do the thing I used to do when I was five years old and invincible.

J and I had so much fun. Can’t you tell??

The workshop was a Synergy class taught by Francisco Morales Bermudez and it was a combination of partner stretching, flying and Thai massage. Class was held in our Bikram studio but the heat was turned off. About 6 pairs of yogis attended, twisting and stretching and flying and getting one hell of an ab workout.

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I tried to fly J, but our considerable height/weight differences posed something of an issue. So Francisco flew him. Look at J, rocking out bow pose!!

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Later, Fransisco flew me and flipped me around so I didn’t even know which way was up! I’m laughing here because he had just shoved his toe in my ear. You get very…um…comfortable…with your flying partner!

So it all worked out well, even though right before class started I was feeling very nervous and shy. I was at my home-away-from-home yoga studio, but it all felt so different. This was no standard 26+2 posture class. What if I wasn’t strong enough? What if I looked silly? What if I fell and hurt myself?

All those things could have happened — but none of them did.

What happened is that I remembered that I am stronger and more capable that I thought I was. I remembered that through communication, balance, presence and breath, I can work with my partner in a new way. I remembered how to try stuff and roll around on the ground and giggle.

It was the most wonderful afternoon and it reminded me of the important wisdom of my five-year old self.

Let go. Have fun. Play. Fly.

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