I’ve been trying to remember how long I’ve been practicing yoga and it’s not 100% clear. What I do know for sure is this. When I was around 27, I experienced debilitating anxiety. In my quest to help myself through this period I took up ashtanga yoga. For many months, I attended class at least twice a week. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love the repetitive nature. So when feeling much better thanks and ready for a long overseas adventure (back packing & working in London) I disappeared without a backward glance. Bye bye Sydney, and bye bye yoga.
Over the years that followed I attended the odd class. Yoga in Thailand or Bali when the opportunity presented itself. A few yoga classes that felt more like a stretch at the gym once back home. Then finally, in 2009 after hearing about a flourishing ‘power yoga’ studio close by, I once again became more committed. I practiced regularly, and thoroughly appreciated what it stimulated within me, both emotionally and physically. With a history in gymnastics as a child I also found I was a natural in terms of strength and flexibility. Whilst I didn't experience mastery, I enjoyed using some of my natural abilities, whilst acknowledging others that clearly needed work. Balance for one, mindfulness for another.
But again it didn’t last. In early 2010, in addition to my yoga practice I took up running. In fact I joined a running squad, with a goal of completing my first half marathon. I struggled to juggle both and gradually, the running became my priority. Running is a true love of mine, that I discovered and I know will stay important in my life as long as I am able to run. Despite letting my yoga studio membership lapse, this time I didn’t walk away completely. Rather I dabbled when I could, paying for casual classes when they worked into my schedule. Staying connected, feeling the benefits, without progressing in any real fashion.
Two years and a life time later (after a breast cancer diagnosis, surgeries and treatment) I set off on another overseas adventure. This time, I had my sites on moving my career to New York and a life full of optimizing all the things I love. Exploring, experiencing new cities, countries and culture. Keeping fit & healthy. Expanding my social life and building new post cancer bonds.
I joined both a triathlon squad and an amazing gym on arrival in NY. I quickly discovered that the triathlon squad was a blessing in connecting me to like minded souls who I now call my friends. As for the gym, it turned out, that not only could I use the treadmill and pool there, but the yoga classes were outstanding. Nothing at all like the gyms back home, the yoga had all the spiritual messages and technical nuances of a dedicated studio. It wasn't long before I was using my gym membership for yoga more often than anything else.
Since then I have become far more committed to my yoga practice. What started as a weekly session has grown into a 2 or 3 times a week affair. And also expanded to studio’s around the country (and beyond) on my travels. Then in January 2015 - LAST WEEK - I travelled to a seven day yoga retreat in Costa Rica with two of my triathlon friends.
I set off in anticipation of a relaxing, rejuvenating week. There was some fear of experiencing yoga overload. But I trusted myself that I was embarking on something special. Right now, I’m on the plane back to New York City and I’m here to tell you, I was not disappointed. And I want to tell you why.
Like any adventure or group holiday, it starts with the people. Spending a concentrated period with a group in a beautiful location and with a common purpose connects you strongly. Add in the fact that in general, those attracted to yoga have more than physicality in common and I think it's even more likely than on your average retreat. Yogi’s tend to be open minded, curious, compassionate, individual and kind. Who doesn’t want to be with those sorts of people?
The practice itself was never boring. We were blessed with two teachers with very complimentary styles. Matt, who is a blooming yogi celebrity with a rather enormous instagram following and an intense approach. And Jen, who is far softer yet equally as anatomically and technically strong who radiated serneity. If we were talking Yin and Yang, you know how this goes. They worked together to ensure our daily two sessions addressed the 5 chakras in the body, one by one, keeping the variety high and the experience evolutionary. Typically morning practice was strong and hard, while afternoon was deep and slow. Yummy.
Three times over the course of the week, we met to talk about setting intentions. The self help aspect of the retreat was not overwhelming but it was absolutely essential to the experience. It also helped those bonds grow muscles, as we came to together and allowed ourselves to be authentic and at times vulnerable.
Personally, it was a rewarding week not always because of progress on the mat (although I made some and that made me very happy). It was also a period of spending 3 or 4 hours a day in my own head while my body moved. My emotions were all over the place as I rode the waves of my moods. I came to realize, that the work I was doing was more important than any yoga pose. In fact I learned more about myself than 3 classes a week in between work and play could ever give me access to.
In terms of Costa Rica, I couldn’t have been happier with where this ‘work’ took place. We were in an isolated coastal gulf, called the Osa Peninsular. In between the lush and delicious food on offer, there was so much more to do than lay by the pool or on the beach. Sure I did a bit of that too. But I also climbed tree’s, repelled down a waterfall, paddle boarded, learned to surf and zip lined through a primary forrest. Every night I fell in to bed absolutely exhausted in the best possible way.
I went to Costa Rica with two beautiful friends. I feel lucky to have these girls in my life and even more bonded to them than before the trip. I come home to New York, with many more beautiful friends. I have to say, I think this is travel at its absolute finest. So very grateful that lovely Cori instigated this and I had the fortitude to sign up.
When it comes to my yoga, I'm changed for good. I am no longer a runner who does yoga on the side. I am both a runner and a yogi. My mat is as important to me as my trainers. And while my body may decide at some point that running is best as a fond memory, it will thank me for my yoga practice for the rest of my years. Come to think of it, so will my mind.
This is good stuff at it's absolute finest.