I’ve done yoga every day for the past 6 days. I’ve also meditated before each practice. This is a pretty big deal for me because I don’t practice regularly, let alone every day. This may seem blasphemous, given that I’m a yoga teacher, but for anyone reading this who is a yoga teacher, I’m sure you can understand. Teaching full time and finding time to practice is a nearly impossible task. Let me add to that; teaching as your primary source of income and trying to do other things as well to build your business (write, train, continue your education, build your business) makes it almost impossible. When you’re not teaching, you’re doing all those other administrative/other type things and more. So, when I landed here in St. Martin to stay with my boyfriend’s family, I had packed my mat. But I was doubtful I had packed my practice.
I got here last Thursday and after a full day of travel, decided to start fresh on Friday. Of course, it’s really easy to be inspired here, as you can pick any number of wonderful places to practice: by the pool, on the terrace overlooking the Caribbean, in the garden with the dogs by your side. I picked pool side, as I have in years past. I started slow, taking myself through the familiar Sun Salutations and noticing how travel, eating on the run and the shift in environments affected my body. I didn’t feel all that limber but just trusted in the process to do its thing. After that first day, I started with meditation before practice. On this day, I was actually teaching a class that morning as well to the guests at the house and the wonderful thing was another teacher was here as well. We were gathered for a friend’s wedding and as some of us assembled by the pool, I realized how lucky we were to have this as the backdrop to our practice. That morning’s practice was a bit of practice/teach and then all practice as Shannon took over.
By the next handful of days, I eagerly rose before the others, padded out in bare feet, feeling the coolness of the stones on the path, and unrolled my mat. I used each day to pick different mantras for my meditation, just letting them rise up in my mind as I took my seat, like the sun began to rise in the sky. It is quite windy here and every single night (no joke) it rains but just like magic, every morning, it is clear. My mantras were things like, ” I am rooted,” “I am here” ” I am peace.” I found them to be interesting nuggets of my own inner wisdom speaking to me and I was fascinated by the idea of just sitting and seeing what my inner teacher would offer to me for the day as that day’s lesson.
While I am a practiced yogi, meaning I’ve been practicing for over 10 years, I am by no means super flexible. I would consider myself more of an athletic yogi, so very bendy, twisty postures are not really accessible for me. I can do a Headstand and Crow with little effort at this point as they are more power type poses but give me a Double Pigeon or Dancer’s Pose and it’s quite possible you’ll see me wince a few times. As I practiced here in St. Martin, I was amazed by how the poses I took spontaneously arose just like my meditation mantras. While I did start each day with Sun Salutations, I then moved on to whatever inspired me; it could be seated poses, twists or balances. I let go of the need to do a “full practice” (whatever that is) and instead moved in a way that felt necessary for me on that day.
I teach anatomy to yoga teachers and I find that I’m always looking for ways to bring the information to life. I also teach classes that are heavily inspired by anatomy and while you won’t hear me refer all too often to your chakras, I’ll most definitely refer to your femur or your ribs. While I do try to balance things out with themes that can be broadened to larger, more fundamental principles of yoga, I like to stay grounded in the body. It’s my thing. So, as I practiced here, I found myself coming up with ways to be creative around sharing this information. I gave myself assists in the poses in a way that allowed me to feel the key actions of the muscles and bones. I came into each posture and thought of the actions of the joints (external rotation, flexion, extension, etc.) and then went on to identify key muscles that create these actions. I became inspired by ways to bring these themes into class. I started making a list while I was practicing so I would not forget and could refer to it when home.
The other amazing thing that began to happen, well, 2 things maybe, was that one, I noticed changes in my body after only 3 or 4 days. My clothes fit better, my body felt better, my body moved with greater ease. This is no surprise to me, intellectually, but even with that knowledge, to feel it, really feel it, in your body, is always a revelation. Plus, keep in mind where I am: St. Martin, on the French side, where croissants and long lunches with grilled fish, warm bread and butter and dessert (!) are the norm. I allowed myself to indulge but I also kept true to my practice. ( I should also add I was swimming laps in the pool every day, so that helped by adding a cardiovascular aspect).
The second thing I noticed was that I fell in love with yoga again. This is a common thing, to fall in and out of love with yoga over time. Especially when you HAVE to be around it when you are a full time teacher, sometimes the last thing you want to do when you have time off is yoga! Again, it’s one of those things you only realize once you quit your job and now your income is dependent on teaching (please don’t quit your job without a plan; for how to’s on that, see my book, “Stretched: Build Your Yoga Business, Grow Your Teaching Techniques” available on Amazon). So, after a day or so, noticing these changes, I indeed fell in love again. I loved exploring the poses, even the ones I didn’t like. I loved adding a headstand to each practice after a few Sun Salutations. I loved falling out of Tree Pose because the wind was whipping so hard it knocked me over. I laughed, out loud actually, when I tried to move from Pigeon to King Pigeon and thought, “How the hell can anyone DO THAT?” I challenged myself with poses I don’t usually do, like Crane and Bird of Paradise and I marveled at how you can completely skip an entire chunk of poses, like backbends or twists, and still feel like you had an amazing practice. Most of all, I loved the moments when the dogs would come down to the pool and nudge me on the mat. That was the best.
But, like all things, this vacation ends tomorrow. The hard work of maintaining the momentum begins the moment I step onto the pavement at Boston’s Logan Airport. I realized something else while on this trip. Sometimes you DO have to get away to find your practice. Yes, home practices are good, studio practices are helpful but sometimes when you’re in a rut, you just have to get out of your environment and give yourself the freedom to do the work. Not in a “running away from your problems” type way but more in a “dedicating yourself to what you love” kind of way. Recognizing that this usually involves vacation means of course, that it’s nearly impossible for the full time yoga teacher. We don’t work, we don’t get paid. But again, just like the plans in my book for building your business, it can be done with planning. I saved money for months in order to allow myself to enjoy this trip and that was the only way. I paid off the flight before I landed here and only spent cash when we went out. It was low key but a wonderful time and I feel completely rejuvenated for it. I am grateful for the hosting of my boyfriend’s family and feel lucky that I had a reason (my friend’s wedding) to make it work. For these things, I am truly grateful.
When I packed for the trip, I brought the essentials: clothes, toothbrush, bathing suit. I packed a mat but I’ll admit, it was heavy with doubt. But as I allowed my practice to arise like the thoughts in my meditation, as I trusted the process and did the work, all came to be. My seat felt steadier, my body felt lighter and I felt inspired again. I marveled at the way the body works and felt stronger for my meditation. I return home to Boston renewed and refreshed, ready to share from the heart and continue to do the work that I love.