Monday, January 31, 2011

"No even se."

Maggie and I have been working on our Spanish speaking skills, but sometimes English phrases are a little hard to translate over directly. For instance, the common response of "I don't even know." We weren't sure of the word for "even" in this case, so "no se" (I don't know) has morphed into the Spanglish phrase, "No even se." Our neighbors and friends have even incorporated into their conversations, so it might be official soon - Maggie is kind of a trendsetter that way...

The day before yesterday, my teacher read this quote at the beginning of meditation for us to think about:
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not look now for the answers. They cannot be given to you now because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present, you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” –R.M. Rilke

Week three of intensive yoga has been long. On the physical level, my body has protested louder and louder with each two hour morning practice at 6AM, and it’s been emotionally draining as well. Everything is slower here. And everything that creates the illusion of defining who I am is far away in Seattle – friends, family, church, home. I feel stripped and nakedly aware that I haven’t discovered yet an intention and dream for my life, let alone my yoga practice. Is there such a thing as quarter-life crisis? Who am I really? Who do I want to be? I’m not exactly sure what it means to “live the questions,” but for now I’m just trying to sit in the same room with all of them, ignoring the knocks on my door from anxiety and self-judgment.

Friday, January 28, 2011

An Apology

The word ‘apology’ has more than one meaning. Most people interpret it to be the phrase used to admit that they were in the wrong, but the Greek root for the word can also mean ‘to give a defense.’ In the last year I’ve found myself apologizing (in the first sense) in a lot of Christian circles whenever I mention that I practice yoga – their words and glances are usually along the lines of, “Have fun being a pagan…” or “I hope you know that you are damaging the state of your soul.” Maybe it’s time that I gave a different sort of apology...

When I was a little ragamuffin running around with wild hair, I used to be fascinated with the thermostat in our house. I would drag a dining room chair over to the wall, clamber up, and then begin to adjust the heat toward a more tropical setting. However, my dad usually intercepted me before I could complete the operation, and we would always have the same exchange each time as he set me back on the ground: I would pout, “But I’m cold!” and he would smile, “Then put on a sweatshirt.” I didn’t want a sweatshirt – I wanted instant heat, “Why do I have to?” and he would respond, “Because it builds character.” My little foot stomp of rebellion was usually the last word, but it waited until just after he had left the room.

For me, practicing yoga is like putting on a sweatshirt – stepping onto the mat brings both external and internal benefits. True, it finds its roots in Eastern religion, but everyone’s practice is unique. Just because one teacher elevates the self and the time when we lived as turtles doesn’t mean that every studio has that foundation as well. Yoga is an opportunity to stretch and strengthen your body, as well as develop relaxation, gratitude, and focus. Far from hindering my spiritual state, it complements the other areas in my life that cultivate my faith of Christianity. The first pose that we learned here was Mountain Pose: weight in the feet, standing straight, shoulders down, and arms outstretched overhead. Simple, yet this pose is a foundation for all of the rest of the positions that we have learned, and I also see it as a metaphor for where I am in life right now. I feel my feet firmly grounded in belief, but my arms are stretched up high with palms open to receive new grace, new possibilities each day that I haven’t even thought of yet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mi mama tica

While I’m in class working on vinyasa flow every day during the best hours of sun, Maggie is either on the beach or poolside working on a tan that currently rivals the shade of the locals. We celebrated with ice cream this week after we sat with “the cool kids” at sunset – one scoop of coconut and one of Mayan chocolate (almost representative of the difference in our skin tone when we stand next to each other). As we walked home from the beach, we realized that it takes us almost twice as long as it used to because we make so many stops to say hello to new friends along the way. We love feeling like a part of the community.
Last night at the end of practice we closed our eyes for a few minutes to bring our focus to something in our lives that we were grateful for, and as several small fragments of happenings on this trip came to my mind I realized how much gratitude I have for my roommate, Maggie. Her catchphrases like “Que pasa, calabaza?” (What’s up pumpkin?) and nicknames (our server at Café de Paris, Manuel, is now ‘Mannie’) that she distributes wherever we go always make people laugh and remember us. She has a voice of reason that helps me look before I leap and one of comedic commentary that can diffuse any situation, and she helps me wake up in the small hours of the morning when I’m about to sleep through my alarm and miss class. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have such a multi-faceted wingman…but I’m glad that I do.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let It Be

Yesterday during lecture, one of my teachers suggested that most people tend to run away from physical and emotional pain without any questions - the moment it comes into view we immediately begin to look for a detour. He encouraged us to avoid stretching so far into the discomfort that we injure ourselves, but also to be careful not to collapse out of any posture as soon as the rainbows and butterflies disappear. He ended the lecture with, "Pain brings increased awareness."

His words took me back to my first yoga experience in my second year of community college. I was trying to fold down and away from life in the same way that I drop out of downward facing dog when my arms are tired - my diagnosis of melanoma cancer was still sinking in, and even though surgery had been successful, I was facing a long stretch of chemotherapy. I was grateful that it hadn't spread and the phrase "six months left" had been taken off the table, but I was still scared and sad with constant thoughts of the next few weeks or years. My nurse advised anti-depressants, but I decided to enroll in a yoga class instead. Over the next few weeks, it became the only hour in the day where I could find refuge from the storm in my head.

All of the pain from that place in my life increased my awareness in my life, my faith, and my relationships. Sometimes it has to become dark before appreciation for the light appears.

"And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me, shine until tomorrow, let it be."

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Bug's Life

I don't know if this picture truly shows how large the grasshoppers are here, but let's just say that if one of them tried to take away my food that I wouldn't win. There aren't any in our room, but we do have to drown a new little village of ants in our shower each day before we can get in. I think that the geckos have taken care of most of the other bugs, because we haven't even seen a mosquito yet. Yesterday during afternoon yoga, one of the ceiling lizards fell into the lap of the guy sitting next to me. That seemed like a big event until evening class - half of the students were laying down on the wood floor with their eyes closed for a demonstration of meditation technique, and the other half (myself included) were seated next to the opposite wall to observe. While we were silently watching, a scorpion that was about sixteen inches long (and no, that is not the "I caught a fish this big" exaggeration) crawled down a window pane to the wood floor and started making its way toward one of the girls laying there oblivious, eyes closed in relaxation. Two of the assistants intercepted it in time, and the flow continued uninterrupted. Up until that moment, I felt like I was holding calm in my left hand and inner peace in my right, but then I think that I gripped them so tightly that they flew out the window. I'm still looking for them...even if just a piece of lint lands on my shoulder I start flailing around trying to brush off an imaginary curved tail. And I might be developing a new technique of wide-eyed meditation.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back to School

Our first night in the main studio, Don and Amba (the owners and primary teachers) started out the evening by saying, "Some words of wisdom: breathe through your nose because otherwise you might get a surprise in your mouth from the ceiling lizards." They are both so warm and welcoming and lighthearted that I don't feel as apprehensive about my full schedule:

Monday - Friday

Saturday - Sunday

There's also an optional meditation time from 5:15-5:45AM, but I don't know if that is going to work out...I have morning commitment issues.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Walking to Playa Guiones for the sunset, we felt almost like we were famous - everyone that drove past us on the road would smile and wave enthusiastically. But when we got to the beach, it was as if we were in highschool again, uncertainly trying to figure out where to sit for lunch. All of the cool, local surf boys and girls sat in a row on a log close to the entrance, sunburned tourists gathered in clusters here and there, and some other locals formed a circle around a bonfire. We ended up sitting by ourselves, but we think we'll be able to make our way up to the locals' log by the end of our trip.

Mi casa en Nosara

Our bungalow! No extremely large cockroaches or insects so far...

The path to our schools from Cafe de Paris (about 15 minutes on foot). Possible friction in our relationship: Maggie is a power-walker, and I am not.

Maggie's spanish school - her schedule is 8-12, Monday thru Friday.

The pool we get to sit by every day:

My school - my schedule is a little more demanding than Maggie's: I start at 6AM and and the last class ends at 9PM. Me: "I wonder if the early morning classes are optional..." Maggie: "I wonder if you'll actually make enough of them to graduate."

Me at the gate of the Yoga Institute. I think that the coffee cup is almost a symbolic part of this pose.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bonjour, Costa Rica!

Day 1:

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Liberia, my curly hair gained another dimension with the humidity, and I was the unlucky passenger frisked at customs (lost my granola bars in the process). I was so proud of myself for getting all of my things into one large backpack and two carry-on bags, until I started chatting with a Canadian couple next to me who were travelling twice as long as I was with only one bag each that was the size of my purse – then I felt like the car in the Ikea commercials. I made my way through the crowd of eager taxi drivers, stepped into the hotel shuttle, and then collapsed in bed at the Hilton.

The next morning my Canadian friends and I split a taxi to the bus station, and then a man standing in line pointed me in the right direction for the bus to Nosara. He stayed right behind me as we stepped onto the dusty bus and introduced himself as Antonio before settling into the small seat next to me, blowing his nose and then mopping his sweaty face with a small handkerchief. Antonio was very friendly, and to quote Seinfeld, “a very close-talker” who didn’t speak English. I was always one step behind him in our conversation because I couldn’t mentally flip through the rolodex of Spanish vocabulary in my head fast enough to respond. By the time that I translated his sentence, “Your face is sweaty, let me help you!” it was too late to protest and he wiped my entire face with his almost-drenched-from-previous-use handkerchief. It was a very long two hours until Nosara…

The bus dropped me off right at the doorstep of where Maggie and I will be living while we’re here, Café de Paris, a hotel/bakery that is owned and operated by a French couple. I’m determined not to be the fat kid in my yoga class, but living in such close proximity to Parisian chocolate croissants and baguettes might make my journey to yogi master a little longer than I thought it would be.