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Chandra's Blog

 

Entries in yoga (3)

Wednesday
Oct242012

Every day I hate yoga a little less...

A confession: up until yesterday, I could not touch my toes. I first realized this in the presidential physical fitness challenge, fifth grade. I couldn't even come close. On a good day, I can graze about halfway down my shins. I blame this on genetics--my family of origin, with a few exceptions, are woefully uncoordinated and inflexible--and eighteen years of regular running ratcheting my hamstrings.

Yoga Utila--sunset practiceBecause of this humiliating fact, prior to our move to Utila this past summer, I have only dabbled in yoga at eight waddling months pregnant, where any inability to reach my toes could be blamed on the human being slung around my midsection. I used inversion (headstanding) to successfully turn Max, who was breech, and the meditation time to dream about the little person I would soon meet.

Still, after the babies, with no excuse for my lack of flexibility, and the baby weight to lose, I popped the kids in the stroller and returned to running. In my late teens, I'd found this, a solitary athletic pursuit where you are your own goal setter and the only person who views your shortcomings, when you break stride going up a rough hill, is yourself.  (You can read more about my relationship with running here.)

This past August, we packed up the family and moved to the South Shore of Utila, where my husband warned running might be limited by terrain, bloodthirsty bugs, island dogs and water boundaries. He suggested this was the place to try something new--with the wide ocean just steps from our front door and our new neighbor Andi had recently started a yoga studio. Yoga Utila is a grassroots organization that welcomes visiting instructors, provides discounts to Honduran locals, and donates to those in need--providing hardship families with things like electricity and medical care, and feeding and sponsoring homeless dogs. It felt like something I wanted to support. With some trepidation, I bought a mat at Five Below in the States, and threw it in my bag.

I gritted my teeth through my first few weeks of classes. The kids were with a Spanish tutor in the mornings on the South Shore so I was using the time to ride into Town by boat, write and exercise. My first class was Ashtanga, fifty percent English and Spanish, one hundred percent misery. I hated nothing like I hated downward dog--a cruel hamstring torture and humiliating arch exposure. Until you have walked through the gritty streets of Utila Town in flip flops, you have never been so self-conscious about flashing the dirty soles-that-should-be-touching-the-mat to the yogis behind you. Who, I might add, are all doing it right, like they know what's coming next, like they have done this hundreds of times. I was not listening to my breath or quieting my thoughts. I was wondering what was the difference between foreward fold and half-lift--other than that in neither of them was I anywhere near as sandwiched as I should be? And how many times were we going to keep doing these same poses--and what the hell is the difference between chataranga and a push-up?

Kids Yoga on Coco's Dock over the oceanI only went back to be polite to Andi, who was giving me rides into town, because I wanted to like it, and because it was there. When in Rome...

I tried Anusara, intro to yoga, gentle yoga and Ashtanga again. The only part I looked forward to (other than the lolling around and the little lavender pillows over the eyes at the end) was the fact that it took place on the outdoor dock of Coco's bar over the ocean and in tree pose (which I actually didn't suck at) I could enjoy looking out to the lighthouse on the reef as my drishti. And every time Andi said in the opening, "You are here, practicing yoga on a dock over the ocean in the Caribbean. Welcome the sights and sounds of the sea and the community to be a part of your practice," I realized just how lucky I was. The trouble with yoga was not the instructors or the inspiritaional location; it was me.

I still sort of hated it, even as a month passed and I realized I was improving in the tiniest of increments. It was a surprise one day when I went to a beginner's class and felt that it was too slow, too easy. Over time, my heels inched a little closer to the mat, while I cursed through my clenched teeth in downward dog. My mantra was a very un-yoga:  I hate this I hate this I hate this--peppered with expletives.

Plus, to be honest, it didn't feel like a sport. Yoga didn't give me the same rush or sense of accomplishment as running, not that I was finding much of that in my ten-minute-mile stumbly, stunted jaunts runs back and forth on the South Shore, carefully watching every placement of my feet on the uneven terrain.

I confessed my true feelings for yoga one afternoon to a group of full-on converts.

"Why do you hate yoga?" A friend's husband asked contemplatively in his lovely Norwegian accent while we sipped coffee on his porch looking out over the sea. 

"Because," I sputtered, "because I'm so bad at it!"

"But... you cannot be bad at yoga. You can only be new to the practice."

Hrmph.

And then Yoga Utila moved all but their sunset classes to a real studio space over the supermercado, andKim, center, sunset yoga three visiting instructors came to the island, which is how I ended up on a steamy Monday morning in a freshly-painted studio in an Ashtanga class with Kim Johnson from Kansas City. Because the purpose of Ashtanga is to heat your body from the inside, sweating is encouraged. No air conditioning, no fans, on a ninety-degree, humid day in the Caribbean. Kim, a former fitness competitor led the class like an athletic exercise--fast, hard, challenging, a pose for every inhale and exhale. I didn't have time to generate my loathing for down dog, because I was jumping through to triangle! It was pure exhilaration.

I have never sweat like that in my life. Not in summer field hockey camp, not in labor, not in my longest runs in Grand Cayman. Sweat ran down my arms to pool on my mat, stung my eyes and snaked up inside my nostrils while in headstand. The class went long, almost two hours, and I left feeling completely high. My experience was enhanced by having slept over at Andi's the night before where she talked me through a history of yoga/primer--complete with print-out visual aids. Going into this transformative class, I had the basic knowledge that for every bending movement, there would be an extension; so this was the difference between forward fold and half-lift! 

Since then, I admit that every day, I hate yoga a little less. Kim and I have talked about how I can continue to do both yoga and running, depending on what I need, and yoga will help my running, (but running won't help my yoga). On my last class with her before she returns to the States, we all dashed through a rainy season deluge, starting out as soaked as I usually end my classes with Kim. For the first time in our opening downward dog, I felt something I had been anticipating--the soles of my wet feet, my heels, kissing the floor.

Afterwards, as we said goodbye, Kim pointed out the improvement that has come with continued practice, the ways yoga is changing my body, and my demeanor.

"Well, yes, but I still can't touch my toes." And as I went to show her, I realized I could. 

* *** *

 

 Huge thanks to Andi Ryon, for founding Yoga Utila and leading inspiring classes, to Aura for my introduction to Ashtanga, to visiting instructors Rachel and Amber for welcoming me and the boys into your classes and to Kim, for truly beginning the transformation. 

 

Thursday
Aug162012

La Vida Tranquila -- Part Three 

First Trip To Utila Town

           The day began at 5:15, since our feet point east toward the open louvered windows and Honduran pineSunrise from our bed French doors that let in both the breeze and the light. I had actually set an alarm because I was worried after staying up late for dinner and drinks with friends the night before, I might miss my 7:30 boat ride into town with our neighbors for yoga.

 The kids woke up at dawn too--rattling around and scratching and kvetching. Max wound himself up in the lone mosquito netting over their bed like a little taquito all night and left poor Piper to be munched. J was covered in sand fly nips too. A quick call to Señor Tino regarding more mosquito netting from the Mainland, and amazingly, three of them were on our doorstep before the day was over.

Breakfast was weak ground coffee with rice milk for us and for the kids, the overpriced box of Froot Loops. I'd grabbed this when we stopped at Bush's Market on the way home from the airport the first day, not bothering with lempira conversion, just seeing an American product and nabbing it. But in a place where Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum is cheaper than cow's milk, the kids ended up dumping the cereal and the boxed leche they deemed 'gross' on the crab-compost pile out back. J called this a victory, and I scrambled some eggs. Land and hermit crabs descended on the cereal and the rest of our compost--the entire pile was gone by midday. 

As the sun spread over the red earth, Max and J walked me to the Coral Beach marina where Max astonished everyone by befriending Princess, the most skittish of the project dogs. I boarded Brad and Andi's boat and we wove through the network of mangrove canals to Utila Town, Andi pointing out egrets in the bird sanctuary on the way. They arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick me up at the marina since three would have been too cozy on their motorbike, and Alejandro drove me the short distance over rutted roads, past colorful houses with backyard crab pens. Similar to Cayman, locals catch the abundant land crabs and feed them mangos for several weeks to clean them out and sweeten them before eating.

 

In town, my first feeling was one of complete nakedness. I often experience a similar sensation whenever I'm without any kids, but this was more intense. I was without all my US trappings as well. Carrying only my yoga mat, a pack of pink Trident, a list of sundries and groceries to pick up, and enough lempiras for the tuk-tuk from the boat dock ($1.50) Ashtanga class ($5) and a few days of supplies. I had no watch or cell phone--I didn't even have J's Honduran phone number. The plan was for him to take the kids to work with him on the South Shore, then bring the Miss Quinn to the dock at Coco's Bar to pick me up, sometime around 11. 

"But how will we find each other?" I worried, and he assured me town was small enough that we would. Did this mean, I wondered, that a gringa like me would not blend in?

 

Utila TownI spent the early morning at my first-ever Ashtanga yoga class on the outdoor dock of a bar, where Aura clucked knowingly over my tight runner's hamstrings and promised I would get better each time. In Spanish, English and Sanskrit, she guided me and five women through a powerful sequence of poses and breathing and chants. Her adjustments, lilting accent and reassuring demeanor were perfect. The class was complemented by the view across the blue water to the mainland in front and the start-of-day street sounds--the clink of bottles and the putt and pop of dirt bikes--behind us on the narrow street.

 

After class, I was introduced to two other expat mothers. One has a boy around my boys' age who is learning to windsurf but they are leaving for six weeks in Denmark. Another has a little girl turning five on Friday. She promptly invited us all to the party and I eagerly jotted down the details: "Bine" 5 years old, pizza, kids! Jumping off dock into ocean. Bring suits! Bine's mother told me this is how it often is in Utila--just as one friend leaves, new ones arrive. I remembered the fast friendships formed in other international cities where I have lived-- quick connections, hungry conversation, immediate companionship.

Afterward, I wandered down Main Street and stopped into several little markets, ticking items off my list and practicing my Spanish. When one man chuckled over my purchase of thirty eggs I said, Tengo tres niños acasa que gustan los huevos! He answered with a friendly string of Spanglish I pretended to understand. I was beginning to notice throughout the island that this was an unofficial dialect. Nobody said 'Vale!' like they do all over Andalucia, but the English and Spanish were equally garbled.

At another store, I wracked up 1,024 lempiras of rice, beans and produce. Rather than take and make change for another 500 bill, the man waved me on and told me to bring it the next time I was in town, and with a broad smile, he welcomed me to Utila. 

I bought clothespins for the drying line I strung behind Casa Tranquila, a butane torch for the stove, six huge fresh mangos, bananas, coconut and almond milk for the smoothies my kids guzzled and a white cheese so intense-smelling it reminded me instantly of Gertie and Phoebe.

I passed on a rasta-colored hammock for the porch that was overpriced, and made a note that the movie showing at the tiny cinema Friday night looked good--something about Drew Barrymore and trapped whales. I scanned the menus of cafés and ogled nightspots where fifteen years ago, I would have been whipping my hair and dancing til daylight. The general street population was a curious mix of young Euros, grungy, barefoot twenty-somethings, SCUBA divers, and coffee-skinned locals, all jockeying through the narrow streets on anything with wheels. 

Wandering back toward Coco's, I happened to look up as the Miss Quinn came into the harbor with J at the motor and my three tangly-haired blondes in baseball caps and sunglasses. There was some relief in the serendipity of this--that all of this happened as we planned, without texts or obsessive calling or discussion over whether or not we needed the hammock I passed on, and where he thought I might find cinnamon and whole bean coffee. The important parts had been accomplished, and now we were here, the family reuniting.

A motley group of island dogs, odd mixes of dachsund and pitbull and pointer and labrador jogged past the next yoga class on the dock to greet them. One growled at J and his owner whacked his rump.

"All dogs like me!" J insisted. The kids found this hilarious and a girl swabbing the bar deck waggled her mop after him. Together, we loaded up our little craft with the flimsy bags of groceries and glass bottles of olive oil and wine and supplies. Max untied us, J engaged the motor, we waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out to sea, toward the quieter side of the island, and home.

 * *** *

 

To read Part Two, The Things We Carried, click here

To read Part Four, La Vida Simple, click here

 

Wednesday
Aug152012

La Vida Tranquila -- Part Two

The Things We Carried

Part of the challenge of this adventure is about learning to live with less. Specifically, how to pack five Flying from Roatan to Utila with our junkpeople into five bags that weigh less than fifty pounds and can fit in the tail of a six-seater Cessna 210? Clothes and toothbrushes, the things that typically stuff a suitcase were the least of our baggage. Our biggest fashion concern was bringing the right shoes for a beach that is rocky and rugged in some places and enough bathing suits to stand up to daily use. Rashguards, bug spray and sunscreen were zipped into Ziplocs, as well as the clips to rinse and hang these plastic bags for reuse. Additionally, we brought...

 

            -- From Hayden and Max’s collection: 3 gallon-size bags of assorted Legos and Max’s Spotty #9 (with Spotty #10 on reserve new in bag, just in case)

            -- Piper packed: her collection of felted wool rainbow gnomes made by my friend Kim, her giraffe “Chubble” and three drawing notebooks

Piper's rainbow people

            -- For homeschooling: a magnetic dry erase board, a dozen workbooks, 2 Spanish texts, pencils, art supplies, modeling clay, beads and wire

            -- For Casa Tranquila: three sets of sheets, mosquito netting and fifteen pounds of assorted tools

            -- For our medicine cabinet: a thorough First Aid kit (one of our neighbors can do stitches!) chloroquine for malaria and Emergen-C powder

            -- For friends on the island: water filters, prescription sunglasses and internet routers

            -- For physical fitness: yoga mats (our neighbor Andi runs Yoga Utila in town) and an inflatable exercise ball

           -- For our underwater pursuits: 7 masks, 4 goggles and 5 pairs of fins (On previous trips, J has brought the kiteboarding kit and SCUBA gear)

            -- For the rescue dogs who live out at Coral Beach: a bag of rawhides (don’t tell Sampson!) Amigo, our Honduran compadre

            -- For our electronic connection: 3 laptops, 2 kindles 2 iPhones and 1 iPad

            -- For our first world addictions: a grinder and our cherry red Le Creuset French press, and my CHI flatiron, because every so often, I need to have good hair. (This has proven to be the most useless item so far as my hair is rarely dry!) 

 

THE THINGS WE LEFT BEHIND:

-- Sampson, who is being fostered by the family of his sister, Mercy

-- our home of seven years and a basement filled with things that we wonder if we really need

-- Catty T, Sophie and Sporty (the feline contingent)

-- hardest of all, a passel of dear friends and family who are already missed

 

 * *** *

 

To read Part One, The Adventure Begins, click here

To read Part Three, First Trip to Utila Town, click here