January 25, 2011

My Surprising Visit to Not-So-Exotic Fiji.

I am not a deep-sea diver. In my mind, that is ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, metaphorically speaking. I set my intentions, to find peace with all my ‘wild creatures’, on my mat. May be upright, inverted, sideways, backwards- but at least on solid ground. I snorkel and free dive, and have found a whole different yogic awareness when doing so, but that’s a whole different story.

This story is about expectations, actions, reactions, and consequences. If you have ever expected a wonderful experience in your mind to play out as pictured, perfectly, and found yourself being faced with completely different, imperfect circumstances, you may relate.

This is a story about an experience I had last Fall, in September, 2009. I had agreed to join my husband, Joe, to go to a Dive Medicine conference in Fiji.  He would be lecturing and the conference, of course, was all about ‘deep-sea diving’. Needless to say, I was not overly enthusiastic. Remember, the wild things are down there!

I had heard only wonderful things about Fiji. It was ‘beautiful’, ‘exotic’, ‘romantic’, ‘serene’. Yes, a desirable vacation/getaway destination on all accounts. How could I pass up the opportunity to visit? I had not been out of the country in two years, and had not traveled with Joe on any previous trips for these dive conferences, so I decided to ‘take the plunge’, so to speak, and just go. Surely I could find things to do during the conference and diving hours. It was Fiji after all. 

I looked up the resort information on line. On tripadvisor.com, the resort featured “high-speed internet access”.  Phew! I can live without my cell phone, but having the internet would allow me to complete some much needed medical literature research. At the last minute, Joe voiced concern that I may not have much to do, but he still wanted me to join him. I still wanted to go.

I was in full positive-outcome, optimistic-expectation mode. I would bring my yoga mat, get research done on the internet, spend time relaxing on the beach. I prepared mentally to practice yoga solo for the week. Even do some solo native and cultural exploration during the conference. I assured him I would not be bored.

I had much to learn.  Once I got there.

I did not know that Fiji consists of hundreds of islands, aside from the main island, which apparently does not have good diving. I did not research thoroughly enough, apparently.

The conference was on a small Island, Beqa, 7 miles off the main island. The resort, Beqa Lagoon Resort, was remote, was filled with the course participants, and the only other “things to see” were the two villages flanking the resort, Rukua to the right, and Ravi-Ravi to the left (when facing the resort from the boat).

The diving was best in the morning, so the resort became almost deserted from 8am-1pm.  I suppose it was wishful thinking on my part that there would happen to be a yoga space at the resort. Don’t all resorts these days have yoga rooms, with mats and props? I walked around the resort, looking for such a building, but none was found. It was a diving resort after all.

The grounds were beautifully manicured, but the number of mosquitoes was unmanageable, so an outside practice with the sound of the ocean, was out of the question. The image of Rodney Yee gracefully flowing on the beach, an image I pictured myself mimicking, quickly faded.

Upon arrival, I had surveyed our ‘bure’- a free standing hut with a bed, living room space, and bathroom. If you are like me, the first and most important thing I do is survey the accommodations when traveling. I rearrange everything in my head, the ‘floor plan’, to make space for yoga practice.

The bure floor was tiled, and the living room space was plenty. I would just have to rearrange the bamboo/wicker furniture. I could manage.  I was eager to pull out my mat, especially after the 24 hours of travel it took to get to this remote resort. In all, we traveled for 24 hours, taking two flights, one bumpy 3-hour bus ride and a choppy, hour-long boat ride. My body was ready to move, slow and smooth.

Diving started on day one. Wake up was 6:45 for 7am breakfast prior to the dive. I bid farewell to Joe, reminding him to “grab the sunscreen” since I had checked the weather in “Fiji” and was assured temperature would be in the 80’s and “sunny” throughout the week. 

I quickly rearranged the furniture, as pictured in my mind, rolled out my mat and began playing one of my yoga playlists on my computer. Mid-practice, there was a soft tap on our bure door, “Morning!” I opened the door to see a Fijian woman, with a name tag “Vinaina” who was there to clean the bure. “Bula!” she said with a big smile.

“Bula” is a Fijian greeting, similar to Cheers, Aloha or Salud.  I realized Vinaina noticed the rearranged furniture. I immediately apologized, assuring her I would put it back in its proper place. I also asked if she would be able to return in 45 minutes, as I was “busy”.

I was standing there in yoga clothes, drenched in sweat (I’m not used to humidity), with my mat situated square in the middle of the floor. All the furniture wrapped around the bed. She looked inquisitive, and before she could say anything I quickly blurted, “I am doing yoga”.  She didn’t appear to know what that meant, but she kindly agreed to return shortly.

Vinaina had 6 bure’s to clean every morning. There were 2-3 other ladies that cleaned the others in the resort.  By the time I was done, and had placed the furniture back as I found it, Vinaina returned. I invited her in, showing her how I had put the furniture back. She did not seem to care, but asked, “What is yoga?”

“Yoga is for mind, body, and spirit”, I responded, while gesturing with my hands, attempting, in some way, to depict energy moving from head to toe, and around my entire body. She had heard my music earlier, and still seemed interested, so I offered, “Shall I show you?” She sat down immediately on a wicker chair and said, “Yes”.

Still in my yoga clothes, I quickly rolled out my mat once again, and pushed some of the other furniture to the side. I pressed  ‘play’ on my iTunes and Deva Premal’s voice filled the bure, mid-song.  I was warmed up, so I went straight through a 5 minute flow sequence, including sun saluting, balancing, and inversions. I remained focused, without looking at Vinaina. When finished, I faced her, bowing, and said, “Namaste.” Then looking up at her, with tears in her eyes, she said, “You teach me”.

I was delighted. But more so, I was touched by her emotional reaction. I asked what had made her emotional.  She said she had never seen a woman move this way for “mind and body”, and wanted to learn this for herself.

Well, as it turned out, the “internet access” cost $3 to log on, then $1 per minute. And the sunny weather I had been counting on consisted of mostly drizzle, full-out downpours, interspersed with periods of sunshine. The beach was mostly wet, and unoccupied.

This new reality was welcomed, as I now would have my mornings occupied with 4 hours of yoga, not only with practice, but also with teaching Vinaina. She came by every morning at 11am. She cleaned the other 5 bure’s and then came for yoga. She cleaned our bure while we ate at 1pm.  Joe and I kept everything organized, and as clean as possible, to free up time for Vinaina to learn yoga. I swept the floor before my practice every morning already.

I got to know ‘Vina’, as she told me to call her, over the week. She lives in the Rukua village with her second husband. She has 5 children, all from her first husband, who died of liver disease at age 45, due to alcoholism. Two of her children live and work in Beqa, two attend school in Nadi, on the main Island of Fiji, and one daughter is in the British Army. Vina had not yet left Fiji, but was hopeful to visit her daughter in England, within the next year.

I asked Vina how the villagers relieve stress. She replied “alcohol, tobacco, and Kava”. Vina did not smoke, but she did not offer whether or not she drank alcohol or kava. Her housekeeping duties kept her busy 6 days a week.  She told me that the intense physical demands of her job took a toll on her muscles and joints, but was grateful to be working at the resort.  To design a sequence for her, I asked where she held her stress. Given that she cleans all morning, she felt most tension in her shoulders. But at that time she was also having a muscle pain in her right calf.

I drew illustrations for her, focusing on shoulder openers, as well as hip openers, given the tightness in her legs. I wrote out the names of the postures in English. She came back the third day with the paper, having written on it in Fijian. The humidity had already made the paper floppy and the postures were fading. 

She gave me feedback on the chosen series: the cat-cow, standing and seated forward bending were relieving tension in her shoulders and the back of her legs.  She said the calf pain had gone away completely. With the yoga she said she was feeling less tension in her body overall, and she was learning how to breath deeply. 

The long deep breathing gave her a sense of calm, not just during our sessions, but throughout the day. I decided to use triangle pose as a hip opener for her because she wanted to gain core strength, and she could feel the side body working as she moved in and out of this posture.

Because of stiffness, Vina had some trouble with standing forward bend and warrior III poses. I had looked around the room for an object she could use for support but did not see anything that would do.  In a flash of insight during one of my solo practices, I remembered how a bright and energetic Fijian employee of the resort, Tyemos, had constructed a basket out of a palm leaf in seconds flat. Perhaps he could work other wonders with the versatile coconut palm.

Tyemos was pleased to show off his considerable skill and soon had made straps from braided palm and blocks from chopped green coconuts.  Soon Vina was doing forward bend with the strap, opening the shoulders in a standing forward bend with her arms up and over her head. This became one of her favorite anterior shoulder openers. The coconuts were stacked for triangle pose, and this allowed her hips to open more freely. 

Vina found the coconut blocks were also helpful in warrior III because she didn’t initially have the core strength to bring her arms up. I was so impressed with her progress I asked if I could photograph her during class one day. She agreed.

When she was doing the postures she didn’t have to tell me how the postures were affecting her. I could see it on her face.  She looked like a natural, as though she’d been exposed to yoga before. I almost never had to remind her to relax her face, neck or shoulders, or to breathe long and deep. She just picked it up. When she came in to warrior and triangle, I instructed her on proper positioning once, and she had it down. She was certainly exhibiting motivation and enthusiasm for this new awareness and practice.

Other course participants and spouses began asking Joe what I was doing all morning, since I was not showing up for breakfast prior to my solo practice.  Word spread through the resort that I was a yoga teacher, and teaching Vina before lunch. Participants, mostly women in the group, were enthusiastic to learn of this. In all I held 3 group yoga classes during the week, with up to 8 students.

After one of these classes, a woman named Tina was telling me what brought her to Beqa. She was not with the dive course. She is a school teacher, and travels around the world introducing underserved school-aged children how to use a computer.  She expressed her delight and amazement that the Rukua village children were the quickest computer learners she had ever taught.

Vina told me she did not have a computer, but as we talked during our classes Vina informed me that she had a TV, DVD player, a washer and “not a dishwasher, but the other machine”, which turned out was a dryer. I decided to film myself, and use previous clips downloaded from my camera to make her a DVD using iMovie. I wanted to do this for her because I knew that floppy paper would soon be of little use.

I also wanted to add in some sequences that she could learn in my absence. I worked on the DVD for hours, doing a voiceover talking to her and got it downloaded on a DVD-R. I then brought it to the front office at the resort to have them test it out on the PC DVD player, the night before our departure. The information was “unrecognizable”. I use a Mac, and I’m not “techy” and it was too late to figure out what to do correctly. I was devastated.

We were leaving in the morning, and I had nothing to leave for Vina. I was fixated on leaving her with a DVD.  Vina showed no disappointment. My DVD was not going to change her experience and what she absorbed during the week.  Looking back, maybe the Rukua school kids would have been able to help me out!

I knew Vina would continue to use her strap made of leaves, and blocks made of coconuts, to relieve stress and tension from her job. She never once asked me what to use as a mat. I knew she would use the ground underneath, no matter the material.

 I left Beqa with a better awareness of the human interaction. We live in a technological world, and can get so absorbed in “staying in touch”, “getting things accomplished”, through machines, that we can forget the most basic of personal and interpersonal interactions.  Even with societal, generational, cultural, and language barriers, Yoga, a 5,000 year old “technology”, crosses ALL barriers, touches us to our core, gets things ‘done’ on 8 levels.  No machine can do this.

When I returned home I took a step back and began to count my blessings. I didn’t get a single minute of ‘medical research’ done during the entire week. I had expected to be productive, to get my research articles in line, to formulate an outline for presentations, to complete the ‘to-do’ list. I had saved this long list for the free week in Fiji. I did not meet these expectations.

The consequence: A blessing, on a whole different level.  I’d like to think all 8 levels. Don’t we all? These 8 limbs of yoga are designed to find peace with the ‘wild things’ we face within ourselves, outside ourselves, on a daily basis. I could have missed seeing this blessing. This blessing was Vina.

In our fast paced society we can easily find ourselves bogged down by mounting responsibilities and ongoing life stressors. I will forever be grateful for the ancient and modern technologies that are available at my fingertips. They both play an integral role in keeping my life in balance within myself, and in my interpersonal relationships.

I have learned how to make a compatible DVD for Vina and have sent this to her. I am hopeful that once computers are set up in the village I will be able to e-mail her to see how she is doing and get her more videos.  Using modern technology, Vina, and other Rukua residents, will have infinite access to learn the ancient teachings of yoga. Hopefully it won’t cost $1 per minute.

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