November 12, 2012

Yogi Rules to Live By (& Break, from Time to Time).

I led an amazing yoga retreat in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, this weekend.

It was an insane amount of fun; twice a day yoga overlooking the ocean, homemade breakfast and healthy smoothies in the mornings, a boat ride to the archipelago outside of the city, where we swam with dolphins, a trip to the world’s deepest mud volcano where we all got massages in the healing mud, group dinners, every nigh,t in the best restaurants around; we went shopping, sightseeing and walked for hours in the beautiful old city.

It was, in one word, amazing.

It was also a little hectic (for me that is)—teaching three hours a day, while taking care of a group of crazy yogis from dusk to dawn can take it’s toll, no matter how fun the group. And it was a fun group indeed; we went out dancing almost every night, which meant coming home late—and practiced every morning which meant getting up early. These yogis knew how to salsa!

After three very busy days, I started feeling a little under the weather but decided to ignore it. We still had a lot of classes and one excursion to go (and after that, two flights to get back to Aruba), so this was definitely not the time to get sick. Even though what I probably needed the most was some extra zzz’s, I pushed through. I completely ignored Yogi Rule Number One:

Listen to your body.

It was such a busy time that I also decided to skip Yogi Rule Number Two:

Practice every day.

There was simply no time for me to practice before class (as I was going to bed much too late) or after class (as we were always on our way to the next fun adventure)! I do not believe in should have’s but if I had made sure to schedule in time for my own practice, I would have been much been much more in tune with my body, thus taking in account Yogi Rule Number One. See how it’s all connected?

Actually, one and two should be a cake walk, if we just go straight to Yogi Rule Number Three:

Love is always the most important thing.

I never forget rule Number Three. Ever. But that’s the thing; I haven’t quite figured out how to balance it with Number One and Two. I love teaching. Absolutely love it. I love it so much, I sometimes do it too much. I used to teach 24 set classes every week, which now I know is completely insane. Mad. Nuts. I even wrote an article about teaching in moderation (read it here) and right after that, started ignoring my own advice and taught five, sometimes six, classes a day.

I entered into a very hectic part of my life at the time and I had to learn (the hard way) that teaching 24 classes a week is not good, for anybody.

As Yoga Director of a wellness resort here in the Caribbean, my life is usually stress free.

I don’t sit behind a desk nine-to-five, I don’t need to overdose on coffee to get out of bed in the mornings and I don’t get stuck in traffic on my way to work. There are no hectic meetings, no one is one time ever and people are generally pretty happy with that. Life is overall very calm here in Aruba! A regular work week for me? I teach yoga and host retreats. It’s as fun as it sounds, challenging at times, but mostly just plain fun. I teach seven or eight retreats a year myself and host around 20-25 per year when visiting teachers come from all over the world to the island for a retreat with their own students.

I gained some “fame” awhile back (god I hate that word) with an article in the NY Times and suddenly things started to take off. All of a sudden my email quota went from 10-20 a day to about 100, my Facebook page started getting busy and we got a big boost, overall, on the retreat front.

At the same time, I had eleven retreats booked in three months at the hotel. That’s a lot of retreats. In very little time. All good things of course; good business, nice people (for the most part).

But eleven retreats in three months equals three months of non-stop yoga. Not just yoga, but airport pick-ups, check-ins, group meals, excursions, sunset sails, hikes, wine tastings, horseback riding, jeep tours, snorkeling, diving, bowling, trips to the pharmacy, trips to the grocery store, trips to the hardware store—pretty much one hundred and fifty people on vacation, with all of their ups and downs, all put together in a few months.

And all yogis are not nice either, I’ll tell you that.

We get the whiners. The complainers. The martyrs. The loud. The non-stop talkers. The people that call you at two in the morning because “there is a lizard in my room and I can’t sleep.” The people that complain about their room because “the ocean is too loud” (seriously—that happened—and they had asked for our Ocean Front Room on top of the spa).

And so it was, during this crazy, busy time that I started feeling a little under the weather. I had back pain almost every night—two car accidents and scoliosis has my spine in a real mess and if I’m out of balance, this is where I feel it first.

My body was telling me to slow down, but I refused to listen.

I kept going, teaching triple SUP Yoga classes (seven, back-to0back hours in the sun) and going along 100% with every retreat group, not only hosting but also participating in every class. I felt like every single person in the world that had ever thought of coming to yoga class needed to experience it—and it was my responsibility to make it happen (delusion of grandeur, hello?!).

I just loved yoga but was completely overdoing it and didn’t even know.

So one morning, 18 happy yogis sat down in our yoga pavilion waiting for me to begin class, I bent over to pick up a pen and snap!—I felt like something had physically just broke in my back. Like a 90-year old lady. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t stand up straight. I could hardly move.

And here I was, 18 yogis, waiting patiently for morning class to begin—what was a poor, tired yogi to do? Teach, of course! To this day, I do not know how I made it through that class but I did, not demonstrating a single pose and not adjusting a single person, but I made it through.

Looking back, in the world of should have’s, I probably should have called it a day and gone home. Well I didn’t. This is where Yogi Rule Number Three gets tricky for me: when your love for teaching starts to interfere with your love for yourself, you get into real trouble. When class was over, I called my boyfriend, who had to carry me from the shala into the car and as he struggled to not hit any potholes on the way to the chiropractor, said: “Love, I think you need to slow down.”

I realized then and there that he was right—I mean, I teach health! Balance! Calm! And here I was in pain, feeling stressed, overworked—not following any of the Yogi Rules at all.

I started cutting classes and learned how to do my work well without getting too involved—sometimes saying no can be the most valuable thing. Now I know I am the happiest teaching 12 or so classes a week and I try to keep it around there. I have a balanced life, teaching, practicing, hosting retreats, just as much of each as I need to stay happy and healthy.

I still want every person in the world to find and love yoga the way I do but I know now that all people that share this path with me will eventually start walking down it. All in good time. I can’t remember the last time I had back pain (it might even have been that day!) and my home practice is solid as a rock. But here is my point: it’s sometimes very hard not to overdose on what you love.

Fast forward to today and I’ve managed to do it again.

Getting so caught up in Yogi Rule Number Three that I completely forget about One and Two. I love yoga. I also love traveling. I love my students. I love being busy with fun, wonderful adventures. And most of all, I love retreats.

I got so lost in my love for this retreat in Colombia that I pushed myself a little too hard and ended up getting sick. Yup. As soon as we landed in Aruba, I got this tiny little itch in my throat. This little itch has now blossomed in to the flu of the century—I have a fever, my head is killing me, it feels like my ears are going to implode at any moment, my nose is running, I’m cold and hot at the same time…the whole shebang.

I’m miserable. I had to cancel all of my classes for two days straight (I never, ever, ever cancel class) and I’m still not sure about tomorrow. Now, the question is—was it worth it?

Heck, yes! I’m already planning the next retreat (Bonaire—who’s coming??). This weekend, I had students work through their fear of back bending; we had first-time Scorpions, Eka Pada I’s, Pincha Mayurasanas…it was the most wonderful of groups and people that I had never met before, I’ve made friends for life.

We spent our days practicing, experiencing new things, moving out of our comfort zones. One student that had never held a handstand before left the retreat with a full handstand practice. So yes, of course, it’s worth it! What I need to do is work on how to keep this high energy level going and still find balance between Yogi Rules One, Two and Three.

I need to be in balance to teach a good class—and I also need to focus on my love for teaching to be in balance. Love comes first and the more love I give myself the move love I can give in class.

So! I’m focusing on getting better, drinking green juice and ginger tea and aloe water like they are life boats here to save my life. And I have realized my lesson here lies in Yogi Rule Number Four:

Balance is key.

It’s as simple as that. We have a wonderful word in Swedish—lagom—that would fit perfectly here, but I’ll save that for another day. If I don’t learn my lesson, I might need to write this same type of post after my next retreat in Bonaire, who knows! We’re going diving! And windsurfing! And yoga, twice a day at least! (If I was the kind of person to use smileys in blog posts, I would insert one here).

Listen to your body. Practice every day. Love is always the most important thing. Balance is key.



Editor: Bryonie Wise

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