Teaching Asanas at Summer Camp (250 Words)

Since I'm going to be a bit more stationary these days, I decided to start putting my RYT 200 certification to good use. A friend referred me to Climb Upstate, a rock climbing gym, who needed a yoga teacher during their five day summer camp last week. 

 Photo credit:  Climb Upstate

Photo credit: Climb Upstate

I was a bit nervous since both the age range and style of yoga they required were not my specific expertise but it turned out to be pretty fun. (Spoiler Alert: Kids yoga is way different than adult yoga!)

There were around 15 kids, most of whom were under the age of 11. I considered a practice successful if 3/4 of them were actively following instructions during the 30-minute sessions each morning. Others just kind of rolled around on the floor or flat out refused to participate at times.

I was surprised that a few kids knew some of the poses already because apparently there is a school somewhere around here that incorporates yoga into it's curriculum. (I'm gonna find out where and enroll my future kids now, just in case!) 

  Cobra pose, kind of. Photo credit:   Climb Upstate

Cobra pose, kind of. Photo credit: Climb Upstate

The staff was friendly and helped me keep the kids focused, which was super helpful. I even got to climb a few routes before I left on the last day!

I feel like rock climbing and yoga are somewhat related because they both require strength, concentration and practice to move from one level to the next. 

 Child's pose; appropriate. ;)  Photo credit:   Climb Upstate

Child's pose; appropriate. ;) Photo credit: Climb Upstate

I think lots of non-traditional spaces like schools and retirement homes and even corporate offices can benefit from incorporating a little bit of yoga. What do y'all think? 

Yoga Summer Camp Week 2

I know my last post made it seem like this place is all sunshine, soft breezes and butterflies, and there is plenty of these things, but it's also quite challenging. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. 

Several people have collapsed on their mats and cried, and some wait til they get behind the closed doors of their rooms before they let it out. Something is sore at any given time and several people take naps during the mid day free time to be able to make it through the afternoon. 

We are fully engaged from before the sun comes up until well after the sun goes down. And we are confined to the ashram 6 days a week, with only one day off when we can rest here or take a taxi elsewhere. 

And meditation is hard. You know the myriad of modern distractions the world has to offer, so it's very challenging to block literally everything else out and just be quiet and alone. And you're constantly thinking "Am I doing this right? I bet everyone else is blissfully meditant except me who's swatting at flies and Mosquitos and constantly adjusting her legs because they're going numb." Probably not, but I don't know because my eyes are closed and I don't have telepathic powers like my favorite childhood superhero, Jean Gray. 

It's mostly summer camp with a dash of school mixed in because we take notes and have to study for exams. Our first test is on anatomy, which I really enjoy learning more about. Since I double-majored in marketing and Communication, there wasn't much time left for science so I only took the basic required Biology and Chemistry in college. 

On Friday I had a breakthrough. I was able to go up into headstand with straight legs, as opposed to bending the knees in close to the stomach first for more leverage. I was so excited to discover I had acquired "almost abs" and subsequently the strength to pull my legs up vertically. With more practice, this newfound skill will help further both my forearm and hand stands. (I was on an asana accomplishment high and actually went back to the studio later that afternoon for more core work. And if you read my last post, you know that previously core exercises drove me into a silent rage.) 

Only later in the day did I realize that the night before I had been focusing on my Manipura chakra as I drifted off to sleep. This is the third (from the bottom) of seven concentrated energy (prana) areas believed to be in the body. The Manipura is associated with vision, feet and digestion, all things I have issues with, so I figured it couldn't hurt to try to get some good vibes going there. It's situated in the spine behind the navel, the chakra closest to my lower abs, which is where I found that extra strength today. Now obviously I'm not saying this is causation because I've also been pushing my practice forward for 5 months but I think it's a bit more than coincidence. 

Chanting that night was also more enjoyable and a handful of folks even got up and started dancing. I was content to stay seated on the floor clapping but I may feel the urge to move around more during one of the later chanting sessions. 

This weekend was like a rollercoaster in the dark; several unforeseen highs and lows. As high as I was from my newfound ability on Friday, I crashed a bit on Sunday when I woke up with pain concentrated in my right bicep. It only hurt when I contracted it, so I figured I'd modify any of the asanas that required me bending at the elbow, namely sun salutations. So instead of chaturanga and cobra, I just held plank instead for two extra counts (Because, you know, I love ab work so much now.) 

I could do pretty much everything else with straight arms. I didn't feel much pain during the morning session but afterwards, the pain steadily snowballed all day until it reached critical mass during the last afternoon session and by then it had spread to my shoulder as well. I almost reached a breaking point on my mat, due more to the frustration of not being able to perform up to my usual self-imposed standards rather than the pain itself. I shut my eyes tight during the relaxation but one stubborn read managed to squeeze out of the corner of my right eye and roll down my cheek. I had been trying to avoid having to take any meds and just work through the inevitable muscle soreness but I had to take an ibuprofen before dinner. 

Oh and by the way, we also had our (unnecessarily stressful) anatomy test that afternoon as well. It was in the wall-less, open dining hall which is usually so relaxing, letting the perfect amount of breeze roll through unobstructed, except today of all days when we experienced what I'm fairly certain qualifies as our first monsoon. In the middle of the exam, we had to scramble to move ourselves and the tables and chairs to drier, more central parts of the hall. And the temperature dropped so much that my fingers started going numb as I wrote down my answers. All angles of this were just miserable, including the exam itself. Then even after the rain is gone, you have to worry about mud and puddle traps that spring up across the ashram grounds like liquid land mines waiting to explode all over your clean(ish) clothes. 

Anyways, Sunday night after dinner (with dessert - a weird dessert with inedible pieces of wood in it - but it still counts!) we headed to the smaller studio next to the dining hall for a talent show. Long story short, the talent show on our schedule was planned for the last night of teacher training in September but I guess they wanted to do one for the last night of the two week yoga immersion that was happening simultaneously as well. I had recorded some funny thoughts here and there in my phone but felt nowhere near ready when I was asked to participate prematurely in this one. I decided to just go with what I already had and asked to perform somewhere in the middle or end. 

It was a nice mix of talents from the group. One girl sang a beautiful, traditional Norwegian song, one girl

Read her favorite poem in her perfect British accent, a few others read poems and the most adorable German couple sang a few songs with their eukalele, shaker and small cymbals. Then it was my turn. I had a few key words scrawled on my hand and hoped for the best. I had about 10 jokes and an impression and was relieved/delighted that I had to pause so many times to wait for everyone to stop laughing. It was nice to hear especially since everything else we do at the ashram tends to be more on the serious side. Afterwards, so many people came up and complimented/congratulated me. I sincerely appreciated it and the attention made my heart flutter but I'm really bad at receiving compliments so I usually follow it up with something self-deprecating like "This is just what goes on in my head. That's why I'm so bad at meditating." 

(A lot of people said they wished someone had recorded it and/or that I needed to do it again and record it. So if there is indeed a subsequent performance, the video will end up on my blog.) 

But speaking of meditation, one quick anecdote. On our first day of class, Krishna had promised chocolate cake to anyone who could count up to 108 breaths then count backwards back to zero (so 216 breaths total) during morning meditation. "Challenge accepted" I thought to myself. Because I'll do almost anything for cake. 

I was finally to accomplish this task with the help of some wooden prayer beads I bought in town for just 100 rupees. It's a long string of 108 normal beads then one extra with a tassel at the end. (Ages ago it was the inspiration for the Catholic rosary.) giving my hands something to do actually helps my mind focus more. So I told Krishna in class earlier that week that I had met his challenge and to my pure joy and amazement he actually followed through and I enjoyed a dense and delicious slice of chocolate cake after dinner on Sunday. (And even shared it with a few friends in my immediate vicinity even though I could have inhaled it all myself.) 

I had some trouble falling asleep that night, probably a combination of the positive reception of my performance and that fact that tomorrow was our second day off, which I was looking forward to spending at the Golden Temple and in town back in Mysore. 

 Finally, a decent sun set!  

Finally, a decent sun set!  

 Our expert chant leaders  

Our expert chant leaders  

 Class time

Class time

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Kandy, Sri Lanka (Cultural Orientation)

I’ve had lots of great experiences but limited internet so this is going to be a long one! (But there are also lots of pictures!) 

ARRIVAL

I arrived at Colombo airport in Sri Lanka mid-morning on Sunday. I knew I would need cash for pretty much everything so I tried to use about three different ATMs, all of which denied me money and displayed messages saying that my card was ineligible or reported lost.stolen. After connecting with my Green Lion volunteer group, I used the free airport wifi to skype my bank, but was cut off mid-call due to the shoddy internet signal. (I actually ended up having to borrow money from a new friend until I could sort things out with my bank four days later. But I was thankful this was the worst I had to deal with because another girl was without her entire suitcase for several days due to the fault of the airline, so a lot of us pitched in toiletries and clothes for her to borrow until it arrived after several days. Travelers are the best!) 

Five of us and our luggage were piled into a van for the three hour journey to Kandy in the mountains. This ride started out a bit terrifying because although there are only two lanes painted on the road, there can be up to 5 or 6 lanes of busses, trucks, cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks. Our driver was swerving all over the road and honking erratically, not unlike everyone else. After the first dozen or so near-misses, we relaxed and listened to Abba’s greatest hits. Which was blaring out of the speakers for nearly the entire trip. 

We surprisingly arrived all in one piece and after removing our shoes at the door of course, were sent to our respective rooms. I was the last of six to arrive in my room, which was tucked away in the corner of the third floor. 

ACCOMMODATION

 Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

I ended up really disliking my room, mostly because it was too small for the six bunks (three sets of two) that occupied it. Three German girls had been there for several weeks and their stuff was everywhere. Then what little space was left was taken by and English girl and Dutch girl who arrived just a bit earlier than me. I had to lean my rucksack against someone else’s bed frame and there was literally no more room on the floor so I had to keep my backpack my top bunk with me, which occupied a significant portion of my already tiny sleeping space. The mattresses were ultra thin and I could always feel the metal bars of the bunk frame beneath it. The pillow felt like I was sleeping on a soggy sack of flour and we were each given two thin, tattered bed sheets which never stayed tucked in. I always slept on top of them both because it was still too warm at night for any kind of coverings. 

My bed was against the wall and under the single oscillating fan which blew directly over my bed so I didn’t really benefit from it’s cooling effect. Of course there was no air conditioning so we often kept the window open at night, which consequently let in mosquitos and the stench of cigarette smoke. The bathroom was tiny and I was grateful for a flushing toilet, but the space was wide open so whenever anyone took a shower, everything inside got wet. We did have hot water sometimes, but I actually crave cold showers after accumulating a layer of dust and sweat everyday. I saw several other rooms with ceiling fans and a bit more space so I know every room wasn’t exactly like mind. There were only two outlets so it was a battle to get your phone charged. I was pretty proud of how I was able to Macgyer my converter to be able to power the fan, my phone and at least one other device. We were also allotted two hours of slowish internet per night, which I really appreciate considered there is no internet provided at my new house in Ambalangoda. But, it was tolerable for a week, and the food and the new friends I’ve met helped to make up for it. 

OBSERVATIONS

Honestly, before I arrived, the only two things I knew about Sri Lanka were that it’s an island located off the southeast corner of India and it’s where M.I.A. was born. Now I know the majority of the people are Buddhist (there are statues and temples everywhere) and there was a civil war in the north between the Singhalese and the Tamil Tigers that really only ended recently in 2009. In general, the men tend to be skinny and the women tend to be thicker and curvier. They wear a mix of traditional dress and western-style attire, with traditional being shirts and long sarongs for the men, midriff-baring saris for the women and sandals or flip flops for both. Everyone’s been pretty friendly so far and the kids get especially excited and always shout “Hello! Hello!” when they see foreigners. There are also stray dogs and garbage all over the streets. 

ORIENTATION

Our cultural orientation started on Monday with some history and language lessons where we were taught a few phrases in Singhalese. Ayu Bowan is a common greeting and means I wish you a long life. You can also use this as a farewell phrase (kinda like Aloha means hello and goodbye.) We also learned some basic conversation starters: Mage Nama Miranda. Mage Rate United States, and pleasantries: Karunakarala means please and Isthuthi means thank you. The written Singhalese language is very lovely-looking but I can’t even begin to read a word of it. 

We rode a public bus around Kandy and ended up thoroughly enjoying a showcase of traditional Sri Lankan dance, costumes and performances. It opened with the blowing of the conch shell and drumming, which is a traditional welcome. This was followed by the Pooja dance, the Panteru Natum, the Cobra dance, the Mask dance and few others. The most impressive for me personally was the duo of plate spinners who balanced like 7 ceramic discs each and then the two guys at the end who ate fire and walked across hot coals that were then set on fire and walked across again. 

Tuesday was very touristy but informative. We visited a local Ayervedic (natural healing) spice garden where they grew and processed medicinal plants like aloe vera, cinnamon and ginger followed by a visit to the Kadugannawa Tea Factory Centre Garden where we had a tour and enjoyed a cup of Ceylon tea. Fun Fact: Sri Lanka is the second largest exporter of tea after India. Our last stop was Premadasa Gems & Jewelry where we watched a short video about traditional mining in Sri Lanka and then they attempted to sell us all kinds of shiny, sparkly things. This was pretty much the pattern all day: give the tourists a quick tour then encourage them to buy a bunch of stuff. Fun Fact: There are 28 different gems and precious stones found in Sri Lanka; almost everything except diamonds, rubies and emeralds. 

Wednesday we split into groups and had traditional cooking lessons in the homes of some very talented local ladies. Cooking is huge here, and women can typically spend half of each day just cooking. I got to assist in the kitchen and use a coconut grinder to help make our pumpkin curry, banana flower “slaw”, fried papadils (which ended up kind of like puffy potato chips) and rice. We even ate the traditional way with our right hands, sans utensils. Everything was so fresh and flavorful. This was my favorite meal in Kandy by far.

Later that day, we visited a Buddhist temple and chatted with a nun with a shaved head and everything who was originally from England but had come to this temple after converting in Burma. She had an open dialogue with us about Buddhism, answered several questions and misconceptions and then led us in a short meditation. That was really interesting because she had a unique perspective of being able to compare it to the traditional Western lifestyle instead of being born into it, as they are here. Some monks get recruited really young at like 7 or 8 years old. I’ve seen some this young in town and at other temples in the area. 

Thursday we visited the incredibly crowded Temple of the Tooth Relic, which was packed with tourists and devotees alike. Our guides encouraged us to buy flowers for offerings at one of the several carts outside the temple and it only cost 100 rupees (about 75¢ USD) so we obliged. It was more like a palace than a temple with ornate murals and sculptures everywhere. There was a horn player and two drummers at the front and a huge line that wrapped around the inside of the temple to actually see the tooth (of Buddha) so instead we just walked past the outside of the relic room. There were people everywhere offering prayers and fruit and flowers and tourists taking pictures and even groups of children on field trips in their adorable white uniforms and red ribbons. 

After that, we took tuk-tuks, which is kind of like a cross between and motorcycle and a golf cart, up the hill to a wood shop and a batik shop. Again, they gave a quick lecture and then escorted us to their ginormous gift shops in hopes of us buying souvenirs. I finally gave in at the Batik shop and bought a small print of several birds roosting on branches called The Tree of Life. 

 Artisan at the woodworking shop

Artisan at the woodworking shop

 Tree of Life Batik

Tree of Life Batik

It was a pretty short day so a couple other girls and I stayed in town to shop at the local markets. It can be overwhelming if you’re not used to crowded places with everyone promising you the best deal. “Special price for you. Student price. Volunteer price.” I ended up with an awesome pair of printed elephant pants and a matching purple t-shirt that were comfortable enough for traveling and conservative enough for temple visits. 

 The Central Market

The Central Market

Friday was our last official orientation day and we started it with a public bus trip and a steep hike to the Bahirawakanda Temple which housed a giant Buddha statue that overlooked all of Kandy. We took tons of pictures of the statue and the great view of the city below before having tea and being blessed by a young monk who tied white string around each of our right wrists. Apparently you are supposed to make a wish when you receive the string and then when the makeshift bracelet falls off, your wish is supposed to come true.

We then went back down to the city and visited a large Hindu temple where people were praying and offering fruit platters. Once the offering has been blessed, you get a little dot on your forehead and you’re supposed to eat the fruit. I’ve visited several Hindu temples now and they’re always so bright and colorful with intricate carvings. This one even had a bunch of flashing neon images of gods and goddesses that reminded me a bit of a casino. At lunchtime, we headed to Balaji Dosai pure vegetarian restaurant where we all enjoyed a roti-like dish with a couple different curries on the side. Either the spice was toned down for us or I’m finally starting to increase my tolerance! 

That night, a group of about 20 of us packed up and loaded into three vans around 11 PM for a three hour drive to Adam’s Peak (or Sri Pada). The plan was to arrive around 2 AM and then hike to the top in time for sunrise. We figured we’d be able to get some rest on the way there - but boy were we wrong. The driver of my van at least was swerving around the hairpin turns of the mountain road like a maniac and blaring whiny-sounding Sri Lankan music. There were no seat belts and no handles or anything to hold onto inside so we all just kind of tumbled over the top of one another each time we took a hard turn. One girl in the back threw up a few times and another had her head out of the window on the verge of puking, herself. When we finally arrived, it was dark so we all got out our flashlights and started up the dirt and stone-staired trail. It started raining so I put my raincoat on over my backpack and opened my umbrella. A few stray dogs followed us, which was ok and even a bit reassuring until a couple of them started growling and snapping at each other. 

 Sri Pada or Adam's Peak ( More image here ) 

Sri Pada or Adam's Peak (More image here

The rain only got worse and our one large group scattered into several smaller groups. I was struggling with the altitude since I’m used to living at sea level. I also started feeling a slight pain in my knee but I was determined to reach the top. The rain only got worse and flooded the trail. It got colder the higher we climbed. And the nonstop precipitation caused the steeper stone steps towards the top to turn into a gushing waterfall. I could feel my pants stuck to my legs and my feet sloshing around in the water inside my hiking boots. It literally felt like torture in the cold, wet darkness. I pressed on as much as I could until the pain in my knee was unbearable. This happened less than half a kilometer from the top, according to a couple who had already reached the peak and was on their way back down. A friend and I stopped at a police station on the way back down to see if they had any first aid supplies and happened to run into a different group of trekkers. One of them was a girl in her mid-twenties who happened to be training as a humanitarian aid worker and immediately wrapped up my knee and gave me some ibuprofen. The Sri Lankan police were very kind and offered us all hot tea, which was the motivation I needed to start hobbling back down the mountain. The sun came up at some point during the descent but the rain still never fully stopped. I was lucky I only found one leech as most other people were attacked several times. 

Back at the base, the vans and about half of the group were already waiting. Once there were enough people to fill up the first van, it took off and I was the only one left waiting for the rest of the group, who I assumed had reached the top. They returned pretty disappointed because although they went as far as they could, the actual peak was gated and locked since it was off season and they couldn’t even see the sunrise due to all the rain and mist. The ride back was even more miserable because we were all soaking wet and we had to sit idly for over an hour due to a downed powerline in the road. I really wish someone had given us a weather forecast and informed us it was off season before we left, but now I have a story to tell about that hike from hell I did that one time in Sri Lanka.  

Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here

Chinatown

Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 

 

Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

2 Girls 1 Camp

Before I arrived, I didn't even know this place existed about 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Key West. So glad my friend Michelle invited me along on this mini-adventure. 

DAY ONE
After a couple hours on the most expensive ferry ever, ($190 roundtrip) we arrived at Fort Jefferson which also happens to be a National Park situated smack dab in the middle of nowhere on a group of islands called the Dry Tortugas. Michelle and I immediately retrieved our gear from the dock and set up our tent and umbrella as the shadiest camping spots were already taken and the sun was high and hot. We were provided a picnic table and a pole upon which to hang a trash bag (out of the rats' reach) but everything else we had to bring ourselves. Immediately upon making our first meal of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, we were invaded by a tiny arm of hungry, hungry hermit crabs. (Although technically I guess it's we that are invading their space.) 

We stripped down to our bikinis and slathered on the sunscreen before taking our plunge into the ocean. It started raining and it was the most incredible feeling to be floating in the salty sea below while simultaneously experiencing a fresh shower from above. After the ferry left, along with the hoards of tourists, we didn't hear much except the white noise of nesting birds on the adjacent island and the rustling of the wind in our tents and trees. 

The summertime mini-monsoon came right on schedule around 4 PM that afternoon and I stayed dry and happy in our tent while Michelle was off wandering and got thoroughly soaked. Luckily, it doesn't take long for anything to dry under the Florida sun. We soon decided to start exploring the unfinished pile of bricks also known as Fort Jefferson. The juxtaposition of the dilapidated old structure against the screensaver-worthy clear blue water and white sand beach is pretty jarring. As it was nearing dinner time, we decided to head back to base. I did some sunset yoga in the sand (very exfoliating but I can't say I recommend it) while Michelle chatted up our neighbors Judy & Jeff who happened to catch some Red Snapper earlier that afternoon. She gladly accepted their fishy dinner while I stuck to the vegetarian dinner that I had prepared and brought. We wanted to take the rain fly off that night so we could sleep in the light of the stars, but it continued to sprinkle well into the night. Michelle had a small air mattress, a matching pink sheet set and pillow. By contrast, all I brought was my yoga mat, blue travel neck pillow and a light tropi-colored sarong that functioned as a blanket. Don't need much since it's Florida and still about 80º even at night. 

DAY TWO
I rose with the sun after a lucid and rather stiff night's sleep. Michelle is not a morning person so I left the tent with my yoga mat curled up under my arm to do a sunrise practice on the dock. There weren't many people around so I was largely uninterrupted, except for one Captain Obvious who asked "Yoga?" "Yep" I replied. Like trying to balance in sand, balancing in a rather strong sea breeze is also an added challenge. But, I was still able to complete a few harder poses like crow and headstand. Chavasanah at the end was particularly enjoyable as I listened to the waves lapping against the shore. I returned to camp to find Michelle eating breakfast s'mores with our other neighbors to the east. I opted for the pumpkin breakfast bars I baked earlier in the week and brought, as well as an apple and a banana. 

After satiating ourselves, we grabbed our snorkel gear and headed for the coal shoals - some forgotten wooden structures just off the shore that looked decrepit and unsuitable for any use above the surface (except as perches for seabirds) but were teeming with coral and fish below. We both had issues with leaky masks so I traded in my ill-fitting and bulky snorkel for my trusty triathlon swim goggles and Michelle smeared some toothpaste in her mask to keep it from fogging up. Round two was smoother and much more successful. We got out of the water just as the daily ferry was arriving and wolfed down a lunch of PB&J, popcorn, dried mango and water. We met our newest neighbors - a father-son duo named Mark and Dylan - as they were setting up for their first day of camp. I took a digestive nap in the shade of our umbrella while Michelle soaked up some sun on the beach. 

Later three of us went on a quest to find the elusive coral head, rumored to be just off the west side of the island. We swam out way to far past an anchored catamaran and into a current too swift for our liking, so we started to swim back to shore when we serendipitously stumbled upon the coral treasure we had set out for. It was definitely worth the trip. Our second adventure of the day involved taking kayaks out from the south side of the island seeking a fabled shipwreck with Jeff & Judy  with directions from a park ranger named Tree. I saw a few dark spots scattered across the ocean floor but couldn't tell exactly what it was from the surface so I submerged my gopro a few times and will review the footage later. I'm pretty sure our effort was in vain. (And it was.) 

That night, we all enjoyed dinner in the best camping spot on the island, which I called The Shire, as it was tucked underneath a small grove of trees. Everyone enjoyed various meals but we all indulged in s'mores for dessert, which happen pair very well with pinot grigio, by the way. By the time we were finished, the sky was completely illuminated with stars so we took a stroll around the moat to admire them. We discovered some bioluminescent creatures floating and flashing throughout the moat like a tiny, buoyant paparazzi. The sky was clear so the view was incredible. It's a little sad that this is what the sky is supposed to look like at night but we so often sacrifice it in the name of modern convenience. After a 360º view of the fort and the night sky, we dusted off our sandy feet and crawled into our tents to spend the night. I slept much better despite the wind trying it's hardest to blow us and our tent off the island. 

DAY THREE
Again I woke up at dawn and again I did some yoga on the dock. I have no concept of time with no watch, phone or phone signal so I'd guess I did close to an hour and a half. I brought one of the big, black offroading wheelbarrows with me back to the campsite in preparation for breaking everything down and taking it to the dock where it would be loaded back onto the ferry later that morning. It was a bit sad to break down the tent, but we planned to still make the most of every minute of that day. And every minute also happened to bring us closer to a proper shower back on the mainland so that was our light at the end of the tunnel. Michelle and I explored the top tier of the fort by ourselves before taking a guided tour. We learned more about the brief and completely pointless history of the structure. 

It really was a waste of effort and energy as the only thing that ever attacked the place was a bout of yellow fever (transmitted via mosquitos.) And it's called the dry tortugas because there is no natural source of fresh water on the island, so I don't know who thought it was a good idea to build a fort there and stock it with thousands of soldiers and Civil War prisoners. So many fails, except of course for modern capitalism/tourism. 

After the tour, Michelle and I enjoyed a DIY sandwich buffet, pasta salad, chips, fruit and overly processed chocolate chip cookies on board the boat. She was anxious to get back in the water one more time but I was done being cold and soggy so I scoped out some seats for us and on board the boat for the last hour or so before the scheduled departure time. We both passed out, using our backpacks as pillows during the return voyage. When I woke up, I noticed everyone around me fixated on their smartphones since we were close enough to Key West to pick up a cell signal. 

We packed a lot into three days on a semi-deserted island and I would highly recommend the experience for novice campers. Island life suited me well and I liked not having to worry about status updates, phone calls, appointments or even what time it was. I even set a personal record for going 24 hours without wearing pants in public. LoL

A Helping Hand(stand)

So since I've clearly mastered the headstand (and by mastered I mean finally accomplished it by myself for the first time) it's time to take my yoga practice to the next level. 

 Supposedly this will be me in a month. Image Source:  Cody App

Supposedly this will be me in a month. Image Source: Cody App

I've been following these famous SoFlo yogis @beachyogagirl (Kerri Verna) and @kinoyoga (Kino MacGregor) on Instagram for a few years now, never giving serious thought to me actually being able to do the incredibly impressive & athletic poses they post on a daily basis. Mostly the handstands and arm balances. And here's why. 

I've struggled with core and arm strength my whole life. Not once have I ever been able to finish a rope climb to the top - or honestly even made it halfway - nor do proper push-ups. I have flimsy noodle arms and I'm pretty sure I was just born without that whole set of lower abs. Even at my peak when I was volleyballing, basketballing, running and hurdling year round, I only ever had a four pack. My stomach was like four aluminum cans stacked in two columns on top of a little soft pillow. That analogy doesn't sound very stable and neither was/is my core. 

So these ladies teamed up with Cody App to offer a 31-day series of videos called Journey to Handstand and I finally broke down and bought it last night. Cody App is kind of like Netflix for workouts. After downloading the iPhone app and exploring it a bit, I want to download Kerri's Active Meditation series and Kino's Strong Meditations series as well because I could definitely need help with these skills as well. I think it's just the curse of being creative that your mind never wants to relax and is thinking of a million ideas a minute. 

So today marks Day 1 of my journey and I'll follow-up with a post on June 5th. I will never be perfect, but practice makes proficient! 

Namaste, y'all!

What? Is this real life? I just got accepted to AyurYoga Eco-Ashram in Mysore, India for 200 hours Yoga Alliance Certification. I start in August as a student and emerge 28 days later as a legit yogi. 

 This will be me in a few months, except with less facial/chest hair and more clothing... 

This will be me in a few months, except with less facial/chest hair and more clothing... 

Ok I guess I should provide a little context for this decision that seems to have appeared a little out of the blue. I've actually been doing yoga classes sporadically for several years since about 2007. It's kind of a vicious cycle: get really stressed from school and/or work. Start doing yoga classes to bring some balance (literally and figuratively) back into my life. Start getting busy again & decide I don't have time for it anymore. Then I reach a tipping point again and force myself back onto my mat. 

I finally broke that cycle when I quit my corporate job in March. As soon as I got back from my South Pacific trip, I signed up for a month of unlimited classes at my locally acclaimed Red Pearl Yoga studio and enjoyed practicing almost every day since. In this short amount of time, I've noticed several positive physical, mental and emotional changes, that I know will only get better and deeper with more practice. 

So I figured, why not commit 100% and get certified at the source? After researching about 10 different retreats and schools across India and Southeast Asia, I selected this one based on my preferences, my gut instinct and my budget. 

AyurYoga Eco-Ashram is a 20 acre organic farm situated on the banks of the river Kabini in Mysore district in India. Traditional, Hatha yoga six days a week and three vegetarian meals a day without the burden of modern technologies? Yes, please!