Deciding whether or not to attend the first annual Medical Therapeutic Yoga Alumni Retreat in Costa Rica wasn’t an immediate easy decision. I have bills to pay. I’ve spent enough time away from home traveling with work all year. I have important work projects that require my immediate attention. I had a list of other reasons I ‘should not’ be going. But in the end, I decided to go. I am so grateful I did, as it was a transformative experience on so many levels.
This was a special retreat for us healthcare professionals that have graduated from the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute. The intention was to give ourselves a gentle and refreshing reminder and experience of the one thing we teach and preach to our own patients on a daily basis: the importance of practicing self-care — and actually practice it ourselves. A chance to reboot. A chance to spend time in solitude to self-reflect and self-inquire and a chance to connect and share some of our ideas with each other and teach in a very informal, low pressure, and ‘no expectation’ environment. The beauty of Costa Rica was incredible. I actually don’t really want to write about it; because I know my writing will not capture the beauty and simply will not do the country of Costa Rica and the Boca Sombrero paradise justice. But I promised myself and some others that I would. So, I’ll try.
Here are my ‘nature appreciation’ highlights:
• I absolutely loved there was no such thing as ‘indoors’ the entire time we were there. I loved my own outdoor shower beside my own private palm tree hut where I stayed. Showering in the jungle among the birds, monkeys, and while listening to the sound of the ocean waves….I can’t describe it in words. I loved the open air yoga shala, dining area and pub.
Every inhalation included fresh oxygen from the surrounding lush jungle. Every exhale I knew I was feeding the jungle. A true symbiotic relationship. I felt a heightened sense of ‘oneness’ with nature. Like one of my teachers, Eoin Finn, says: ‘the line blurs from where we end to where nature begins.’ I really felt like I arrived home from being so connected with nature for so many consecutive days.
• Bright Red Macaw parrots delightfully waking us up at 5am and throwing almonds at us from the almond trees during our afternoon yoga practice
• Howler Monkeys frolicking and swinging from tree to tree (& delightfully waking us up at 5am too; although, some would say they sounded a bit more like the creepy Wizard of Oz monkeys).
• Sunrise Meditation walks on the beach. Those of you that know me, you know I am morning challenged; but it sure was easy to pop out of my tent at 5am when the sun was rising from the horizon and the birds loudly chirping…like they were calling my name to come play. I felt a new appreciation for mother earth. I enjoyed that time of solitude each morning.
• Swimming and Surfing in the WARM ocean! I wasn’t sure if I was going to try surfing. It was my first time since my Achilles tendon rupture, and I’m not a strong swimmer. I was nervous. I was scared. (But I had a phenomenal surf instructor)! That feeling of being scared, but staying focused, trying to remain calm, and finding some courage, was familiar. It reminded me of how I felt back in my competitive figure skating days just before stepping out onto the ice for what seemed at the time as ‘the most important competition in the world’ for which I trained all year, to perform my 3.5 minute program of executing every skill to perfection.
It also reminded me of these last 4 years of going out on ‘stage’ to present to audiences with FEAR surging through every inch of my body…but showing up and doing it anyway. I found that I tapped into my yoga practice in all these situations. Find my breath. Feel it in my body. Focus. Stay present. When things got a bit crazy (a few times I thought I might drown in the ocean, or when I fell on one of my jumps on the ice, or my mind went blank during my speech), I go to my breath and stay in my body. Focus and try to remain calm until the clarity returns and I get back into my groove physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. (By the way, I didn’t drown and actually got up and rode some ‘epic’ waves about 4 or 5 times)! This was a HUGE milestone for me.
• High Prana, Clean, Homemade FOOD was phenomenal. The freshness, flavour, recipe variety, and the LOVE that the food was made with was experienced in every bite. Luke n’ Lily rocked it.
• Hiking in the jungle, cliff jumping, river walking, walking UP a waterfall (yes, we did so!), and more….the guides were so kind, experienced, and so PROUD to show off their country. We were told that the best way to thank them is to go back to our countries, and tell people about our experience.
• Taxi Rides. Why is this under ‘nature appreciation’? Because like I said, nothing was ‘indoors’ the entire time; including our taxi rides. The taxi was a pickup truck. Yup, we all packed in the back of a pick-up truck and rode on the bumpy Costa Rican roads as if we were on a fun carnival-like ride, outdoors. Smiles and laughter the entire time. Ahhh, good times.
Some of the other highlights:
• Farmer’s Market on the last night. We all packed in the taxi pickup truck and off to the market we went. It was an outdoor market that included a live DJ (a really awesome one), dancing, random dance floor dog, and more 🙂 This cannot be explained. Only experienced.
• Ginger, with the voice of an angel with extra Jazzy-Blues Soul, sang Amazing Grace after dinner on our last evening. Another moment that cannot be explained. Only experienced.
• The Staff of Boca Sombrero. The high quality service, friendliness, professionalism, and down-to-earth vibe of everyone there was such a delight. The grounds are beautiful, clean, a true oasis of paradise, but without a feeling of being ‘artificially manicured’. It’s perfectly rustic that keeps us all connected to mother earth. I think that PYTI found a gem.
The 3 (Re)Connections I made:
• The First was with PYTI Tribe. I admit, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be around people for “my retreat” I was treating myself to. I was around people all year long with the outgoing nature of my work; and the introvert that I am, the last thing I wanted to do was to be around people again, no matter how lovely everyone was. I wanted to take this time to reconnect to myself. I thankfully had ample time to do that; but there were some surprising (re)connections that I found were probably the real reasons why I ended up being there. I’d like to briefly explain a bit of history so that this last point is fully appreciated:
Fifteen years ago I was incorporating what I knew about yoga at the time into my physical therapy (PT) treatment sessions with my patients. I wasn’t aware if anyone else was doing this; but I didn’t care. I enjoyed sprinkling in yoga poses, breathing and meditation methods ‘here and there’ during the treatments as best as I knew how. I still followed evidence-informed PT practice guidelines, but borrowed yoga techniques I was learning from yoga teachers at studios, workshops, trainings, and my own yoga practice and exploration and was integrating them into my treatments which created this ‘hybrid-approach’ (what I now call ‘PhysioYoga’). I knew it was helping my patients and proving to be very valuable in so many ways (that deserves a post on its own). Then one day a brochure came in the mail: “Yoga Therapy for Health Care Professionals”, an actual standardized, evidence based program created by Ginger Garner, Physical Therapist, Professional Yoga Therapist, Visionary, and other credentials and talents too long to list. This was exactly in line with what I had been doing and wanted to pursue further; so I enrolled and the rest, as they say, is history.
I was honoured to be in the first graduating class (and first Canadian graduate!) of the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute (PYTI). The last decade for me has been filled with all sorts of explorations, tangents, and not the most focused direction. I suppose all part of the process when one is trying to ‘find her way’ and where she belongs in the big wide world of healthcare.
The last 5 years I found myself re-invested (on all kosha levels) in PYTI’s mission, vision and tribe. This medical therapeutic yoga alumni retreat reconnected me with some of my original PYTI peeps from the ‘good ol’ days’ and gifted me with the opportunity to connect with PYT’ers I had yet to meet. It was a heartfelt experience to witness that we all still have the same passion for bridging yoga and our respective healthcare professions and that we all recognize that we are ‘odd ducks’ in mainstream healthcare and in the yoga world.
Sometimes this path is challenging. Ok, let’s be honest; it’s really hard. It’s hard to be a lone duck and not have the support of the system or other HCP’s around you in your local area where you are trying to work. We have our Bridgebuilders and PYTI groups on social media that certainly help tremendously; but somehow, connecting in real life, in real time, touching, hugging, looking someone in the eyes and knowing and feeling the intense support, and sharing our stories, having fun, laughing, dancing, and eating 2nd breakfast together, is somehow that much more powerful and profound. A connection that says, without words: “It’s ok. We got this.” It emphasized I am on the path I want to be on.
It also made me realize that I need more social support in my life. Traveling all the time, I don’t have a solid ‘community’ I belong to, nor do I spend time with my close friends and family like I used to. How could I forget the ‘social’ aspect of the biopsychosocialspiritual model of health in my own life that I address with my patients?!
Thanks to ALL OF YOU, PYTI Tribe, for this gift of social connection.
• The Second was with Ginger. Like many of us, I consider Ginger one of my most influential, respectable and honourable teachers and mentors. This is nothing new. She has been this to me for quite some time. But something shifted in Costa Rica. I’m not sure if it was the parrots or the monkeys or something in the jungle mushrooms, or maybe the way she wore her LED headlamp as a fashion statement resulting in some magical spell, or if it was the power of the #whitewizard dance moves, but I felt like our ‘armour’ was removed and we were left vulnerable in a safe and sacred space that resulted in some solid bonding (as Brene Brown would say) and again emphasized I am on the path I want to be on and right where I’m supposed to be. I hadn’t anticipated this deeper connection; but what a pleasant and welcomed gift it turned out to be. Thank you, Ginger.
• The Third was with Me. This was originally my primary intention of attending the retreat. I really needed some time for self-reflection and self-inquiry. I desperately needed some uninterrupted time journaling, meditating, and connecting with nature without the distraction of things like my email/social media addiction. This was long overdue. I do try to journal and reflect daily; but it’s just very different when you immerse yourself in it over consecutive days. Even more clarity results. The time I spent in solitude at this retreat helped me to remember what my priorities were in life and helped me reconnect to ‘me’ and my life mission which is: “to promote interconnectedness in the world around me with wisdom, truth, JOY, and LOVE.” ….and some dancing.
PURA VIDA 2016!