sea turtle released
travel, yoga

Summer Camp in January: My First Yoga Retreat

3 ladies after surfing near Troncones Mexico

Miah, Me and Miriam: three newly-minted surfer girls

You know that feeling, when you have a lunch date planned with a friend and you’re thoroughly excited about it? As in, you’re about to burst? You’re looking forward to the conversation, the attention, the upcoming re-forged connection, the laughter, the commiseration, the joking about the salad line, the sympathy for the experimental grain-free diet?

shrimp and grits

The last supper (breakfast): shrimp and cheesy grits

Yeah, me neither. Lunch date is lunch date, though I do enjoy them. But such was my level of anticipation for this Tuesday’s lunch. Maggie is a wonderful person with whom to spend a lunch, regardless.

How about an inexplicable urge to smile widely when you see a face you recognize in hallway at work, then you get to say “Hello, Imelda!!”? Even though you’ve been working there for less than a year?

Me neither. Normally it’s either an eyes-down march to my desk, or a last-minute “hi” as we swish past each other. Surprising, for someone who told a massage/acupuncture/crystals/sound therapist 5 days ago that “I’m a happy person. My friends say so!” Ah well … I’m still getting used to the new job.

Troncones sunrise

Well hello my lil’ friends

Such is my reality, this week. My past week spent at a yoga retreat on the Pacific coast of Mexico has affected me in ways beyond a lingering “tan” (it’s red and is only on my wrists and feet), a pile of laundry, a need for a new suitcase (it’s long life of service has ended with a crushed wheel), and maybe reduced tension in my shoulders. I’m feeling a strange surplus of joy, of love, of excitement for connecting with people. Twice a day, from cocktail hour two Saturdays ago to smoothie hour (right before the cabs picked us up) last Saturday: we gathered at the dining table. We delivered reports on our activities: a book finished, or started; a surf lesson enjoyed. A Thai massage enjoyed (or endured). A hang in the hammock. Or we inquired about and received information about passions, careers, future travel plans, future lunch plans together. Books to pass along or avoid. Smiles all around, and laughter.

Other lingering effects: I’m getting a little yoga in, every evening. Notably, and a bit sadly: I’ve swung back into my hour-daily work commute and the related sitting-muscles strife, so I’ve added a good psoas stretch or two right before bed. It fits nicely into a brief evening practice.


I think I saw this curlew in SE Oregon?

Also on the “I’m a changed person” front: I surfed. In fact, several times now, this has been my first answer to “How was the trip?”

I SURFED! I’ve wanted to try it for at least 10 years and I made it happen! It was a fantastic feeling, though not entirely unlike other things I love bliss out doing: downhill skiing, especially on powder; airplane takeoffs; carving long, smooth turns on a snowboard; certain moments when playing rugby; or even just floating in powerful (but not breaking) ocean waves. I’d love to surf again but if I never do, I’ll be satisfied with my experience last week, as well.

My teacher, Mike from Tsunami Surf School & Shop, was terrific: he broke down the physics involved & the movements I needed to make in order to succeed. I got up pretty easily, though staying up? I needed more practice. Even so, it was such fun, even the paddling part! I’m so glad the water was warm and that I was comfortable in the ocean (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

sea urchins

Urchins are in the same phylum as sea stars.

The carrot of a surf lesson what what got me to commit to this yoga retreat, and I’m so glad it did! I’d have been very disappointed if weather or logistics had kept me from the lesson, though a week of beach, yoga and terrific people could never be a letdown. Surfing was a bonus – this trip to Mexico was well worth my time, money and attention.

The people -my fellow travelers as well as the retreat staff– were warm and friendly, the beach was sandy, long, and full of interesting things to look at, and the accommodations were comfortable, clean and beautiful. I had been a little apprehensive about a whole week at such a small resort, but as it seemed the complete opposite of the huge resorts I’ve recently visited in the Yucatán, I wanted to give it a try. The 11 bungalows, 1 dining area, small pool, beach and 4 massage stalls that comprised Present Moment Retreat, as well as the nearby surf beaches and shops, offered plenty of room to be off by myself when needed, and plenty of conversations and/or activities to preoccupy me, when that was needed.

Ted, our cruise director and yoga teacher extraordinaire, is such a fun, caring person to be around that a week of seeing him more frequently than once every week or two (most of us on the retreat attend his classes in the Twin Cities) almost wasn’t enough. I plan to go again.


Lunch number one: the Nidra

A typical day: wake up around or just before sunrise, no alarm needed (but everyone in my room set them). Once dressed and the sun is up and illuminating my path, I wander out to the dining palapa. Hot coffee is ready! Sip for a few minutes before the optional 7:45 yoga class. Group breakfast followed the yoga class, and we often lingered there until nearly 11. Enjoy an 11:30 massage, or participate in another optional yoga or similar class, i.e. Qi Gong. Around 2, head to the dining cabana for a lunch of smoothie or salad. Go on a beach walk until the 5:45 optional yoga class. A dinner of great food, conversation and maybe a few drinks and dessert followed. To bed around 10.

Some terrific things that gave that schedule variety over the course of the week:

  • As mentioned above: surfing! On two mornings. Such warm water! On the second day, it was raining, and it felt great. On both days it was overcast: I was thankful that I didn’t have to squint.
  • I shared a room with two other women, one of whom was not from our group from Minnesota. Miah is on a year-long sabbatical: traveling the world and making choices on the trip guided by virtues in her recently passed-away mother. She has blocked the year into four 3-month immersions in adventure, courage, spirituality and compassion. Six months in, she’s on the spirituality track and soon she’ll be starting a 10-day silent vipassana (meditation) retreat. She and I had a great time, grinning while navigating the bumpy trek of being newbie surfers, together.


    A few of the people that would really like to stay another week

  • At dusk one evening, we all walked down the beach a bit to observe/help a community program: assist a couple buckets of baby sea turtles get out to sea (why do they need help? Read on, here). Our help was limited to staying out of the roped area and cheering on the adorable little guys, but before this, I wasn’t aware of the tough odds these little guys face, especially up until they get into the water.
  • On another night, after dinner: a moonlight walk up the beach a bit. There was just enough light to avoid bashing toes on those sharp volcanic rocks, which served as the endpoints of our walk.
  • A belly dancing lesson. This gave me a few additional moves to try that evening, when a salsa band played during & after dinner.
  • A “Primal Core Yoga” class: fun and full of squatting. Think “primal” as in the apelike flexibility we all had as infants.
  • Tons of shorebirds to watch: I saw my first Crested Caracara and Gold-crowned Night Heron. I found surprising solace in the volume and variety shorebirds! It’s been a stressful winter at home. Watching them for awhile proved to be more therapeutic than a massage or my first few attempts at sleeping so near a roaring surf. So, I made sure to go look for new birds, and enjoy some of the endearing ones I’d already seen, every day.
  • I did my first two-footed Vrksanana (tree pose). In the sand, facing a sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
  • I tried acupuncture. And liked it. Other than the pin placed near my left big toe. Sunburn could be to blame.
  • I drank surfer beer. Because Victoria beer is a beer I hadn’t tried, and my surf teacher recommended it.
  • Dogs! I got dog time. There were three dogs that shared the resort grounds with us and they were sweet: Nacho, Sugar and Nina.


    Nacho, begging, But maybe just for Arlo’s attention.

  • One day we took an hourlong hike up the coast, to go for a swim in a mostly (I have the broken toenail to prove it) rock-free beach, check out the tide pools on the way, and to get lunch at another restaurant. Nacho served as our sentinel for the whole walk there and back: running up close to all of the beachfront properties & going in to say hello at each of them. The resort -called The Garden of Eden-  had decent guacamole and a very large and durable iguana (it fell out of a tree while we were there. Loudly).
bird tracks in sand

Walk this way

Also notable as things to remember for next time or to offer as advice for people considering this type of trip:

  • I approached packing for this trip, thanks to The Google, using the “take only clothes you love and in which you feel amazing” method. It’s not all that different from how I normally pack.
  • Things I packed that I didn’t need: more than 3 yoga outfits, running gear, a big pashmina scarf, and a third swimsuit. Things I didn’t pack that I missed: a sleeveless sleeping outfit, more AAA batteries for the bug dope contraption, my sari, my big camera & zoom lens, light shoes that aren’t sandals, more sunscreen, a light, long sleeved beach coverup, maybe a maxi skirt or dress, and board shorts. Things I’m really, really glad I packed: a rashguard, flip-flops, a wide-brimmed but well-ventilated hat, and contact lenses for surfing.
  • I enjoyed –and my soul needed– an entire week of access to a nice, long beach for walking, running and exploring tide pools.
  • Yoga. All week! Always optional. But I did it every day. Sometimes twice. Usually not too strenuous. Always facing the beach. On it once.
  • I did some reading, though not as much as expected: walks on the beach were more appealing. Two 4.5-hour plane rides proved better quarters for reading.

In conclusion: the retreat was a great way to kickstart my FitBit sabbatical (or rejection: stay tuned). That thing makes me crazy, though so far it’s been a great run training tool.

In slightly more serious and helpful conclusion: I deliberated over going on a yoga retreat for a long time. A great way to do it is to find a teacher you like in your home town, and get him or her to take you and a bunch of like-minded locals to a beautiful place with great food, comfy accommodations, and a variety of activities that appeal to you. Do it!

More photos, if you want to see them, are viewable here.


Mr. Crab In The Noontime Sun says goodbye


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