“You know what I think?” Sole asked as she pressed her elbow into the outer part of my hip.
I winced and exhaled fully, not able to reply. As she moved her elbow in a small circle along my hip, she told me, “The Mayan leaders came to Tulum for what they called their ‘Bano del Sol’. They would come here, not to stay forever, but to gain power, wisdom, perspective. They believed they could elevate their energetic vibrations to a level as high and even higher than the sun. They came to Tulum for the energy they needed and then went back to their villages or to battle or to explore”.
She let her elbow slide over my hip one last time and then moved her hands to my lower back. She pressed firmly, as if she had all of her lean body weight on top of me. I exhaled totally, not able to inhale until she continued up my spine and toward my shoulders. I relaxed then, knowing that the intense part was over. I could always enjoy the massage on my shoulders. So far, they were not injured like my hips and back.
“Really”, I said softly, letting my mind grasp the concept of Tulum as temporary, as a place to learn, gather and then to leave.
“I think you are here for your ‘bano del sol’”, Sole told me as she pressed her fingers into the nape of my neck, releasing nerves that extended to my toes.
I let the comment stand and digested it.
“You think I have learned enough to go back?” I asked.
I had been through so much in Tulum. I had bottomed out emotionally and financially and then resurfaced. I had learned about love fully. I had witnessed the dilemma of drugs and street people. I was on the receiving end of scams and cons until now I recognized them from a distance. I had experienced the resilience of nature and the fragility of friendship. I had built three little houses in the jungle, witnessing the horror of development while being a part of it. I had become a yoga teacher here and through that work, had found myself. Here, I had carved out a life that worked for me on most levels. So the concept of leaving now seemed a little strange. I thought some more on it as Sole worked on my skull and reminded my self of concepts like non-attachment and the constancy of change.
“And where do I go back to? Everything is foreign to me now”.
Sole didn’t answer. Just let the question sit. She was wise beyond her years, one of those people who is marvelously young and old at the same time. She was angelic and at least 15 years younger than I but her perspective and advice was what I would imagine my grandmother’s to be.
“Well”, I answered my own question, “maybe that is the title for my book”.
“Si”, Sole answered as she finished massaging my head and then whispered in my ear, “Gracias”.
“Do you ever think about what I want?”
He looked at me seriously and then said, “I know. I should more”.
I let it go and looked away. A slight breeze cooled the night air and I could see the stars over the fan palm that stands guard by his door. I had wanted to ask him for some time but, honestly, I didn’t know myself.
He reached to touch my hand across the table. I looked into his eyes as he asked, “Well, what do you want?”
I paused, wanting but somehow dreading the question. I searched my mind but found nothing concrete. I looked away and then finally, I answered from my heart. Turning my gaze back to him I said, “I want love to win.”
“What?” he said.
“I want love to win”, I repeated and then added, “In the world”.
I wait a lot here in Mexico. Yesterday I was waiting at the cafe just next to my house with my neighbors, Alfonso and Charra. We had a meeting at 10:00 am on Sunday morning. It was now 11 am and a grey Ford sedan pulled up in front of the now closed beach access. I hoped it was the owner, the person we were expecting. The driver pulled in and totally occupied a space that could have accommodated 3 cars. “Must be her”, I said.
But then a young girl in a very stylish vest and bathing suit exited the car and I sighed. We were waiting for a middle aged, overweight Mayan woman. “Oh well, another poor little rich kid.” I said as I went back to my coffee. Charra laughed. I defended my statement, “I mean, look how she is parked. Like she is the only person in the world.”
Alfonso went to talk to her. One of the reasons the beach access was now closed was because of people blocking the owner’s access. He asked her to move and she did. Charra and I marveled at how inconsiderate some people were. “They really just don’t think of anyone else”, I told her, “It is not malicious”.
She practiced her parking skills farther down the road and then joined us for breakfast. Charra went to work. Alfonso introduced me to his friend, Maria. She was adorable, actually. Fair skinned, clear eyes, asking about art and documentary films, talking about travel in Mexico and how special the north, where she came from, was. We discussed the film festival Alfonso was planning. Then she ordered breakfast and Alfonso went to cook it. I had given up on the owner from across the street, and was preparing to go but Maria asked me about how I got to Tulum and we began discussing “hard times”.
I shared with her only that a difficult time in my life brought me to Tulum and that sometimes, the things that ask the most of us bring us to good places. I was talking to her as if she could hardly understand. She is probably a little over 20 years old, from a privileged background and well, look how she parked. She told me she was studying psychology and I thought she would perhaps know of Pema Chodrun, the Buddhist monk and writer.
“Have you read ‘When things fall apart’?” I asked her. She shook her head and I explained, “It is by this Buddhist monk, Pema Chodrun, and she explains how when things seem to be going very wrong in your life, it may be because they need to ‘fall apart’ before they can come together again.”
She looked at me shaking her head that she understood, and I continued, thinking I could advise her or tell her something to help her in her life, help her park more appropriately. “It is like if you are doing a sculpture or a painting that you need to re-work and you tear it all apart or mess it all up before you can make it gorgeous again”, I explained. “But without that first structure it wouldn’t be as deep, as profound”, I said referring to the person and their past experiences.
She said, “I think I know what you mean. I think I have hit that place where things fell apart for me.”
I didn’t want to minimize her traumas but really, I thought, what could she know about things falling apart. After all she was only 20 something.
“Well, things can fall apart many times in our lives. It creates the tapestry of who we are”, I said, thinking I was oh-so-wise and then I asked, “What happened?”
She looked down at her coffee and told me, “Well, last year my mother and father and brother were kidnapped and never came back”.
As if brick hit me in the face, I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say.
“I think that was when things fell apart for me”, she continued.
I thought, “Shit, park however you want sweetheart”, but said, “I am so, so sorry”. I reached out to touch her and I tried to inhale her perspective. “I am so sorry”, I repeated, “I cannot even imagine”. That violence hasn’t reached Tulum, thank God, and it always feels so far away. At least until I met Maria.
“Welcome to Mexico”, she told me as Alfonso served her breakfast.
Today, when I came back to my car after grocery shopping, I was preoccupied. I felt lonely and sad and was trying to figure out why. When I put the key to open the back door distractedly, I noticed someone had written on the dusty window, “I love yoga”.
I smiled, thought about it and loaded the groceries in the car. When I shut the door, I took my right index finger to the lettering, put a line through the “o” in love and wrote an “i” above it. I stood back and smiled: “I live yoga”.
That is it. Isn’t it? Live your yoga. Bring it off the mat as much as you bring yourself onto the mat. Notice. Practice loving kindness to yourself and others. Breathe. So the next time you are in traffic (we even have it here in Tulum, Mexico) breathe. Don’t swear, just breathe and wait. And if you cannot help but swear, laugh about it afterwards. Stay off the horn. Stay on your breath.
If someone asks you for help: directions, a peso, a moment of your time, a little bit of space. Stop. Try not to get angry, and answer honestly with loving kindness. The answer can be no. Just say it with love.
Practice not letting the ‘shit’ get you down. The same way you move through your practice, move through your life. Remember that every experience is a part of the fabric of your life and will lead to something wonderful eventually. Believe it fully. If you need some help, ask for it. If you are having trouble balancing, you put one foot down perhaps. Or you move to a wall, right? Find that one foot in your life. Or find your wall. And it doesn’t always have to be the same one. We live in a world with so many walls. Perhaps we can make them less rigid, less solid, if we just go over and touch one when we need some help. There may be someone’s hand on the other side. Imagine sending that balancing energy through to the other side. Perhaps you both will find balance.
Practice patience with yourself and others. The same way you breathe into a tight muscle, patiently waiting for it to open, breathe into a tight part of your emotions on any given day. Breathe into your relationships and bring patience to their progress and their uniqueness.
Practice courage. The courage to be honest and respectful of ourselves and others. The same courage it takes to jump to the front of your mat or to lift that arm off the floor that so far has supported you, may be the courage you need to ask for that raise or that change you need in your life situation. And it may be the courage you need to accept the answer or the outcome. Practice the courage it takes to stop and listen to that musician on the subway when everyone is running by. Practice the courage it takes to listen to a friend when you know you will miss the last train, you won’t get your 8 hours of sleep, or you may even miss that next yoga class. Breathe and practice the courage it takes to listen to yourself, openly and with patience. Spend time alone. Meditate.
Practice the courage that it takes to be uniquely you when doing so may disrupt an otherwise organized life.
Live your yoga.
I love yoga. And I love to travel. Both feed my soul in a way that is hard to beat. So I do them both as often as possible. I have a daily yoga practice that is just that: part of my every day. Sure there are days when I don’t get to a studio, days when I practice for 30 minutes and days my practice is breathing deeply and sending love to the world as I rush to keep appointments and commitments. But I just about always make time for yoga. It is a discipline I have cultivated and would have difficulty living without.
Travel is a part of my life as well. I travel to know myself better, to stay in touch with people, to enjoy life, to experience life. For me, traveling makes the world a better place. I meet people who make far away places real. The world becomes less one of walls and boundaries and more one of bridges and alliances. I think travel engenders peace in the world. Too, I get to see some really cool places and enjoy very fun times.
Sometimes my love for yoga and desire to travel seem to conflict. Travel shakes things up. I don’t always have all my stuff. I am sleeping on a friends couch or at parties most of the night and waking at 4 am to catch a flight or a bus or a ride. Hard to say if that hour of sleep isn’t better than an hour of weary yoga. Yoga seems to merit a calmer lifestyle. But I have found that yoga and travel actually compliment each other. The two help us know ourselves better as we answer those questions. What is better for you on this particular day? Yoga or another hour of sleep.
So I combine my two loves and they compliment each other nicely. There is some guidance that lets this happen and I will share that with you. A sort of lay person’s guide to travel and yoga, shortened edited version.
First, make a commitment to “go with the flow”. That means that you try to practice while you travel but if it doesn’t happen, you practice loving kindness. You don’t beat yourself up. You don’t obsess. You enjoy whatever that day has to bring. You breathe deeply and let go of the need to control and perhaps you pop into tree pose while waiting for a friend or you roll your shoulders back and pull your navel towards your spine while sitting in the car. Maybe you move your eyes to the right and left and then up and down while in the ladies room at that fancy restaurant or that not so fancy taco stand. You allow yourself to experience the day and if you missed your formal practice, you incorporate a less formal one into your day as you let it go.
Second, develop a personal practice that is portable and manipulable. That means that you know it or you can carry it with you on a sheet or in a book. And you can pull sections out or add them depending on how much time you have. So you had coffee in bed with your mother or your lover and you only have 30 minutes before you leave. Take out the balances, leave in sun salutations, headstand, hips and abs and 5 minutes for shivasana and be grateful for your mother or your lover with that final “om”.
Third, seek out studios wherever you go. Explore, experiment, find new teachers, new influence and enjoy what makes each studio unique. Invite your travel partners or family to practice with you or revel in the break from both as you find a peaceful place to call your own.
Forth, keep it small. Practice in the space you have, in the time you have. That means between the beds in the Holiday Inn or in the space behind the sofa at your best friends house. It also means on that balcony at your friends villa on the south of France, if you are so lucky. There is enough space to call your own no matter where you are. Be flexible in your body, in your mind and in your needs so that yoga and travel can be your two best loves.
And as you travel and share your yoga and flexibility with the world, you can be that certain extra call for peace and sanity that changes everything in whatever part of the universe you find yourself.
Oh and I nearly forgot, fifth, travel to a place just to practice. Come to a yoga retreat here with me in Tulum, Mexico.
I had an ex lover here who was bad, really bad. I am not sure if I made him bad or allowed him to be bad or if I was just a co-dependant mess at the time. Anyway, I had a bad man here in Tulum. Let’s leave it at that. And really here, that is not so extraordinary. There are a more than a few to choose from.
But there is a ying and a yang to everything, no? Two sides to every story. Or like in my yoga practice, one open hip and one more closed. So, as bad as Amador was, he did somethings right. For example, one night when I had family visiting and he was still stalking me, he came to my house at 3 a.m. with a not even month old puppy in his arms. ”Amor, I save this baby for you”, he said with his eyes red from drink and drug and a smile on his face that melted my resolve to turn him away every single time. Then he put the puppy in my arms saying, “You take him for me today?” and as he opened the door to leave, “I be back tomorrow. You the best. I never gonna leave you.” And then he did, thank God. He walked out the door and left me with this adorable, blond baby mutt. I held the dog in my arms and then looked out after him but he had disappeared. I may have said, “But”, but I don’t think so.
I went to the fridge (I had a fridge back then) grabbed the milk and poured a glass for me and a bowl for my new friend. My dog Lakra, most wonderful dog ever, by the way, drifted into the kitchen and looked at me and then the new puppy and then back at me, skeptically. I poured her some milk as well and sat down on the floor with my two new dogs. ”What will I do with this?” I asked myself. After a moment, I stood up, grabbed the empty cooler from the porch, put a blanket into it and then put the puppy inside. I called to Lakra, who was more and more curious, and we went back to bed.
I woke the next morning wondering if it had been a dream. But when I walked into the kitchen and heard a wimper, I knew it had not been. I looked into the cooler and had to smile. Lakra came to my side and looked in too. I don’t think she smiled but she didn’t seem too annoyed. I patted the sweet dogs head and shook mine. Again, I asked myself, “what will I do with this?” Just as I did my cousin came into the kitchen. ”What ‘cha got there?” she asked as she looked over my shoulder. ”How adorable!” she shrieked when she saw him. ”Where did he come from?” I responded, “Amador”. ”Oh no.” she said, “when was he here?” And I told her the drop in/drop dog story. She laughed and said, “So like that train wreck. He brings things he saves for you to save.” And then, because my cousin is from California and should be a therapist, we broke into a litany of codependant themes and how abusive the whole thing was. Then I said, “shall we go look for a home for him?” ”Let’s just go to the beach”, my cousin said. ”And”, she continued enthusiastically, “Lets take the dogs!”
And for the next 4 days we played with this new dog. Lakra, my dog, got used to him, he got used to us and we started to love him. Twice Amador came by for “his dog” but he never took him. We knew he never would. He always threatened it but somehow he always forgot the dog after he bummed a few dollars or beers. Sad but that is the way it was. And then Megan had to leave. I was heartbroken, so was she and as much about leaving the dog as leaving me. ”What if I take him?” she asked me the day before she left over coffee. ”What?” I said. She continued, “Well, I could use a dog and I know my dad would help me with him and it would be so great to get him out of here. Too, if you keep him, A will never let you alone. It is just one more reason for him to harass you and get you to give him cash. You know that”, more phsychology and therapy talk. I actually loved it and appreciated it. At the end we were at the vet, getting him shots and looking for soft sided dog carriers. That might seem simple to you but this was Tulum 5 years ago before the southern beach road was paved and before you could get parmasian cheese at San Francisco or any sort of bread that was not white. This town has changed. But, in 24 hours we had just about everything. It was a miracle. I was so proud of my cousin. She would rescue this little guy and named him Diego.
When we got to the airport, they gave us a hard time but Megan wouldn’t back down. And the airline did, for a fee of course. She carried the little guy on the plane, waving at me and they were gone. I cried for more than the time it took me to get back to my house. Lakra was waiting, thank God. But I missed my cousin and that little puppy and was a little afraid of what would happen the next time Amador came by. But I knew he would have very little to threaten me with for awhile since Megan had rescued Diego.
Megan recently sent me a beautiful video of where she lives now in Oregon. She is a great photographer and the movie was a series of her photos from the new place she lives . One was of Diego who she now calls the best dog in the world. He gives both Megan and my uncle so much love it is hard to imagine how anyone ever abandoned him. And harder to imagine how I doubted it was right for Megan to take him to the states. And then I think of Amador and how, even though he did things with way less than loving intention, some good things came from his actions. It seems that with Diego, Megan and I proved that if you take things with love, love always comes, no matter what the intention. Choosing love creates more love. So, choose love.
I woke as if from a dream, where all the bad had faded, sent to the far reaches of my mind, into the shadows.
What remained was peace, the sound of the wind and the waves on the shore and deep desire to share that sensation.
Yesterday I was invited to a class of NAAM yoga.
“What is it?” I asked the manager at Maya Tulum.
“I am not really sure. But this is your opportunity to find out.”
“I will let you know, ok?” I assured her. I got on my pink bike and rode home thinking, “NAAM Yoga, why not?” one minute and then “NAAM Yoga, another fad that I don’t really have time for” the next.
Having just installed internet at my house I happily googled NAAM yoga.
Naam Yoga TM is a style of yoga developed by world renowned yogi, mystic and universal kabbalah master, Dr. Joseph Michael Levry (Gurunam) that incorporates the practice of the Divine Word (Naam) with yogic movement, stretching postures, breathing, mudras, and meditation. It is a spiritual science and art that merges Eastern Yogic practices with the practical esoteric teachings of Universal Kabbalah. The philosophy within Naam Yoga TM is aimed at revealing the hidden truths of various spiritual traditions and mystery systems so that humankind may draw from both Eastern and Western practices to ultimately conceive the true nature of the Divine.
Naam Yoga TM was first taught at Universal Force Healing Center in New York City but is now being taught all over the world. Naam (Sanskrit) means “word” or “name”, specifically “the name of God”. The holy scripture of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, stresses the importance of meditation upon various names of God (also known as mantras) so as to vibrate in unison with Universal Harmony. Naam Yoga TM asserts that through the simple practice of working with the word, personal and universal healing can take place.
I don’t know too much about Michael Levry and a when I see the words, “world renowned” and “mystic” in the same sentence I tend to back off. But, I would consider it, try to keep an open mind and see what Wednesday brought in terms of commitments.
Wednesday brought nothing so at 6 p.m. I went to see what NAAM yoga was all about. I snuck in the back as the participants were already dancing and chanting. I took a deep breath, not feeling comfortable backing out now that I had entered, grabbed a mat and a blanket and joined them in moving my hands side to side and stepping one foot in front of the other while repeating some words I did not understand. I hate saying things when I am not too sure what they mean but I smiled in resignation and let myself open to the experience. “Just an hour an a half”, I told myself as I prayed I was not calling the devil.
I remained skeptical through the class but enjoyed it. It was fun, if not profound. And then we entered shavasana, the moment I had been waiting for since it signaled the end. On my back with my palms facing up, I listened to the chanting on the cd. A warmth entered my body. I relaxed as I continued to listen to what gave me a comfort that I believe was bliss. I felt light enough to fly. We moved to seated and completed another breathing meditation, this time to the same words that the music had been playing. It was so beautiful I wanted to cry.
I hugged the instructor when we finished and she gave me the mantra on a card as I floated out of the room. The mantra is called the “Mantra of Light”:
Love before me, Love behind me, Love to my left, Love to my right, Love above me, Love below me, Love in me, Love in me eternally, Love to everyone, Love to the universe.
Peace before me, Peace behind me, Peace to my left, Peace to my right, Peace above me, Peace below me, Peace in me, Peace in me eternally, Peace to everyone, Peace to the universe.
Light before me, Light behind me, Light to my left, Light to my right, Light above me, Light below me, Light in me, Light in me eternally, Light to everyone, Light to the universe.
I chanted the words on my bike home in the dark and then again this morning as I lay in shavasana. And it gave me the same feeling. I felt peace and a security that warmed my soul. So I thought I should share it. I may not practice NAAM yoga every day, probably not even every month. But the mantra I may use more than once a day.
This morning walking the beach I saw turtle tracks again. It is that time of year in Tulum and each morning, next to the grandeur of the sun on the sea, I witness the miracle of huge tracks making their way up the beach, around lawn chairs that hotel owners forget to take up, and into the dunes. Then the tracks return. I see them and gently close my eyes to imagine the journey. The immense animal who’s head alone is larger than mine, pulls herself up the beach over hours to lay her eggs in nearly the same place every year. Laying the up to 50 eggs takes hours of labor, often with an audience of tourists surrounding her. She must close her eyes to ignore it. They cannot help themselves and are pulled to her side as observers and often as protectors against poachers that to this day want not only the eggs but the mom herself.
The slap of a wave on my leg brings me back from my day dream and I look for my dogs who are playing in the sand in front of me. I know where my dogs walk but other beach dogs, hungry for whatever they can find, often attack the turtles or their eggs. The coastal birds in the same hungry circumstance and other nocturnal animals like raccoons and foxes searching for sustenance can do the same. In the wild there is no discrimination regarding endangered species.
And it is still wild here in Tulum, Mexico, despite the solar panels and windmills and elegant bars and restaurants lining the beach. There is the savage, untamed side of Tulum. Summer is the time to find it. The beach is nearly empty by day and by night, if you walk towards the biosphere, you can witness the elegance and near cruelty of nature as some turtles find their way while others turn back discouraged by noise or light or attacks from other animals. And within the miracle of the turtles journey and birth is a magnificence rivaled only by the natural wildness of the place itself: Tulum, Mexico in summer.
I love practicing yoga in the heat. That is one more reason I love my practice in Tulum in these summer months. The heat and my practice flow easily. i do not have to wait. My muscles are warm from the start and there is something about being so sweaty that liberates my psyche. I am not sure but perhaps in that sweaty state I lose all sense of ego. I don’t care if my pants or my neighbor’s are lulu moon or bargain basement, they all look gnarly after a few sun salutations in this weather. Interesting. The deeper I dig into a hot, hot day and pull my practice to the same intense level as the sun, I find the bliss that is the true definition of yoga.
Find your yoga, your bliss, in Tulum, Mexico.