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Yoga Retreats: An Escape From Reality or Deeper Engagement?

The first yoga retreat I attended was intended to be a mere pit-stop on a lone trip around South East Asia. I was not-so-fresh out of university and in need of some serious TLC. My shoulders were permanently up to my ears, jaw always tightly clenched and the worries of the world sat in my stomach like lead stewing in acid. I arrived with tonsillitis, my pasty white skin contrasting sharply with the ruby red rash all over my body. In short, I was a mess.

I’d barely practised yoga before, but decided on a whim to try a retreat as a kick-start to a trip I’d imagined would be full of cocktails on beaches and partying with strangers. My focus was the location; little beach huts on a gorgeous Thai island, idyllic gardens stretching into sand and sea. On day one, I reluctantly dragged myself from the beach for the first yoga class, relatively disinterested and quietly cursing over the time I was losing to bask in the sunshine. It therefore came as a total surprise that whilst lying in Savasana at the end, I couldn’t stop tears from rolling down my cheeks. One by one at first, slowly but surely erupting into quiet sobs that came from depths I didn’t know existed.

After the class, I shyly loitered around the teacher, waiting to ask what had just happened to me. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable and had no idea where this explosion of emotion had come from. Was I somehow doing yoga wrong? Only an hour before, I’d been lounging on the beach without a care in the world…or so I thought. I was told it was normal, common even, for deep emotional trauma to be released during yoga. This certainly had never happened to me at the gym, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this class was any different.

Curious, I persisted. I observed as layers of tension melted away day by day. I watched as my body and mind somehow became stilled by my previously shallow and laboured breath. What fascinated me the most was how deep the transformation seemed to be going in such a short space of time. I arrived feeling depleted and lost, but left only days later totally full; full of joy and calm and hope and excitement and energy, sensations I hadn’t felt for a long time. The experience ended up colouring my entire trip, moulding my decisions and steering me towards more fulfilling choices than I perhaps previously had in mind. Decision number one? Book another yoga retreat.

When I arrived at the next retreat centre in Cambodia only weeks later, I connected instantly. The place gave me tingles. The community at Hariharalaya practice and teach integral yoga, living yoga both on and off the mat – a concept although new to me at the time, resonated like nothing before. I was hungry to learn, eager to go deeper into this practice that had rapidly become so important to me. I could write essay after essay on what arose for me during that week, but suffice to say that my time at Hariharalaya was significant, eye-opening and life-changing. I left there a different person, evolved in some way I wasn’t quite sure of. How was this possible in only one week?

Despite travelling hundreds of kilometres to Indonesia after I left Hariharalaya, I knew I had to go back. Within weeks, I turned around and turned up again, excited for what I thought was to be round two of a personal transformation. But this time, something quite different occurred to me. I had been so focused on the power of yoga, I hadn’t noticed the power of a retreat. Of the particular format which, over mere days can prompt radical transformation; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

It was only by going to this same place a second time that I realised this. The first time I had been lost in my own metamorphosis – which by the way, is by no means a onetime thing! This second time, I couldn’t help but observe others. I watched as people, just like me, arrived frazzled and fatigued, tight and tense. Not in all cases, of course, but for the large part, it transpired that people had come as a means of release and relaxation, escape from their daily lives. As time passed, those who had made nervous small talk on the first day slowly crept out of themselves, sharing with sincerity and support. Others became more introverted, tucking themselves away and tapping into creative outlets. Some delved deep into yoga, others delved deep into novels. But each and every person radiated a satisfaction and content which grew exponentially as each day passed. Day by day, I watched as this new family opened up, blossoming in the light of the space that was held for them.

This, to me, is the root of what a retreat does: it holds space for transformation. It guides, teaches and nurtures, coaxing innate qualities to burst forward. Yoga is the tool, the practice around which all of this comes together. For many, there is neither time nor motivation to practice yoga every day, allowing the huge benefits of doing so to be revealed only during a retreat. Although tasty food and exotic locations often provide the temptation to book, it is this space that people come for, often unknowingly. It seems these days that we don’t allow ourselves enough time and space to explore creativity and spirituality, to play, to connect with nature and ourselves. It is this which I find so inspiring about retreats; that a formula so simple can provoke such a profound response.

The word retreat comes from the Latin retrahere, meaning ‘pull back.’ People’s perceptions of a retreat are no doubt shaped by the spectrum of its synonyms, from sanctuary and seclusion to withdrawal, isolation and hiding. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a retreat as a “process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.” In many ways, this is what I was doing when I booked my first retreat. I mindlessly entered my card details as procrastination from the endless difficulties of university work, daydreaming of myself on a beach in Thailand. The sad fact is that many of us feel the need to withdraw or pull back from fast-paced, high-pressure lifestyles in order to be able to process what is going on around us.

Whilst this may be the reason that some of us choose to go on a yoga retreat, it is certainly not its purpose. Whether we realise it or not, by consciously setting time aside to step out of usual routines and their accompanying anxieties, we are prompted to journey inward. Retreats offer us an environment in which we are able to listen to ourselves without distraction, to realise, reassess and refocus. This might expose depths of ourselves which have been overlooked. Suppressed energies can surface, and as such, going on retreat is not always easy. It is not an escape from reality, but a deeper engagement with it.

In taking the time to stop, listen and reflect, new perspectives naturally arise. As Marcel Proust once wrote, “the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” This to me beautifully captures the longer-term benefits of going on retreat. Even though we must return to that from which we have withdrawn, we do so with new eyes. We go back to our roles, relationships and responsibilities with a fresh perspective. In this sense, the process of withdrawal on retreat is tactical; sometimes it is important to withdraw in order to advance.

 

 

 

Rachel Bilski is the co-founder of Shanti Niwas, a yoga collaborative currently holding yoga retreats and classes in Portugal. You can follow her musings on yoga, travel and life on the Shanti Niwas blog: www.shantiniwas.com/snblog

A Surfin’ Yogi Family

I met the Estes family in Costa Rica when they were a happy family of four. Now a happy family of five, Dustin and Lauren are raising three beautiful daughters, Shaylee, Sunny, and Sage. This is one of the most inspirational families I have known. They are loving, kind, creative, full of spunk, spirited entrepreneurs, and the ultimate freedom chasers! They have dedicated their lives to the ocean and yoga has also played an important role. The first year I met them, I participated in one of their ‘Surfin’ Yogi’ weeks and had a blast. Dustin definitely brings the love and fun into surfing while Lauren brings her innovative simplicity, peace, and holistic wellness to everyone around her. And the kids…well, you just have to meet them! Besides being hilarious, their zeal and imagination is contagious. I still remember two amazing one liners that Dustin called out to me while paddling for waves…”Look where you want to go!” and “Paddle to the peak!” Amazing words for surfers, yogis, and wisdom for life in general. This family is a true example that you can carve your own path and live the life of your dreams, as long as there is love. Here we catch up with Dustin Estes to learn more about this impactful Surfin’ Yogi Family.

Cover Photo:  Angelo Regalbuto

How would your describe your family to someone that has never met any of you?

LOUD. Haha! Definitely different from a lot of families out there. We homeschool (unschool), and travel quite a bit. We own a surf school so summers are SUPER BUSY, and the rest of the year is pretty calm, which I think can be quite different from a lot of families, where summer is their downtime, and the rest of the year is work/busy time. Also, since we own a business together and homeschool, we are always together. It can get pretty trying sometimes but at the end of the day it is pretty special to have so much quality time with each other and our kids, and we are very close because of it.

Can you tell us the story of how you and Lauren met?

When I first moved to St. Augustine my friend and I were eating at the new taco shop in town and Lauren was behind the counter. When we left I told my buddy that the babe behind the counter was “definitely into me.” He said, “No way dude, she was into me.” We were both in love, which I later found out was a common theme when people meet Lauren. I ended up getting a job at the taco shop, probably sub-consciously to win her over. She said she didn’t remember us ever coming in. Haha. I guess she wasn’t into either of us, but I ended up winning her over in the end. We dated for a couple months and went on a trip together to Costa Rica, and when we came home Lauren was pregnant with Shaylee (our oldest), so we decided to make a life together and have never looked back.

What are some of the top values within your family?

Time would probably be number one. We find it super important to spend quality time together. Life is so short that we don’t want to work it away, go on a one week vacation every year, and only see our kids and grandkids over Christmas break. We travel, we surf, we camp, we read together, watch movies together, explore together…really we do everything together as a family.

Also, it is really important to us that our kids learn to treat everyone with kindness and respect. It sounds a little cliche, but especially with the way things have been going on in the country lately, it is really important that they understand that everyone is different, and that is okay, and sometimes just being kind to someone can change their day for the better. I know it does for me all the time!

Why do you feel the ocean is so important for wellness?

Oh my gosh…it is everything to us. It provides us with an income, a hobby, a passion, quality time, etc…It is how I’ve met almost all of my friends and people who are important to me in my life. We have shaped our whole life around the ability to jump in the water and go surfing any given day. I’m so thankful for it on a daily basis.

How has yoga influenced your family?

It definitely plays an important role. Lauren has a pretty regular practice, and honestly it was one of the things that attracted me to her so much at the beginning of our relationship. Just the fact that she was so healthy and calm and kind. And I think she owes a lot of that to her practice. Because things can get so hectic around the house, with work, and homeschooling and just always being on top of each other, it is the one thing where she can go in the other room, and just spend some time practicing yoga and meditating, and it really helps.

Also, on a different note it is how we have connected to some of our best friends in the world. Our Surfin’ Yogis camp in Costa Rica has brought us so many lifelong friendships that I am eternally grateful for.

Why do you believe surfing and yoga go so well together?

I think with both you are trying to find some sort of flow. Whenever I find I’m doing my best surfing I am in a really good flow and connection with the ocean. When I’m not having the best time, it’s typically because I’m in my head and not connecting well. But when I have those days where I’m super in sync with the ocean and the flow, I find my life to go really well and vice versa. While I don’t practice a ton of ‘yoga’, it seems that the people in my life who do are generally in a good state of mind and seem to have good outlooks on life. I find a lot of surfers are similar….and when you combine the two, well you’re just winning! Also, being flexible and strong is so important to surfing, and there are not many things that make you strong and flexible like a good asana practice.

What are other ways you try to bring holistic health and sustainability into your everyday lives?

Lauren is an herbalist, so she is always shoving tinctures and teas down our throats. She has a side business called Tribe Apothecary, where she makes natural “Conscious SunCare” and organic herbal products. Our oldest daughter is the only one of our 3 that has ever been to a doctor. We took her to some check ups with a pediatrician when she was an infant because that’s what we were told to do, but other than that the rare times we get sick Lauren treats us.  That’s not to say there is not a place for going to a medical doctor because there definitely is! We have just been fortunate enough to not have to go down that road.  

Lauren has been vegan since she was 12 years old, and so the girls have been mostly vegan their whole life as well. We have chickens so sometimes they will eat the eggs (from our healthy, happy backyard hens) and when my friends or I catch fish, Sunny and Sage (our younger two) will sometimes eat a little of that. I try to eat consciously, but slip from time to time. We recycle!

Who or what inspires you most right now?

That’s an endless list. I’m super inspired by people who find ways to live a quality life while not giving into the pressure of what our society says is a “good life.”  Also, people who give back unselfishly. That’s a big lesson I’ve been learning lately. I think it was Tony Robbins who said, “If you won’t give away 10 cents out of a dollar, what makes you think you’ll give away a million dollars out of ten million dollars.” I really like that because you don’t have to be, or wait until you are rich to donate time and/or money. Here are some of the people we admire:

Dustin:

Liz Clark – She is just a badass and an awesome role model for Women and everyone.

Kelly Slater – He could just sit back and relax, surf, and do whatever he wants, but he is committed to awareness and sustainability, and I admire the way he lives his life.

Shane Dorian – I’ve never met him, but as far as being a good dad and living life on your own terms there seemingly is no one doing it better.

Pat McMahon – Good friend who always has some interesting thing going on. Whether it’s building a house, making mead, brewing beer, designing a farm, going somewhere epic to surf, making a surf film…I could go on and on and on…Always looking up to this guy.

Walter Coker – A local photographer/writer in my hometown who is super conscious and has kind of seen it all. He is an amazing photographer and is just a legend.

Lauren:

Christie Carr – Christie lives from her heart and is constantly engaged in the activities that matter to her. Her excuses are few and her motivation is abundant!

Aviva Romm –  An herbalist, midwife and author who went through medical school even though she already had a successful practice and 3 children. Now as an M.D. can better influence the medical field through holistic care.  

Stephen Harrod Buhner – Pioneering author, teacher and advocate on heart centered perception and plant intelligence. He gives words to and validates feelings (and truths) that our society does not place enough importance on

Favorite words to live by?

Lauren“Occupy your heart.”  A daily mantra to remember to let the heart guide, not to over think it all, and in try to live in the moment.

Dustin“If you want to change your life, you have to first change yourself.” Just reminds me to get off my ass and do something cool or positive if I’m feeling lazy or unmotivated.

Funniest thing you’ve heard one of the kiddos say this month?

Oh my! Sage (our 4 year old) comes up with great ones daily. Lauren has a video of her on her Instagram telling us why koozies are great, “Cuz they keep your hands warm and your drinks cold.”  Pretty much sums it up.

Anything else you’d like to share…

Come visit us in Costa Rica this winter for our Surfin’ Yogis camps! Also check out tribeapothecary.com for some goodness.

And I would also like to add that there are a million different ways to live your life and raise your kids. The way Lauren and I do it suits us, and isn’t perfect for everyone, and we mess up ALL THE TIME. As long as you love them and show them the respect that you want them to show you in return, then you are doing it right.

Surf with the Estes Family at one of their upcoming weeks at the Yoga Farm, Costa Rica!

 



 

 

Erica Hartnick grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, and enjoys all things wild and free. She teaches nature inspired yoga and leads mindful adventures in California and Costa Rica. She gets excited about; LEARNING, intense weather, glassy ocean peaks, pillows of fresh powder snow, crystal clear water, positive people, cultural travel, thriving vegetable gardens, fresh mint chip ice cream, nature’s glory, LIVING YOGA, and connecting with others. She is passionate about the collaboration with friends that led to the creation of Yoga Trade, and is devoted to connecting the yoga community with infinite opportunities!

You Are The Writer Of Your Own Life Travels through Ireland, the UK, India, Australia, and New Zealand

It has been such an incredibly beautiful journey with many lessons and blessings along the path.

 

This journey began back in Ireland after returning home for nearly 2 years, my soul was longing for something else, somewhere else and I wasn’t too sure what. I just knew I needed to go. It was almost like a ticking in my heart saying now is the time. The only thing I could do was listen to that calling and follow my heart; “It’s time to spread your wings and fly Clare.”

 

On one of our random sunny days in Ireland, I headed for Kilkenny Castle and went straight to the gardens to connect with Mother Earth, I got my laptop out and started to apply for yoga jobs on Yoga Trade around the world. Seeing which places I felt energetically drawn to at the time. Boom! Done, dusted, Sorted. I left it in the hands of the universe and waited knowing in my heart I would be leaving very soon. My family and friends thought it couldn’t be possible to move somewhere in 3 weeks without a job and somewhere to live. I trusted though…my soul knew.

 

A few days later I received a phone call from the UK. I moved there 3 weeks later! Aww Wee!

 

Scotland was so beautiful, almost like taking a step back in time, I knew I had been there before, there was a strange familiarity about the place perhaps in a past life. I was exactly where I needed to be. I spent a few weeks working, connecting with people and spending time with the elementals in parks and beaches. My heart still felt saddened though, something was missing… Yoga in some parts of the western world was becoming more money based instead of love based. Humanity is becoming addicted to technology, asana, and the outside world. We are creating insecurity and losing our self worth instead of being present with each other, finding the magic within coming from a place of love, healing, connection and safety. When we come from a place of love the abundance will flow.

 

One day I was having a conversation with a friend and I just said I don’t think this is for me, I blurted out…“MY SOUL IS BROKEN.”

 

Wow… who said that and where did it come from? (These were powerful words and I didn’t know to what extent at the time)! I surprised myself with the words that came out of my own mouth. It was a relief though and I felt this beautiful sense of peace wash over me. I felt happy and light again. That was my catalyst for CHANGE.

 

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

 

I welcomed transformation into my life. Once I acknowledged how I felt and accepted it, a whole new world started to open up. My energetic vibration lifted higher and therefore I created new energy pathways to be revealed to me.

 

I was asked to facilitate a workshop with another teacher, “Awaken Your Inner Goddess” two days later in the most amazing studio in Edinburgh. My heart jumped with joy and that little voice inside roared YES, I WOULD LOVE TO! Again I was wondered who said that. I didn’t even have time to think about it in my head, did I know enough, what would I teach? It meant I was moving into the unknown, taking it one step at a time, allowing my heart to lead the way. Change can both be little scary, very exciting and totally worth it. I was a self employed yoga teacher teaching my truth and everyone’s truth is different and I totally respect that. I connected with the most amazing and loving souls, learning and growing from each other with plenty of fun and giggles along the way, I was finding my love for yoga again.

 

I was ready to move into my new home. My heart started to do that thing again though, you know the ticking thing before I left Ireland. I went and sat near the biggest tree in the meadows that day and began meditating hoping to pick up some inner wisdom and clarity from the tree. I did get the odd intrigued look from a few people…either they wanted to join in on my peaceful looking meditation or else just thought I was totally nuts.

 

I closed my eyes and tuned in, there was something else coming, there was something more I had to learn and it wasn’t here, this was just the start of the story. I was feeling a bit panicked as I was meant to be moving into my new home and decisions needed to be made soon.

 

It was full moon that night so I went out to the park and did my full moon ritual, writing down what I wanted to let go of and burning the paper as a way of releasing it to the ethers.

 

I sat on a bench and my conversation with Mother Moon that evening went something like.. .”I really like it here but why do I have this feeling. If I’m not meant to be here, something better happen will soon and when I say soon I mean before tomorrow night because if I move into my new place, then I’m not leaving for the next 6 months.” Feeling I needed to be firm so she knew my seriousness and of course having so much love and gratitude in my heart at the same time. (I really didn’t think much could happen in one day though, come on, I was really testing the universe here.)

 

In bed that night I awoke in the middle of the night, I leaned over and picked up my phone to check the time. I had an email on the screen. “Possible New Opportunities” it read. I opened it, it was an email from INDIA asking if I would be interested in a Yoga Therapist position in an Ayurveda Hospital in Kerala. What the….! The excitement! I emailed back straight away. I must have applied for this job online before I got here…although I really don’t remember applying for it. We organised a Skype call for an interview the following evening, it just felt right in my heart. They emailed back a day later to say they would love to offer me the position if I was still interested. That inner voice popped out again, YES PLEASE! I could see this was becoming a bit of a pattern and I had no control over it, my heart and the universe were leading me and there was nothing I could do only surrender and trust.

 

They could see the bigger picture.

 

It was time to say see you later to everyone in Scotland for the time being. I’m forever grateful to my yoga family there that showed me the light again, reminding me of that beautiful, powerful and wise divine goddess energy always present within me, guiding me on my path.

 

I accepted the job, packed up my car and left the next day to head back to The Emerald Isle to apply for my visa. India here I come.

 

My conscious self was still a little in disbelief, I was offered a job to go teach yoga in the Motherland. This is a yogi’s dream come true. Wow! Did I really manifest this and was it really happening? Such Magic! The gratitude in my heart, I felt just completely at peace, loved, safe, protected and guided.

 

I often think if I didn’t honor my heart that time and continued on with my broken soul, my disheartened spirit, if I resisted change and didn’t take the chance where would I be now….? This was such a valuable lesson going forward for me to always be true to myself and speak my truth with a courageous heart.

 

I try to apply this in all areas of my life now, it’s not always easy as I am only human after all. As much as I can, I live in the heart, I express how I really feel with kind and honest words, look for the blessings in every lesson experienced here, to be my true authentic self no matter what and remembering to always have fun along the way.

 

If I’m not honoring all those things, I’m hiding the true me and well then, what’s the point? I’m living a life that doesn’t truly make me happy, I’m not accepting or loving myself and may miss out in the opportunities and possibilities that are for my Soul Purpose and healing which is leading me to our over all goal in this life, that one thing we are all looking for and need in this world…. LOVE. When we raise our vibration to love, we send out an energetic field that affects those around us that we care about, healing one heart at a time. And with that Heart energy, it has a positive Ripple Effect healing humanity. We really do have the power to change OUR world. You are the writer of your own life!

 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

 

The Butterfly Yogini

Clare Fitzgerald

Founder and Director at Solas – Heart And Soul Of Who We Are

Instagram: Butterfly_yogini

Love. Inspire. Grow. Heal. Transformation.

How Yoga Travel Humbles The Control Freak

By the grace of the universe I found yoga at fourteen years old, and since then I have held on to it for dear life to remind myself to loosen my grip a little bit, to breathe, to recognize that I am being held, to trust in the beat of my own heart, to trust in the beat of, well, everything.

We won’t dive too deeply into where these control patterns stem from (some Buddhists such as Pema Chodron believe it all comes back to our fear of – and lack of control over – death), but those of us who have experienced them know how easy it can be to trick ourselves into believing we have quit controlling for good. Who, us? We don’t control our environment! We let things happen and let people be free, autonomous individuals! We let the Universe flow! Until something happens that makes us feel less-than the grand image of ourselves we’ve created. Then the clawing, the biting, the manipulating, the screaming, the full-on emotional breakdown ensues and we quickly point our well-meaning fingers to how that situation or that person was just not working for us fairly. You get the picture.

Then back to our mats. Back to our breath. Back to letting go of that “I”-ness. But in the comfort of our daily lives, even this can be a facade. It’s easy to be a zen master when we know what to expect. Same classes each week, same group of smiling yogis, same bed to come back to at night. Nothing to shake us up or knock us off our “path.”

This is when we need to travel most. When I first joined Yoga Trade, I no doubt brought my control issues right along for the ride. I tried only to “choose” the opportunities that seemed the best and most outstanding. I wanted to cross countries off my list. I wanted to be around people that I thought would be a good fit for who I imagined myself to be.

It turned out it wasn’t working (surprise). The harder I tried to manifest my ideal situation, the less I felt like I was getting what I was looking for. So I packed up my things & decided to trek Europe with three friends instead. I was free to make my own choices – this situation was full of less surprises. How sad that we think this is what we want, when in fact we are simply stifling the magic from flowing in.

About one week – just one – into this no-destination backpacking affair, my counterparts and I decided our goals were wildly different – none of us were willing to relinquish that control of our Selves (surprise again) – and we amicably went separate ways. How could I have gone into travel thinking I knew what I was getting into, and ending up here so quickly? The lesson is – as anyone who’s traveled has learned – we always do. I spent a hot second in Barcelona feeling victimized by the Universe (“Why isn’t this trip going as I planned?!”) and going back and forth over whether to just call it quits and buy a ticket home. Whatever choice I made felt like a massive weight on my shoulders that would profoundly impact my worthiness as a human. The struggle to make the “right” (read: “perfect”) decision was real.

Welcome divine intervention. I received an email from a Yoga Trade member in Italy that had previously turned me down, but whose lead yoga teacher had gotten sick & couldn’t host the week-long retreat she was scheduled to lead and that began in less than 48 hours. So I hopped on the first train from Barcelona to Rome and made the trek to the profoundly quiet and peaceful mountain city apartment that would be my home for the next three weeks as I led some of the most brilliant and incredible yogis I’ve ever had the privilege to teach, not one, but three, consecutive yoga retreats.

The universe really drove it home for me (in case I hadn’t gotten it already) when the day after my arrival in Italy (which happened also to be my birthday) a fabulous Italian dinner that had been put on by my colleagues at the retreat was interrupted by shouts & music from outside. Rushing from our table, we found every inhabitant of the tiny town dancing in the streets during what must have been one of the few big celebrations of the year. At midnight that night on my birthday, these warm and welcoming residents of Casperia lit hundreds of heart-shaped lanterns and released them into the sky, where they floated out over the hills of vineyards and sunflower farms, competing with the stars, and appearing to laugh at me, at all of us, as if to say, “How could you – any of you – be anywhere but here?”

I learned much more about myself leading those retreats than I could have wandering the streets of Europe alone. Like most of us do, I quickly realized our path is an endless organic unfolding of free will – balanced quite evenly by natural intervention. Fate, serendipity, whatever you choose to call it, there is no doubt it should make us feel relieved, excited even, that we are absolutely not in full control. We can find joy in the fact that the Universe has plans for each of us that are so much grander, and more beautiful, and more perfectly designed to bring us to our greatest good, than any we could ever create on our own.

Travel with an open heart, an open mind, and a sense of abandon. Abandon what you know, what you want, what you think things should be. Because the truth is, things will always be exactly as they should.

 

 

 

Samantha Migliozzi is an E-RYT 200-hour that has been teaching for over seven years locally in New England and abroad. She has been a dedicated Yoga Trade user since its outset and has visited 15 countries in the past three years.

https://www.samanthanaturalhealth.com/

IG: @samimigliozzi

Off the Mat – Activated after Bhakti Fest

It was one of my very first yoga classes that my teacher spoke about practicing yoga “off the mat.” I initially came to yoga to get in shape, lose some weight, and start a new exercise routine, with no intentions to get in touch with myself or find any sort of spirituality in the process. I remember thinking to myself, “ of course you can practice yoga off the mat, you just do the poses on the ground anywhere else!” Easy peasy.

It wasn’t until that moment in savasana that my mind got quiet, I felt my body, and my breath became my own sacred white noise, that I realized that yoga is far more than a twisted posture in a peaceful room. Class after class I would reach that feeling I couldn’t describe and still barely can, that feeling of connection to myself and everything else around me. It started to come to me in different postures, and then in meditation, and then I started to feel it after class, when I’d stumble onto the bustling streets of NYC and still feel that sensation of deeper connection. The people or situations that once agitated me no longer carried so much weight. And there it was: I was practicing yoga off the mat.

This photo and cover photo by: Monique Feil

Thousands of downward dogs later and now I understand why practicing yoga off the mat is not only important, but necessary. My understanding for what yoga actually is has been completely transformed— I now know that yoga is a way of a life, a way of a service, and truly a way of activating our own lives to reach outside of ourselves and into the world. After attending Bhakti Fest in September, my beliefs were absolutely validated and certainly expanded, as this festival lives and breathes yoga off the mat.

As the mantras were being chanted and the mala-wearing yogis were saluting the sun as it spread its rays through the Joshua Trees, there was devastation happening around the world. Hurricanes destroyed the eastern side of our beautiful country and wildfires scorched the old growth forests of the West, while ice caps were simultaneously melting at rapid speed in the arctic. This, amongst the heavy political strife in ours and so many other countries around the world, pushed me to wonder how chanting and deep breathing in a Southern California desert could possibly contribute to this polarized world we are living in in a positive way. While I felt a shift inside myself, how could that reach outside of myself?

Photo by: Monique Feil

So many teachers, musicians and artists at Bhakti Fest were tuned into this same question, and addressed it quite directly. From MC Yogi’s lyrical genius, singing “love is righteous, and it might just save the whole world from this global crisis,” to Michael Brian Baker’s plea to protect our planet and its people by supporting Chase Iron Eyes to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline and drop all charges against water protectors. This festival is not just about feeling good, but also about being real with our own innate power and using it for good.

After taking a class with Sianna Sherman, focused on creating change off the mat and in the world, we spoke more in depth about how yoga can inspire compassionate activism. Sianna teaches Rasa Yoga, “an alchemical fusion of mantra, mudra, asana, Bhakti, tantra, soul alchemy and earth ceremony.” One of its goals she said is “to remember that we are a collective tribe and also earth guardians, and we are here to protect and serve the earth and each other.” She spoke about using yoga as a pathway to better understand our own shadows and the power of turning towards, rather than away, from our own pain and anger. These practices teach us how to work with our own emotions and stay centered so that when it’s time to be a voice of change and to be of true service to the world, we are not pulled out of ourselves, but rather grounded and activated from within. “If we use our power and really consciously work with our own emotional fluency and literacy, and emotional intelligence, then we can change all the energy inside, including all the anger and rage—so we can truly create positive change,” said Sherman. What we’ve seen happen far too often is that “rather than using our power consciously, we end up polarizing and dehumanizing the other point of view and righteously standing only in our own narrow perspective” she said.

Sherman’s sweetie and beautiful musician, Masood Ali Khan, also had a strong take on the matter of change-making. He shared about how the sustainability of our world “is coming closer and closer to its death if we don’t make a move. This is a call for us to rise up.” He went on to say that in order to create change we need to move as a family and a community, so we can expand fast. “We need to make changes now, because it’s going to be too late if we wait. And you know the way that the planet is going— a week, two weeks could be too late, who knows what the next storm might bring,” said Khan.

Photo by:  Simone Levine

Bhakti Fest was really a place to gather people together to open their hearts and minds in order to activate change off of the mat. And while we came together to chant the mantras and pray, a very important medicine for the self, according to Breathwork facilitator and founder of the The Breath Center, Michael Brian Baker, “it is not enough to actually create change in our world as we need it now.” He went on to say, “we’ve reached this critical mass where things are shaking and going on, and if you look at it from a spiritual standpoint, the right brain would tell you that spirit incarnated into this physical form in order to take action, because spirit without a container can not create change on a material plane.” The call is loud and clear: it’s time to take action now!

As I left Bhakti Fest on a high of feeling the good vibes and inner transformation, I knew there was much more for me to do. I signed some petitions for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and am honing in on what lights me up so I can practice my yoga off the mat from my own center, a center that is truly ignited.

Learn more and connect with Bhakti Fest:

bhaktifest.com

 

 

 

 

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.

IG :  @momomagical

Morning Altars: A Daily Living Practice

I first became aware of Day Schildkret and his work at Wanderlust Festival in Lake Tahoe. Day is known internationally for Morning Altars and has encouraged thousands of people of all ages from all over the world to forage, build and be awed with Earth Art. Day is igniting an international movement by sharing the art, teachings and spirit of Morning Altars as a tangible spiritual practice that renews and redeems our relationship to wonder, creativity, nature connection, generosity, and impermanence. He taps into the roots and foundations of yoga with a unique perspective and inspires us that a daily practice does not have to be done on the mat. Here we catch up with Day to learn from and be moved by his creative soul. Much gratitude Day!

What are your earliest memories of making altars?

I was five years old and making the tiniest of altars. I would run outside after every rainstorm and witness the driveway covered in displaced and homeless worms, wiggling around trying to find their way back into the ground. I felt so much sympathy for the pathetic worms that I would literally dig small holes in the earth and escort the worms back into their proper place. But I wouldn’t stop there. Apparently, I wanted their little homecomings to be met with beauty. So I would adorn each hole, creating miniature art installations with flower petals, tiny sticks, and fallen berries, until there was a constellation of worm-hole mandalas scattered throughout the front yard. While my parents probably thought it was cute, to me it was everything. I was helping these helpless creatures find their way home — and marking that journey in beauty, with an altar. I didn’t know it at the time, but our capacity to mark moments with beauty is entirely human.

Can you talk a bit about your love for nature and connection…

That’s like asking me to speak about my love of life. It’s almost indescribable.

I think it’s best to start off by speaking a bit about my disconnection from nature and my journey of discovering it again. After college, I found myself working on Broadway and living in Times Square on a street that had about a thousand people walking by my front door every hour. There was barely a tree in site. Everything was pavement. The billboards lit the city so brightly at night that it looked like daytime. My days were rushed and stressful and, as you can imagine, there were consequences to living that way.

Yet right down the block there was an oasis: A community garden lush with green grass, a winding path and an old magnolia tree. That garden brought me back to life and reminded me how crucial being connected to the natural world is.

My love of nature is my love of the interconnection, diversity and unexpected magic of life. This love requires me having a beginner’s mind and being able to be awed by what I see. This love reminds me that to truly connect with nature, I must slow down and open my eyes and heart to what I’m connected to. Nature is alive and always communicating.

Any words of wisdom you can give someone that is wanting to start this kind of daily practice? Would you say that making altars is a yoga practice for you?

The word of wisdom is simple: Begin. Take a step outside and just wander for a bit, looking around for leaves or bark or anything that inspires you. Sit on the earth and just begin to arrange these pieces. You’ll be surprised how easy it is when you choose to begin.

I started this as a daily practice years ago because I had a relationship breakup that totally broke my heart. I couldn’t do yoga, couldn’t meditate. All I could do was take my dog on a walk in the hills here. It was a huge act of courage at the time to just walk out my front door. But what I discovered and remembered was how connected I feel when I’m creative and in nature.

The word yoga in Sanskrit means “to join,” “to unite” “to bring together” – it’s the practice of connecting oneself to something greater. My Morning Altars practice is yoga practice for me as it’s all about connecting ourselves in the moment: to nature, to creativity, to the present moment.

Who and what are some of your biggest inspirations?

Perhaps I can answer this question by describing my smallest inspirations. The magic I make when engaged in my craft is given to me by what lives and grows on the land. There have been little leaves I have found that are splattered with all the colors of the seasons on its surface. Or a perfectly rounded river rock that looks like it was shaped on the potter’s wheel. Or the flowering puff of a thistle plant that desires any opportunity to ride the wind. When I sit down to create, these gifts of the land are my inspiration and give my imagination the endless ideas of shapes and patterns. Every single Morning Altar that I have made has been inspired by the place I am at and the objects of that place.

How do you maintain your amazing curiosity, creativity and beginner’s mind?

Maintenance is a practice of keeping something you love alive and well. And this practice, like any practice, exercises a muscle and a skill. Like playing the guitar or learning a language, to become skillful at something requires a commitment to take time to tend to it everyday — to be willing to meet it everyday. I believe in yoga this is called “finding your mat.”

Curiosity, creativity and beginner’s mind are skills that we must exercise daily to not lose them. As children we are born into these kind of skills — we begin with 100% and are asked to maintain them. However, the dominant industrial culture we live in requires us to trade in these enormously valuable skills for the promise of certainty, knowledge, productivity and competence. And, like any muscle that isn’t exercised, it atrophies when underused.

So maintenance is a practice of keeping something alive. I keep my curiosity, creativity and beginner’s mind alive by committing to my Morning Altars practice everyday. I get to behold the wild turkeys that parade by the creek or the squirrels chasing each other up a redwood tree. I get to practice making something new everyday using my own hands and being awed by what I made. It’s a practice so I mess up all the time — but my commitment has never been stronger.

Any tips on how to turn passions into a sustainable way of making a living?

The etymology of the word “sustain” means to “hold up” like you would with the foundation of a home. Anything that is sustainable and endurable requires a willingness to be flexible, adaptable, innovative and persistent. For passions to become a living, it really requires a shift in mindset that includes uncertainty and not knowing. It asks you to tell your passion that no matter what, you’ll be there for it. No matter how uncertain things are, you won’t abandon it. What happens when you alter your mind in this way is that you learn a certain kind of grace and courage that is needed when making your passions into livelihood.

You are also a Purpose Coach and created Legacy of Livelihood. Please tell us more!

I’m passionate about people remembering that they are needed during this time. There are too many people in the world living a life that is purposeless, needy and disconnected and there’s enormous negative impact on their health, relationships and on the planet itself.

We need as many people as possible attempting to live creative and regenerative lives. We need as many people as possible remembering that everything they benefit from has been given to them from generations before and that their purpose directly impacts generations to come. We as a human species are at a crossroads: Do we continue to take from this planet with an incessant, insatiable appetite or do we show up with purpose, meaning, generosity and responsibility for a world greater than ourselves?

I’ve worked with hundreds of clients as a Creative Purpose mentor because I want to see other people living their passions and purpose everyday. I want to see people taking risk and living creatively without any guarantees that its going to work out. Living with purpose right now requires us to proceed with our life’s calling in the midst of uncertainty.

I absolutely LOVE witnessing my clients get strong and devoted to living their passions.

What is one way we can all bring more beauty into our lives?

The more beautiful everything around you is, the more beauty is in your life. So, I think the question should be: What does it look like to make everything that surrounds me as beautiful as possible? What does it mean to bring beauty to your partner or your neighbors or your office co-workers? What does it mean to make your home or working space more beautiful? How can your greetings to strangers be more beautiful?

The more beauty you give, the more spills all over you. That’s what is needed in this world.

 

To view the mesmerizing magic of Morning Altars, visit: www.morningaltars.com

Instagram:  @morningaltars

Facebook:  facebook.com/morningaltars  

Sign up for the Morning Altars newsletter! The first 10 sign-ups will receive a package of Morning Altars postcards (when say you heard about this via Yoga Trade)

Devoted to Bhakti

I’ve been carrying an energy with me for the last four months that I can’t, and don’t want to shake. My breath feels more fluid, my mind more clear, my heart more open. This all began at Shakti Fest this past May, and integrating the lessons and practices has certainly not been a walk in the park. Rather, I’ve been on a dedicated journey that takes patience, practice, and work to fully live into — a journey that I feel grateful and honored to participate in.

Lucky for me, and thousands of other devotees, another opportunity to sink deeper into these practices is right around the corner. This year’s Bhakti Fest West, the sister festival to Shakti Fest, is happening in just 2 weeks in Joshua Tree, CA (Sept 6-11, 2017)!

Bhakti means devotion, and at Bhakti Fest that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what will unfold, and has been unfolding for the past 9 years. Bhakti Fest gathers a community of mindful folks from all over the world to practice the art of yoga, meditation, music, breath work, sound healing, and much more. One of the only fully vegetarian festivals, that is also drug and alcohol free and family friendly — this is a safe place to enliven your senses in pure form.

Bringing some of the best spiritual teachers of our time to one sacred place, including Seane Corn, Mark Whitwell, Kia Miller, and Michael Brian Baker, as well as internationally renowned musicians Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, MC YOGI, and Donna De Lory is just part of why this festival feels like a total dream.

Yet what seems to be the most impressive part of this festival is that it’s actually a non-profit. While we are celebrating, Bhakti Fest will be donating a percentage of its revenue to charities including Food for Life Vrindavan, Love Serve Remember Foundation, Ramana’s Garden, and the Seva Foundation.

It’s an “everybody wins” event that I’m personally stoked to experience as a teacher, practitioner, and lifelong student.

Participate in the SEVA program by working in exchange for a ticket (A Yoga Trade opportunity)! A fantastic way to make meaningful connections and enjoy the festival by sharing your trade: bhaktifest.com/participate/

Transform, deepen, and come play with us!

Tickets for Bhakti Fest West 2017 are available at:  https://tickets.brightstarevents.com/event/bhakti-fest-west-2017.

 

 

 

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.

IG : @momomagical 

Big Moves and Big Changes: How Transition Brings Positive Transformation

Many people fear transition. However, it is possible to use a period of transition as a way to change your life for the better. When we find ourselves in situations that either make us unhappy or are simply unsustainable, our strong feelings about the situation can generate a sense of momentum and purpose. This transformational momentum allows us to surge forward towards the change we so deeply crave.

Here are some tips for how you can use a major life transition, such as an upcoming big move, to replace bad habits with positive ones:

Getting Focused

If you’re looking to harness the power of transition to transform your life, it can be helpful to start by getting some clarity and focus. Ask yourself the following questions:
Who do I want to be? What type of life do I want to have?
Who am I? What type of life do I currently have?
What is the difference between the life I have right now and the life that I want to have?
What steps do I need to take to get there?

Home environment

From being uprooted to having to get settled into a new location, it’s no secret that moving is tough. Take this as an opportunity to make your new home environment a health environment. One way you can do this is by making your home environment as stress-free, healthy, and tidy as possible. These changes will lead to your home being a happier environment.

Social Connection

If we are making a cross-country or long distance move, we may worry about leaving our loved ones behind. We might even wonder whether people will like us or whether it will be difficult for us to make new friends in our new location. These types of concerns are very understandable. Humans are social creatures, and recent research has shown that the brain cannot differentiate between social pain and physical pain.

Although it can be uncomfortable at first, be patient with yourself. After a big move, it will take you some time to make friends, find a new social activities that you love, and explore your new neighborhood. Over time, you will begin to make new friends while (hopefully) also nourishing your existing relationships. This will boost your overall life satisfaction, reduce feelings of loneliness, and might even boost your immune system. In the words of behavioral researcher, Vanessa Van Edwards, “Connection nourishes us and makes us better humans.”

Mental Health

Your home environment and social connections also play a role in your mental health. As part of the healthier choices you are making, you might also consider ending any toxic relationships – or at the very least, start implementing some healthy boundaries. This will help you reduce stress, fatigue as well as contribute to overall happiness.

In conclusion…
To conclude, there are many benefits to transitions. As you’ve hopefully learned after reading this article, the current and upcoming changes in your life will build character and push you beyond your comfort zone. This provides you with an important gift: the unique opportunity to make some real changes and see positive transformation in your life.

 

With SpiritFinder, Ms. Scott offers a forum where those living with anxiety and depression can discuss their experiences.

She Will Rise

Kelsey is the Creator of She Will Rise: a community of women who are rising from the ashes of their past into the brilliance of their future. The community offers Trauma Therapy, Group Coaching, Retreats, and a Podcast. I met Kelsey in 2010, at a very dear place to my heart, Yandara in Baja, Mexico. I was there for one month taking a training and she was there teaching and working. Her strength and vibrance inspired me. We did not really stay in touch but years later, life brought us back together. We had both continued on the paths of living yoga and were simultaneously working on creative projects within the wellness world. Love had led me to the location that she was living. The connections that are made through yoga and wellness are amazing, and it is exciting and magical to grow and evolve together. Here we catch up with Kelsey, to learn from her story and wisdom. Thank you Kelsey for sharing your bright light!

Tell us about the inspirations that led to the creation of the She Will Rise Podcast…

 

On my own path of recovery I didn’t like or fit into the conventional systems or route, they just didn’t work for me. I had to make it up as I went a long and find my own way. I now call this intuitive recovery.  I had to learn how to listen to my heart AND ALSO my body AND ALSO my soul. It was hard for me as I didn’t meet a lot of people doing what I was doing and I felt like I was crazy at times. I knew that what I was doing was working for me but I lacked support and I felt very alone. As I developed the She Will Rise Intuitive Recovery Programs and Retreats I found other women offering amazing things too. I have always been comfortable sharing my story and I saw other women were starting to share theirs too. I thought, “what if there was a free resource for women where they could listen to other unique stories of recovery and have access to many tools and techniques so they could find their own unique and intuitive way through their trauma?” That is when the She Will Rise Podcast was born.

 

How has yoga helped shape your path?

 

I have heard a lot of people say that yoga saved their  life, I truly believe it saved mine. I was 23 and suffering from some pretty serious injuries from snowboarding. I couldn’t sit down for longer than an hour and I would wake up in pain every day. My friend dragged me to an Ashtanga yoga class after much convincing. I had dabbled with yoga by myself for many years before but never really went to classes. So I went and I cried the whole class because it hurt but felt good at the same time. I woke up in no pain so I went back. My body got stronger and had less pain. Then I tried a yin class…it was emotionally excruciating for me and I cried through every class for months. I was going to 6-8 classes a week because I was feeling so much emotional and physical relief. I was sold and in a year decided I wanted to be a yoga teacher. I have had some of my greatest physical healings, emotional breakthroughs and spiritual awakenings in practicing yoga and I can see myself having it in my day to day practice for the rest of my life.

Why do you feel called to create a space specifically for women?

 

I am a woman who has experienced a lot of abuse from men and I know a lot of other women have experienced the same thing and do not feel safe when men are around them. When women gather and are in a safe and sacred space to open up, magical things happen. The way women or female identified people feel, create, heal, dance and play is unique and it is different. The essence of who you are whether feminine or masculine needs to be initiated, honored and held with love. There is something remarkably strong about a compassionate sisterhood based in holding the highest vision for each other and I want to be a part of that.

How has the process of holding these conversations with women helped in your own growth and healing?

 

I believe our stories are medicine. When we hear a woman’s story of what she has been through it helps us feel like we are not alone and we might find the tools or words of inspiration that we are looking for. This is also true for me. I learn SO much from every woman I interview, their strength, courage and vulnerability deeply touches the parts in me that need just that to keep going. The friendships that are being made from the interviews and also the programs are so supportive, it is truly amazing.

Do you have any words of wisdom for women in wellness that are thinking about starting their own creative entrepreneurial projects?

 

You don’t have to do it all yourself. Don’t be afraid to hire someone who can do a task in an hour which would take you days. Stay connected to your values and practice integrity. Base your business around this. Look to others who are inspiring to you and surround yourself with supportive people. Stay away from comparison and jealousy of other women in the same field, there is absolutely enough clientele for you and the people you are meant to work with are out there waiting for you. Promote and support your colleagues; cross promotion is a powerful tool. Find a deep WHY.  Why are you are doing what you are doing?  Align the ‘why’ with your values and write it down everywhere!

 

WHAT and/or WHO sparks you up most right now?

 

All the amazing women I am interviewing for the podcast.  They are all so different, some of them students, mothers, big and little business owners, entrepreneurs, and they all have an amazing story to tell. They inspire me so much! I am also deeply immersed in earth based magic and ceremony and learning more to live with the circadian rhythms, following the moon cycles and living with the seasons. Then there are the animals in my life, my dogs, and the horses I work with and ride. I am now offering Animal Communication as a part of the programs I offer and it is profound the healing and therapy animals have to offer us.

 

 

Learn more and connect with Kelsey and this beautiful community:

Kelsey is a recovered addict and sexual abuse survivor who is dedicating her life to breaking the silence around these issues by sharing her story and supporting women to work through their trauma. She is the Creator of She Will Rise. Hear from courageous women who share their stories of a painful experiences and traumas, and how they work through it. The She Will Rise Podcast offers tools, resources and gifts to listeners. Stories are medicine. Together we are stronger.

www.shewillrise.community

IG:  @shewillrise.community

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