Monday, March 30, 2015

Bali extended!

Hello friends!

As the original plan would have it, I'd be in the bustling busy hub of Bangkok, hanging from aerial fabrics, twirling and whirling in my friend's yoga studio and getting a dental exam.

However, part of this SEA adventure entails being open to the winds of change, opportunity and possibility as they come along. And like any good SEA farer knows, flexibility (along with a strong internal compass and a few clean pairs of undies) are the key ingredients.

So! Here I am: 
It's a hard life, I know.

On my last night in Bingin beach with my girls Robyn, Stephanie and Bobbi, I met a group of new pals on the beach after I'd taken a stroll down myself, to do a bit of yoga and sink my head into the sand and watch the waves upside down.

Made some new friends and am now hanging in the Gili Islands right now, on Gili Air. Waking up early for sunrise and sadhana on the beach, kayaking across to nearby islands, (we made it to Lombok this morning before breakfast!) snorkeling, massage and mojitos. Going with the flow :)
My new pal Toby and our freshly pimped ship, on the shores of Lombok. Ahoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nyepi: A Retrospective on Balinese New Year!

With a saturated final week of gift sharing (practice teaching), business plan coaching, anatomy nights in the dark by candlelight, I opted to soak up and relish every moment possible over battling with the fritzy internet on sight. Before delving into the juicy details of this last rich week of life, let me first clarify a few basics for you, my dear readership: Yes, I am alive and well! Yes, I have officially graduated from my 500-Hour Professional Yoga Teacher Training! Woo! Shakti Initation came to a sweet culmination yesterday morning, a momentous event that merits its own blog post, coming later today or tomorrow. For now, I want to go back to last Friday, March 21, the day of Balinese New Year celebration.

Here is a short bit of background on the New Year's multi-day celebration, sources from 

"Contrary to several other cultures all around the world who celebrate the New Year with dynamic and sparkling festivities, the crowning point of the Balinese New Year 6 day celebration is a day dedicated to complete silence.
On the 3rd day the entire Island comes to a standstill, with no scheduled incoming or outgoing flights from Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar (DPS). 
This day is called Nyepi, meaning “to keep silent” and falls on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox when the day and night are of approximately equal duration. 
Hotels are asked to cover their windows, all shops are closed, all! No light or candle will be lit in any Balinese home, no cars on the road, no motorbikes, no people. It's indeed a special experience, not only for the Balinese but also for all the visitors and tourists that are on Bali during Nyepi Day."

As I've grown to love, relish and revere over the past month, the Balinese know, understand and respect the power of ritual. Whether it is the holy water during a Puja (blessing) ceremony, the Kabaya dress and sarong before temple, the small offerings of banana leaves, bouganvilia, rice kernels, incense placed at bridges, driveways, anywhere there is a threshold or opening. The culture is so deeply imbued in a sense of cycles, seasons, and gratitude. I feel a little Elizabeth Gilberty in my awe and admiration for this culture, its masterful integration of depth and buoyancy. There is a beauty in the slow, deliberate joy and generosity that beams from the hearts of every single person I've met and talked with, the same effortless, natural flow. From Maday, the owner of the "coffee shop", a tiny little hut just half a minute up the dirt road from our training, whom we'd visit during our lunch break for fresh coconuts, to Wayan, the dear BMR employee who drove some of the gnarliest back country roads with a grin and blasting Rhianna, people exude joy.

I've digressed, haven't I? Nyepi. Ritual. Bali. 

So, as I was saying, the day before Nyepi this year was Thursday the 20th. This is the day that the entire village parades down the street with the Ogoh Ogoh, a giant float of red eyed gods, that covers the whole town to capture any evil spirits left lingering before returning to the center of town and being set on fire.

We Shakti sisters ended our gift sharing on Thursday afternoon. Richard, dear soul, told us to have sarongs ready, as participation in the parade required sarong. As we began to head back to our rooms to gather cameras and sarongs, the distant sound of the Gamelon marching band started to sound, and the rain came. It rained and rained and rained! We gathered umbrellas and huddled together, watching the Ogoh ogoh make its way down the hill, the music growing louder and more wild with each step.

The float finally made its way right outside our driveway and stopped-- must have been soaking up all the energetic gunk we had spent a month skillfully clearing in our training. That, and taking a break from the pouring rain!

After frolicking in the rain, snapping pictures with the blended crowd carrying the Ogoh ogoh: teenage boys rocking aviators and batik sarongs, dads in the hecklers black and white sarongs, doing safety check on the side of the road to make sure spectators didn't take a bamboo rod to the nose, women carrying babies, adorning the peace with their presence just behind. The whole thing, plus the rain, then breaking sun, was quite surreal. After a while, the float crew climbed back into the bamboo grid keeping the Ogoh Ofoh afloat, hoisted upward and were on their way!
Now, to the fire!

We spent the following day, Nyepi itself, in keeping with the silence the island observes. Simpler meals, no lights or electricity. Brushing my teeth by headlamp that night I almost high-fived a hornet the size of a goldfinch, who had perched on itself on the bathroom doorknob. No pictures of that one :)

Being a bunch of goddesses, medicine women and healers, it was incredibly auspicious that Nyepi fell exactly in synchronicity with the equinox and one of the most powerful new moons of the year. We took the time among us to celebrate the chance to begin again-- and I could help but smile and actually laugh outloud to myself, with the image of a giant ghoul-bearing Ogoh ogoh demon with giant floppy breasts symbolically hauling away my old junk, being the torch bearer for my new beginnings. Only in Bali! 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kirtan, Class Prep and Coconuts!

Reverberations from the Silence

Hello friends! As the night critters are starting to chirp, buzz and tingle and the dark slowly fills in the shadows between Palm ferns and banana trees, after a warming meal of lemongrass soup, cashews and rice, I'm finding a sliver of time to write! Two days ago we finished our three day silent meditation retreat. It was one of the most challenging, revealing and growth-inducing experiences I've had so far, in this training and in life at large.

Let's be clear though. Not the Yoga Journal pure rainbows and sunshine kind of inner revelations, spotless and brimming with insight, boundless goodwill radiating like high beams out of my crown chakra toward all humankind.

The large majority of my experience was, during the actual hours and hours of sitting in a cushion (and eventually chair to show some love to my creaking knees), quite awful. And, ultimately, revealed to me layers of myself that I've never had the luxury and horror at times to examine this closely, this profoundly. (And, after reading about these tiny gems and gallons of gunk I dug up during this lotus pond of an excavation experiment of my own psyche and spirit, it will be an interesting part 2 to the experiment to see if you continue to read my blog!

From 6 am until 9 pm, we alternated between 45-minute sitting and walking meditation sessions, during which time one of our teachers offered a particular technique that we could either try on in the dressing room of our psyche or toss to the side. "Focus on the sensation of breath right at the tip of the nostril." "Listen to the sound of every inhalation and exhalation." "Notice the sensations of touch on the skin, the sunlight, the beads of sweat, the gentle tickling of ants." Inside that mental dressing room, my inner adolescent grimaced with singeing indignation, thinking profoundly unkind thoughts to our lovely, benevolent program assistants, shredding the fabric of every technique wafted over us in Wagnerian softspeak. The only mantra that succeeded in sticking in my brain on day one: "This is fucking bullshit." 

Our meals were very sparce, a light fast of sorts for the three days. Day two dinner was a thin brothed pumpkin soup and when I showed up to the kitchen, exhausted, depleted and hungry, I nearly lost it.

But something began to shift. In the hours of sitting, being, letting go, clinging to what I thought I needed then watching life continue, some seeds of inner alchemy were being planted, despite myself and my inner tantrums. (Perhaps, in fact, blessed by them!)

This morning during personal sadhana in the early morning, I found myself loving the 20 minutes of meditation I took at the end of practice. Showing up, being still, being in relationship with ALL of it: The pissy teenager in the dressing room, rolling her eyes and cursing the world at the absurdity of it all, and the wise woman who smiles and sits through those tidal waves of resistance to watch the tiniest sprigs of green begin to pop through the soil of the heart. This is what it means to practice. This is what it means to show up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Round the island and back again!

Hello! What an incredible couple days we shared as sisters on excursion at Mimpi. We took a long bus ride there, ate our brown sack lunches filled with pouches of fried rice (surprise!), tempeh, cucumber and shrimp chips on the side of the road, watching monkeys just meters away romp around squeeling as the waves crashed on the shore in front of us. 

We also stopped at a gas station, where all 22 of us, teachers and guides included, to ooze at the chance to splurge on junk food. Fried cassava chips, guava carbonated beverage, seaweed wraps with sugar and cayenne, coconut milk ice cream-- this is what happens when hungry yogis descend from the mountains to civilization! Needless to say, we all felt ill en route to Mimpi.

Once we arrived at Mimpi (which, in Balinese means "dreams"), our hotel on Menjangan Island, we unloaded our things into the room and made our way down to the hot springs, overlooking the ocean. (I roomed with my sisters Chantelle and Emily, two complete sweethearts who live in Cayman Islands and Australia). We had a full two hours before our posture clinic of kakasana, crow pose, by the pool, so Emily, Minna (another sister) and I set out for the open ocean! We dipped our toes into the saltwater, still and warm and super salty, and dove in. We swam about ten minutes out to a distant dock, where we climbed up a rusty dock ladder spattered with clinging crabs and sprawled ourselves out like starfish to dry in the sun.

After soaking up the sun for a while, we decided to err on the side of adventure and exploration and walk back, a decision which certainly brought what we sought-- adventure, that is. First, we followed the dock to shore, where we came to a path winding through thatch-roof huts and a giant infinity pool, belonging, we quickly discerned, to another resort. No matter! We plunged in, and swam around, standing on tip toes to view the gardens sprawling out towards the ocean. After climbing out, we meandered throughout this enclosed resort for probably 20 minutes before coming to a hole in the wall in the direction seeming like home. I'd foraged ahead, convinced that my solid sense of direction could help us find the way, and called the other two over-- I'd found a way through!

We climbed over spilled bamboo, empty cans and an inert toilet seat to an opening that led to husky voices laughing, to the smell of clove cigarettes, to brown skinned men in cutoff shirts reving power tools and clinking hammers-- a construction sight! And what a sight we must have been for them. Three American beauties in bikinis, walking barefoot over strewn garbage and a toilet seat through the tiny crack in the wall, asking in slow English where the "ROAD" was. They laughed at us benevolently, one man coming over to yank down a bamboo plank to make more of a clearing. I'd maneuvered myself over a rusting can and was on the other side of the toilet but had to tip toe around again to finally make it through without Tetnis, or falling squat down into the toilet. We made it to the road and walked back to Mimpi, laughing the whole way.

Once back at the pool, we played with Crow pose by the pool. It's an edge for me in my personal practice but I'm determined to nail it, and continue making it a part of my daily practice before leaving Bali. So far so good!

We found out at the pool that our co-teacher, Jovinna, had to leave to Singapore in the afternoon, to tend to her sick father. We hope to have her back in a couple of days, but are waiting to hear how things pan out.

The second day at Mimpi, we took boats and snorkel gear out to sea to go snorkeling. This was the most amazing day yet!!!! Blue flippers and oversized masks, Coppertone and crystal blue waters-- it was magical!! The coral reef off the island was so vibrant and alive-- we saw massive blue starfish, iridescent parrot fish swirling shades of aqua teal, orange and purple, and tons of those cool flat stripey black and white and yellow fish, like the rough-around-the-edges fish from Finding Nemo! It was incredible. On our boat ride home, our boat's engine broke and we relied on Bobbi's serious coaching-whistling skills to call our other boat over, who tethered themselves to us before jerry-rigging it back into functionality. As the engine slowly tut-tutted back into action, we started chanting a sweet chant to Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god, the remover of obstacles, as our little engine that could made its way through crashing waves back to shore.

Yesterday, I woke early and walked around the village outside the resort walls before we made our way back to Bali Mountain Retreat. I met some amazing women selling whole silver fish in bags and chicken thighs and basil sprigs and bean sprouts in the back of a motor cycle; saw kids running around the playground in white and red uniforms at an elementary school, saw tiny black pigs chasing chickens and dogs; met sweet old men cutting tall grass with machetes by the side of the road. I love these magical, quiet moments, moments of exploration, off the beaten track.

After a morning of walking and exploring I met my sisters back at the resort and had a beachside breakfast of papaya and pancakes and eggs before loading in the buses back To BMR, by way of Bali's only Buddhist temple. We stopped and toured the temple which was simply breathtaking. Statues of Buddha tucked into sprawling trees, immaculate yet simple gardens, expansive space, ornate temples. After loading back into the bus with more cassava chips and coconut water, we embarked en route over half-paved roads back to BMR, with a driver, bless his heart, who 1) spoke no English and 2) had absolutely no idea where he was going. We turned around probably 6 times, and when it began to thunderstorm and were headed down a steep ravine with no guardrails, he started shaking his head and wringing his arms, cursing the rain or himself or all of us in Balinese.

After several stops at the side of the road, familiarizing ourselves with known rice patties and certain houses, we finally made it back to the meeting point where the BMR vans picked us up. We arrived around 7 last night, to a house with no power and laundry that wasn't yet dried (but was today, and smelled clean!! A mountain miracle!!!!), we couldn't have been more ecstatic!! Our sweet loving staff had prepared a delicious meal of eggplant, basil and cucumber salad, rice and tempeh, and we feasted like famished monkeys.

Today we worked on sequencing and assisting, and some last posture cuing before we head into our three day silent meditation (March 13-15). I'm both excited and a little nervous to be in complete silence for these days-- no reading, no writing (no writing!!), no conversation. Just seated and walking meditation, simple meals, being with myself and my thoughts-- a promising, albeit slightly tremble-making prospect. Hopefully the space, silence and clearing will open up space for all the goodness these days have contained to plant and integrate in transformation. Jai Shakti!!!  More updates on the other side of silence, my friends!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Excursion Time!

Hello friends! Last night we ended our week long in depth study of the chakras, celebrated with coconut curry and a night off to pack.

We ended with Vishudda, the throat chakra, all about voice, expression, truth, clarity. As a fun (though for some sisters, terrifying) closing exercise in the morning, we had to each stand in front of the other sisters and sing a song a Capella! I followed our instructor Grace with a rendition of Amazing Grace-- I love to sing! Feeling committed to doing more of it when I return home-- and as the journey continues to unfold here in SEA.

I've taken to walking every afternoon after lunch, which has been wonderful not only to digest and process the richness of our study and the food (getting a little rice fatigue at this point), but also to see the surroundings, the people and landscapes, that reside in this mountain beyond the retreat driveway.
Yesterday, this little guy accompanied my whole walk!

This morning, I'm up early to walk with a few sisters (we have the morning off of sadhana) before we head out for our two day excursion to Menjagan Island, where we will snorkel, swim and workshop crow pose by the water! The island houses a natural park, from which we will be able to see Java, another Indonesian Island. I love the mountains but can't wait to sink my toes in the ocean again!!

Here's a silly roomie selfie as we figure out how the hell to exchange rupiahs for US$$. Here, we are millionaires! (100,000 is roughly 7.50)
Abundance and sunshine to you all back home! More pics of beach to come :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Magic in the Mountains

Phew, hello readers! It has been a magical, saturated past couple of days, so much so that it’s been challenging to find time to sit away from my sisters and compose blog entries that even grace the hem of the rich fabric of this experience.  Two nights ago, at the end of Ajna chakra day, our evening session ended with a Thai Yoga massage workshop, where our skilled anatomy teacher Grace led us on in a practical workshop to use with private clients (and, yes, friends as well, for all you who are salivating).

Despite hours of practicing insight-strengthening and wisdom-manifesting pranayama and asana all day (or breath exercises and postures, for those of you just beginning to dabble in the kiddy pool of the yoga lingo splash park), my vision of staying up late to write a blog entry after the workshop, alas, did not manifest as I’d envisioned: myself rosy-cheeked and blissed as a butterfly, relaxed, eloquent, perhaps levitating slightly and skillfully typing away to the sound of crickets and jungle hums into the wee hours of the night. In reality, the workshop ended and my massage partner/soul sister Bobbi all but had to wipe the thin dribble of drool from my face and carry me back to our room to slumber before waking up yesterday morning for morning Sadhana (or daily practice).

I want to pause and offer a bit of an orientation to A) where I am and B) what I’m doing. Hi! I am Cait J And, after a week and a half of pinching myself, I’ve come to the realization that at this moment in time, I am, indeed, in Bali, Indonesia.

Shakti Initiation is a one month, 500-hour yoga teacher training immersion, a time of soul spelunking, skill honing and practical plan developing. I do yoga every morning (or allow yoga to do me, as it’s becoming), which involves meditation, still and moving, breathing exercises and physical postures. It also involves dancing, howling, journaling, sharing, crying, pooping, singing, blessing. The whole range, really.

My 17 Shakti sisters and I are being led by two fantastic teachers—Jovinna Chan and Grace Jull, and blessed with the assistance of two of last year’s Shakti’s sisters, Lisa and Mally. We are staying at Bali Mountain Retreat Center, about an hour and a half outside of Bali’s capital city Denpasar. Bali Mountain retreat is (are you sensing a theme?) magical—the grounds speckled with simple, beautiful cabins shared among sisters, the two yoga studio spaces, the open gardens.

And, while we’re at it, a health update. (Also, my sister Minna just placed a crunchy piece of salak in my mouth (BLISS!) Salak taste like strawberry but crunches like cucumber. Yum city!

1)   My rash is completely better (insert rain dance here!). Whether the miracle tincture of Balinese antihistamines  or the hour long Reiki energy surgery my sister performed on my caboose, I’ll never know for sure, but I am so grateful to have skin that is bronzed and healthy and not splotchy as a seven year old suffering from chicken pox and eczema.

Another word on daily life here at Bali Mountain Retreat. Our teachers Grace and Jovinna are magical, women of incredible skill and story and knowledge. One of the hallmarks that highlights the skillfulness of this course they’ve designed is the layout of our days and the curriculum as it unfolds. (By the way, I’ve been blissfully enjoying having no idea what day of the week it is, but orienting myself around which chakra day it is. (Oh rats, I thought yesterday, I haven’t posted since Anahata (heart chakra) day! And we’re already on Mooladara!) Our days are structured and packed, but with time for rest and integration, which usually look like sprawled naps in the lawn or walks on the roads through the winding hills with sisters, sharing stories and songs.

Every morning we have daily practice from 6-8. We begin in silence and watch a the splendor of sun spill itself across the sky. Each day a new canvas, each day a different gradation of astounding. Every day, there is a Shakti angel of the day, a sister who is responsible for preparing the space for the rest of our sisters at Sadhana. Yesterday, Mooladara (or Root Chakra) day it was my turn.

I woke around 5 am, brushed my teeth and made my way down to the studio. I turned on the lights, lit incense, swept (there are a couple of intense ant interstates crossing the studio), unraveled the bamboo sheets to reveal the still-dark sky backdropped against a still sleeping jungle. I was reminded this morning of how much I love being in a tropical climate (the parallel to these mountains and my second home in Costa Rica is astounding.. and making me homesick for Tiquicia!) and feeling the porous, permeable breath between my own body and the natural world around me. (A shout-out and giant warm tropical for all of you suffering from snow and sleet in New England here!)

Each day of this first week, as I mentioned, we are focusing on a specific energy center in the body, or Chakra. There is, obviously, a month’s worth of material here so I’ll give you the Yoga-For-Newbies version. There are seven major chakras located in the body—Root, Sacral, Solar Plexus, Heart, Throat, Third Eye and Crown. Each center is housed along the central column in the body and is governed by a superstar team of organs, glands, fascia, muscles and energy, and each chakra has incredible power and purpose.

Our morning practice opens the day with meditation, and a series of practices both breathing and movement that correlate with the chakras. Yesterday, for instance, on Root Chakra day, our morning practice was heavily focused on grounding leg strengthening asana and balancing Nadi Shodina pranayama. If all of this sounds like gobbilygook, feel free to forget it entirely (which, thankfully in the realm of mediation, is progress in non-attachment. Wee!!)

After morning sadhana comes breakfast, where the angel of the day reads a blessing. It’s been such a joy and gift every day to feel the warmth and witness the radiance of my sisters, who have become like deepest family and friends of lifetimes in less than a week. Leah, I read from the Grateful Heart yesterday and the sisters loved it!

The food is UH-MAAAAY-ZING. So simple and delicious. Rice, eggs, tempeh, fried onions, chili sauce, green beans, cabbage and carrot salad, fern and coconut salad, peanut sauce, fresh yoga coconut. Bali, you had me at hello!!!!!

From 9-12 we have our morning session, 12-2:15 have lunch and break (yesterday a group of sisters and I ventured off on a walk down the road during our break, where we photographed rice patties and passion fruit trees and men suspended 20 feet in the air by bamboo scaffolding and bright eyed kids chasing roosters the size of beagles.), then reconvene for an afternoon session from 2:15-4. During the afternoon study session we usually focus on anatomy, where as in the morning we’re doing a lot of soul inventory, workshop sharing ideas and journal work. Powerful stuff!

Afternoon sadhana, from 4-6, has been one of my favorite times of day, as it always looks different. Yesterday we played and pounced and pulsed to an energizing playlist, evolving like monkeys from one standing posture to the next, and ended up shirtless in the rain, soaking up the warmth and wet of this Balinese sunshower.  Afterwards I sat outside strumming the guitar as sisters sat around and journaled and drew. Can life really be this simple and saturated, this nurturing and interconnected and satisfying? It’s a mind-blowing meditation to see how the color of everything shifts when the day begins, ends, and is punctuated consistently with a return to being here, now, alive on this planet, to breathing IN all life and breathing out old stories stale and stuck in the heart; to watch the bubbles of gratitude, connection, and sharing surface up like farts from a fish underwater.

Richard is the one man on the premises—we call him Papa. He is one of the co-owners of Bali Mountain Retreat, a long haired, wise and positively chill Australian, a gentle spirit and old soul who also happens to be an extremely talented musician (he played JESUS in Jesus Christ Superstar and starred in the original production of HAIR!!)  Last night, after a dinner of oregano spiced pumpkin soup and salad, he led a sing-a-long with the sisters, where we nuzzled shoulder to shoulder and sang Bob Dylan and Neil Young before creating a new song (which I played guitar for!)—Bali Ma, which some sisters sang like sheep, not getting the “li” part (Ba ba ba).

So, my friends, the transformation and teaching that I’m absorbing here is difficult to capture in large bits. Simply put, it feels like a homecoming, like a return to living that is undoubtedly preciously privileged and yet so profoundly simple. Wake early and be still before the magnitude of creation. Listen to the sounds of nature. Breathe slowly, quietly, intensely. Stretch. Sweat. Gather, Bless, Eat. Poop. Scurry and sit and wiggle ad wait and listen and learn and pray and play.

Today is Manipura day, solar plexus, the third chakra, all about the sun. Hoping the sun shines bright bright bright, since I left my clothes on the line in the rain last night! Blessings to y’all back home!