One Insane Month - The Yoga Retreat

I taught classes and workshops in Paris and Cologne in 2009/2010 but never held a retreat in Europe before. When Erica asked me to teach a segment of the first Tip Clinic in Portugal, it only made sense to offer a yoga retreat. Looking over my calendar, I realized there was one limitation; time. The clinic was in under three months. This meant a retreat program needed to happen before then and should have been ready to market yesterday. Hey, I don my superhero cape often. My Wonder Twin was about to time travel. Thinking it absurd, (but still making the attempt) I messaged Assal asking if she would be available to go to Portugal in six weeks to do her talk. I still had an email exchange with her, patiently awaiting some action, from a year and a half ago (my slight OCD makes me bonkers if my Inbox exceeds 20 emails, so this one clearly had purpose), discussing a yoga retreat incorporating brain research. Yes, I adopted a sister who is a genius, PhD in Neuroscience. You know, that osmosis thing...it's still pending. She later reminded me that this conversation actually started ten years ago. As they say, slow and steady wins the race. 

A yes was so unexpected that I actually said, "WOW" out loud when she responded. Within three weeks, we had enough women signed up and were booking our flights to Portugal. I knew all of the participants and most of them were some of my closest friends. Aware that the unfoldment happened so organically, we knew this journey was going to be very special. And that is was.

After our pre-yoga, debauchery in Lisbon, East Coast Alison arrived (yes, there are two Alisons, both spelled with one "l", known as East Coast and West Coast) and the nine of us trekked back to Nazaré to begin retreating. We settled everyone into their apartments and later walked down to the beach house to get a gentle evening practice in. There is a small shortcut through a forest on the way there. Just before we turned onto the road, I heard a rattle and just to the left of my feet saw the biggest rattlesnake I've ever seen in person. Just for the record, I've never actually seen a rattlesnake in person...so it was huge. The scream that came out of me scared the shit out of the snake and possibly paralyzed some of the local insect population. It was really fascinating because I could actually see the look of terror on its face before it turned around and slithered away through the brush. That was the last time we walked through the forest. 

It was finally time for yoga. Everyone was still jet lagged except for me and Nina (she only came from one time zone away), so the evening practice was focused on giving our travel-weary bodies a bit of TLC. There were two scheduled yoga sessions daily, one in the morning and one in the evening. Assal's two talks on how lying effects the brain and, in turn, our lives and the benefit of being present were given on the even days of the four. The daily practices began with gentle Hatha and increased to a rigorous vinyasa flow by the last day. In the evening, we stretched it out with a Yin practice and ended with guided Yoga Nidra. During the talks, we connected with synchronized breathing and opened up about times in our lives that we had lied. Assal's presentation showed us the activity in the brain when we lie, why we lie and how a mindfulness practice can assist in changing patterns to live from a more authentic place. We ended the last talk with a loving kindness meditation and follow-up on how we feel when lying. It's really too much to convey in a single paragraph, but that was the program and it went well. Next year, Greece!

Free time was plentiful to discover this quaint, charming village by the sea. You never know what you're going to get when you group people together in an intimate environment, some who know one another, some who have never met. There was an instant cohesiveness. Many of the personalities had horns; Taurus, Capricorn and Aries. (again with the astrology, Bunok!) Thankfully, this was buffered by the less feisty of the ten. Nina opted out of the day trip to Obidos since we had already gone the week prior. I was simply looking forward to my second round of Ginja. We drove in two cars to the castle with me leading the way. Yes, your directionally challenged, fearless leader who doesn't know her left from right was heading up the mini caravan in a foreign country where she couldn't read the street signs. We, somehow, made it without too much incident, though I did nearly run over East Coast Alison's foot when I didn't see her approach the car after I had pulled over, thinking I was lost. Sorry, Ali!

I imagine if you live in Europe or travel for leisure frequently, the walled city of Obidos wouldn't be so interesting. But for an American whose country doesn't have medieval anything because, really, it's the teenager on the world block, this history dense municipality is worthy of me being a tourist over and over again. I was excited to toast all of the girls with a chocolate shot of Ginja and do some more exploring, sans jet lag. We were there on a weekend, so the city was much more alive with street performance and activity. This time around, I shopped and bought some beautiful pieces to bring back to the States from local artist, Sónia Borga. I discovered that mediocre food in a pleasant setting actually does taste better, ice cream with the girls has no calories and keeping eight women together is impossible (the expression "herding cats" left my lips many times over the two weeks of retreat and clinic). Oh yes, and that chanting OM into an ancient tomb is quite soothing and could possibly raise the dead.

Olaria S Pedro and street performance

Olaria S Pedro and street performance

OM in Obidos

Over the four days, we practiced and had our minds blown by science in the morning, fell in love with Nazaré and its surroundings in the afternoon, meditated in the evening and finished the day eating far too late, drinking far too much and laughing abundantly until far after the sun set over the Atlantic. We were all having a love affair with Portugal and the experience that she generously offered to us.

Over the four days, we practiced and had our minds blown by science in the morning, fell in love with Nazaré and its surroundings in the afternoon, meditated in the evening and finished the day eating far too late, drinking far too much and laughing abundantly until far after the sun set over the Atlantic. We were all having a love affair with Portugal and the experience that she generously offered to us.

Paragliding is soon to begin!