A Yoga Transformation - Before and After

In July of 2018, Brian started coming to my yoga classes at Maya Whole Health, where I’m currently teaching in Renton, WA. He is the father of my videographer/photographer and dear friend, Rob. Brian quickly became “addicted” to the practice and began taking every class that I taught on the schedule. He also bookended the week with the gentle, restorative Monday and Friday classes taught by my friend and fellow yogini, Susan, averaging out about ten classes per week, with double sessions and sometimes triple in a day.

Brian has a long history of physical activity, from gymnastics and baseball as a teen, to kick boxing and Tai Kwon Do in his 30s, to soccer in his 40s. He also has an extraordinarily expansive list of injuries, surgeries, and events that were life threatening beginning as early as his late teens.

After years of surgeries (knee, sinus, carpal tunnel, rotator cuff…to name a few), at 60 years old, Brian found himself addicted to prescription morphine because of complications from a spinal fusion. As if the Universe hadn’t handed him enough in the way of health issues, three years later, he had brain surgery to remove a pituitary tumor.

At 64, he felt unhealthy, in physical pain, and was peaking at a weight of 248lbs. This is when he realized it was time to take his life back. Before he began his yoga practice, he had already lost 14lbs through dietary changes. As of this writing, he is down another 26 and almost at his goal weight.

In Brian’s own words: “Magic happened for me when Bunok Kravitz moved to the Seattle area in 2018 and started teaching at Maya Whole Health in Renton…I believe I will look back in 20 years at age 85 and see yoga and Bunok Kravitz as a game-changer in my life.  I am comfortable with myself in the honest spiritual world I have settled upon; but I also expect growth in that area.  But – perhaps especially for a 65-year-old – I don’t see anything that will do for me what yoga will do for me and has proven so already.  I think it would have been a game-changer years ago as a young athlete; and I think it’s a game-changer for those of us who have had major surgeries and injuries.  Bunok would probably hate it (because they are such whiners), but if I was Pete Carroll, I would have the entire Seattle Seahawks team in Bunok’s yoga [classes] every day.”

Just a side note, I can handle whiners, Brian. :)

And more importantly, I am honored to be a part of your yoga journey. Your metamorphosis has been inspiring and beautiful to witness. Thank you for that and for always bringing a smile to class with you.

The Most Basic Vegan Kimchi Recipe Ever

Pan fried tofu, rice with peas, and vegan kimchi. (Yes, that is basmati rice. I know. I know. It’s supposed to be short-grained…shhhhhh)

Pan fried tofu, rice with peas, and vegan kimchi. (Yes, that is basmati rice. I know. I know. It’s supposed to be short-grained…shhhhhh)

I grew up eating homemade kimchi. When I was in kindergarten, my mom would send my lunches in the traditional Korean stainless steel bowls filled with rice, kimchi, and bulgogi. One of my earliest memories is being ostracized to a table all alone because the kids made fun of how stinky my lunch was. I cried to my mother to not give me Korean food anymore and I don’t remember it ever happening again. American lunch boxes soon followed.

All things Korean, including the cuisine, have only become “it” in pop culture in recent years. Now that non-Koreans have come to understand the joys of spicy, pickled vegetables, you are now on-trend if you eat the odoriferous food that, some assert, has been a part of the Korean kitchen for thousands of year.

For me, it was just “food”. The rice pot was always on the counter, the refrigerator always had several different types of kimchi, and the basement had the priceless jar of pickled garlic in the brown sauce that, even as an adult coming home to visit, would only allow you one or two pieces on your plate until the next visit.

I chose to become a pescatarian at 17 years old. This made my kimchi consumption drama-free. When I stopped eating fish altogether, vegan kimchi was certainly not something you could find at the Korean market and Whole Foods didn’t exist back then. I knew how to make kimchi from watching and helping my mom until I left home at 18. So I started making it again, just without the brine shrimp. Though there are recipes that require more ingredients and are more labor intensive, hopefully, this easy, simple recipe will inspire you to make your own kimchi, too!

As I mentioned, there are several ways to make the base for your cabbage kimchi. This recipe uses the minimum ingredients necessary to make this tasty delight.


2lbs Napa Cabbage
1/4c Sea Salt (if you’re using coarse Korean salt, you’ll need a bit more)
4 scallions (aka green onions)
6 - 8 cloves of garlic
A one-inch piece of ginger
1/4c Korean chili pepper (gochugaru) *If you’re spicy, use more. I use 1/2c.
1/4c water

Slice the cabbage into large pieces. Put a layer in the bottom of a bowl large enough to hold all of the cabbage. Sprinkle the layers with some of the sea salt. Continue to layer the cabbage and salt until you’ve used all of your cabbage.

Allow this to sit for several hours. Every 30 minutes or so, toss the cabbage. You’ll notice that it starts to shrink and water will begin to collect at the bottom of the bowl.

While the cabbage is being salted, cut the scallions into large pieces.

Place the garlic, ginger, and red chili pepper into a food processor and process, adding the water a little at a time until it becomes paste-like. If you don’t have a food processor, work your knife skills and chop the garlic and ginger until very fine and add the chili and water to create a paste.

Add this chili paste to the scallions.

After 2 - 3 hours, place the cabbage in a colander and rinse thoroughly. This may take several minutes of tossing the cabbage under the running water. Taste the cabbage. It should be somewhat salty. If it has no flavor, add a bit of salt to your mix after you incorporate your chili paste. We are not using brine shrimp or fish sauce, which add a salty flavor to the kimchi. So additional salt may be necessary. Use your taste buds!

You can either use your hands to mix in the cabbage or a utensil. If using your hands, USE GLOVES! That pepper is no joke and will burn you.

After incorporating and covering every single piece of cabbage in the spicy mix, press the kimchi tightly into a mason jar. Make sure to keep an inch of space on top, as it will begin to bubble during the fermentation process. Leave the jar out of the refrigerator for up to a several days and then place in the refrigerator when it has reached the sourness that you enjoy. Of course, it may not last that long. :)

As mentioned above, this is super basic. You can add julienned daikon and/or carrots into the scallions and proceed from there for added crunch and flavor.

Gluten-free, Vegan Oat Bread

I find that eating a lot of wheat makes me completely inflamed (I look like the Michelin tire man after a few days) and, after several days of consumption, I’m dead tired every time I eat it. I’m not gonna lie. I love bread. I love pasta. I love pastries; namely chocolate croissants! And the truth is, no matter how much better the quality gets as the years pass, none of these culinary staples will ever taste as good in the gluten-free version. BUT! They can taste delicious in their own right. It’s like Dominos. It’s NOT pizza. But it really serves its purpose when you’re in your 20s, in a loft in TriBeCA, stoned off your ass and suffering from the munchies. Anyway, you get me.

So back to the bread. OhEmGEEEEEE! It is really good. I mean, REALLY good. The key is the coconut milk and, believe it or not, the apple cider vinegar. The ACV helps with the rising of the dough.

The beauty of gluten-free breads is there really is no need to knead. Your dough should be somewhat wet. Thicker than muffin batter but wetter than cookie dough. You’ll be amazed at how simple this is. Go for it!

Dry Ingredients

2c Gluten-free Oat Flour
3/4c White Rice Flour
1/2c Tapioca Starch
1 pkg Active Dry Yeast
Some rolled oats to sprinkle on top (optional)

Wet Ingredients

2c Coconut Milk (heated to lukewarm)
1/2c Warm Water
2 tbsp Maple Syrup
1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

Place yeast, maple syrup, and warm water in small bowl and let sit for a few minutes.

Mix together all other dry ingredients. Make sure your flours are room temperature if you keep them in the refrigerator (which you should do with flours if you don’t use them often).

Add the coconut milk and yeast mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until fully incorporated.

Grease a standard loaf pan or 8 x 8 baking dish and add a sheet of parchment across the bottom and up the sides on only two sides. Fold the edges over the sides of the pan. This will help lift the loaf right out of the pan when out of the oven. Pour your batter into the pan. Use a wet spatula to spread the batter without it sticking. Cover and let rise for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. I usually heat my oven for a few minutes on the lowest heat and place the covered dish in the warm oven. Don’t let it get too hot otherwise you’ll ruin your bread. You should be able to comfortably touch the racks. Make sure the dough doesn’t rise beyond the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with oats, if you desire, and gently press them down into the dough.

Heat oven to 350º and place a dish of hot water in the bottom rock.

Place your pan on the middle rack and bake for 45 - 50 minutes. The bread is ready when you can smell it wafting through your kitchen and the top is nice and browned.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Lift your bread by the parchment and place on a cooling rack. Smother it with whatever you fancy; savory or sweet. Ahhhhhh! You are most welcome!

Vegan Basil and Sunflower Seed Pesto

I love basil pesto. I put it on pretty much everything. I’ve never had it with ice cream but I somehow believe that it would just enhance the yumminess. Or not…

Though I’ve gone back and forth between a vegan and vegetarian diet for many years, I actually prefer the vegan version of pesto. I feel that the flavors can present themselves more without the cheese overshadowing the herb/nut combination. A little nutritional yeast gives a hint of the flavor that is missing from the cheese.

It’s so simple to make. I use a Vitamix but you can use a food processor. The Vitamix makes a creamier pesto, which I also prefer.

Vegan Basil and Sunflower Seed Pesto

All ingredients organic

1/4 c Raw Sunflower Seeds (soaked for at least 2 hours and rinsed)
1/3 c Olive Oil
2 c Fresh Basil leaves
2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1 clove of Garlic (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put all dry ingredients in your blender or food process. Begin pulsing and slowly pour in oil. Increase the speed and tamp down if necessary. Blend until the leaves are fully broken down and combined with the nuts.

That’s it! So simple and easy. I made some zoodles with tomatoes and glopped it on that. I also had some with chips while I was waiting for the zoodles to be done. You can have it on toast with some avocado and tomatoes. Get creative. Bon appetit!

Ridiculously Delicious Vegan Chocolate Pots de Creme

I posted a picture of these desserts on my IG page and several people asked for the recipe. I didn't take a lot of pics when making it because I wasn't planning on blogging about it. Here's the quick version!

Ingredients - all are organic and vegan

Chocolate Pots de Creme

1 c raw cashews, soaked for a minimum of 6 hours and rinsed
2/3 c almond milk (recipe here)
2 tbsp or more agave nectar (or maple syrup if you like the flavor it imparts)
1/4 c bittersweet chocolate chips (make sure there is no dairy in the ingredients)
1/4 c cocoa powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

Whipped Cream

1 can coconut milk (Buy a brand that doesn't have any gums added. Thrive Market has a great one.) Refrigerate the can for several hours before using.
2 or more tbsp agave nectar (or maple syrup if you like the flavor it imparts)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Pots de Creme
After soaking the cashews for at least 6 hours, rinse and place them in a high powered blender (My Vitamix is used daily in my kitchen. A big initial expense but I've had it for many years.) Add the almond milk, agave to your taste (I prefer the bitterness of the chocolate so I don't add too much), cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Whiz it up on high speed until it comes to a thick cream. You may need to use the tamper to have it blend evenly. If it is too thick and not blending, add more almond milk, but only a small amount at a time. 

Melt the coconut oil on a low flame and add the chocolate chips when completely melted. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk until the mixture forms a ganache. Remove the lid plug (or a flip lid, depending on what blender you're using) and turn the blender on a medium speed. Slowly pour the ganache into the mixture until it is fully incorporated. 

Scoop the mixture into bowls, ramekins or fancy classes, cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

For the Whipped Cream

Open the coconut milk can and scoop out about 1/2 of the cream that has separate and hardened on top. (If, for some reason, it is not solid, pour the cream in a bowl and place back into the refrigerated until it hardens and separates.) Add the agave and vanilla and whisk all ingredients together. If necessary, add more agave to desired sweetness. Save the rest of the coconut milk for another recipe (like Thai peanut sauce!)

Serve your Pots de Creme with a dollop (or more!) of the whipped cream and dust lightly with cocoa powder. This is a dessert that will no doubt impress your guests! Enjoy! 

Vegan Chocolate Pots de Creme

Vegan Chocolate Pots de Creme with Coconut Whipped Cream

Overcome Obstacles In Your Asana Practice - The Kleshas

In the second chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the spiritual practice of yoga is explored. There are five Kleshas, or obstacles, on this yogic path to liberation.

  1. Avidya - Ignorance
    • Not knowing the true Self
  2. Asmita - Egoism
    • Self-importance with one's own identity, separating the Self from the truth of Oneness
  3. Raga - Attachment
    • Attraction to things that bring pleasure to the "I", creating suffering when they are not accessible
  4. Dvesha - Repulsion or Aversion
    • Disdain for things that threaten the "I"
  5. Abhinivesha - Will to live or fear of death

    • The need to keep the "I" alive. Fear of bodily death or anything that threatens one's own identity

These are rudimentary explanations of the kleshas. One must go much deeper into Self exploration to develop a greater understanding of each of their meanings. We can cognitively, intellectually understand these obstacles but true knowledge comes from a commitment to meditation and asana practice, as mentioned in the Sutras as Abyhasa or constant practice. 

So how do the kleshas apply to asana? When Anusara was at it's pinnacle before the fall of John Friend, I was obsessed about the practice. There were a few things that struck me as odd, though. One was this teaching of finding one's edge. Being the fiery personality that I am, this was not the best direction for me in my early 30s. How can one truly find their edge without going over it? And that is where the kleshas come in to play. When ignorance, ego and attachment are the forces behind advancing your practice, it will only lead to injury and frustration. In the moment, you are lead further from the truths that are being expressed in the Yoga Sutras. As a tool to break through these obstacles, the kleshas are actually assisting you in an awakening. But one must have consistent practice (abyhasa) in order to get to the other side. The awareness doesn't come by being consumed by the obstacles and walking away before you glean from the experience. The awareness arises when you fall flat on your face over and over until you realize whatever is needed to not have to move through this same lesson anymore. This doesn't necessarily have to be how you find your edge, but we all must teeter on the fulcrum before we find steadiness. How far from the center you must stray before discovering balance is up to you.

Another common practice during a typical Anusara class was having a student demonstrate an advanced posture. This always ended in a round of applause. I was perplexed by this and felt this action attenuated the deeper teachings in the yogic system, namely the second and third kleshas. But was I just experiencing dvesha or a repulsion of an action that threatened my own ego? It is likely that all of these things were happening. Our lessons simultaneously appear on opposite sides of the coin in a communal consciousness.

When we are facing postures in class that we love or hate, there is likely a klesha in there. The ones that we love, most of the time, are postures we look pretty in or "do well". Our attachment to being recognized for being "good" and feeding the ego perpetuates the need to be seen doing them instead of doing them to get further away from those things and closer the truth of who we are. Of course, there are postures that we love because we go deeper into our bodies, into present moment and ultimately into our Self. You can clearly see the difference between how the two expressions are experienced. Then there are those that we hate.  Usually, they are difficult and scare us, we do not look pretty in them and they push us to work harder. Many times, we choose not to do them or make a lackluster effort while in them, not utilizing the opportunity to move past the story.

Instead of all of these labels that we put upon everything throughout the day, our yoga practice can be the place where we face our kleshas. When you step on your mat, take note of the kleshas. Can you make your asana practice about your breath and experiencing the movement without judging it in any way? Can you work harder before you get to the point where you've fallen off the edge? Equanimity can take us there. It has taught me to just experience what is happening in present time, fully and wholly. In those moments where I have succeeded, liberation is the only word I can think of that comes close to describing the experience. 

I invite you to be open to finding out who you truly are every time you step on your mat and your practice will transform from a great workout to the most faithful tool you can draw upon to connect you to deeper truths that will bring peace into your being and a realization of what oneness actually is.


Why Advanced Yoga Is Not What You Think It Is

When asking people about their practice, I often hear this response: "I'm not very good at yoga." What's understood here, immediately, is that this person is not flexible and probably not very strong either. What is being "good", really, when speaking about yoga? For starters, it has nothing to do with being able to touch the floor with straight legs. Considering the following eight guidelines, known as the 8 Limbs of Yoga (from Pantajali's Yoga Sutras), you are, in fact, "good" at yoga if you've come close to mastering all eight of 'em! Funny part is that if you are that close to mastery, you are not going to be spewing with temerity how good you are at the practice or how far along you are on your journey. Self-observation isn't even on the same spectrum of egotism.

Here's a quick breakdown of those 8 limbs. Each is worthy of their own blogpost, as the simple explanations here barely touch the surface of their meanings. But it's a good start. 

  • YAMA - Moral codes, ethics

    • Ahimsa - non-violence, harm none

      • The Self is often overlooked with ahimsa.

    • Satya - truthfulness in thoughts, words and actions (aka Integrity)

    • Asteya - non-stealing

      • Though most of us don't participate in the literal understanding of stealing, an example of applying this to your practice would be to stay committed to your pose instead of "stealing away" into the next one without allowing for the experience of the posture. In life, are you allowing your mind to steal you from being present in this very moment?

    • Brahmacharya - celibacy, sexual restraint

      • This goes much deeper than saying, "don't have sex ever again to achieve enlightenment". Are you in control of your desires or do they control you? Are you using your sexual energy toward the betterment of your world and the world around you or are you indulging in lower level, 2nd Chakra pursuits?

    • Aparigraha - non-attachment, non-greediness, non-possessiveness

  • NIYAMA - Personal practices, observances

    • Shaucha - Purification

      • Both externally and internally of the mind, body, and spirit

    • Santosha - Contentment, acceptance, satisfaction

    • Tapas - (no, not the Spanish small plate...) Literally translated as "to burn"

      • This Niyama is about discipline. Tapas is to burn off impurities by remaining passionate and courageous in pursuit of the greatness that you are but don't yet possess because of lack of commitment to that which will tap you into that greatness.

    • Svadhyaya - Self-study, introspections, self-observance

    • Ishvara Pranidhana - Surrender to the divine (whoever or whatever that is for you)

  • ASANA - The physical postures

  • PRANAYAMA - The practice of controlling the breath

    • Prana is life force and the breath is the vessel that carries it.

  • PRATYAHARA - Withdrawal of the senses or gaining mastery over external influences

  • DHARANA - Single-pointed focus

  • DHYANA - Awareness through meditation

  • SAMADHI - Integration, oneness AKA enlightenment

So now that you've had a crash course on the 8 Limbs, perhaps you can better understand that being an advanced yogi has nothing to do with your ability to practice complex poses. In fact, if you have an attachment to your practice in this way, you are not engaging in the fifth Yama: Aparigraha. You can walk into a studio having never done a down dog in your life and have a more "advanced" yoga practice than someone who has been on their mat for years. 

I was drawn to write about this because I'm back teaching in the studio system, which I haven't done in years. Naturally, there are levels stated for each class so practitioners have a better meter to choose instruction that best suits their physical abilities. In this sense, levels are important so as not to put yourself in a position where you feel like running for the hills the second you step into the studio. I'm not blind to the fact that yoga has become about fitness in the West, therefore an obvious need for a levels system. I'm also not going to stay blind to the fact that this is the absolute antithesis of what yoga is authentically about. 

If you are reading this and you have an Asana practice but have limited knowledge in the deeper practices of yoga, challenge yourself by beginning with the first Yama. Research and read more about each of these limbs. In addition to your Asana and Pranayama practices, see how you can incorporate them into your daily life. Whether or not you become proficient in them, the effort in every aspect is what makes you a yogi.

I wish you well on your yogic journey.

Sutra 1.2 Yogas chitta vritti nirodha
Yoga is the control of the modifications of the mind field. - as translated by Swami J.


The Competition of Modern Yoga

A very dear friend of mine took a break from yoga this past year. She replaced her asana practice with fitness, opting to work with a personal trainer; flipping over massive tires and working that pull up bar that, admittedly, gives you a beautiful back and arms. She told me she wasn't really into yoga for now. If it were 11 years ago, I would have jumped on my soap box, attempting to "shrink" the yoga block out of her and coax her back to the mat. The reason I say 11 years ago is because this was at the beginning of my teaching career, where yoga was the most important thing in the world and EVERYONE ON THE PLANET needed to be practicing in order for their worlds and THE world to be a better place. Strong opinions, anyone? But my reaction at this point in time was, "I totally get it, girl. You do what works for you. And, btw, you look fabulous." Today I received a text message from aforementioned friend saying that she took a lovely Hatha level 1 class and was ready to go back to practice from the beginning. This is a woman who had practiced for over 15 years before her hiatus and yet, it was a beginner's class that persuaded her back to the mat. "Simple" and "clean" were two words she used to describe it. They jumped off the screen at me and the strong opinions that I've been keeping to myself for quite some time were reawakened and inspired to the page.

I have never been to India. I did not study directly with Pattabhi Jois or BKS Iyengar. I have, however, been under the aegis of high level teachers from the Krishnamacharya lineage, studied several translations of the Sutras, and spent countless hours immersed in all things meditation and yoga. I also was on the periphery of the yoga movement that began in LA in the early 2000s and have been a spectator in the complete bastardization of this ancient belief system. Spectator and participant, as I'm aware that I am a part of this debasement. Nothing ever remains sacred or pure. The transmutation and evolution of all things is inevitable in this reality of time and space. The question for me is whether or not these changes enhance their predecessors or end up destroying something beautiful. As life is a subjective experience through a singular perspective, there is no absolute with any of this. But there are generalities. 

The current lens through which I view the Western world of yoga is one that sees competitive athleticism, growing narcissism, cattiness, and unlike its Sanksrit meaning of "yoking" or "union", a complete segregation and separation from those that don't fit into the mold that has become urban yoga. This is why I understood when one of my best friends told me she was walking away for a bit (though her reasons for leaving may have nothing to do with my perception). This is also why I had a visceral reaction to her text saying that she is going back to the beginning. I love her use of the words "simple" and "clean". This implies to me that there's a lightness to it; no competition, no feelings of unease just to walk into a yoga studio, no massive egos flinging sweat at you (from your inch and a half of allotted space around your mat) while piking, handstanding, dropping back and flipping back up to standing over and over and over again while everyone else is in downdog. I can hear the backlash in my head as the words unfold on my screen. "What's so wrong with having the ability to do these things and doing them in a class?" Hey, if it's what the teacher is teaching, then knock yourself out. What I'm addressing are the classes where there is no hidden need to outdo each other's postures and practices. What makes me go "hmmmmmmm" are social media's thong clad "yoginis" in pasties on a beach somewhere, hyperextended in a posture that most people will never get into in the next 5 lifetimes and calling it yoga or even better yet, addressing themselves as Masters. Something that incenses me the most is to hear stories from so many first time practitioners of feeling completely unwelcome and ignored at studio X. Sure, these people are practicing asana. But it's not YOGA. Yoga is not half-naked gymnastics with an attitude to win. If the intention is just to garner attention then it really has nothing to do with yoga at all; fabulous asana or not.

As I mentioned above, I am not completely innocent in any of this myself. Three years ago I did a yoga photoshoot in a sheer dress with a bikini underneath. The postures I chose were definitely more advanced but nothing compared to what I see in my IG feed on a daily basis. I was being guided by a social media guru to get my numbers up. Even back then, this felt so contrived. I've struggled between keeping up my online presence with content that gets "likes" and being true to myself. This is why I disappear from social media at least once a year. I lose the battle and need to bury my head in the sand before I come back searching for my own authenticity. What I always come back to is that the practice speaks for itself. But the problem with this statement is the question of what the practice really is. It's gotten lost in countless translations over time. Students will tell me that they like my class because it is more spiritual than others that they take. It just makes me shake my head. Not at my students. This is what they're being presented. If my class is more spiritual than others, than we really have dumbed the practice down to merely physical movement. I used to chant, quote Sutras and speak much more about energy and chakras and even share the tales behind Sanskrit names of the postures. As my classes started to grow, I noticed that I'd lose many people when I'd go into deeper elements. So I brought it down quite a few notches. I still open every class with pranayama, perhaps a meditation and though short, end in some form of guided Savasana or Yoga Nidra. That's the "dumbest" I can go before I lose all credibility with myself.

There is no question that the business of yoga is the likely culprit for its latest iteration. Pure intentions simply don't exist where money is involved. I promise you that the practice of yoga is not snake oil. It is life changing in the most positive way. But when you decide to get on your mat, you must challenge yourself with this in order for it to be true to its roots: practice to be present, not to feed your ego. Allow yourself to discover the quiet in the chaos. Check yourself constantly to make sure your practice doesn't become a competition with yourself or anyone else. Then you will discover the magic.


Lessons From the Road

My lovely beach yoga tribe - Marina del Rey, CA

Yoga Retreat - Nazaré, Portugal

Mind/Body/Technique Clinic - Nazaré, Portugal

Come-Together-Cup - Cologne, Germany

I also have fun during my travels. :)
Launching the Bavarian Alps - Sonthofen, Germany

Harbor Island - San Diego

Mt. Constitution - Orcas Island

Since I started teaching yoga over ten years ago, I've heard so many observations on my life that have sometimes made me laugh, sometimes annoyed me and sometimes woken me up to a different perspective. I guess it's a romantic life as an observer. I get to do what I love, make my own schedule and share something that brings peace into peoples' lives. And now, I get to hop around to different places throughout the world, see friends who are scattered around the globe, all while doing this thing that doesn't ever feel like a job. The part that is missing in the eyes of most observers is that I do this alone, without a home, mate or children to return to and without any security that the next retreat, workshop or class will be successful. Not so romantic from that viewpoint. Sure, I've been doing this for many years, so I have developed a somewhat secure business, but the security that comes with a weekly paycheck, a pension and certain retirement at 65 is not in my cards. I think my favorite thing to hear (sarcasm) is when people say, "You must be rich." when they find out how I live my life.  Or the best assumption yet is when someone points out that a man is funding my life. I remember when I first started paragliding, we were driving up to the launch when one of the men noted how lucky I was to have such a generous boyfriend to take care of my gear and paragliding fun. When I told him that I did not have a boyfriend, he actually said to me with an incredulous gasp, "Then how do you afford to do this?" All I could say without turning into a complete asshole was, "I have a job." (Ahhhh, patience grasshopper.) And I've had one since I was 13 years old. This is what you do when your childhood is impoverished. Apparently, I was either going to fit into a statistic that struggled with being in the material world and feared always lacking or I would do the complete opposite and find stability, denying the misfortune of growing up in complete dysfunction. I chose to simply embrace impermanence because I'm convinced that my need for constant change came with me in my DNA. It's extremely hard for me to be in one place for too long. So this lifestyle might not be for everyone, but it works for me, even when I'm exhausted from living out of a suitcase and missing the simple pleasure of having my own mug to sip my tea out of in the morning. Ultimately, my point is that what you see is not always what you get. 

I am one of those people who believes that life happens "for a reason" or "as it should". This life is a giant connect-the-dots puzzle, each one of us collectively making up something much bigger than our individuality; the paradox of being whole and being part of a whole. Mine has many dots; friends and students abound. This network contributes to who I am. When your environment is not static, you are exposed to a multitude of lenses. If you open your eyes and actually look beyond your own nose, the landscape is so varied that diversity becomes the constant. From this perspective, the malefic effects of bias and judgment become transparent and you are swayed towards being more accepting and loving by default. Being in the business (cringe) of "awareness" means that you cannot undo whatever information has come in. We "empaths" are on the other end of "ignorance is bliss"; you can't unlearn something once you've experienced it. With this comes an insane amount of responsibility that sometimes pisses me off having. I wax and wane between having a huge voice and speaking what truths I've come to know and keeping it small, teaching the practice and allowing people to come to their own conclusions. Yoga is the middle path. The struggle for me has always been balance. Shaking people up out of their complacent stupor isn't always the best method to communicate. You start with patience, accepting that your views are different and being open to understanding why someone else has a different experience of life. Being okay with not understanding another person's perception and just showing them how it looks from your view might be the best method toward unraveling the hate, fear and divisiveness that is spreading like a wildfire on our planet right now. We've all heard the platitude, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi. As boring as most of these sayings can be after hearing them for years, they are priceless and have stuck around for so long because we constantly need to be reminded. If we're all running around screaming at each other about how the other one is wrong, that's all we're going to create. I must believe that the human heart is, by design, good. I'm speaking about the majority of people in this world. I do believe there is evil and darkness in some hearts that will unlikely be undone. But if we unify with those who are desperately seeking to live a joyful life (even if we don't culturally understand who they are), then that darkness won't be able to exist in such light.

No matter what path my life takes, yoga and meditation have always proven to be the tools needed to come back to center. As a guide, I don't need to do much more than pass on the information that I've been taught. I say it over and over and over: The practice speaks for itself. It gives you the strength to see not only good, but also to see weakness and to have compassion for it within yourself and others. It teaches you to be kind, humble and loving. It shows you where love resides in this moment. No, you can't be lazy because it ain't easy. But it's worth it. 

Why Commit?

Today is Day 7 of our July Sun Salutation Commitment. (For more info on what we're doing, read about it here.) It is our rest day. For those of us "all or nothing" types, today is actually not a relief but a break in routine that may just throw us off the program completely. Taking a day off can prove difficult to we who lack an attention span. We're motivated and acclimated and now you're giving us a break?! Go, go, go...stop...oh, look...ice cream! At least that's the gist of how my mind works. So within the program alone is a lesson. For those who have a hard time committing, it's obvious where the challenge lies. Either way, just upon deciding to participate presents you with a choice; am I going to follow through with this commitment within the parameters with which it has been created? Considering that I created it and am leading it, I guess I better say yes. That doesn't necessarily mean I want to. My suggestion (not a mandatory part of the practice) is to do a Yin style practice today just to stretch out the body and give those repetitively worked muscles a break. Even I want to be defiant against my own recommendation. Then I laugh at myself, get on my mat and stretch, realizing in that moment why we are taking a rest day today. My body thanks me for not being a surly asshole and actually listening for a change. Ahhhh, the things we learn from yoga far exceed anything physical. 

How was your first week? Please share your experiences.

The results of commitment and following protocol.

The results of commitment and following protocol.



The Sunset Salutation Commitment

If you study with me, you know that I hold "challenges" several times a year. These challenges are usually for one month and can be anything from meditating daily for a specific amount of time to getting your practice in everyday for a month. Sometimes dietary changes are added in and sometimes I'll actually do online videos where I am teaching the sequences. The point is always to motivate you to make a commitment to whatever it is we're doing and to be your cheerleader. This month I decided to do something based on a study that I recently read here. In the study, 79 participants performed 24 sun salutations 6 days of the week for a total of 24 weeks. The results proved that this simple sequence practiced on a regular basis improved overall strength in the body, along with general endurance. I, personally, love *Surya Namaskar. It's my favorite thing to do when I'm in a rush and need to move my body. I also love holding Malas at the change of every season. This is quite more challenging; 108 Sun Salutations. Unfortunately, I stopped teaching them last year because too many people were aching, sometimes for days after, because they would push themselves too hard and not take enough rests during the 108. I save these now for my own intention setting process a few times a year, as my body can handle 108 as long as I'm not doing it everyday. 

Anyway, I digress. Back to our challenge, or Commitment, this month. I thought this would be a great way to motivate people to get on their mats, even if it were for just a few minutes a day. I believe that with consistency, you will build strength and one sun salutation will become two and five sun salutations will become ten and then, maybe you'll even get to twenty-something. But just simply doing one is more than you not getting on your mat at all. So I welcome everyone to join in this month and if you're just finding out about it after we've started, join anyway. It's never too late to commit to your practice.

*If you don't have a foundation, my YouTube channel has every posture outlined in its own video and all brought together in the full Surya Namaska A (Basic Sun Salutation) explained. Just watch all of the Yoga 101 vidoes. For those that have a practice, but need a bit of guidance, here's a sample of four guided Sun Salutations that can help you to begin. We end in Mountain Pose, where you can keep going when the video has ended.

As part of our July Sun Salutation Commitment, Nina and I recorded 4 sun salutes to get you started. Nina is doing chaturanga on the knees and cobra and I'm doing the full chaturanga and updog. Keep going once the video ends!



One Insane Month - TIP Clinic

After the yoga retreat ladies departed for their ongoing adventures or to head back home, Louisa stayed in town another day and she casually and confidently went on her first tandem paragliding flight with Erica. She is definitely the chill cousin. Though the conditions weren't ideal, I got to be in the sky with her. Another huge blessing as Portugal kept offering me very special gifts. She left that evening for Lisbon and I had only two days to regroup and prepare for the seven days that were awaiting (and, of course, get some flying in). I had no idea how intense they were going to be. 

Erica was guiding the advanced ground handling; an element of the clinic that is the most obvious and necessary (considering the paragliding theme). The addition of mental training to any paragliding clinic immediately makes sense. We all experience fear and anxiety both on the ground and in the air. Katrin flew in from Switzerland to be our mind coach. The yoga segment of the clinic stood out and not exactly in a positive light. It left people questioning whether this was really necessary or just an addition of some fluff to be current. Naturally, I am a proponent of practicing for any reason possible, and when there is sport involved the practice can be tailored to that activity specifically. Paragliding is not considered to be the most athletic sport but there are many faces to it and ground handling, especially, can be very taxing on the body. Since this was the first clinic, we had no idea how it would all come together and if the results would be as positive as we projected in the planning stages. I don't think any of us were expecting the outcome that was ultimately achieved.

One important thing to note about this clinic is that it was for women only. All you have to do is go to any LZ to see the disproportionate number of men to women who fly. Having eight women together for seven days whose main goal was to grow together as pilots was not only empowering but something that simply doesn't happen. Most of my instructors have been men and I have wonderful friendships with so many of the guys, but when women are working solely with other women in a male dominated sport, something magical happens. There was a level of comfort that was inherent in the environment and an understanding that can only come when you are of the same sex. There are technical differences with many of us flying on smaller wings and having the strength in our bodies utilized differently and with less power. There's the sexual tension that no one ever wants to talk about but is prevalent and a very human thing. Many instructors school with a "tough love" hand and some even scream at their students, calling them stupid and berating them when things don't assimilate easily. We, as females, either deal with these things when we discover what we're up against or jump ship. So to have a week together, doing this thing that we're dangerously passionate about without having to explain ourselves or feeling misunderstood, made for a learning environment where everyone accelerated at lightening speed.

But back to the yoga. How did it fit into the program? None of the ladies were hard core yoginis. Some had practiced before and some not. I don't think they were expecting our first practice together to be nearly an hour focused on standing and breathing correctly. Tadasana, Samastitihi, Mountain Pose, standing at the top of your mat. However you want to reference it, it's the basis of the practice and really a priceless fundamental that can be utilized all the time. We started from this place and expanded on the practice as the days progressed. The ladies were more aware of how they were moving, how minor shifts to their movement would create more space and less stress and why a simple morning practice gave them hours more comfort on the ground and in the sky. The aching upper bodies and burning thighs (from running up those dunes!) each morning could easily find some relief by committing to a yoga practice.

We were blessed to have cooperative (and some days pretty stellar) conditions the entire week. The days began early and ended as the near summer sun went down in Portugal. Everyday after we parted with these incredible women, Erica, Katrin and I would go back to the beach house, debrief and plan the following day. We were all physically and mentally exhausted from the information overload and schedule that the clinic was demanding of us but high as kites from the progress and breakthroughs we were witnessing. It was very clear that we were collectively creating something very important in the paragliding world.

When the clinic came to a close, a few of the women stayed for the weekend and we got to go fly and do more ground handling without structure dictating our day. By the time everyone had left Portugal, I was looking back at three of the most intense, fulfilling, exhausting weeks I had seen in my life in a very long time. With Assal, we had created something very new in the yoga retreat world, bringing science into the practice. With Erica and Katrin, we developed a program that brought entirely new elements into a sport that wasn't even aware that it was needed. I see many more yoga retreats and TIP Clinics in the future and am so excited to see it grow.

I gave myself another week in Nazaré to decompress, get some more flying in and spend time with my sweet friend, Erica. Though I had been there for three weeks, there was so much I hadn't done yet. Finally, I made it to the lighthouse, the famous spot where Garrett McNamara rode that 100ft wave. I got to explore more of the South Beach, eat vegetarian Indian food and have a real Portuguese barbecue. When I left for Germany a month to the day after I arrived, my appetite for Portugal was sated. 

L to R: Open air market in South Beach, Nazaré, entrance to the lighthouse and overlook, statue in the surf museum

L to R: Open air market in South Beach, Nazaré, entrance to the lighthouse and overlook, statue in the surf museum

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!

One Insane Month - Part V

I had one more day before the girls would arrive and my body and mind were still trying to catch up to the nearly 6,000 miles I had traveled. Nina and I just relaxed in Nazare for the day and left first thing the following morning for Lisbon. I’ve been told that it takes one day of recovery for every hour of time difference. Whether there is science behind this, I am unaware, but it seems to be accurate for me. Portugal is eight hours ahead of Los Angeles. To my surprise, I was completely on Portugal time in three days. This has never happened before. Perhaps staying up for an inhumane amount of hours and sleeping local time the first night you arrive is the formula. It could also be that I knew I soon needed to work for the next two weeks with only the smallest break and my brain forced me to acclimate quickly. Whatever the case, I was ready to party in Lisbon with the girls!

Going from the calm of a seaside village to the spicy energy of a southern European city was a welcome shift. Lisbon is filled with life. The people are loud and friendly, speaking in what looks similar to Spanish on the page but sounds more like an Eastern European language; the polar opposite timbre of a romance language. Traffic rivals downtown LA during rush hour, one difference being that there aren’t real markers between the street and sidewalk in many places and driving close to pedestrians and cyclists (within a foot) seems to be the norm (eeeeek!!!). Porto is abound, being served at the local cafes and even some pastelería (pastry shop) early in the day. It's worth coming to Portugal for the port alone.

Our airbnb was right in the heart of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district. We were greeted at the apartment by the warmest smile and hugs from the loveliest woman, who was there to introduce us to the space. Being a hugger, I realized that this is my kind of country. Our hostess gave a thorough tour and breakdown of the local area and departed with more hugs and cheek kisses.

Four of the ladies had arrived in Lisbon the night before. Assal, our retreat expert neuroscientist (and the baby sister I never had), thankfully decided upon the restaurant for our first lunch together: Bairro do Avillez, owned by famed Portuguese, Michelin star chef, José Avillez. It did not disappoint. Nor did we if you were sitting at a table nearby. Our poor waiter had seven strong women to answer to…in English, no less. Every menu item had a question, punctuated with a flirtatious smile by some of the ladies (I’m not naming names!) that didn’t seem to be working considering the exhausted expression on this beautiful man’s face every time he came to our table.

Our first meal together in Lisbon. Bairro do Avillez Photo credits: Alison Bossert, Assal Habibi, Ida Ashoori

Our first meal together in Lisbon. Bairro do Avillez
Photo credits: Alison Bossert, Assal Habibi, Ida Ashoori

After lunch, Nina and I headed back to the apartment and waited for my cousin Louisa, who had just arrived from Boston. If you don’t know the story of my cousin, the short version is that we met through DNA testing and she is the only Korean relative I have ever met outside of my immediate family. From the moment we met, we knew we were family. And the family that you really like. There will likely be a blogpost about this incredible meeting one day. The three of us explored the beauty of Lisbon while trying to keep from sliding down the slippery cobblestone streets. Hours later, fatigue dictated our return and we rested before getting ready to meet up for dinner. 

Our lunchtime theme of "keep your waiter on his toes" continued into the night, with the addition of Jackie now, as we brought our effusive enthusiasm to tapas dinner. The evening waiter was more accommodating, grinning like the Cheshire cat to his captive audience of porto and wine drinkers. Several of us met up at a local Fado bar; the soulful, melancholic sounds bringing balance back to the frenetic energy that we left at the restaurant. I was blissed out being with these incredible women that I adore in one of the most magical places in the world. If this was a precursor to the coming five days, we were going to have a wonderful time.

And finally, the retreat is to begin.

One Insane Month - Part IV

Surprisingly, I slept through the night without waking once. No matter how wiped out I am, sleep has been an issue throughout my life. I was proud of my 7am wakeup. Had I finally battled jet lag?! This is what my delirious mind was pondering as I arose the next morning, ready to take on Portugal. My yoga retreat was not beginning for another four days, but most of the women were coming in early to celebrate several of their birthdays in Lisbon. So we only had two days to explore Nazaré and for me to fly before the real work began. 

I got a mini yoga practice in before Nina woke up, we had a quick breakfast, walked into the village through the forest by the beach (this still is hard for me to wrap my brain around) to explore and then made our plans with Erica to go flying. There's a dunes location about a half-hour south of Nazaré, right by Obidos Castle. As a pilot, I've never flown dunes before. This was going to be a first for me. Still jet lagged and high on the overall experience, I pulled out my wing when we got to the site and decided to run up the dune at takeoff never having done this before. 

Left: my first attempt at running up a dune and launching (i did make it to the top but it wasn't cute after.) Middle & right: I went lower on the dunes and actually made it this time. though it was all of 5 seconds, it was my first european flight!

Left: my first attempt at running up a dune and launching (i did make it to the top but it wasn't cute after.)
Middle & right: I went lower on the dunes and actually made it this time. though it was all of 5 seconds, it was my first european flight!

The first attempt nearly sent my poor friend into cardiac arrest as I tumbled down the side of the dune. Attempt two rendered the same results, me laughing at my clumsiness and lack of coordination and my friends turning shades of white. Erica made an executive decision and brought me closer to the beach. She schooled me on what I was doing wrong and how to correct it. Attempt 3 = SUCCESS! Yes, it may have been a bunny hop off of sand, but it was still a flight in Portugal. I was thrilled. After an hour of playing on the dunes, I gave into my exhaustion by calling it a day. There were still several weeks ahead of me to learn, grow as a pilot and FLY. Patience and pacing have never been my strong suits. Perhaps I'm learning something in Portugal. Besides, I was starving and I'm sure Nina was bored by this time.

Growing up in NYC, spending most of my adult life in Los Angeles and even with a short stint in Sedona, I've always lived in cities where tourism is rampant (yes, even in the middle of nowhere Sedona). Just the idea of being a tourist makes me cringe (I know. So judgmental...I'm working on it, people!) Since we needed food and I had never been to a walled city before, I moved past my limiting bias and became a tourist, pulling out my iPhone to take pictures and stopping mid-gait to stare at the beauty surrounding me. 

the walled city of obidos

the walled city of obidos

Erica had recommended trying "Ginja" when we got to the castle (sounds like "ginger" with a New York accent) because it is special to the region. Upon entering the city, we immediately came upon a Ginja stand. It's basically a Mon Chéri chocolate with alcohol, sans the cherry, but for some reason it is so good. They serve it in little dark or white chocolate cups and from what one vendor was telling his patrons, you're supposed to put the entire thing in your mouth and eat it. This is not alway easy, depending on how large or thick the chocolate cup is. We didn't know this on our first attempt at Ginja, so we toasted like it was a wine glass, sipped on the alcohol and then nibbled on the chocolate. Major fail! No worries, we did it again. (and again and again and again over the course of the month :). There is not shortage of Ginja stands at the Obidos Castle (or in Nazaré and Lisbon). 

After eating tourist Italian in Portugal, my jet lag had kicked in full force, so we headed back to Nazaré. Most of the yoga retreat ladies would be arriving to Lisbon the following evening and we were going to join them the day after. I had one more day to get grounded and prepared for my retreat, which at this point I had done nothing for outside of meeting the owner of the house they'd been staying. The next day I slept in, shopped for some snacks for the ladies and went over my program. Oh yes, and I had a dinner party for six people, all pilots outside of Nina. One Portuguese, two French, one German, one Canadian and one American. I forgot how much I loved Europe. So much for rest! 

I guess my Two Part post is going to go into double digits. More on Lisbon next!

One Insane Month - Part III

Driving in Europe has always intimidated me. If I have time to get to know the roads and signs as a passenger first, then it's not a problem (we all know how directionally challenged I am...). But just getting behind the wheel with no knowledge of what anything means when people are overtaking you on a country road at 160km/hr (okay, a bit of hyperbole there) can be a tad bit stressful. I was thankful that my German friend had no problem driving, especially since I had not slept for nearly twenty-seven hours. Another thing that I was grateful for was my Sprint service, which is not something I've ever said in the States. In Europe, I have free data (yes, it's only 2G but it works!) and free text messaging. Yes, there is no charge for this outside of my regular service. Google maps worked like a charm and after a few roundabout mishaps, we were on our way to Nazaré!

The first stop was to see Erica at a site around 15km south of Nazaré: Gralha. Erica is the reason I'm in Portugal and why this adventure began. She's my paragliding buddy who called me three months ago asking me if I wanted to come to be a part of a paragliding clinic that she had just conceptualized; mental and body training and advanced ground handling. I was to teach yoga specifically for paragliding pilots. In typical Aries fashion, I agreed without much thought. There were definitely bumps along the road and I'm sure I had to cash in karma points to get here but I somehow made it fairly unscathed, hugging my friend in Portugal whom I hadn't seen in three years. 

I hadn't paraglided in nearly a month and was craving to get in the sky. Unfortunately, I said to Nina on the drive there that I wasn't planning on actually flying because I was far too tired and jet lagged. When we arrived, all I wanted to do was get my glider out and fly! When your BFF is terrified that you fly to begin with and she's German, your comment about not flying comes back to haunt you. As you've already figured out, Nina was adamant about me not pulling my glider out and I abided. It was the wiser choice. One of the many reasons that friends are priceless. I did, however, get to see the site and realize that I was watching pilots fly the Portugal coastline. I was still stuck in the surreal, feeling like I had just tripped on mushrooms for three days and was only beginning to coming down.

We drove to the local market to grab some bread, wine and cheese (these were to become my staples for the entire month) and I debated about going to sleep when we made it to the beach house. I felt like a five-year old child that has just stepped foot into the Magic Kingdom for the first time after an anticipation-fueled sleepless night, paralyzed from the excitement. The fatigue was losing. I had gotten my second wind. After settling in with our things, we had our midday European meal, watching and listening to the fierceness of the Atlantic just an unobstructed 100m in front of us.

Praia do norte

Praia do norte

We later went for a beach walk and I discovered that these beaches are very much like the East Coast of the States, with coarse and pebbled sand and powerful waves. Sunset is at 9pm here. I stayed awake until nearly midnight local time, catching up with my dear friend. After nearly thirty-eight hours of no sleep, the ocean lulled me to sleep in my temporary home by the sea.

Left: A view from the deck of where I lived for one month Right: my first day in Nazaré, Nina & I took a beach walk just down the path from the house.

Left: A view from the deck of where I lived for one month
Right: my first day in Nazaré, Nina & I took a beach walk just down the path from the house.

Portugal stole my heart at first sight. The irony is that from leaving the airport in Lisbon, to the paragliding site at Gralha, to the beach house in Praia do Norte, it all reminded me of another place that I know so well and couldn't wait to leave: Lalaland. The Universe always gets the loudest and last laugh. I felt oddly at home in this foreign place where I didn't understand a word of the language. I learned "obrigada" immediately. Thank you is a necessity wherever you go. 

Next up...playing on the dunes in Portugal and the girls arrive in Lisbon!


One Insane Month - Part II

I was finally on the European leg of my trip. There was one glitch in the program, though. Well, two, but I'll explain that later. When I was booking my flight to Portugal, there was a connection in Miami that had a very short layover. This was too close for comfort for me. I could not risk getting to Europe without my glider and all of those cookies! So in a moment of self-proclaimed genius, I booked two separate flights with a longer layover: DC to Miami and then Miami to Lisbon. This meant that I had to fetch all of that checked luggage, wait around Miami International for a few hours and then recheck and go through security again. Yes, my moment of genius was squashed when I arrived in Miami, exhausted from a week of little sleep and a lot of traveling. I stood in the airport, castigating myself for booking travel during a Mercury retrograde (no comment from the astrology naysayers)! Since the counter wasn't open for TAP yet (remind me never to fly them again), I headed to Au Bon Pain for a pastry and some OJ. As I went to pay for the mostly nutrition-less breakfast of non-coffee drinking travelers, the cashier offered me a red rose and wished me a happy mother's day. I did not bear children in this lifetime but I do mother. Often. Daily, actually. So I accepted this rose with gratitude and found my smile again. This simple, kind action from a stranger gave me the energy to get my tired ass out of the US. Thank you kind stranger.

Hours later, I was given a pat on the back by the loudspeaker informing us that we were delayed because the flight that would have brought me in had I booked with the connecting flight was late. The passengers made it on but I doubt their luggage did. 

Glider, bags, yoga mat and a single red rose. 

Glider, bags, yoga mat and a single red rose. 

It hit me. I was sitting on my transatlantic flight to Portugal! The excitement waned as quickly as it came on. This was a rather uneventful, uncomfortable, eight hours of my life. Though we were flying through the night, I didn't really sleep. I arrived in Lisbon airport early. It was 5am. This is where the second caveat came in. Nina, my best friend from Germany was also flying into Lisbon. Like my family in DC, we had not seen each other in seven and a half years (Skype doesn't count.) She had booked her flight before mine and unless I wanted to spend 800 bucks more on my one way flight, I had to wait in the airport for seven hours. 

The immigration officer barely grunted at me. What would one expect at 5am? He literally looked at my passport, glanced up at me for a split second and stamped my book. Not a single word. Well, that was a cakewalk. My luggage took a bit longer, so I chatted with two American women who were traveling around Portugal for a couple of weeks. A note for travelers: the luggage carts are free in Lisbon International :) After grabbing my 100+lbs of luggage, I headed to the exit greeted by a crowd of onlookers, some with signs seeking passengers, some eagerly awaiting a loved one; not me. And so I waited for 7 more hours, pacing, sitting, posting pics on Instagram and barely staying awake. When Nina finally arrived, it was a homecoming filled with tears and deep hugs. We quickly retrieved our rental car and, finally, I was actually on my way to Nazaré. It was all too surreal.

Paragliding, birthdays and yoga...to be continued...

One Insane Month - Part I

On April 28th, I moved out of my apartment in San Diego and freed myself of almost all of my possessions. I spent the next week in LA, finishing up with clients, saying goodbye to friends and organizing the last of what I decided to keep: one box of books (that I didn't have time to distribute amongst friends), one box of paperwork (that the government tells us to have) and one box of items that were gifted to me (that I wasn't ready to part with yet). Whatever was left crawled into my suitcase and a little over a week later, I headed up the coast in the other supposed material necessity that I have yet to part with; my Subaru Crosstrek.

After a straight drive to Ashland, OR (my favorite stop when driving up and down the coast), I grabbed a room at the Best Western Bard's Inn (it is my beloved Shakespeare's festival town, after all) and, not realizing this at the time, had the last peaceful full day and night by myself that I would have for a month. I left first thing in the morning after having this epiphany: "When you put yourself under a microscope, you better be prepared for the scrutiny." I stopped to see a friend for a lovely lunch in Vancouver, WA, right across the river from Portland and then dove, head first, into a month of insanity that I was not prepared for.

Seattle can only be SO insane. Let's be real; it's Seattle. But considering I was visiting two of my oldest and dearest friends, Lisa from the Bronx and Ingrid, who grew up with me on Staten Island, you max out the month's insanity quotient for all of Washington State. We really didn't do very much but spend girl time together...and eat..and drink (oh, and boy time when my sweet friend and videographer, Roberto, joined us). Yes, this was the beginning of a month-long challenge to see how much bread, cheese and alcohol I could consume. As with my forgotten alone time, I was not aware of this at the time either. The plan was to have a "clean" diet beginning the next day. Everyday.

After four short days of celebrating life with my BFFs, I dropped my car off at Lisa's, hopped in an Uber for Seatac and got on a plane to Washington, DC to see family that I had not seen in seven and half years. Which reminds me, the trip has been highly emotional from the first exit: leaving my paragliding crew in San Diego, goodbyes to many dear friends and my yoga tribe in Los Angeles and yet another parting with two people that are family to me. So then, I was to see my niece, nephew and great niece for only a day and a half after a far too long separation. Bittersweet it was. It's an amazing blessing having people to love all over the world. And it sucks, too. My reunion with my eldest sister's kids was wonderful and poignant at the same time. I only have a few relatives that I know. I don't like being so far away from them. I'm usually impervious to these emotions. Not this time. 

The weekend was filled with girlie things to do and before I knew it, I was rising at 5am to get to the airport. Part 2 of the journey was about to begin.

My great niece, Asia, snuck a shot of me trying to figure out what was going on. Far too early to be leaving with all of this luggage for Europe. Especially when American Airlines had only ONE check-in open and it was outside for some reason.

My great niece, Asia, snuck a shot of me trying to figure out what was going on. Far too early to be leaving with all of this luggage for Europe. Especially when American Airlines had only ONE check-in open and it was outside for some reason.

Traveling with 100lbs of luggage is not recommended. Why in God's name was it that heavy, you ask? Well, my trip to Europe is to teach yoga and paraglide, and I have a tank for a glider and a massive harness that is way too heavy. I also had nearly 20lbs of cookies that were donated by Lenny and Larry's (the best vegan cookie on the planet guys) for our retreat and clinic. So at least now when I get on a plane, it will be only 80lbs of luggage...

Europe. To be continued...

Tale of The Three Sisters - misadventures

I Hate Hiking

Okay, so I don't hate hiking. I'm currently obsessed with it. I stopped hating it three days ago.

We should have read the signs before the hike, not after.

We should have read the signs before the hike, not after.

I was born and raised in NYC, then I moved to Los Angeles, then back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth...you get it. Somewhere in the middle of the ping pong match, I found myself living in Sedona, AZ. This is where I became very aware of my inability to be one with nature. I survived the massive white, glow-in-the-dark spiders crawling in from out of the cold and rattlesnake season and mountain lions hanging out in the back yard. And for a moment in time, I thought I could actually be a country girl. Then I moved back to LA and laughed really loudly for a long, long time. 

I'm a bona fide urbanite, coexisting quite well in seas of people, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. Well...I used to. Then paragliding abducted my brain and life as I knew it did a 180. Give me Shakespeare, hailing a cab, and the best vegan restaurants on the Westside any day over micrometeorology, plant species and camping. Ewwwwww..."camping". It begins with a four-letter word. Anywho, I digress. It was paragliding that led me to rent a part-time apartment in San Diego, ten minutes away from the gliderport. Once I got here, I realized that I couldn't move half of my life for just one sport. Hey, so what if I'm fickle! So when my friend, Del, texted and asked if I wanted to go hike Iron Mountain Trail at 7am in 40º temps, I said SURE! :) Just like that, too. And, yes, I was aware that I still hate hiking. Boredom upstages hate sometimes.

On a Friday morning at 7 fucking am, I met Del and Casey, and we hiked to the top of Iron Mountain. To my surprise, it was easy and I LOVED it. As soon as I got in my car, I knew I needed a bigger challenge than the hike that I just came from and I needed it pronto. (are you starting to see the all or nothing here?) Damn! I was going to be in LA for the weekend. I texted the girls immediately, asking if we could hike the trail "with the waterfall" on Monday. I'm such a romantic. I offered to leave at 5:30am to meet them! 5 fucking 30am in 38º. I'm often susceptible to losing my mind.

The Three Sisters

Casey couldn't join us and I'm already saying, "You're welcome, girlfriend" for missing out on this one. It was just me and Del. Our excitement leading up to that morning was so ridiculous, you would have thought we were going for spa treatments at La Costa. Lots of text messages with exclamation points and emoticons. We met at 6am at the Iron Mountain parking lot to carpool together to The Three Sisters in Julian. Yes, the apple place. Apparently, everyone knows it. So as two fire signs do whenever they get together, the jabber, jabber, jabber began upon sight of one another. We discussed all of the "research" we did on the location we were about to conquer. Why "research" is in quotations will be explained. Keep reading. Don't let your attention span deficit win. 

Me: But you've done the hike before?
Del: No, I have never done this one. 
Me: Oh. Do you know where we're going? Let me look at the navigator. Says we take the 79 in one mile.
Del: Okay. (shakes head and switches lanes) So, that healer tried to kill you and you want to call her again?
Me: Oh GAWD, no! 
Jabber, jabber, jabber. 40 minutes later...
Me: We should be close. (looks at Maps) Oh, look it says to take the next exit! Yay!!! We're almost there.
Del: Oh, I thought it was exit 79, not 80. Okay, cool.
Me: Wait...wasn't it highway 79? (looks at Maps again with a bit more awareness this time) Oh shit, girl. We drove 40 exits past the 79. We're getting off to get back on heading West.

Though an hour and twenty minutes later than planned, we finally arrived at the trailhead, laughing at our mishap, ready to take on The Three Sisters. 

The Dogs (said dawgs)

Our guides, aka Angels (his brother is not pictured here).

Our guides, aka Angels (his brother is not pictured here).

We were on a schedule because we needed to be back in San Diego by 2. Since we did such extensive research, we both were in agreement that it would take 3 hours for us to finish the hike. We hurried out of the car and immediately headed along the trail. There was no time for selfies with the Stop sign. We were on a mission. 

Del: (stops walking) Are those dogs coming toward us? 
Me: (freezing at the sight of two rather large dogs walking towards us on the trail) I don't see an owner. Do you think they're...Fuck. They're running at us. Girl, get in the car. Get in the car!

We barely made it inside the car when two either extremely friendly or extremely angry dogs started jumping on our windows, staring dead at both of us. Their tails were wagging and they had sort of cute little faces that could have also been evil, and they looked like a German Shepherd mix. My fear of all things nature includes domesticated animals. I'm a wuss. What can I say? I was not about to open my door. However, my fearless friend had no problem opening hers and her friendly, big pup jumped on her and started licking her all over her face. She finally convinced me that they wouldn't eat me and I made my way back to the trail with these two brothers right by my side. I'm allergic to dogs and every last one of them knows it and tries desperately to be the one that breaks me of my allergies by rubbing their dander all over me. They were extremely sweet. 

We set off on the trail, CamelBaks and dogs coming along for the ride, finally ready for our adventure. Note: I do not advise trying to pee in the woods with two strange dogs jumping all over you. 

The Trail

Since we were hiking into the canyon to go to a waterfall (that was dry, btw), the path started to descend shortly after departing the trailhead. We were prepared for this since both of us had read every review of the trail on various websites and seen innumerable selfies and scenic shots; even a video of the entire hike. We knew what we were getting into because we saw it on Yelp. Mind you, neither of us had a GPS, knew the direction we were facing or had an actual map either downloaded or physical in case of emergency. The small No Service was blinding in the top corner of my phone when we could've used something from the aforementioned list; my compass app rendered useless. 

Yes, that dirt trail is how we had to go down and back up...

Yes, that dirt trail is how we had to go down and back up...

After sliding on our asses down one steep grade and using ropes to get down the other, we finally made it to the bottom of the canyon. Trail markers are lacking on this hike and they really are necessary. The terrain is confusing and with the riverbeds dry, the path is not very clear. There are, however, spray painted red and white arrows on rocks and boulders (may God bless and give many karma points to the kind soul who did this), hopefully keeping you on the trail. In our case and several other people on the trail, they weren't proving completely effective but, ultimately, did end up being our savior. Did I mention that I hated hiking just three short days ago? 

Caves and boulders. Nature's artwork and shelter.

Caves and boulders. Nature's artwork and shelter.

At the bottom of the canyon, we continued on in the direction of one of the graffitied arrows. Our dogs were leading the way up until then but suddenly disappeared. 

Me: Wow, this is way more rugged than I thought it was going to be. There doesn't seem to be an actual trail.
Del: It looks like we're on a dry riverbed.
Me: Oh...I think you're right. (silence) So if we're on a dry riverbed then we wouldn't actually be here if there were water running through it. Fuck, we're lost.
Del: Yeah, we're not on the trail.

Just at that moment, our two loyal guides came running through the woods several feet above us, on the actual trail where we should've been. They had not barked up until that moment, but this time stopped and started yelling at us. Then one of them came trotting down into the riverbed, ran around me, and then ran back up, showing us where to go. We were both floored and wondered if these two animals were really just a hallucination. Naturally, we followed. They clearly knew this trail better than most humans. We hiked for a bit, climbed up and over boulders and finally turned a corner to see the falls right in front of us. They were not flowing but the pools had some water in them. The dogs immediately took off for a drink. Leading humans is hard work. 

Del taking a pic of me, taking a pic of her when we finally reached The Three Sisters.

Del taking a pic of me, taking a pic of her when we finally reached The Three Sisters.

It's quite beautiful, even though the falls were dry. Sadly, there is graffiti on the rocks (with stupid shit like, "Save Water. Drink Beer") and trash strewn between the caves and the different levels of pools (you guessed it... beer cans, amongst lighter fluid and wrappers from things I can't imagine ingesting). I may be a dumb human for getting myself into something that I was not prepared for but I am certainly conscious when it comes to respecting my Mother. It angered me to see the ignorance and stupidity juxtaposed against this most magnificent backdrop. We stayed for a few minutes but knew we had to return because of time constraints. Next time, we will go after significant rains and spend more time at the falls.

PSA Clean your shit up, people and respect your environment. You are not that special. 



The Journey Back

Overconfidence is very dangerous. I made a comment about feeling accomplished before we headed back, even though I knew the journey was going to be more difficult. Little did I know that it would end up giving me an anxiety attack. We trekked back over the boulders and thought we were heading for the uphill challenge that awaited our return. Yeah...it didn't quite happen that way. Somehow, we missed the big red and white arrows and headed deeper into the woods. At one point, Del was walking ahead of me through some thick brush and as I was about to step down, I saw a little furry brown thing flipped over on its back flailing all eight of his legs. She had tipped a tarantula over and hadn't noticed it. I thought he was adorable but still opted to go around the other side of the tree. If you listen to nature, she speaks to you. I should have recognized that sign as it occurred. I have no idea how long it took us to realize that we had overshot the trail but when we finally did, we made a bad, baaaaaddddddd decision. I'll take the blame. I thought the trail wasn't that far above us, that we had just traveled too far down the riverbed and would be fine if we just climbed up the side of the mountain. Yes. Me. The one who hates hiking. The one who is not one with nature. I started climbing vertically to a supposed trail that didn't exist. What was even dumber was that every time I got to the place where I thought the trail would be, I climbed even higher thinking it was just a little further. At some point, we'd get to the summit and just walk across the top of the ridge, right? I was in a similar situation many years ago in Sedona, where I just scaled up the red rocks without even thinking about where I was going or how I was going to get back to where I started. I'm a bit of a lizard when it comes to doing this, as I have no fear of heights and I kind of enjoy climbing up the sides of cliffs without anything supporting me. When I reached the top and pulled myself up, I looked down to see my hiking partner clinging to the side of the rocks. I then realized that I may have just killed the person that I had recently vowed to spend my life with. He was frozen. Trusting that I knew what I was doing, he simply followed me, suddenly realizing that there was a huge drop and one false move could be tragic. Eventually, he made it up and I believe the trauma from that near miss kept me from pursuing my interest in climbing. Back at the Three Sisters, I must've had a flashback of this experience, because just shortly before I reached the top, I decided to go back down. I didn't want to kill my friend, who was below me, once again trusting that I knew what I was doing. I didn't have a fucking clue. 

A note from Del after reading the blog: "However I would add something like ....Del looked up at me while I was free climbing the side of the mountain, boulder dashing like a pro and said "no wonder you said you are like a lizard, although you say you hate hiking, you climb like a pro!!!!" < This is why she trusted me...

The White and Red Arrow

After finally coming down to more stable, level ground, we made our way back toward the falls. At least we knew what direction we had come from. Even that turned into an adventure where we hiked on the wrong side of the riverbed, climbing boulders that were too slippery to grip, with both of us falling on our asses at different points and coming across swarming bees that weren't there the first time we passed. Eventually, we reunited with the massive rock with the blaring white arrow pointing toward the falls and red arrow leading us back to the trailhead. I don't think either of us was really breathing up until that point. We knew we fucked up but fear was not going to win on this one. As we stood there for a moment taking the last few hours in, our two furry friends appeared out of nowhere and led us back up. I thought the uphill trek was going to be exceedingly more challenging than going down, but surprisingly, going up with the ropes was a cakewalk. Or perhaps it was just adrenaline doing its job. The rest of the journey was uneventful. I think we had our fill for the day. As I approached the car, I realized that every muscle in my body was fatigued. The 3-hour hike that we so thoroughly researched, took us nearly 5 hours. And for two non-hikers, there was quite a bit of climbing involved. We were both covered in dirt and starving. By the time I got home, my plans to shoot a yoga video and run some errands had all gone out the window. I soaked in a hot bath and thanked the Universe for looking out. I thought I only did dumb shit like this when I was younger (yes, I know I go running off of mountains with a piece of fabric over my head...). I woke up the next morning with what felt like a Grade 1 strain in both of my quadriceps and immediately made plans to hike Mt. Wilson in a few days. Apparently, I will always do dumb shit as long as it keeps life interesting. I'm determined to have a symbiotic relationship with nature even if my city girl conditioning is pissed about it.

Next time we will actually be prepared.  

There's a reason why these are posted BEFORE the hike. Next time we'll read them before proceeding.

There's a reason why these are posted BEFORE the hike. Next time we'll read them before proceeding.