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.