Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Women's Retreat in Central America

Last January I co-led a yoga retreat for women in Nicaragua, where I used to live. Leading retreats is possibly my most favorite thing to do!  Our retreat this year runs MARCH 10-17th.
Last year ccomplished author and journalist, Amanda Little, was one of the participants. She wrote a wonderful piece about the experience I'd like to share:

By: Amanda Little
Has a state of balance become the impossible dream of our generation? It seems that way to me—and to nearly every woman I know. I’m a 37-year-old pregnant mom who is forever trying and failing to strike a happy balance between my work life and my personal life, juggling a 55-hr-a-week career with marriage, motherhood, friendships, travel, bills, board meetings, cooking, exercise, phone messages, emails, tweets, facebook, housework, and the other exigencies of modern urban life. Most weeks I manage to make it to yoga, but I’m the gal who always arrives to class five minutes late, out of breath, half-clothed, lugging multiple wireless devices and at least three bags, and who realizes halfway through class that she’s still wearing her sunglasses.

Which is why, last January, when I saw the flyer for a week-long yoga retreat at an organic farm in Nicaragua, I jumped on it. Here was an opportunity, however brief, to let the 27 balls of fire I was trying to juggle every day, including my husband and my daughter, fall to the ground and roll to a stop. Here was a chance to catch my breath, cease the rushing, soften the roughness, shed the responsibilities of my life – if only for a week. Here was a chance, I thought, to essentially do nothing in a gorgeous setting.

As it turned out I did much more than catch my breath; I learned, among other things, a new way to breathe. It wasn’t from the doing nothing I had anticipated, but instead from fully engaging – in wilderness, in adventure, in exercise and spiritual practice, in a radical awakening of the senses. “Retreat” was not at all the right word for our experience in Nicaragua--it was a chance to step into life more fully rather than retreat from it.

On a typical day I woke with the sun after 8 hours of sleep; ambled into an early-morning outdoor yoga class that coaxed awake every nerve and synapse in my body; ate a breakfast of fresh-picked tropical fruits, eggs collected that morning from the coop, and just-roasted coffee with generous amounts of milk still warm from the grass-fed cow. It took about 30 mins to recover from the sensory ecstasy of this eating experience, at which point I would prepare for an adventure that might entail galloping on horseback through howler-monkey forests, treasure hunting on beaches so pristine that they appeared pre-Columbian, swimming for hours in the sapphire hem of the Pacific. These daily adventures ended in the late afternoon, with just enough time to rest before the twilight yogaclass overlooking an oceanscape crowned by the setting sun, followed by a feast of fresh vegetables, fishes and meats.

Sound implausibly idyllic? I haven’t even mentioned the 17 women who shared the adventure (exceptionally wonderful, all), nor the caliber of the yoga teaching (exceptionally high), nor the experience of volunteering at a local one-room school for disabled children (exceptionally moving), nor the physical setting along the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua (exceptionally gorgeous, visit www.thriveretreats.com for images).

There were, it’s true, a few elements that some might describe as less-than-idyllic—elements that literally came with territory, like large insects, some of them fist-size, including scorpions and tarantula. But these critters minded their own business, and you quickly came to accept them, like the howling of the monkeys, as part of the process of becoming truly awake to the natural world. The rooms we stayed in were beautiful but Spartan, with concrete floors and simple furnishings built from the wood on the farm. The experience was, in a sense, the very definition of the “state of balance” that has come to seem so impossible in our lives. A balance between luxury and simplicity, between action and stillness, between community and privacy, between living in comfort and living on the edge of something raw and wild.

The next Women's Wellness Retreat in Nicaragua will be held MARCH 10-17th, 2012. Visit http://www.thriveretreats.com/ for more information.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Prenatal Yoga...listening to your Inner Wisdom.


I was despondent when I learned I was pregnant with my first child. I found myself crumpled on the floor of our closet, in the middle of the night, crying and feeling lost. I was scared to be pregnant at this time. Wasn’t this supposed to be a time of bliss? And this poor child … I yearned to want him, not feel this way!

Earlier that day I had purchased a prenatal yoga book, Beautiful, Bountiful, Blissful by Kundalini yoga guru Gurmukh. I opened to:

“Having a child is a beautiful kind of alchemy. What this soul brings you, and what you bring to the soul, transforms you both for all time.“

As I continued reading, I felt my energy shift as love and gratitude flowed in. My tears of terror turned to tears of joy. “Wow. Wow! I am going to have a baby!” As soon as I accepted this precious gift — instead of resisting it — strength and love poured in, allowing me to fully enjoy, be present, and embrace my pregnancy.

Soon after the magical birth of my son, I became certified by Gurmukh in The Khalsa Way Prenatal Yoga. Later I expanded my knowledge by becoming certified in The Kabbalah of Birth and Beyond with Dr. Joseph Michael Levry (Gurunam). I share with the mothers-to-be in class that pregnancy is a time when your intuition, that “still, small voice,” is stronger than ever and ripe to be heard.

I have heard many midwives say, “The body of a woman in labor knows exactly what to do to get the baby out.” I 100% believe this to be true. But what if you are not used to trusting your body or your instincts? What if you don’t know how to listen to your body? What if you don’t know how to go inside and block out the noise? What if you haven’t learned to depend on your inner strength? Then, instead of listening to your inner, wise-beyond-comprehension voice, you will listen to those around you: your family, partner, doctor, friends, etc. And no one, no one, knows your body like you. This is not anyone else’s pregnancy or birth. It is yours. Own it.

We have a heightened capacity to go inward while pregnant. All of life steers us in this direction. We are bigger, heavier, and have less energy. We must literally slow down, sleep more, plan, and think in terms of “we” instead of “I.” Do not resist these changes. There is a reason you are being taught to slow down! Did you know that a newborn nurses 10 hours per day? Our intuition is super sensitive during pregnancy. Welcome your new thoughts, inner-knowing or impressions that begin to unfold during pregnancy. Do not discount them as “hormonal” or “irrational.” And do not allow anyone else to do that to you either. We must rely on our intuition during our pregnancy, childbirth, and while raising children.

How can prenatal yoga help us listen to our inner wisdom?

In a prenatal yoga class we take time to just sit, breathe, and listen. Radical, isn’t it? We listen to our bodies, our hearts, and our babies. We even listen to our fears and anxieties surrounding birth and motherhood — and use ancient tools to transmute them into strength. The sacred space of a yoga class, away from the rush and noise of everyday life, allows your intuitive eye to open like a flower.

Prenatal yoga also creates the space for an expectant mother to not only connect with her unborn baby, to develop that bond, but also allows her — the woman — to breathe more, sing, stretch, and connect to her own divinity, her own spiritual self. This may be the most important part of your prenatal yoga practice. Your emotional, mental, and spiritual health directly affects the health of your child.

As a woman, a mother, a human, I encourage you to listen to your inner voice. She is wiser than any book, therapist, or friend. She will guide you in everything from how to raise your child to what decision to make in a business transaction. Learn to respect her all-knowingness. Remember that 10% of life can actually be seen with our physical eyes. We must rely on our third eye, our intuition, to navigate the other 90%.

Ultimately, childbirth will be a tremendously empowering passage. But you will be able to trust and surrender to this passage with more grace and ease if you have repeatedly practiced and experienced the power and wisdom of your intuition beforehand. That is where the sacred space of a prenatal yoga class, or your own meditation practice, comes in. Use the nine months before your birth to practice hearing and trusting your inner voice.

The birth of my son was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I am still in awe of the power of my body and psyche during childbirth. The yoga techniques and breath work empowered me to give birth naturally, without drugs or interventions, and be fully present. It was my inner voice that told me that I had the strength inside to birth my baby naturally. To respect your inner voice is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and your children. Life will become magical when guided by her.

I am a certified Naam Yoga Therapist and instructor of both Khalsa Way Prenatal Yoga and the Kabbalah of Birth and Beyond. Prenatal Yoga Classes are held on Tuesdays from 5:00-6:15 at Kundalini Rising Yoga. For more information visit: www.bethanyhard.com or call 615.772.3528.