Goat yoga, anyone?

I thought it was a joke but it’s not. Instead, it’s another take on yoga: yoga with goats! It started in Oregon and is now thriving right here at the Full Circle Ranch. I think of ranches as places to go ride horses. But yoga with goats? Now that’s an unexpected innovation.

White baby goat with black markings on lower legs walking on a yogi's back. Yogi is wearing a red t-shirt and is in downward dog pose, though you can't see the whole pose here because the shot is edited to focus on the goat and not reveal yogis' identities.

White baby goat with black markings on lower legs walking on a yogi’s back. Yogi is wearing a red t-shirt and is in child’s pose, though you can’t see the whole pose here because the shot is edited to focus on the goat and not reveal yogis’ identities.

Sam first brought it to my attention, asking me if I would go so I could blog about it. This is a strategy of Sam’s–to encourage me to do things for the sake of the blog. This is how I ended up doing Olympic distance triathlons, running way too far, owning a road bike, and spending an afternoon at the velodrome. I’m often game to try anything at least once. Sam probably thought of me as the goat yoga guinea pig because I’m the resident blog yogi.

I’m also vegan, so you might think I’m an animal lover (Sam knows better than to think that). The thing is, I care about animals a lot. I don’t think they should suffer so someone can have a tasty meal.

But I’m not really into them. And I really don’t want to do yoga with baby goats running around the “studio.” I confess I’m not totally immune to animal cuteness. And baby goats are cute for sure.

Two baby goats on a patch of green grass. The kid that's predominantly brown with white and black patches faces front, the black kid with white ears, top of head, and some white in its talk is leaning down eating grass. They are both immeasurably adorable. I still don't wish to do yoga with them.

Two baby goats on a patch of green grass. The kid that’s predominantly brown with white and black patches faces front, the black kid with white ears, top of head, and some white in its talk is leaning down eating grass. They are both immeasurably adorable. I still don’t wish to do yoga with them.

When Sam first told me about it, I didn’t realize it was with baby goats. Hence, my immediate response: “I’m not going to goat yoga lol. I’m not into farm animals. I’m more of a purist.”

Minutes later I got a text from another friend: “Welcome home! A few of us are meeting up on Wednesday to do a yoga class with baby goats. Do you want to join us?”

Oh, baby goats! And non-yoga friends. What the heck kind of sensation is this goat yoga anyway? I felt briefly tempted.

The concept is to give yoga an unpretentious, playful cast. Also to combine activity with “nature” (I don’t really consider farm environments to be equivalent to nature, but we’ll overlook that here).

Here’s how it went down last Wednesday:

About 10 of the curious kids puttered around the barn while yogis were striking their poses. The baby goats made the rounds to different yoga mats, munched on some hay and got plenty of pets and cuddles during the hour-long session.

Unpretentious yoga appeals to me. Yoga with baby goats wandering around doesn’t. If yoga (even with baby goats) is too tame for you, there’s apparently CrossFit with baby goats too:

Like Sam, I’m a “let a thousand flowers bloom” type of person. It doesn’t draw me to it, but maybe it’s your thing. Kittens I might go for. And for the record, I understand the limitations of writing about a thing I’ve not done. Like I said, do it! Try it! I’m just not an animal person but maybe you are.

If you want to do goat yoga here in the London, Ontario area, you can find information about it here’s what you need to know:

Full Circle Ranch Goat Yoga

When: Wednesdays 7 to 8 p.m. all spring and summer

Where: Full Circle Ranch, 44632 Mapleton Line Central Elgin, Ont.

Cost: $20

Website: www.fullcircleranch.ca

Phone: 519-280-0959

If you do decide to do it, please report back.

Does yoga with baby goats appeal to you? If so, what’s the draw?

Beginner’s mind– hauling it from the mat to the boat

pink rock with inscription "have a beginner's mind"

This weekend was all about being a beginner again.  Which is supposed to be a good thing, if the story about the beginner’s mind is to be believed.

In yoga and meditation, teachers often talk about “embracing the beginner’s mind”.  This means something like cultivating increased awareness of many of the features of your current experience (including features we tend to ignore or take for granted), in order to learn and grow.  It also teaches us that life is in a constant state of change, and accepting, even incorporating this acceptance into our practice (of yoga, meditation– anything really) will enrich it for us.  Here’s what The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness says about beginner’s mind:

In yoga, we’re often told to approach poses with beginner’s mind—to seek spaciousness or find the nuances that allow us to discover more about a pose and our relationship to it. [It’s easy to lose] sight of that and focus… simply on completing the flow, hitting a pose, or making it to Savasana. That’s when yoga becomes less about “skillfulness in action” and more about calisthenics.

Beginner’s mind is tough enough in yoga class, let alone embracing it off the mat. An open state of inquiry can be no match for the larger voices of our everyday expectations and demands…

Steven [Leonard, meditation teacher] says, “To truly embrace beginner’s mind, we must soften around our tendency to assume. We’re always assuming what our experiences will be, assuming we know what we like and dislike, assuming our view is the same as it was yesterday. To assume that anything stays the same is to be caught in delusion.” When freed from the fetters of assumption and judgment, our experiences become truer reflections of what is. And what is in one moment is not exactly the same in another. The space between is where learning and growth occur.

Okay, got it.  Let go of assumptions, take what comes.  This plan went really well in my Saturday morning yoga class with Cathleen, my favorite yoga teacher at my favorite yoga studio, Artemis Yoga (please forgive my plugging this place, but I have a soft spot for small business owners at places I love).  She uses fun and funny metaphors (often involving us driving our own car, parking, traffic, etc.) which help us disengage from judgment, in part because we are smiling or laughing.  And in her beginner classes (this was one such), everyone gets  a chance to rediscover beginner’s mind through the gentle pace of the class, variations on basic poses, and holding basic poses longer (if we want).  I was able to reconnect with downward facing dog in a new way on Saturday– using blocks under our hands, I sank into the pose much more, with heels on the floor (which doesn’t happen usually for me).  It reintroduced me to the pose, made it fresh.  I felt reinvigorated, ready to face the world with a new perspective.

Until I arrived at my second activity of the day:  kayak rolling class.  This is taught in a local YMCA pool by the marvelous Kevin of Rock Paddle Surf in Salem, MA (yeah yeah– I’m doing the small business booster thing again) and his marvelous wife Gillian.  I took one rolling class last year, but for me it’s going to take a whole bunch of instruction to get close to rolling a sea kayak (FYI– they’re looong; like 16ish feet long, okay?).

So my beginner’s mind and I pulled up to the parking lot, where everyone else was unloading their boats.  The session is for instruction for noobs like me, and also for folks to practice their rolls and rescues in their own boats.  And of course there was the one guy who tried to paddle standing up in the cockpit.  He went splash!  a lot.

I was very nervous about this class.  In my last rolling class I didn’t feel settled in my boat, and kept worrying about being able to get back in it (getting out of it just happens spontaneously, which is fine).  I tried to remember what I’d learned earlier in the day:

rocks with inscription "In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”

Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to translate this bit of wisdom into my current situation.  I figured that embracing my current state without judgment might help calm my waves of panic, but on the other hand, sometimes my current state was underwater, which provoked the perfectly reasonable judgment “Whoa! Time to get out of here!”

Except I was wrong.  Turns out,  beginner’s mind is EXACTLY what you need when you’re in the water, upside down in the cockpit of your boat, holding your paddle and trying to figure out how to do that hip snap to get you topside again.  Luckily for me, I don’t mind being underwater in a kayak– it’s actually kind of interesting.  But I kept trying to analyze the situation and make some decision about which way to move my hip (and which hip to move) while down there.  It was very confusing, and I kept moving the wrong way.  Of course, either Kevin or Gillian was right there to haul me back up, so I wasn’t scared.  But I was frustrated.

I’ve got two more rolling class sessions scheduled for March, and then a weekend-long kayak workshop in Charleston, SC in April.  Maybe I’ll get the roll, maybe I won’t.  I don’t have to have one in order to be a sea kayaker (although it comes in handy).  But I want one.

It’s clear to me now that I’ll need to leave judgment and assumptions and expectations (with their accompanying fears) behind in order to be in a proper state to hear what my body, my boat, Kevin, and Gillian are telling me.  After all, kayaking is like life.  Sometimes, we’re right side up, looking to the horizon.  And sometimes, we’re here.

person in a sea kayak underwater in a pool, sweeping a paddle to come back up

Yoga as comedy! Yoga as pleasure!

I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 years now. I began, somewhat skeptical, because others I knew were doing it; I got serious when a great new studio opened in my neighbourhood. (The Yoga Shack is now a London, Ontario institution, but it’s almost exclusively devoted to hot yoga, which I do not love. See below…)

I then tried a lot of things. I did what we might call “conveyor belt” yoga – the kind sold by  chain studios that run a pre-planned, branded “flow”– until I realised that the goal of CBY was to pack as many supplicants into the room as possible, in order to turn a profit. As a result I was getting no individual coaching – as if the instructors at those particular studios were likely to be able to coach me effectively anyway, given my challenging, specific needs (Ankylosing Spondylitis, isolated muscle strain from cycling and rowing), and the limits of their training and experience.

(Do I sound bitter? Sorry if I sound bitter. I know some CBY instructors are amazing teachers stuck on the conveyor belt. I do. But many – MANY – are not.)

Then I began practicing at a studio in east-end Toronto. My teacher there was Terrill Maguire, and she taught me three things I won’t ever forget:

  1. Yoga is for all bodies, all ages, wearing all kinds of clothing. There were physically and cognitively disabled people in our class, as well as people wearing sweatpants and T-shirts (I was one of them). There were younger people and older people. There were elderly people. Everybody was included and all bodies were considered “normal” and treated with respect and specific care.
  2. Props are useful; use them! This is, admittedly, an Iyengar Thing; the practice involves the use of props to get form right. Doing yoga incorrectly can lead to injury, just like riding a bicycle badly can lead to crashing (or, less extremely, to wasting energy and not getting enough positive benefit). Props help form; if you can’t reach the floor, no big: use a block! The normalisation of props in Terrill’s class reminded me how ashamed I secretly felt in CBY classes when I decided *not* to strain to reach the floor. And how utterly wrong that entire scenario was…
  3. Yoga can be a place of laughter. It should be a place of joy! When stuff went wrong we giggled about it. We tried again, of course, but the laughter broke the tension, loosened our bodies, lifted our hearts.

I left Toronto (and Ontario) in 2012 to move to the UK. Once settled there, I joined a chain fitness club that had, remarkably, some really great, independent yoga instruction attached to it. I found a class that I can’t describe as anything other than challenging: it involved me learning to do Crow for real, and at one point I almost did a tripod headstand (the “almost” is the key bit here). There were no props in this class, and the instructor was neither funny nor forgiving; this wasn’t chain yoga of any kind, though, and I learned from the class to push my practice to a new level of challenge and start attempting inversions.

Last year, I took a fresh leap of faith and spent 10 days in an ashram in Kerala, practicing 4+ hours of yoga a day. I had never before been the kind of person who could imagine herself at an ashram, let alone at one in India; I soon realised, though, that the regimented  days married to an otherwise relaxed life-way suited me well. I quickly befriended my roommate, another woman unaccustomed to the ashram life (a lawyer from Mexico City), and we worked together on aspects of the house yoga practice we found difficult, supporting each other as yogi partners in the open-air main hall.

(It was moving, and spectacular, and peaceful, and the food was simple but incredible. I’d go back anytime – right now in fact.)

When I came home (which is now the OTHER London, in Ontario), I realised I needed my practice to continue growing, and growing in the right directions, but that the options in LonON were limited. There was CBY, which I’m never going back to, and there was a pretty good independent studio, the aforementioned Yoga Shack, but it was now committed to hot yoga serving a primarily student demographic, and I just do not agree with hot yoga as a practice.

It doesn’t suit my body type, for one. I sweat a lot when I work out, and hot yoga is designed as a workout above all. When I do hot yoga, I’m instantly uncomfortable; I find holding poses properly to be difficult because my body is slippery with moisture.

For another, well – I could (and may yet) write a whole other post on the ways hot yoga encourages the mirage of weight loss on the mat (thanks, sweat!), and the detriment that causes to both yoga and the humans (especially young, female humans) who practice it.

Where to go, then? I turned to Tracy, who has been doing yoga for ages, and ended up at Yoga Centre London, an Iyengar studio with all the features I remembered from Terrill, and more. This year, I’m in a regular Friday class taught by Sue Brimner, and Sue has reminded me of all of the things I learned from Terrill were true but underappreciated in North American yoga practice on the whole:

  • That it’s about many different bodies working in harmony toward their individual needs;
  • That there will be loads of props, and that is part of the pleasure of it;
  • That sometimes – in fact, OFTEN! – we’ll laugh at how hard it is, we’ll laugh at ourselves, and then we’ll try anyway. And then we’ll laugh some more.

My favourite thing about my new practice at YCL is the extent of the accommodation available. Anyone injured, or struggling with chronic pain, is accommodated instantly, and as a matter of course. There are bolsters and planks and trestles and blankets everywhere, and instructors begin each class making sure students in special need have everything required set up perfectly for them. I’ve lost a bit of skin on both elbows recently as a result of bike injuries, and I cannot do a traditional headstand without significant pain. But no problem! YCL has a rope wall, and so I just hang, fully supported, in the inversion instead, sparing my skin the ache and strain. Best of all, we ALL hang sometimes, during our restorative practice weeks, when it’s understood that all of our bodies need a break and a bit of R&R.

And did I mention how much we laugh together? Because bodies are funny old beasts: smelly and gangly and awkward and hard to bend to the will of the titans. Iyengar yoga gets that, and gets that every body deserves the benefits of stretching and strengthening as part of a community of imperfect, normal bodies.

I couldn’t have imagined such a thing when I did my first corporate “flow” 10 years ago – and I just hope the young women in those classes now snoop around a bit, and discover that yoga is so much more than expensive stretchy pants, competitive triangles, and awkward reaches. In fact, that’s not yoga at all.

 

 

366 Days of Yoga (Guest Post)

On August 17, 2015, to facilitate my quest to return to a regular yoga practice, I made a commitment to myself to practise yoga asana every day for 30 days.

This was not easy. It had been several years since I’d last enjoyed a regular yoga practice. I’d gained a lot of weight in the intervening years. I’d lost core & upper body strength and flexibility all over. And I was still carrying around heaps of mental baggage related to my previous yoga practice. Plus I had a lot going on in my life. Who had time for yoga? But I’d enjoyed a regular yoga practice once before. I knew the benefits. And I wanted them back. So I stuck it out.

downward facing dog pose

There were days when I only did restorative poses. There were days when my practice was only 5 minutes long. There were days when I scoured YouTube searching for routines that were light on upper body work, or just made up my own routine of standing poses only. (My shoulders and wrists were so weak, even downward facing dog was hard.) There were days when I didn’t roll out my mat until 2 o’clock in the morning and by that time was so exhausted all I did was meditate in legs up the wall pose. But I did it. Thirty consecutive days of yoga asana practice.

Then I thought, if I could practice yoga every day for 30 days, why not go for longer? Could I practice every day for 100 days? Could I practice every day for a year? So this became my new goal: one full year, 366 days (with this being a leap year), of daily yoga asana practice.

My practice still was not easy. My progress was slow. I continued to struggle with both mental and physical yoga demons. And I often despaired that my body was just too old now, too out of shape. I feared I was “over the hill” and would never get back what I had lost. But I kept showing up. I kept rolling out my mat every day, getting on it, and doing the practice.

And things started to change.

My body grew stronger and more flexible. I found myself able to execute the poses with increasingly greater ease. I discovered new (to me) instructors online teaching classes that challenge me in styles I enjoy.  And, slowly but surely, my attitude shifted as well.  Eleven months into my return-to-yoga journey my passion for the practice returned, and rolling out my mat every day became no longer a chore but a joy.

sun warrior

August 16, 2016 marked the achievement of my goal: one full year of daily yoga asana practice.
To celebrate, I took the entire day as a personal yoga retreat.

During my retreat I completed over 6 hours of yoga asana practice, including 4 energetic vinyasa-style classes each an hour or more in length.  One of these classes I had done before, 2 months previously.

The first time I’d tried this particular class had resulted in a lot of laughter.  Smooth transitions between poses?  Not so much. I’d flopped all over the place and experienced many, “What-the-what!? How is my leg supposed to get there?!” moments.  When I repeated the class on day 366 of my return-to-yoga journey, however, I was amazed at how far I had come. It was still a challenging class for me, but I was able to flow through it with much greater ease. I am so much stronger now than even two months ago. I’ve earned back almost all of the flexibility I lost during my years away from yoga, and I think I’m even stronger in the upper body now than I was a decade ago when I was last practising regularly.

Now, as I begin my second year of daily yoga asana practice, I roll out my mat every day excited for the opportunity to practice and grateful for the ability to move my strong body in these wonderful ways. I feel the beauty in yoga again. I feel the dance. I feel invigorated by my yoga practice and excited for what the journey ahead holds. And I am finding that the mental benefits I gain on my mat I am once again able to carry off the mat into the rest of my life.

Over the hill? Not a chance! I’m climbing an even higher mountain!

warrior II


Laura Rainbow Dragon writes, dances, cooks, runs, and makes wine–amongst other pursuits–in a way-too-small town in Southwestern Ontario.  She practices yoga every day and is grateful to once again be enjoying the journey.

Asanas on the Ropes—Trying out Kurunta Yoga

I’ve been going to yoga classes off and on since my early 30s, when my friend Deb and I decided to celebrate finishing our dissertations with a hatha yoga class (not very wild and crazy, I know, but anything seems exciting compared to dissertation writing). My attention turned back to yoga in January when I started going to a local studio (Artemis Yoga in Watertown, MA) that is a 10-minute walk from my house. Again, it was motivated by a friend (Norah this time—what would we do without supportive friends?)

I’ve been loving and appreciating yoga for its focus on where my body is right now, the attention to thoughts, feelings and sensations, and the choices it offers for adjusting the intensity of the experience.

Which is why taking a ropes yoga class—also called Kurunta Yoga—was irresistible. And it didn’t disappoint.

“Kurunta” means “puppet”, and in this class, you use ropes to stabilize or shift your weight away from some parts and toward others, to change the way yoga poses (asanas) feel. The ropes also let you increase the intensity, duration, or variation on the poses. Here’s what the ropes wall at my studio looks like.

rope-wall

 

You can use the upper and lower ropes around your waist or your leg, or you can hold them to increase a stretch or for stability. For instance, we changed the way Downward Facing Dog feels. For comparison, here’s what it usually looks like:

 

down dog

 

There are lots of ways to modify the pose to make it easier or more challenging. Of course for some it just comes naturally:

 

dog

 

In the ropes class, we put a lower rope around our waists over a blanket (so the rope wouldn’t hurt against skin). We placed our feet against the back wall, and then hung suspended by the rope, placing our hands on the mat. In this position, virtually all of the weight is on the legs—you can practically lift up your hands—so you can sink into the feeling of the hips and thighs sinking backwards. It was intense and very satisfying.

 

dog-ropes

 

Liz Padula, the owner of Artemis and our instructor, carefully demonstrated each of the poses for us, and then talked us through them.

 

demo

 

Ropes classes are small by necessity (each person needs a set of ropes and wall space), so there is lots of individual instruction.

Every time I take a yoga class I am reminded of the individuality of fitness. Some poses and flow moves are easy for me, as I’ve got a pretty good forward bend and a bendy back. On the other hand, my shoulders are very tight and I’ve torn both rotator cuffs (had surgery on one, PT on the other), so shoulder-intensive poses are simply not possible for me without major modifications. The ropes course was a new way to find out about my body—its limitations and its improvisational capacities (thanks to the ropes). Here are some more standard poses we did, using ropes to help open up and deepen them:

 

warrior

 

triangle

 

Near the end of class came the big finale—an inverted mid-air headstand. To do this, we had to tie ropes together to create a swing, sit in it, and make our way up the wall.   Here’s Liz with the demo:

 

frog-demo

 

Then you’re supposed to let go gradually, moving your feet to the inside, and hang there like an upside-down frog. Really.

 

head-stand

 

These are some of my classmates in different stages of the headstand:

 

progress

 

I’m very bummed that I didn’t quite have the nerve to let myself go into the headstand. I got up the wall, got my legs out, but was worried I didn’t have enough strength. The woman next to me also said she was nervous and didn’t do it. But I think that yoga isn’t all about strength. It’s about experimentation and trust. I have a strong sense of fitness adventure but having been running short lately on fitness trust. Using these ropes made me face some of my own trust issues in an up-close-and-personal way. I had to trust the ropes to hold me. And they did.  And they will.  Even if I’m upside down in mid-air.

So I’m going to get that mid-air headstand next class. And will report back.

Thanks to Liz at Artemis Yoga for taking pictures of the class (while she was also teaching it), and to my classmates for letting me post these photos of them.

So, readers, what sort of fitness trust issues are you having these days? What do you use to hold you up when you are in need of a little more support?

Yoga for Runners?

yoga011 runnersWhen I first took up yoga sixteen years ago running was not a part of my world. In my view then, runners were always nursing injuries. We had a few runners in our yoga class, and I remember clearly when one of them asked a senior Iyengar instructor who had come to do an intensive workshop with us about running. The student was having some hamstring issues and wondered what she could do to address them. The senior teacher said, “Stop running.”

But now I love running, and I’ve reconnected with yoga. So when a promotion from my hot yoga studio showed up in my inbox advertising a “Yoga for Runners” workshop, I was on it faster than you can say, “warrior series, anyone?” I recruited Anita to attend the Saturday afternoon workshop with me.

It was one of those cold days in early spring, so a couple of hours in the hot room felt welcome.  We got there a bit early, with time to do my favourite thing–some minutes of quiet savasana (corpse pose, often spilling over into a nap) on the mat before class.

The session started with the instructor giving us an overview of his running history. For a young guy, he had quite a few marathons behind him already. He told a credible story about how yoga had helped him with his running, much of it having to do with mental focus.

My real curiosity was: what does yoga for runners actually look like? Is it any different from yoga for non-runners? We did some familiar poses: “runner’s lunge,” the warrior series, downward dog, pigeon. But in the end, and I’m not sure why I thought it would be otherwise, I didn’t learn anything new about yoga and its specific application to running.

That’s not to fault the workshop. If a runner who had never done yoga before attended the workshop, then it might have opened them up to a new way of conditioning the body, opening the hips, being present through discomfort, paying attention to your body, and so on.

There are all sorts of good reasons for runners to do yoga. It’s a popular topic on running blogs. For example: “Why Runners Should Do Yoga”; “25 yoga poses that will make you a better runner”; “How yoga can help your running”; and “The benefits and effects of yoga for runners.”

So it’s not as if yoga for runners is a new idea (despite what my senior Iyengar teacher had to say). The articles just cited list all sorts of benefits runners can gain through yoga:

  • reduce stress
  • ease pain
  • build strength and flexibility in the core, quads, and hip flexors
  • build tenacity and learn to manage uncomfortable emotions
  • reducing risk of repetitive strain by lengthening muscles that running tends to shorten over time
  • injury prevention
  • total body conditioning
  • boost mental acuity and body awareness
  • increase range of motion
  • improve balance and stablity
  • learn to practice conscious breathing

I don’t deny those benefits. And I felt great after the workshop.

But the idea of yoga specifically for runners is misleading. Yes, runners can get a lot out of yoga. Just about anyone can gain something from yoga. So if you’re a runner and you haven’t tried yoga, go for it. No need to wait for a special workshop.

 

 

On Re-Connecting with My Inner Yogi on the Beach

Yoga hasn’t always been a part of my life. When I was a grad student in my twenties, I used to look at the older women (in their thirties and forties!) doing yoga at my health club and wonder why anyone would want to do that. It seemed so…tame, gentle, BO-ring.

But when I took it up myself 16 years ago, myself in my thirties and looking for something new to try (this was before it got trendy), I learned to appreciate the slow steady gains in strength, flexibility, and balance that came with a regular yoga practice.

The thing is, I believe in yoga and its many benefits. Despite that, when my triathlon training got more serious a couple of years ago, it started to edge yoga out of my life. First I dropped my regular Tuesday morning yoga class, easily part of my schedule for a decade, because of a time conflict with swim training. Then, I let go of my unlimited hot yoga pass because running took up more of my time at the end of the day and on weekends.

Before long, I hardly did yoga anymore. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized how I’ve missed it. I’m going to hot yoga a bit more on weekends now. But just last week, on a sailing vacation in the Bahamas, I totally fell for yoga all over again. On the beach, no less.

I’ve never quite understood why anyone would want to do yoga on a beach. Those photos you see in magazines, where they’re on cliffs with the ocean in the background, or on a sandy beach doing dancer’s pose, just seemed so staged to me. Isn’t it too hot to do yoga on a beach (nevermind that I already do hot yoga in a studio!)? Too sandy?

Well, last week that all changed. Most mornings on Stocking Island in the Exumas, you can catch a 9 a.m. yoga class with Agnes under the shade of a big tree on Volleyball Beach. I’d heard her come on the Cruiser’s Net every morning to say she’s teaching a yoga class, but it wasn’t until this time that I decided to go check it out with my friend, Cindi (the same Cindi who was with me when I wrote about muscles and aging women’s bodies last week).

About twelve people came the first time we went. Agnes took a rake to smooth out the sand and then everyone set up their mats or towels facing her, with the water lapping up onto the shore every so gently behind us. A perfect breeze, not stiff but steady, neither hot nor cold, kept us cool through the class.

Agnes took us through a variety of postures, including several sun salutations (what I have come to know as “flows” these days) and the warrior series. She gave guidance but also left us in silence from time to time. During one of these times, in a wide-legged forward bend, I had one of those moments where everything seemed to be just as it should be. The stretch was exactly what I needed. That breeze seemed to whisper soothing words into my ear. The sand felt warm on the tips of my fingers as they spilled off the edge of my mat.

After the 90 minute class, Cindi and I kayaked over to the big beach on the other side (so idyllic) for a long, leisurely swim. Here’s the big beach on the ocean side of Stocking Island:

big beach

I don’t know if it was the yoga, the great company, the calm water on the big beach side of Stocking Island, being able to do yoga in a swimsuit, or some combination of everything. But both Cindi and I felt so totally relaxed, yet strong.

That was enough to get me back out to yoga, this time with Renald joining me, a couple of days later when our friends had left.  Here’s Renald getting ready to do Agnes’s yoga class with me, under the big tree. Those are our mats:

yoga renald

The whole thing so inspired me that this time, when we kayaked over to the big beach, I couldn’t stop! To get over to the open ocean side of the island, you need to walk up to the top of a ridge and then back down again. If you want, you can take a little trail over to a bench that overlooks the beach.

We went over to that bench and it seemed like a perfect spot to do a bit more yoga and take some pictures. It occurs to me now that there actually is something special about doing yoga on a beach, or anywhere outside in nature. It gives an added sense of freedom and energy.

Here are some pictures from my impromptu yoga photo shoot, atop the ridge overlooking the big beach.

The Warrior.

Toppling tree (not the best pose but definitely the best background!).

Tree.

Headstand.

Never again will I question why or whether anyone actually does yoga on the beach. It’s an excellent place to re-connect with your inner yogi. I know I did!