…If I had another life
I would want to spend it all/
on some unstinting happiness.
I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn’t mind being a rose
in a field of roses.
Fear has not yet occurred to them,/
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they/
must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.
-Mary Oliver (“Roses, Late Summer”)
Last Friday, when my alarm started ringing at 6:30 a.m., I wondered why in the world I had ever thought going on a yoga retreat would be a good idea. It was early, I was more than certain that the whole experience would result in serious pain come Saturday morning and, most importantly, I was wondering if I deserved to take a day off…These thoughts kept racing through my head as I scrambled around the apartment doing many unrelated things all at once: looking for my yoga pants, packing my lunch and making the all-important cup of coffee.
But as soon as I was certain that my ride had not left without me (somebody was so preoccupied with getting the last drop of coffee that she left her yoga mat in her apartment and had to go back for it) and we were on our way to Sebastopol, I could feel myself beginning to relax and settle into the journey. Suddenly, it felt like an adventure; I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited. I remembered that I had made these plans right around the time I finished the draft of the first chapter. During that time–a time of optimism and frantic writing–I remember feeling incredibly attracted to the idea of doing something, anything, that would get me away from a desk! In the midst of these thoughts and conversation with the two women I was driving up with, we arrived at Casa Flores…And while I recognize that I’m perhaps just easily smitten, can you blame me?
It was just a stunning place: flowers everywhere, interesting decorations, kind and hospitable owners, sprawling property and a cute dog (paradise would be incomplete without a canine; of that I’m more than certain!). And my first glimpse was just a precursor of the things to come. The day was fantastic; surprisingly, despite doing yoga for at least 6-7 hours, it was relaxing. There was no pressure; it was just a day about taking care of ourselves. There was time for reflection, to enjoy the scenery, to do many, many downward-facing dogs, but, most importantly, there was time (and space) to let go of some of the things that I had been holding onto inadvertently…and perhaps even somewhat stubbornly. Though we may like ourselves as we are and feel that we’re set in our ways, there’s always room for improvement. Or maybe just the possibility of improvement; play with that possibility and, who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a whole new habit?
I mean, I never thought I’d be the kind of girl who would do yoga or consider going on a yoga retreat. Seriously, back in college when the yoga instructor at Columbia would tell us to imagine we were floating on a cloud, I became angry. I had no time for clouds–real or imaginary–when I needed to change clothes and get to my next class. Yoga was not for me. But after I started grad school and went back to Columbia to see one of my favorite professors, I’ve never forgotten the two bits of advice she gave me: “Don’t stop baking. You might also consider yoga. It’s good for the body and the brain.” I thanked her for the advice, but decided that, for the time being, I’d stick with the former and do my blood pressure a favor by avoiding the latter. But it wasn’t long before, due to the “third-year slump”, I found myself buying passes to try out the local yoga studio. I wasn’t immediately sold, but after I found the right class and the right teacher, it became something that helped me get through writing field statements and taking quals. It really became my little escape from life. Despite myself–or who I thought I was–I liked it. And as I discovered, developing one hobby didn’t mean I had to abandon another. As my very wise professor had suggested, food and yoga could be two sides of the same coin.
And that’s how it’s been for me. While I’ve embraced many healthy ways of living, I’m still the kind of girl who will go on a yoga retreat and, as everybody else is munching on fruits and vegetables, happily eat Eggplant Moussaka, which is covered in bechamel sauce. I’ll then follow up my oh so healthy lunch with a trip to the most amazing local bakery, Wild Flour, where I’ll buy and devour a marzipan cranberry scone. Granted, it was vegan, but a scone can maintain its integrity only by being soft and crumbly. If not through butter, then clearly through almond paste! We live in a world in which all the rules can be broken: scones can be dairy free and yoga lovers can live for baked goods Sometimes, it’s a good place to be.
There was, however, plenty of health to go around. Dinner was a picnic in the yard as the sun set behind us. There was all kinds of salad, good bread (also courtesy of the excellent Wild Flour) and wine. After a day of intense exercise, did we or did we not deserve it? I’m also not ashamed to say that when the ice cream and fresh berries came out for dessert, I went back for seconds.
That’s how I feel about the yoga retreat, too. It was so good–delicious for both the brain and the body–I may just have to do it again. Just call me a woman restored. Or a convert. Either will do.