Choosing a Yoga Retreat

Yoga retreats take place around the globe, in Costa Rica, Greece, Canada, the US; most everywhere. At first it might seem self indulgent to gift yourself a yoga retreat or something that only the wealthy can afford, it’s true that they can be costly, but for not much more than the cost of a hotel stay, you get the added benefits of yoga classes, healthy food, a beautiful environment, and like-minded yoga people.

As a yoga teacher earning some of my income from teaching, it is on my mind to invest some of my income on the betterment of my teaching – this means attending classes, workshops, trainings, and retreats. Especially if you are a yoga teacher, spending to attend a retreat is an investment in your teaching and having a few days away from it all to practice and reflect is good for everyone.

If you are a yoga student who hasn’t made the leap into becoming a teacher, and may never will, then attending a yoga retreat is just as beneficial for you. Give yourself the gift of well spent time investing in your wellbeing. Treat yourself as memes on Instagram say.

What to Consider When Choosing a Retreat

 

Location, Location, Location

Consider where you want to practice yoga for a few days. Likely, taking time off of work and away from your family will mean that this time away is both a retreat and a vacation, so choose a place where you would like to visit. Are you a beachy person or mountains? Tied into this question is the question of travel costs – how far are you willing to travel? Remember to keep those costs in mind as well. Can you drive to the location or must you fly?

Take a look at the retreat center and make sure that it is somewhere that you want to spend your time. This website is great to find retreats. Once you have one in mind, look up the retreat centers website and find them on Facebook to look at photos. Make sure that the place jives with your desires and needs – are they vegetarian friendly? Sustainable?

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Who’s Teaching? Who Was Their Teacher? What Style of Yoga is It?

Ask yourself the same questions you would ask of any teacher that you are going to spend a fair amount of money on practicing with. There are countless different styles of yoga out there so make sure that the style that will be taught at the retreat is a style that you enjoy or have interest in learning about. Research the teacher on their social media and see who they trained with. If you can’t find the information, write them a private message or email and ask. They will be glad that you are interested in attending their retreat and should happily reply.

Find out if your local studio is hosting any retreats. It’s becoming more common for yoga studios to book retreat locations at beach locals for a few days to a week. To be able to go to a retreat with a teacher that you already have a relationship with and to get to build upon that relationship as well as get to know the other students that are attending would be a beautiful thing. Make your yoga community tighter. If you plan ahead enough you can likely benefit from early bird pricing as well to save some money.

Different styles of yoga speak to different people. Research what style of yoga will be taught at the retreat and how many classes there will be. If it is a new style to you, jump on YouTube and do a few classes to see if you’d be willing to spend the money and time to study the new style, just because it’s unfamiliar, doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it. If you are a yoga teacher, exposing yourself to a variety of styles can benefit your yoga teacher toolkit and therefore your students. How much meditation are you looking for, pranayama, service? Do the research to make sure that you are investing your valuable time and money into the right fit.

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What Are You Looking to Gain From the Retreat?

The photo above is of Jason Crandell demoing an assist in handstand at a weekend workshop that I attended in the spring. That sort of break down to challenging poses and assists to utilize as a teacher is exactly what I was looking for. As organizers and teachers if the retreat will be geared towards teachers if that is what you are looking for. Likely, may will not be as they will not be considered continued education, but there’s no harm in asking and maybe the teacher will then throw in a few teaching tips if they know that is what participants are looking for.

If you’re not a teacher or are one but just want to get away for a few days to relax, then look into what other activities the retreat offers or things to do in the area. A retreat that I researched recently had a beautiful lake and hiking trails for leisure time. Check if there are any day expeditions offered or that could be added on to make the most of your time away.

Let Go and Enjoy!

Finally, once you’ve made it to your selected weekend workshop or retreat, let go of expectations and settle in to learning. Recently I was at a workshop and the teacher said that out of the hundreds of things that he taught and said only one may speak to us as students, and to accept that possibility and take that one thing away to incorporate into our teaching and daily lives. This was reasurring to me, because sometimes things do not turn out as we were expecting, but there are always a few take aways. At the very least, enjoy some time away from your day to day responsiblities, let someone else cook for you, and do that thing that you love – yoga.

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Day Trips from Bordeaux – Bergerac

Bordeaux is a small, beautiful, French city that lies in the south-west region of France, you may have heard of the wine. Being that the city is not very big it is something to consider taking some day trips from the river city into the slow pulse of rural France. One such trip is to picturesque Bergerac.

Bergerac is quaint with gorgeous architecture everywhere (similar to Bordeaux). The town is accessible by car in an hour and 45  minute drive, or by public transportation by train. If you hire a car, then there are some fun châteaux a few miles from Bergerac that I highly recommend visiting, unfortunately, they are not possible to get to by public transport. A post on those châteaux to follow.

Bergerac

Those of you that studied French or French literature, may have heard of Bergerac in a French lit class, or at least may have heard of the famous character Cyrano de Bergerac. If the quaint architecture and cute shops don’t draw you to this little town, then maybe the statue of Cyrano will. It is situated in the cutest little European square surrounded by busy restaurants and an old church.

When you drive to Bergerac, park near the tourist office and begin your visit with a stop in the office to get a walking tour map of the town. They have them in French and English. The map displays more than 20 little stops to visit on a walking tour that lasts a little over an hour and takes you to old universities, statues, and the most scenic little nooks in the city. The architecture is historic half-timber, similar to a white Tudor house, but a lot more rustic. I read before visiting the area that in the past the space between the timber frames were filled with whatever materials could be found to save money and to use natural resources. They are postcard perfect.

 

Maison de Vin

IMG_20180904_123858.jpgWhile in the small town on the Dordogne, it’s worth a stop at the Maison de Vin. This little museum and gift shop has a some small displays and a video on the making of wine which plays in French and English, if you walk into the viewing room and it is in French, then check back for the English version. It describes the process of growing the grapes, harvesting (the vendage) and processing the grapes into wine. Once out in the beautiful courtyard, there is a wall of the history of wine from ancient days to the present, also in French and English. This is a great second best to those budget travelers who didn’t want to spend the €20 ticket price on the Cite du Vin while in Bordeaux. If you are looking for a spectacular wine learning experience, this will not be it, then you should go to the Cite du Vin, which looks great, but was beyond our budget and all of us agreed that we are not that into wine. Regardless how you feel about wine, I suggest stopping in to Maison de Vin. The entrance is on the waterfront near the river, there is an old entrance ona back street, walk around the building to find the glass fronted entrance way.

 

Chocolat Almondine

There is an old church in Bergerac that the walking map will guide you to. It is La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac. You can tour inside the church when the doors are open. Whenever there are open doors to a historic church or cathedral in a European city or town I go through those doors. There is always beauty within, with unfathomably high naves, intricate stone carvings depicting biblical scenes, and glorious stained glass. Of course, a self guided tour of a church is another tip for budget travelers, remember to respect any signage asking you to stay out of areas and remain silent.

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La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac is lovely, but there lies another gem near the church that is worthy of your visit, a pattiserie called La Mie Caline. I have to be upfront and tell you that this is a franchise. I prefer to support small, local businesses, but every time my husband and I go to Bergerac we visit this bakery and every time we have their chocolat almondine we grin from ear to ear, as much as is possible with a mouth full of flakey pastry and gooey chocolate-almond filling. Honestly, this was our first stop of our most recent tour of Bergerac with my visiting twin sister and her fiance, that has to say something for the franchise.

 

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Picnic on the Dordogne

End your day trip in Bergerac with a picnic along the Dordogne river, from which the region gets its name. Buying picnic supplies in France is simple, swing in any grocery store to get some cheese (€3-5) and fruit (€1-3) and while you’re at La Mie Caline, grab some baguettes, other options are saucisson (sausage) or pate. Of course wine is a welcome option and in this region you can’t really go wrong.

Take your picnic to the riverfront where picnic tables await. There is ample free parking, but the stairs down to the tables are very steep and fairly dilapidated, so use caution when descending and ascending. The view of the Dordogne is beyond charming.

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Long Layover, Lisbon

My husband and I recently took a cheap flight from Toronto to Bordeaux that had a long layover in Lisbon, Portugal. This was exciting for me because I had yet to visit Portugal or it’s capital. Here is how we spent our 20 hours in the port city for some takeaways for your next visit there.

24hr Metro Tickets

This may sound unromantic, but let me explain. Upon landing at Lisbon Portela Airport, my husband and I waddled around like chickens with their, well you know the rest of the expression, because we could not find wifi to get detailed directions to our Airbnb and we do not speak Portuguese. In situations like these, I always head to the information desk at an airport and I have never been disappointed, friendly, English speaking attendants have always pulled out maps and circled routes and bus stops for me when I’m unsure of exactly where I’m. The nice man in Lisbon carried on the tradition.

My husband and I carried our 40 liter backpacks to the metro and got in line. While deciding which tickets to buy we opted for the 24 hour metro tickets that worked on multiple forms of transportation and would at least get us back to the airport for our 8:30 flight on to Bordeaux the next morning if nothing else.

The metro in Lisbon is relatively easy to figure out, it’s relatively small, clean, and runs from 6:30 am (just in time to get us there in the morning, phew!) until 1am. Now the reason why a metro ticket has made it on to the list is because it includes rides on the famous Tram #28. I knew nothing about this tram until I started seeing pictures of it on magnets and T-shirts at tourist stalls. It is canary yellow and looks as if it is straight out of the 1920’s, and it very well may be.

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Although Lisbon was a small city and our Airbnb was conveniently located a 30 minute walk from the sights that we wanted to see, we still hoped the tram a couple of times while there, it’s a must. Having the 24 hr ticket saved us money in the end because each tram ride paid in cash is €2.90 ($3.36) and we rode the tram on two separate occasions during our quick stay.

 

Word of warning – it’s a bumpy ride so not for those prone to motion sickness. Also, not comfortable to germaphobes or those with claustrophobia as the drivers do not seem to have a concept of “full trolley” and allow people on continuously even if the tram is bursting from the windows!

 

Get to Graça

We had a kind Airbnb host who recommended that we go to the next neighborhood, Graça for sightseeing due to a famous church, beautiful architecture, good restaurants, and a viewpoint of the city. We heeded her advice and were not disappointed.

The church is called Igreja da Graça and it is free to enter. Like most cathedrals in Europe it impressed this American traveler with its ornate carvings of biblical stories and height of the naval. Not a lot of time is needed to tour inside the church, which is perfect for a quick layover.The overlook is directly in front of the church, two birds one stone, even better for a short stay and battle with jet lag!

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There is a room connected to the church that consists of the famous Portuguese tiles that depict more biblical stories and Portuguese history. Unfortunately all of the descriptions of the work of art are in Portuguese. Magnificent tile art can be spotted all over the city.

 

Wander

Lisbon is touristy, granted we were there on a Saturday afternoon, but the city was buzzing with life and it seemed that the majority were travelers. As previously mentioned the city is small, so wandering around getting lost is not all that intimidating. The city is fairly hilly, so head down towards the water or back up into the higher neighborhoods until you stumble upon a good restaurant or cafe. Being that it is steep, wandering down is far more enjoyable than wandering up, so hopping on Tram 28 is a good idea when wandering up!

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Lisbon felt safe, historic, and slightly tropical. As my husband noted it has a Central American feel to it, more so than other European cities. Neither of us could say exactly why, it could just be the weather and tropical fauna, but it felt relaxed. Make your way down to the port, have a seat and dip your feet in on a hot day.

There are food stalls, restaurants, and a large market near the port that reminded me of a mall’s food court, it wasn’t the most atmospheric of European markets, so we skipped, but it likely would be a good place to get food to go (skipping the plastic bags of course) and heading down to the water to enjoy.


 

No doubt there was a lot that we missed in our short stay in Lisbon, but we enjoyed ourselves. We did check out the exterior of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, but to save money and time we did not pay the €8 entry fee. We had one meal in the Airbnb that we picked up from a supermarket, the prices were cheap for cheese, baguette, and sausage. We also made ourselves get up from our afternoon nap and head back into the center for a meal out at a restaurant because we though it a shame to leave the city without having seafood, but it turns out that restaurants, or at least this specific one, charge per item, meaning each pat of butter we used showed up on the bill and what we thought would be a €20 meal total for two turned out to be a €35 meal, it didn’t break us but did surprise us! Not sure if that is common for Portugal, Lisbon, or just restaurants in tourist infested neighborhoods.

Lisbon was the perfect place to have our layover on our way to visit my in-laws and a beautiful re-introduction to the romance of Europe.

A Victorian Farm to Table Dinner

This spring our local history museum, the Fenton, and a local historical society of Busti, NY partnered up for the second year in a row to host a Victorian Dinner. These are some of my favorite things: fundraisers for good causes, local history, and delicious, local, real food. The dressing on the salad was that Victorian costumes were encouraged, my dream event, save if there was yoga, then it would have been over the top, but it was still quite fantastic without, reasons why below.

Victorian Costumes

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I love to get creative and dress up. The creativity comes into play by piecing costumes together with pieces that I already have and by borrowing from friends and family to pull it all together. This is an ethical decision to avoid plastic packaging and to not support fast fashion.

I knew instantly what I was going to wear for a Victorian costume. Years ago I bought a frilly white top from Zara (purchased before I knew about fast fashion) that I wore to my bachelorette Downtown Abby tea party and that would work for this event because the frills give it a perfectly Victorian feel. A friend had given me a hand-me-down long black skirt that initially I considered donating on, but I held onto it just for the Victorian Dinner and I am glad that I did, also, it grew on me so I’ll keep it for regular wear.

To perfect the look I knew I needed a hat. I spoke to a coworker about this because I had a hunch that she might be the perfect person to ask. She pulled through and delivered a magnificent hat complete with a red bird on it (Put a bird on it! Any Portlandia fans reading?) The hat was red, green, and black so it worked well with my long black skirt. Another coworker lent me a pair of black booties with buttons on the sides that fit the theme.

Others at the dinner wore their costumes and there were at least half a dozen big hats. One lady told me that she rushed around that day hot gluing fake flowers to her simple, black sun hat – I love it, another DIY costume maker! Even some of the men were in elegant three piece suits complete with pocket watches. Historical Halloween in May? Yes, please!

Farm to Table

The food was mostly local from the very first course which included apple cider which was pressed at the Busti cider mill last fall and kept frozen over winter, apple butter – homemade by our tablemates, and flour and corn meal ground at the Busti grist mill that went into the dinner rolls. Soup and salad followed. The soup was potato-corn chowder that had the ends of the bacon of a pig that the caterer had purchased and had butchered.

Mains included a pot roast beef and turkey and stuffing. At least the turkey was local as the event took place during turkey season here in WNY. Root vegetables and garden asparagus accompanied the meat. The meal was served family style and seating was unassigned. Not forgetting desert, although it would have been sensible to pass on desert after taking multiple servings of the first rounds, I am glad that I did not pass on it because it was scrumptious – pound cake with rhubarb compote from the garden pictured below. Make note of the lack of plastic, real cutlery, dishes and teacups.

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After desert was served the owner of the cartering service, 3 C’s, spoke about the food, where it came from, and how it was cooked in a Victorian way. As mentioned above, most of the food was local. The meat was cooked simply without any exotic spices. Given the season of spring, the root vegetables would have been stored in the root cellar. There was no refrigeration or frozen food in Victorian times, so we were spoiled by having tomatoes, corn, and the apple cider at our tables.

Education & Entertainment

Before and after dinner a local troupe of musicians played period pieces on stringed instruments, speaking about the songs that they played and their history. Instruments included fiddles, guitar, banjo, and stand up bass. The music was enjoyable and made me realize how quiet it was during dinner when the band was not playing. Today we’re used to music in restaurants and bars, sometimes it plays too loudly and conversations can barely be heard; it was nice to have silence for polite conversation over dinner.

Two men spoke after dinner about local history. The first man, our tablemate and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about the Victorian era and what the local town where the event was held looked like at that time. It had a tannery, shoe maker (who got leather from the tannery), carriage maker, creamery, multiple churches, school, etc. It’s romantic to imagine a time when communities were entirely involved and mostly sustainable, when everyone knew everyone else and supported each other.

The second man to speak shared historic items from the Jamestown Police. He himself a former officer, had a box that contained an old whistle, a sheriff’s badge, a police officer’s hat, and a photo of the police force from last century. Both short talks were interesting and tied the event together.

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Two sets of couples that sat with us at our table drove down for the event from about an hour away. They told me of other such historic dinners that they had attended throughout New York State, one a candle light dinner in an old mansion at Christmas time. It makes my heart smile to know that there are others out there that enjoy learning about and celebrating history. I’ll keep my ears to the ground for other such events and am already looking forward to next year’s Victorian Farm to Table dinner locally.

The Yoga Loft, Bethlehem, PA – Studio Review

I made a commitment to myself that I would train more this year, so when I saw on Instagram that Jason Crandell was teaching a weekend workshop on the east coast of the U.S. I didn’t have to think twice before booking a spot. The studio is a good five and a half hours from where I live, but the idea of a weekend with a well-known vinyasa yoga instructor to practice and learn made the drive worth it. A separate post to follow regarding the workshop with Jason, this post is about the studio alone.

The Yoga Loft is in a central area of Bethlehem which is an old steel city with the decaying remnants of that time still dominating the skyline. The studio is in an old brick building with street parking and a parking lot to the side. The studio is up three flights of stairs, something to keep in mind if running late or suffering from an injury.

Once up the flights of stairs you pass through a door into the foyer of the studio. There you can register at the front desk, browse their yoga accessories for sale (clothes, books, etc.), and lounge in a sitting area. There’s also a water machine to fill up your reusable water bottle before class.

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Just beyond the entry way and slightly to the right is a doorway that leads to two changing rooms and the toilets. The double doors directly ahead lead to one of their three studio spaces. The space that I practiced in was massive, photo below, it held 70-80 people with mats tightly placed side by side. The floors of the studio are beautiful hardwood and there are a lot of windows to let natural light in. All areas of the studio are welcoming and kept clean. Staff that I interacted with during registration and during breaks from the workshop were friendly and sociable, although I did not take a class with any of the local teachers while there.

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There are a lot of classes on offer at The Yoga Loft. Looking at their weekly schedule online, there are three to eight classes offered per day, with less offered at the weekend. Classes on the schedule are labeled by level, a guideline that ensures students attend appropriate classes, something that not all studios provide prospective students with. Styles offered on the weekly schedule include: Yoga Flow, Infant Yoga, Barre & Pilates, Candlelit/Restorative, and more. Special events, workshops, and free events also found on the website.

The studio offers a lot of promotional classes to get new students in the door. There is a six-week beginners series for those new to yoga to help them get them on their feet and gain confidence to then explore other teachers and styles at the studio. They also have a new student, promotional, unlimited monthly rate of $39. Lastly, they host open houses that include a free class and option to ask questions about yoga to staff. These all make a lot of sense in terms of brining new students in the door and getting more people interested in yoga, especially those that may feel shy or nervous to try yoga for the first time.

Another interesting page found on their website that I have never seen before on a yoga studio website is a section called ‘Places We Love’ which includes restaurants and places to stay recommended by the studio. This is so useful because the studio hosts traveling teachers with big names that no doubt draw in students from all over the east coast; case in point my five and a half hour drive there, I also met two women rushing out the door at the end of the Jason Crandell workshop that were rushing because they had something like a nine-hour drive home to Maine! Us out-of-towners appreciate recommendations. Listing restaurants is very smart as most people who do yoga tend to lead a healthier lifestyle than the average American, therefore would appreciate knowing where the local vegan restaurant is as opposed to walking into the nearest McDonald’s.

I enjoyed every aspect of my short visit to The Yoga Loft in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Never before had I even really heard of the city or studio, but I am glad that a post on Instagram about the workshop got me interested and travelling across New York and Pennsylvania to travel there. If you live in the vicinity, vicinity being the entire east coast it seems, then check out their upcoming weekend workshops and book yourself a spot. A highly recommended experience.

 

 

Visiting Montreal

At the very end of 2017 I took a trip with my husband to visit his close friends in Quebec. It was a last-minute trip and the temperatures were brutal, averaging around -25C (-13F) most of the time,  but we managed to sight see a little and succeeded in not spending our entire trip indoors.  Here are my top highlights from our trip that I think will interest other yoga people, history nerds, and slow fashion enthusiasts out there.

First, the Yoga

There is a huge and important Sivananada ashram located an hour north of Montreal. Our friends lived north of the city as well, so the ashram was even closer to us for our stay. While visiting I attended one two-hour, beginners yoga class at the ashram. They have classes open to the public twice daily, once at 8am and again at 4pm. It costs $10/person and you can choose between the beginners’ class or an intermediate class.

The ashram is a large compound that unfortunately,I did not get to explore (remember the temperatures?) I did however step inside the registration office to pay for the class – the building was warm and welcoming. The woman at reception spoke French and fluent English. After classes there is an option to pay $10 on top of the class for a vegetarian meal, we passed on this option, but the smells were wafting around in the registration office and they were tempting me to cancel our prearranged dinner plans and stick around for the food.

The class itself was taught by whom I would guess is a student of the ashram. He led the class though pranayama at the beginning of class, which was a good 20-30 minutes long. After breathwork the asana practice began. It was a beginners class, but the teacher threw in some more challenging poses such as sirsasana. At the end there was an enjoyable savasana and the class began and ended with chants sung beautifully by the teacher and the few devotional students who somehow managed learn the minutes long chants – dedication.

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I planned to go back and attend an intermediate class, but it didn’t fit into our schedule, so I’ll have to go back on our next trip. If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out their website (hyperlinked above) for more information and schedules on themed weekends. There is lodging on sight and the schedule is that of an ashram – early morning risings for satsang and asana with karma yoga in the middle of the day and more asana in the afternoon, a busy, disciplined schedule that is fully optional, for those not quite ready to live life like a yogi.

Next, Some History

I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and Montreal had some lovely history to satisfy my dorky desires. I searched Tripadvisor and Google for a historical site that interested me and was in my price range (I am a proud budget traveler), and I came across the perfect Victorian townhouse that offered guided tours by guides decked out in crinoline and waistcoats. The townhouse was  the prior home of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, a Canadian politician and former Prime Minister. It is located in Old Montreal, a historic district near the river. The tour guide gave us a tour in English around the townhouse which took about an hour (there are also tours in French) and as mentioned previously, he gave the tour in head-to-to-toe Victorian attire (and he had a very endearing French Canadian  accent.)

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We visited at Christmas time so the focus of the tour was a Victorian Christmas, which is really interesting because the Victorians gave us most of the Christmas traditions that we follow to this day. The museum also had  some fun hands on experiences, such as making Christmas cards, sampling Victorian hot drinks – wasil and tea, and trying on Victorian clothes. The best part? The museum was free  during all of 2017 because it was the 150th anniversary of Canada. Although it’s now 2018 and it will no longer be free, I recommend visiting if you have some free time in Montreal, even if to simply get out of the bitter cold temperatures for a while.

Finally, Vintage Clothes

My friends knew that I was interested in doing some second-hand shopping while in Montreal and surprised me with a stop at a massive vintage store. It’s called Eva B and it’s more than a vintage clothing shop, it’s also a cafe and bistro, and in keeping with the world-wide stereotype of Canadians being extremely friendly, a woman handed us small cups of hot apple cider (in glass not in single use plastic) as soon as we walked in, she also had little bags (paper) of popcorn, too.

After searching a multitude of racks, I sadly left empty-handed, but there was a lot to choose from, most from the 70s/80s/90s. The price tags were more than I’m used to at Salvation Army, but most things were actually vintage, no H&M or Forever 21 in sight. Before leaving we grabbed a couple of hot samosas for $1 that were amazing, so that convinces me of their menu. Photos below are of the second level of the store and the front entrance, recognizable by the graffiti.

 

There’s plenty more to do in Montreal, I am sure, sadly the weather prohibited a long day trip to the city, but what I did see of it on this trip was enjoyable and entertaining. I’m already looking forward to a return when the weather is more hospitable. I’ll be back, Montreal.

Yoga Farm, Lansing NY – Studio Review

A few weeks ago my husband new husband and I took a week long trip across New York State for a mini-honeymoon. We drove to Ithaca and the Adirondacks in the height of the beautiful fall leaves to hike, bike, kayak, and do yoga, of course. In fact, our first stop on the trip was to the Yoga Farm in Ithaca and boy am I glad that this studio was on our itinerary. Yoga Farm is welcoming, in the middle of nature, and is sure to provide an experience for students in which they do more than the physical postures, they evolve to know themselves better as a person.

The Saturday that we drove to Ithaca the Yoga Farm was hosting a workshop called ‘You’re Personal Key to Fulfillment & Connection‘ which is a snipet from their larger Radiance Course which is a five month program.  The Saturday workshop that I attended was two hours long, included no physical asana practice, save some minor tension relieving neck and shoulder work, but rather included a lot of self reflection and guidance by teachers and studio owners, Christopher & Daniela.

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Christopher & Daniela are founders and owners of Yoga Farm and emanate a depth of warmness and sincerity to their students. They both instantly give acute attention to each and every student that walks through their Yoga Farm door. And once in the door, you are welcomed by not only the teachers but also a hominess of the studio. At Yoga Farm there is a student library, a water dispenser that gives cold or hot water and tea and mugs for students to make tea, and for our workshop, all of the props were set up before the students arrived so that we could find our seats and begin right away.

Their studio has an abundance of props, and you know I am a prop fanatic. They even have little floor chairs for students to lean back in which is a benefit to most of us who cannot sit for two hours in a crossed legged position without our lower limbs going numb and feeling as if they might fall off after 10 minutes.

After encouraging us to get as comfortable as we possibly could with bolsters, meditation cushions, and blankets, the workshop got started which included some meditation and group discussion with the intent of finding a guiding force to lead us to clarity of our true self and to guide us away from negative reactivity to daily stressors. I found the workshop to be personally insightful and I took away from it a personal resource that I have the opportunity to utilize daily. As mentioned the workshop was a teaser from their longer Radiance course that is a multiple months endeavor.

The studio offers a variety of workshops and courses that, for the Radiance Courses specifically, fall under their  ‘Pay what is honest and in integrity for you’ philosophy. When I saw this information on their website I read further, which you can do here. Before attending my two hour Radiance workshop at the Yoga Farm, I had decided to pay a typical fee for a weekend yoga workshop, regardless of what I took away from the workshop because I am a yoga teacher who earns a supplementary portion of my income from teaching yoga, so I wanted to pay a respectful sum for their work and effort. I assume that most students follow a similar payment choice when deciding how much to leave for the workshops. What I love about this unique payment option is that it opens the doors of the studio to people who might otherwise be limited to not being able to attend classes due to financial difficulty such as unemployment or disability, and finding Radiance within ourselves shouldn’t be restricted to only those who can afford it.

I was curious and intrigued by the Radiance open tuition, so I emailed Daniela and we set up a time to have a phone call and talk about it, from that conversation I will write a separate post to come soon.

If you would like to attend a Radiane workshop you can find the schedule on their website. On top of two hour workshops they also offer two upcoming weekend workshops that are day long courses but are not residential, so are more readily available to locals of Lansing.  One weekend workshop is right around the food-coma-corner, happening the Saturday immediately after Thanksgiving, Saturday, November 25th, 3-5pm, titled ‘Discover Your Inner Voice’ and the other over the weekend of New Years – Saturday, Sunday, & Monday, December 30 through January 1st.

If you are looking for an asana practice as well as or instead of a self reflection course, then look no further because they also offer yoga classes throughout the week. I attended a class the week I was visiting which was a Slow Flow class that left me with the ubiquitous yoga bliss afterwards. They have an array of classes on their clanedar which you can find updated on their website. Unlike the Radiance Courses and Workshops, there is a set fee for yoga classes at the studio. They cost: Drop-In Class prices: One for $18, Three for $45, Eight for $96, Unlimited for $95/month.

If you find yourself in Lansing, NY which is itself beautiful and a short drive from the college town of Ithaca, NY I would highly suggest checking out a class or workshop at the Yoga Farm. As implied in the name, the studio is located in a beautiful landscape not far from Cayuga Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes. The studio is inside a refurbished barn and sits on many acres of land. Practicing at Yoga Farm is a step beyond a city studio, they have created their own little yoga paradise in a beautiful landscape; you won’t regret a visit.

Beginner’s Workshop at Yoga Roots, Cleveland Heights, Ohio – Studio Review

Yoga workshops, can’t get enough. Workshops are more than classes, they’re longer and they’re for learning and generally they cost a fair bit more than a normal drop in class, but not the Beginner’s Workshop at Yoga Roots in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In fact, their Beginner’s Workshop is totally free, but it’s still two hours long. I know, I couldn’t believe it either, so I checked it out.

I admit that it might sound odd that a trained yoga teacher would attend a workshop for beginners, but I went with a friend and I enjoy taking beginner’s classes sometimes because, guess what – I teach beginners! Attending beginner’s classes is a good opportunity for me to witness and hear how other teachers communicate effective teaching to their students. This workshop was no different and it was really inspiring as a teacher to attend.

19866498_10100474775782817_358879747_nThe studio space at Yoga Roots is pretty cool. It has an industrial feel with a high ceiling and exposed heating units. There’s a wall of props and a nice floor space to practice on (it’s heated, too – must feel amazing in winter.) My friend and I walked in somewhat late so we took spaces up front right next to the teacher. The room was packed full of at least 30 students. The teacher settled us all in and we began gently, after she explained how when she began yoga years ago that she had injured herself by pushing herself too far beyond her physical abilities, and therefore she enjoys teaching beginning workshops so that she can teach others to avoid doing the same thing to their bodies. I very much appreciated her openness and honesty to a roomful of mostly strangers, who likely had the same emotions of the ego as she had as a beginner. By sharing her intimidating experience as a beginner the teacher broke the ice and brought her down to the level of of everyone else in the room.

The workshop that continued from her introduction was similar to a typical vinyasa class, but was broken down into pieces, first teaching a vinyasa itself bit-by-bit and then standing poses that are common posses in classes at Yoga Roots. I have not attended a general class at Yoga Roots, but I gather from things said by the teacher that a typical vinyasa class consists of little breakdown of poses and is taught more as a guided vinyasa sequence, which are great for students who know what the heck the difference is between Warrior I and Warrior II, but very intimidating (and not necessarily safe) for beginners.

That is where the Beginner’s Workshop comes in. It is a long class where beginners can feel comfortable in a room full of other students that practice at their level and where basics are broken down and taught to them. It’s Yoga 101. Then, when they are comfortable and ready, they can make the leap into other classes on the schedule at Yoga Roots, and there are a lot, classes at time slots at all times of the day, seven days a week.

The best part, in my opinion, of the Beginner’s Workshop was that it was Q & A. Students were encouraged by the teacher to ask questions about poses if any arose and once one student asked a question, many followed. Some questions were personal, such as about a previously acquired injury and how to perform a posture, which displays how special this event was, that a student could ask a trained and qualified teacher a very specific and personal question, not common in all yoga classes and certainly not while practicing with YouTube. By asking questions students will have gained confidence in areas of uncertainty so that they could then go into a class at Yoga Roots feeling sure of themselves. At the end of the class they offered everyone who attended a discount if they signed up for a membership, another, and happily surprising bonus; unfortunately, I don’t live in the area.


It would make anyone happy to enter this nestled studio. Initially it was difficult for my friend and I to find, but a guy in the neighborhood helped us out (it’s down a driveway right next to the hair salon.) When you enter the studio there’s a counter to sign in at and merchandise to browse if you’re on top of your game and arrive early. Remove shoes upon entrance and sign in. There’s a bathroom and separate changing room as well as cubbies to keep your personal items. A special event happening while we were there that I was told about after the workshop was a yoga challenge and it wasn’t one of those “do an impossibly challenging pose in your cutest Lululemon and post it on Instagram” type of challenges, it was an actual challenge. Students earned gifts for attending classes. The first mark to make got you a mug then a T-shirt and finally if you attended 30 classes in the month time frame of the challenge then you received a gift card to the studio. The amount of participants was impressive and the fact that they were improving their well-being and being a bigger part of their yoga studio community by attending more frequently were secondary bonuses beyond the gifts.

To wrap up, if you live in the Cleveland area and are looking for a great studio then try Yoga Roots. If you are a beginner then get to their next Beginner’s Workshop which happens monthly, except for in the summer, check their website for exact dates.

Review: Flying Tree Yoga Studio, Medellin, Colombia

Do yourself a favor and visit Flying Tree Yoga Studio if you find yourself in Medellin. This intimate studio is well worth the 20 minute warm up walk from Estadio Metro Station, address: Transversal 39a #71-85, Medellín, Colombia.

Please note, I did not receive any incentives for this post; it is pure observation and opinion. Some content was provided via email with the studio. 

Class Review – Yoga Flow

Unfortunately, my schedule only allowed for one class at Flying Tree during my time in Medellin. But, boy was it a class to remember. I attended a Friday evening, English “Yoga Flow” class taught by yogi Elodie Huart. Along with five other students, Elodie guided the class with vigor and flair, through one of the toughest yoga classes I have ever taken.

My understanding of what to expect from the class occurred as we rested in child’s pose at the start of the hour-long class. At which point Elodie gleefully stated, “this is the only child’s pose of the night”, translation: “get ready for boot camp style yoga.” The class had me pushing boundaries, overheating, and there may have been a point of quietly cursing on the inside, but I loved it! The class covered a few advanced poses (think, head stand to side crow) and included pilates influences (high plank ab work). With such a manageable class size and practiced students, Elodie was able to work individually with each student according to unique needs.  It was clear she wanted to boost each student’s confidence while guiding with her expertise and talent. In fact, after the end of the class she stayed late to work longer with me on my head stand, further proving that she’s dedicated to her students’ growth.

By the end of the night I was beaming with confidence in my practice and strength. I left with an abundance of energy and felt the repercussions for about four days, a good thing. The class was more advanced that I had expected. Therefore, I would not recommend this class to someone fresh to yoga. On the other hand, please get yourself to one of Elodie’s classes if you are itching for a powerful session with a talented teacher.

More than Your Average Yoga Studio

Flying Tree offers a range of classes in both Spanish and English, which immediately drew me. For a drop in single class you’ll pay $20,000 pesos (under $7 US dollars). But if you are around for a week or more you can up your visits and save your pennies by buying their 4 class pass (must be used within 30 days) for $65,000 pesos (about $5.50 US dollars per class) or a monthly unlimited pass for $120,000 pesos ($40 US dollars). Monthly schedules can be found at their attractive website. Classes are offered in three levels: Beginners classes are taught in the gentle style, Relaxing Yoga classes are yin and restorative based, and Yoga Flow classes are for those looking for a challenge. Another bonus of the studio is that they provide mats, straps, eye pillows and bricks for students without any additional charges. This is always a plus, but is especially appreciated by travelers – hallelujah.

The studio is more than simply a yoga space. The teachers lovingly host events to encourage local and international community. The week I visited they had hosted a “Brownies & Fruta” (brownies and fruit) night after their Wednesday evening class (two things I love!). Other ways they build community are through events such as: teas, potlucks and workshops. To me, yoga is community and an extension of the self, a way to give inner peace to those around you. It’s fantastic that Flying Tree Yoga embraces their ability to encourage communal well-being. A listing of upcoming events can be found via their site.

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The studio also runs an internship program for budding teachers. The program is a month-long commitment (I completely recommend a month in Medellin) in which experienced staff work with interns to find their voice as a teacher. During the four weeks attendees take part in: a two-week Spanish language course designed for yoga to expand their student base, plan and teach classes to the Medellin yoga community, participate in workshops and nurture the self. Check our www.yogainternships.com for full details. An attractive opportunity for teachers looking to grow and travel!

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the studio offers reiki and a variety of massages, additional information can be found via their site.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I was really impressed and happy with Flying Tree Yoga. The space is calming, the staff friendly and their community based work is what the world needs more of. Beyond the links offered in this post, you can find the studio on Facebook and Instagram at, www.instagram.com/flying_tree_yoga/ and www.instagram.com/yogainternships/.

 

Auschwitz – A Remembrance

Today, January 27th, is Auschwitz Remembrance Day/Holocaust Memorial Day. Seventy-two years ago the massive and horrific concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated after five years in 20160428_104418existence as a concentration and death camp, the largest death camp of Nazi Europe. It is recorded that around 1.1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz, people whom were sent from countries all over Europe, mostly Jews, many Poles.

 

In late April of last year, I visited Poland, spending some time in Krakow. From Krakow, my boyfriend and I got on a bus to Auschwitz. We initially thought that we were too late to book a tour of the concentration camp, so we went extra early  in order to learn on our own before the gate shuts to those without tickets of tours. We arrived around 8:00 am and got in line to buy tickets as soon as we could, reserving tickets for a 10 o’clock tour. All in all we spent around 7 hours learning about the camps.

 

Before the tour we walked Auschwitz on our own and then reconvened inside with our 20160428_083822English tour, we received headphones which is how the tour guide communicated to our group throughout the day, necessary since hundreds of people were touring that day, all in different languages, we then followed our Polish tour guide from harrowing landmark to harrowing landmark.  Our guide stopped us outside the buildings and told us how the S.S. made the prisoners stand outside in freezing winter temperatures while they called roll, at times making them stand and wait for up to 24 hours straight, no food, no rest.

 

We went inside buildings that housed prisoners – prisoners whose main offenses were to defy and disagree with the Nazi Party, political prisoners. One hallway was lined with intake 20160428_090122photographs of prisoners, the last image of many them to ever be preserved in history. There were exhibitions of belongings that had been taken from the prisoners. The volume of the items piled up high on top of each other put into perspective just how many innocent men, women, and children were sent to the camp and perished there. On our tour I learned of unspeakable atrocities, of unthinkable “living” conditions, if you can call the labor-prison-death camp existence “living.” The masses of people who were thought of in by the Nazis as fit enough to work, or too weak to live. The disabled or injured were sent straight to the gas chambers while the young and healthy were put to tiresome, endless work, producing for Germany. The gate at the entrance of reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Sets You Free.”

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A display of prosthetics and braces collected at the camp before their owners met thier untimely deaths.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is separate from Auschwitz I camp. After touring Auschwitz I, our tour group got on a bus and rode for a few minutes to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This is where the gassing of tens of thousands of Jews, political prisoners, gypsies, and opposition of the Third Reich took place. The dark scene of crammed-cattle-cars slowly rolling up to the main gate of Birkenau is one that many of us have seen in Holocaust movies. Scenes that usually include smoke stacks emitting dark, thick debris. Direct signs of what was to come of many in the cattle cars. Arriving by bus decades later I was aware of what took place there and I was shocked at how extremely large the camp is. The small brick structures that housed the victims go on and on in a square grid for what seems like miles and miles.

Both camps mostly remain standing, one building that was destroyed by the Nazis before Soviet liberation was one of the larger crematoriums (photo above, next to it are the cyanide-based pesticide-pellets that were dropped into the gas chambers.) Out of fear, the Nazis set the building to fire, but of course their heinous crimes were discovered and are remembered.

While touring in late April it was eerie how beautiful the landscape was, the grass, trees, and birds have continued on after the camp was liberated and the sun was shinning during our tour. The spring beauty was an odd juxtoposition to what went on in the past there.

The natural beuty of the Polish countryside that surrounds the ugly history of the big brick buildings is a metaphor to me of how we tend to live our lives. We are mostly distracted by the simplicities of our lives, our jobs and families, and we often overlook the tragedies happening right in front of our eyes. We put our blinders on and surround ourselves in the comforting safety of ignorance instead of remembering the genocides of the past and present. We look beyond the brick buildings and focus on the trees.

This post is short and lacks all of the detail that I could have included had I written closer to my visit, but I hope that it is an insight into the largest Nazi concentration camp. May we never forget the past; we celebrate victories and advances in society, but we must also remember the dark days of history, lest we repeat them. It is an especially necessary lesson to remember at these times of created division of race and religion. A time when many world leaders leave human rights and peace and justice behind for strict nationalsim and fearmongering of immigrants and outsiders. As one Holocaust survivor wisely stated,

“The Germans were well-advanced, educated, progressive. Maybe civilization is just veneer-thin. We all need to be very careful about any hate-propaganda.This is very important. It starts as a small stream, but then it has the potential to erupt – and when it does, it’s too late to stop it.”