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My Life: 16 Days of Yoga

Bittersweet Memories in California’s Santa Ynez Mountains


DAY 1. I arrive at 2 p.m. I am greeted by the White Lotus staff: Beatrix, the vegetarian chef; Ganga, the founder; Tracy, codirector; and Sven, yoga trainer. This first day is an introduction to the rules, the layout of the grounds, and acclimating myself to my yurt. It’s hard to sleep here. When I turn up the heater, it’s too hot; when I turn it down, it’s too cold. One of my roommates is snoring. Every time someone goes to the loo, one can hear the gravel crunching underfoot and the thumping on the deck.

DAY 2. Ganga teaches us about the characteristics of the four yogas, who Patanjali was, and the eight limbs of Ashtanga. I witness the positive energy of Ganga, Stacy, and Sven in action. They adjust me in Down Dog, lift my hips in Wheel, and position my feet in Warrior. Safety is emphasized. As replicas of the spine, knee joint, and pelvic bowl are passed around, I think about how fragile the body is and make it a goal to be more mindful about yoga safety.

DAY 3. I start my community job. I work at the bookstore, folding clothes — other days clean bathrooms and dry mop floors. We all help in drying pots, wiping the stove. We line up to wash our dishes after every meal like the flowing process we do in yoga. We wait in line, rinse fast, stop and start. Later I watch Henry swing from a tree. He hangs a silk sheet from the upper branch and does acrobatic stunts. We jam with bongos, guitar, and the djembe. The sounds filter throughout the yurt village.

DAY 4. I take a hike down to the Watering Hole. I find several familiar faces frozen in asanas: one doing the Tree pose on a marbleized rock, and another doing the Goddess atop a boulder. The light glistens off the water and the trees. I feel the Chumash Indian energy in the canyon. I move fast now, wash up quickly, do my community job before the afternoon lessons. I feel weary but push on to learn the sequencing for Sun Salutation A and C. Afterward, I wolf down Beatrix’s exquisite vegetarian concoction without bothering to ask what I was eating.

DAY 5. My roommate, David, is encouraging. He’s knowledgeable about yoga history, and it’s good to hear his perspective. Still, I feel isolated. I give myself the intention of staying positive. I practice Pranayama, alternating nostril breathing to calm myself down. I dream of hawks soaring overhead, their feathers falling on the trees. I wake up to the hooting of owls.

DAY 6. I look in the mirror and see bags under my eyes. The days ooze by. I fight my negativity. Yoga is just about a flexible body but a flexible mind. Today is the mandatory morning of silence. I find it hard to keep quiet but learn that silence is needed to explore my internal world and the things around me. I wander the grounds, looking at the rock formations, the statues, fountains, the magnificent ocean vista. It is quiet and calm. I am happy to be learning from teachers who know how to help me be a yogi. I am happy to be free to contemplate my future. This is part of yoga that I realize is as important as asana practice. I drop my eyes to the grass at my feet and get lost in it.

DAY 7. The yoga classes are going well. I am getting the flow sequencing down. I am able to verbalize how to do the poses. The evening is the Full Moon celebration at the fire pit. I volunteer to be part of the drumming circle. There is incense, dancing, chanting, and Ganga talking about the mysteries of the fire. The sweat from the fire trickles down my face. We are entranced with the beating of drums. It is in this moment that I understand the meaning of yoga: being yoked together, joined as one, connected with everyone and everything.

Day 8. I draw stick figures of my 10-minute sequence and feel at ease with teaching the class. I’m learning the proper yoga techniques. I do my community job with renewed vigor. I laugh with peers at the dinner table and gobble down my veggie platter. It’s apparent that everyone is working on other things besides yoga. One woman feels alienated after a troublesome divorce, another person feels a devastating loss of a loved one, while I can’t find a good job. Should I move to Florida or stay in Santa Barbara? We support each other in the midst of transformation.

Day 9. Yoga class in the morning, free time the rest of the day. I go home and talk about yoga with my girlfriend. I do a series of Sun Salutes while watching football on TV. At halftime, we go down to the beach and people watch. I return to the Lotus in time for dinner. We celebrate a peer’s birthday with a gluten-free cheesecake and jazz.

Day 10. Yoga in small groups of four. We try to find our voice, stand tall and look professional. Thai yoga massage demonstration tonight. We become comfortable in making hands-on adjustments. It is the first time I massage a stranger. I forget that I am balancing my knees in plank on a male bum. My partner is in Mountain Pose while stepping on my Achilles. Crossing my shins on his thighs and being stretched forward loosened my back and opened my hips.

Day 11. The pressure is mounting to come up with our 10-minute teaching program that incorporates learning from the White Lotus flow series. I work hard and make progress. I come up with the sequence that reflects my personality and style of yoga. I know that the class won’t be earth shattering. I am okay with that.

Day 12. I wake up and apply a Band-Aid to an abrasion on my big toe. I soon come up with a rough draft of what I will do in my 10-minute class. Tracy says, “You have to be thrown into the fire. The mistakes that you make you’ll never forget, and hopefully you won’t do them again.”

Day 13. In my 10-minute sequence, there is sitting meditation, Sun Salutes, Tree Pose, Warrior One and Two, Threading the Needle, Reclining Twist, and Corpse Pose. I review it with Tracy. It’s my first class, and I will be receptive to her constructive criticism. I remind myself, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Yoga is about learning to deal with imperfection and to make small adjustments.

Day 14. We focus on Savasana, doing gentle restorative poses. Tomorrow is the last day of work. We complete and review our written test without issue. At night there is a concert with Sven on guitar, Maddy on violin, and Phil on piano. Phil and Sven finish off the night with a rousing rendition of Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” I will head home after tomorrow night’s dinner and graduation. I am spent emotionally and physically.

Day 15. I jump up. I engage in diaphragmatic breathing. I am in a zone: “Inhale mountain, exhale forward fold, inhale arch half-way up …” I am satisfied even if I didn’t demonstrate the poses enough or didn’t transition smoothly from each vinyasa movement. We stop at 1 p.m. I phone my girlfriend to decompress from the morning’s events. At the graduation ceremony, we sit around a sofa. Tracy and Ganga ask us to express whatever the spirit moves us to say. I say to Tracy and Ganga, “You sure kicked my ass, and it was tough going to the loo in the middle of the night, but it was worth it. It was an experience I will never forget.” I left my words on the couch, shook hands, gave hugs, and promised to stay in touch. It’s finally over.

Day 16.

I chatter to my girlfriend about the past 15 days. I realize that it was more of a love relationship than anything. I am grateful for the great training and wonderful people. Wearing a hoodie and taking a flashlight to the outhouse meant something to me. Yoga toe, being sleep deprived meant something. Besides helping me to understand yoga, it led me to start making changes in my life. I quit my job and will move to Florida with my partner. I am meditating, eating vegetarian meals, and doing Pranayama. Thank you, steep, dusty Santa Ynez Mountains with your winding canyon trails, soaring hawks, and native ghosts of Chumash past. Thank you, White Lotus.

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