This is the view from the open air yoga studio at The Yoga Farm in Punta Banco, Costa Rica, where I traveled last week to learn about, well, yoga and farming. Punta Banco is a small community located about 10 hours south (by car or bus) from San Jose. There are less than 200 residents in this rainforest-beach paradise. It is one of the most remote, rural regions of the country. Computers and cell phones are out of place or inaccessible. There is no multi-tasking. Life is simple.
Most days me and my fellow traveler rose at dawn, awakened by macaws, toucans, and the Farm's rooster. We'd change our clothes (or not - "clean clothing" is a relative term when you're living in the rainforest), tie back our mosquito nets so that no bugs got trapped in during the day, wash our faces at the outdoor sink, and skip upstairs to the yoga deck. The main structure on the Farm looks a little bit like a grown-up's fantasy tree house. It is set at a high elevation in the rainforest, and from the deck, where people spend hours reading and listening to music on hammocks during the day, you can see all the way out to the ocean below. Monkeys swing from the trees and birds call out to each other. Bright red/pink hibiscus and deep greens of all kinds surround.
The teacher-in-residence at the Farm was blissfully open-minded, experimenting each class with different forms of yoga. Everything from Yin to Ashtanga (sometimes in the same class). I had been trained to teach in a very specific way, and witnessing someone whose teaching style was so broad was very, very cool (at least dorky-yoga-teacher cool)! When someone interrupted class to point at a monkey, she reacted with a smile, turning her gaze too rather than getting flustered by the interruption. Class had no rules, and I felt no judgment or pressure. After the first day, I decided I wanted to teach during my stay. I shared the idea of DY with the other yogis, and it was greeted with enthusiasm.
The first morning I taught, I was completely unprepared (I hang my head in shame as I write this, Sarah W, I really do!). I just took my printout of Sarah's class upstairs to the deck and did the best I could to explain the concept and improvise, looking down every so often at her notes, not necessarily knowing myself where the sequence would lead! My four students were troopers, doing their best to follow along, and journaling and drawing after the practice. Holland, who I went to the Farm with, shared her drawing, inspired by the surroundings (sorry, I am too jet-lagged to figure out how to rotate this photo).
Despite the fact that the class was less than perfect, I was inspired enough to try again. The second time, I created my own class (instead of using Sarah W's). I felt more comfortable teaching something I created, and one of the women on the farm let me do a test run with her in preparation. I had fallen down a hill that felt like a mountain and been "attacked" by an angry wasp the day before, but I still felt good about DY Take 2. In fact, because my hand hurt too much to demonstrate all the poses, I was forced to move around the floor more. I managed to remember some adjustments, andit was a much more fluid class.
One of the yogis had suggested DY would be more effective if students wrote down a phrase before the class started (which I hadn't thought to instruct them to do the first time), so I had them do that. They reported after class that they had found it helpful, and most could maintain the connection from the beginning at the end during the drawing/writing portion. They gave me positive feedback. They all knew I was a green teacher, so perhaps some of the feedback was couched in kinder terms than the teaching deserved, but I think we all at least enjoyed practicing. And Holland drew something that sent shivers up my spine. She wrote some beautiful prose as well, but it felt private, so I didn't photograph it.
My experience in Costa Rica, both experimenting with teaching DY and living in a community of open, honest and kind individuals, reminded me that yoga is not just about the asanas. Yoga is a way of life, a lens through which you can see the world. And there is no one "right" way to see it. Perfectionist that I can be, this was a revelation, something that hadn't truly sunk in during my 200 hours of training. But the best revelations, I find, are those that you subconsciously meditate on, and come to slowly.
I am really looking forward to taking this mindset into the DY pilot. We'll all be there to learn from each other, and not just to experience yoga, but to experience simplicity, being present, and building a community. In New England, it's easy to become bitter and jaded. People elbow you in the subway, they cut you in line, they look away on the street. I think it's really important to counter that by coming together with people you trust and enjoy spending time with.
I hope all you brave yogis coming to the pilot for DY will find it a useful counterbalance to the busy, hectic lives we all lead. There won't be a tree house or an ocean view, but Prospect Hill's not too shabby, and as I always like to say, two Sarahs are better than one (this, by the way, is a global truism - the teacher-in-residence was a Sarah as well, and she made me smile all the time!).