Playas and Pupusas

I’m back home in LA and missing our sweet retreat apartment—complete with bunkbed slumber parties and epic patio views— so much! Our last couple days in El Salvador were when we finally had a chance to kick back and relax. We had really front loaded the trip, because some retreaters were only able to stay for three days or five days, so a few people left on Wednesday after ziplining. Our end of the week was spent hanging by the pool, ordering massages, surfing, and doing yoga some more. I was a little tired for the fourth and final surf lesson, because we had just taken one of Pixie’s Buti Yoga classes. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s this new, tribal dance style of yoga that is really popular among women, especially in the middle of the US. I LOVE it! It’s spreading its way out to the coasts, so if you’re looking to try something wild and new, see if there’s a class near you.

Puro Surf El Salvador

On our last night, we went back into the town of El Tunco to dance at the bar and eat pupusas. If you need one reason above all others to visit El Salvador, this would be it! Pupusas are these little corn tortilla pockets filled with whatever you like—beans, meet, veggies, cheese, etc.—and topped with a yummy tomato salsa and spicy cabbage slaw. Think quesadilla, but even better! They’re about 75 cents a piece in the town, so we had no trouble filling our bellies. 11/10 would recommend!

Pupusas El Tunco

Chasing Waterfalls in Tamanique

Although it’s tempting to spend every possible moment basking in the sun and infinity pool at the hotel, we’ve managed to be very active during our time here. On Monday, we drove away from the resort to explore more of the countryside. We were dropped off in the town of Tamanique, and our guide led us down a dirt path to hike to a waterfall.

El Salvador

It’s the end of the rainy season, so the scenery is lush and vibrant. We hiked for about an hour, winding down the hillside and listening to the sounds of the rushing waters below us.

Tamanique waterfalls

Once we got to the waterfall, don’t tell my mom and dad, but we jumped off the 20 ft. cliffs into the waters below. Our group of 12 was finally all together, after a few late arrivals due to varying travel plans and work schedules. There were a few different heights, but everyone ended up jumping off one of the cliffs! It’s been a blast to be with such an adventuresome crew.

Tamanique waterfalls

We could hear the sounds of an afternoon thunderstorm rumbling in the distance, and our guide urged us to get dressed quickly so we’d have time to visit the second, lower waterfall. We hiked a little further down, and jumped in to swim underneath the cascading streams.

Tamanique waterfalls

I almost didn’t go in on the bottom level, because I’d dried off and didn’t want to get wet again. That would have been a mistake, because it started raining heavily while we were all in the water. The guide rushed us out and warned that the waters could rise quickly. We scrambled to put on our clothes and shoes, then slid over the muddy rocks to pull ourselves out. After a fast and breathless hike up the trail, we were back in the town, soaking wet but smiling. It was a sticky and soggy ride home in the van, but we all made it back safe and sound to Puro Surf to dry off.

Tamanique

Enchanting El Salvador

We’ve been here since Friday, but it already feels like we’ve moved in and might be staying down here forever. The world is feeling peaceful, complete with perfect patio views, enriching connections, and new surroundings. We’ve experienced a few yoga classes, a couple of surf lessons, and a cultural visit into the town of El Tunco.

I can’t say I’ve seen a better yoga studio view in my time as a student or teacher:

Puro Surf yoga

It’s always a little intimidating to teach a new group of people, but I’m glad everyone has been keeping an open mind and showing up for class, whether they’ve done yoga a bunch of times or only once or twice. I’m so appreciative that they’ve created space and trust to have me as an instructor.

Puro Surf surfing lessons

We’ve had two surf lessons so far. The waves right in front of our hotel are too difficult for beginners, so we’ve been driving about 20 minutes away to another beach. We learned and practiced techniques in the sand before heading into the water. I’d had one surfing lesson before coming here, but the lessons here have been a lot more structured and easy to pick up. Everyone stood up on the boards on their first days! The second day waves were more forceful, but we all rode some, and I’m getting more comfortable being tumbled and feeling less afraid of the ocean.

Puro Surf El Salvador

I think the hotel vistas speak for themselves! Puro Surf is a sweet hideaway surrounded by black sand beaches and little hidden caves. They consciously collect rainwater from the thatched roof and use reusable straws/silverware for all of their drinks and dishes. The surf instructors are some of the best (and best-looking :P ) around!

Puro Surf El Salvador

On Sunday night, we went into the nearby town of El Tunco for drinks by the beach and to celebrate one of the retreater’s birthdays. It’s been a treat to get to know everyone who came from as close as LA and as far as Hong Kong and Australia.

We’re having an awesome time and the days are jam-packed and flying by! I’ll be sharing more adventures as the week goes on.

Monkey Lala El Tunco

We made it to El Salvador!

We made it to El Salvador this morning, and things are looking bright! I’m going to be here for the week teaching yoga on a retreat with Surf Sweat Serve. Today we’re finalizing the details of the itinerary, getting settled in, and eating lots of yummy fruit for second breakfast.

I’ve already seen chickens wandering in the road and a mid-day parade featuring fireworks, because what else would one expect in Central America? It’s the perfect mix of sun and clouds, humid (how I like it), and gorgeously green!

Puro Surf El Salvador

i can’t wait to see what surf lessons have in store for me!

Mysore Practice: Day Three

We're three days deep into Ashtanga yoga training. I still have mostly no idea what I'm doing, but I've managed to memorize the primary series up to Bhuja Pidasana, which is the one where you bend over, put your hands on the ground, shimmy your thighs way up high on your shoulders, then sit your butt on your triceps and cross your feet in front of you. Are you getting the picture? Intermittently, I stop to peek around the room just to see what everyone else is up to and make sure I'm keeping good track of time. I see legs folded into lotus posture, guys doing backwards somersaults, and women rocking themselves around the mat in a shape that looks like somewhere between a pretzel and a long-legged turtle that got turned on its back. What nonsense have I been wasting my time with for the past ten years?

Ganesha

If yoga is a metaphor for life, I am thankful for my ability to keep going when the view of progress is clouded and still laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. My friends who told me about this training share stories from their Mysore classes, which are famous for not using blocks or other props. “Your suffering is a prop!” one of their teachers screamed at them. “Don't flex your muscles,” cued our leader today, “Use the muscles to support the bones!!!” I'm hysterical and exhausted and she's teaching me to lift myself up on my hands and float my feet back, and I'm rolling my eyes at her because that is just not going to happen today.

It's all such a silly mind game. We feel the frustrations of not being able to unlock certain poses. We celebrate successes only to be knocked down by our areas of weakness. We eat burgers after class because we're not real dedicated Ashtangis so maybe that's why I'm not able to lift my hips/butt/feet into the air, then we rinse and repeat the next day. Something has kept us coming back. I see the beauty, too. I've been doing this practice for so long and it's never ceased to be amazingly interesting to me. I am grateful for the flow, the repetition, the finesse, and the way I've felt led to certain teachers or how a pose that I once found overwhelmingly challenging comes easily to me at the right time.

Yoga is “to attain what was previously unattainable”, says Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya, in the book I'm reading at the moment. I hope that that's true, I think, as I look around at everyone folded flat in Paschimottanasana or with their legs tucked neatly behind their heads. But outside of this room and this training that I was, perhaps, not wholly prepared for, I know that it is. Yoga has carried me across many state lines, transformed me from an atheist (or very agnostic at best) to a spiritual believer, and convinced me to do many things I was previously very afraid of doing. I've laughed, cried, sweated, struggled, but have never given up on the mat. I'm still here.

Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 4

The last morning of our trip came quickly, and we were already feeling nostalgic about having to return back to, sigh, regular life. Blah! My mom and I imagined out loud someday returning with my sister, since the three of us have always wanted to go together, yet we can never seem to get our schedules to align. My mom said maybe someday I could round up a group of girlfriends like she used to do. Apparently, if you visit with a group of friends, there is a way that the group organizer gets a free vacation out of the deal so, um, hi friends! ;) The last day was just a morning for my mom and a half day for me before I made my way back to the smoke scene of Los Angeles. Here’s what it was like:

6:15am Why are we getting up so early on vacation again?

7:00am We join the 50 minute speed and hill interval walk, which is enjoyable. We had considered taking an 8 mile scenic walk to check out a nearby canyon, but obviously that is a crazy amount to walk on a whim, so here’s a picture of it. You can imagine that we were there:

via

8:00am The last breakfast! I cry into my french toast and bowl of yummy fruit muesli.

9:00am My mom does a multitude of exercises while I attend acrylic painting class. The description doesn’t tell me much of what to expect, and I’m worried it will be like one of those paint and sip parties where everyone has to paint the same thing and it’s a cherry blossom or a bridge or something else that you don’t really care about. Then I’m nervous because we start really slowly, learning about color theory by blending different quantities white and black into a single color. This lesson actually improves my knowledge of making colors, and after that we can paint whatever we want. I totally copy one of the paintings I’ve seen hanging on the walls at the Ranch, and it comes out pretty nicely.

IMG_2558.jpg

11:00am My mom’s flight is a few hours before mine, so we eat an early lunch and more dessert bars at the outdoor cafe.

12:00-4:00pm We’re rushed to say goodbye, but we’re both glad to have had this week of bonding together. I stay for a few more hours, enjoying the sunny desert weather, taking another Zumba class, and treating myself to one last soak in the hot tub. Then it’s time to turn in my plushy robe and slippers and head for the airport.

Between Tucson and LAX, I rope myself into helping a couple of Guatemalan women locate and reunite with their relatives, so I feel like I have done my part to give back to society after taking a week of luxuriously selfish pampering. Goodbye Canyon Ranch! I hope we see each other again soon.

Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 3

Our last full day of fun! I’m not too sad because my regular life is a lot like life at The Ranch, and I’m sure my mom’s is, too. I was nervous to fly back to LA the next day in the midst of all the wildfire crises, but I am lucky enough not to live in the evacuation or danger zone. It feels extremely sad and scary to have a natural disaster hit so close to home. I feel guilty for not being in LA to endure the chaos, but thankful to be somewhere safe and flame-free.

Paella

6:15am We wake up early again. Today is a little easier because mom agreed to turn on the heat in the room last night, so it’s not quite so chilly as we crawl out of bed and out the door.

7:00am Another morning walk. We decide to join the 50 minute power group this time. It ends up being much like the normal paced 40 minute walk because a couple tagged along who didn’t know what they were getting into. I just like walking and being outside, and I don’t wear a watch, so I don’t mind either way.

9:00am Zumba!!! I love taking Zumba and I love that the instructors here give us belly dancing wraps with fancy silver coins hanging from them. We dance and dance and dance.

10:00am I take a yoga class on surfboards. The surfboards are indoors on platforms, so it feels a little silly, but I’m pretending to branch out and try new and different things while still doing what I do every day.

11:00am My mom and I take a TRX fusion class with straps that hang down from the ceiling and heavy kettlebells. I’m a little worried since we’ve already been working out for like 3 hours at this point and it’s marked on the schedule as a Very Difficult class, but we have a good time anyway. The instructor is entertaining, and I appreciate his enthusiasm although we stop giving full effort about halfway through the class.

12:00pm We return to lunch in the main restaurant. This time, there’s a pasta bar plus the usual lunchtime offerings. I again eat everything and end up feeling much too full after. I’m glad there is enough exercise around here to balance out all of the deliciousness.

2:00pm I meet with Leslie the psychic for a Tarot card reading. They really do have everything here! She tells me that I attract narcissistic partners (I’m a blindfolded woman surrounded by swords!) and that my near future will contain a wonderfully sunny period followed by the image of two people leaping from the windows of a burning tower. Things are looking good…

3:00pm I’m back in the room trying to write a book for National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been sticking to the daily word requirements, and I won’t let vacation knock me off track. I will end up getting knocked off track after vacation, but that’s another detail for another time.

4:00pm We make our daily visit to the spa for a quick dip. I bounce back and forth between the cold and hot tubs, and I think I could get used to this. The cold pool is very icy, but I can definitely feel a difference in my muscles the following day.

5:00pm It’s Spanish paella night! We’re excited so we get there too early and end up having some time to kill. We look around to find the “Live Ranch Music” and find that it’s an elderly man playing piano in the lobby. We run back to the room to grab our books to read on the couch by the fireplace. Someone requests that the pianist play “Thanksgiving Songs”, but isn’t sure if there are any or which ones he would like to hear.

6:00pm BINGO time! They’ve moved the game far away into one of the conference rooms, and we walk along the winding paths to get there. The adobe buildings all look similar so it’s easy to get lost here, at least for us, but there are usually signs and friendly employees to point you the right way. We have a nice time playing Bingo for prizes, but neither of us comes close to winning unlike the group of women behind us who each win 2 times in a row!

8:00pm We have to exit Bingo early to get our second round of massages. It’s not a huge loss because our cards are all duds, and getting an immediate massage is a much better prize anyway.

Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 1

In case you missed it, my mom took me to the most wonderful wellness retreat in Tuscon, Arizona a couple weeks ago, and I promised I would tell you more about it. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate my belated 30th birthday. I moved to LA about a month before my b-day, so I wasn’t ready to make any travel plans to close to the move date. Luckily, my mom is retired and her golf and tennis schedule allows for frequent vacations. And, if you didn’t already know, my yoga teaching schedule does too!

I learned about Canyon Ranch when I was younger, because my mom used to go with her girlfriends for a week every year. She would come back carrying logo-bearing tote bags and fancy water bottles and tell us about pampering spa treatments, so my sister and I have always been curious. Unfortunately, Elayne the vet was busy slaving away at her internship and couldn’t join us this time. Hopefully there will be a next time when the three of us can go together.

Before leaving, I knew that we were going to a nice, outdoorsy type of spa place, but I didn’t know what to expect. My mom had revealed that there would be yoga classes and healthy cooking demos, but that’s the extent of what I knew. I imagined a bunch of older, already pretty healthy women treating themselves to spa day. But during our 4-day relaxcation, I found that Canyon Ranch actually offers a lot more than spa services. I was pleased to find a more holistic approach to health— the classes range from cardio bootcamps to lectures on technology addiction or running on an underwater treadmill. There were people of all sizes and adult ages. People suffering from loss, mental illness, and addiction. Families celebrating together. Men and women on their own learning about self-care. There seemed to be something for anyone interested in improving their physical, emotional, and mental health or simply looking to recharge and reset the system.

Canyon Ranch yoga

Here’s a daily schedule of some things that we experienced:

Wednesday

11:00am I arrive after a quick up and down flight from LAX. Driver Dan picks me up at the airport with a sign that has my name on it. I feel very elite.

12:00pm I check into the resort and find my mom at the outdoor cafe. We split a tasty portion-controlled salmon burger and some desert bars. I learn that everything on the menu is all-inclusive, but it’s not a buffet, so you can really order one of everything on the menu if that’s your game.

1:00pm We’re early, so our rooms aren’t ready yet, which doesn’t bother us. We stop at a shoe shop in the hallway to talk to the foot specialist about my lingering foot problem (I have a bone spur on one of my heels). Before I even stand up out of the chair, she comments on my right foot collapsing inward. She watches me walk from 4 angles on a treadmill and has me step across a sensory pad. My mom and I both end up getting new running/walking shoes. Mine are meant to correct the way I’ve been compensating for the heel spur. This ends up being the most valuable life takeaway of the trip for me. I can run pain-free again!

3:00pm We take our first class— Yogilates. I realize that I miss the strength and slow control of Pilates; it was my gateway into yoga and my first teaching stint. I feel inspired to incorporate it more into my yoga classes.

4:00pm We stay for Yoga Vinyasa flow, even though I said I was going to branch out and try other forms of movement on this trip. Oh well. You can take the yogi off the mat, but you can’t put the yogi back into a room full of mats and expect them not to practice.

5:00pm We decide to skip meditation class, having just done two hours of controlled movement and breathing. We head to the room to check in and unpack.

5:30pm We visit the spa area and change into our bathing suits and plush robes. There’s a eucalyptus aromatherapy room, a regular steam room, a sauna, two hot tubs, a cold dipping pool, showers, a nude sunbathing area (maybe good for sunning the skin, but I’m with my mom, so come on…), and a room where you can apply masks and body scrubs. And if you lose your towel or robe there are about 600 other towels and robes available to you.

6:30pm Dinner time. I order almost everything, and it is all delicious.

8:30pm My mom made us facial appointments. What a treat! I would pay a lot of money just to lie down on the facial bed again because the way it is sloped and padded makes me the most comfortable I’ve ever been. Usually I would change someone’s name if I’m going to talk about them, but Euvgenia, my Eastern European facialist, has the most amazing presence and facial skills. Seek her out! Afterwards I visit the restroom where all the walls and ceilings are mirrors and there is a hanging chandelier. I can’t tell if I’m just extremely relaxed or I’ve been transported into a Las Vegas drug-induced experience. 10 out of 10 either way.

10:00pm Easy bed time.