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CR 020614pm 002“When the body takes a new position, resistance is the first response. Relax as much as you can in the pose without losing the shape of the pose.”
~ Jacquie Hansen*, my yoga instructor at Rancho Margot in Costa Rica

A yoga class in Costa Rica: rain is falling steadily on the platform roof. There are no walls so we can both watch the downpour and hear the rushing river below. Birds sing and pop in to see how class is going. Occasionally, a lizard darts across the floor. Often, there are mosquitoes.

After some standing postures, we transition down onto our mats. Jacquie moves us into a simple twisting pose with knees falling to the side. Oh yeah, I thought, I know this pose. I’ve done it a thousand times. But with Jacquie, we did it s-l-o-w-l-y and we held it for a long time. No rush to the final expression, just hang out and pay attention. The first thing I notice is that I am holding my breath. The second thing I notice is that the muscles in my hips and low back are holding on for all they are worth.

“Just stay with the pose and keep relaxing, while staying in the pose,” encourages Jacquie. “How much can you relax and also hold the shape?”

I let go of my jaw and slow my breath. As I do, I can feel a small unwinding in my top hip. I take another breath and feel my low back unfurl just a little. I find it fascinating to observe the microadjustments in breath and body — catch and release, shallow then deep, tense, let go.  I also observe my skiddering mind hustle around to assess everything, then rest, then poke its head up to check in again.

“Relax as much as you can in the pose without losing the shape of the pose.”

Relaxing can be seen as something I do when I’m not doing anything else. Floating in a pool. Watching TV. Swinging in a hammock. And for sure, we can relax while doing those things, but somehow I think Americans think that’s the only time we can relax. Mindful practice shows us that we can relax into everything – even if it’s intense or strenuous. Chopping wood. Running a half marathon. Having a difficult conversation with your child.  Dancing all out.

In Jacquie’s class, I love the yogic experience: the union of my body and mind, the connection between what I am consciously choosing, what I am noticing, and what my body is doing on its own. It reminds me of the Nia concept of dynamic ease: using just the amount of energy needed for any movement – no more and no less. It reminds me of Leela in a yoga class years ago saying, “Take it easy, but don’t be lazy.” It reminds me of Amy in yoga class last week saying, “Try easy.” It also reminds me that we can do this in any activity, any situation, and in our lives as a whole. Relax, but stay in it.

Relax as much as you can while retaining the shape of what you’re doing. Relax as the axe swings over your head. Relax as your feet steadily strike the street. Relax as you listen to your struggling kid (even to the hard bits) and soften your eyes (even if you’re angry).  Relax as you dance with your whole self.

What can you do in any moment, in this moment, to relax more while staying fully engaged in what you are doing? You might be surprised at what tenses over and over and at what unwinds and lets go.

* Jacquie teaches yoga in Seattle, so if you’re in that neck of the woods, go take a class with her! http://www.every-bodiesyoga.massageplanet.com/

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CR 021714 012In English, the typical response to “Thank you” is “You’re Welcome.”
In Spanish, “Gracias” usually gets “De nada.
De nada means, “It’s nothing.”

In Costa Rica, the response to “Gracias” is “Con gusto. Con mucho gusto.
With pleasure. With much pleasure.

Every time I heard it I remembered: I can choose pleasure. I can choose to do whatever I’m doing, even if I’ve done it a thousand times before, with great pleasure.

Often I focus on what is not working, what does not feel good.
Imagine choosing to focus on pleasure instead.

CR 021214 008Not to put to fine a point on it, but my Spanish sucks. I’ve listened to tapes. I’ve taken a community college class. I use my dictionary. But in the heat of the moment, I forget the word for breakfast and if aqua is masculine or feminine. I regularly use the wrong verb ending, which results in odd questions like “Do I have salads?” I spend five minutes constructing a question, but somehow forget that if I ask a question in Spanish, they will respond in Spanish! At which point I get the deer-in-the-headlights look, panic, and hope like hell Frank understood what they said.

The one word that I use consistently and with great success is gracias – thank you. When I’m traveling in a Spanish-speaking country, I use it a hundred times a day. Most everybody is patient and helpful as I garble their language while asking for more towels or hot water for my tea or when the bus leaves. For that, I am sincerely grateful. So I say gracias. All. The. Time.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve traveled in Mexico, to the Sacred Valley of Peru and to Guatemala. In all of those countries, whenever I said “Gracias,” people always said, “De nada” in return. The most common expression of “you’re welcome” in Spanish, de nada literally means “it’s nothing.” In Costa Rica, however, it was different. For the past month, every single time I said gracias, the response was always, con gusto. Con mucho gusto.

With pleasure. With much pleasure.

I loved it every time I heard it. Instead of a nearly dismissive response – it’s nothing — it felt completely different to receive the warmth and connection of “with much pleasure.”

What if this was the way we moved through our days? Through everything we do? In every interaction? What if we choose to do it all with pleasure, with great pleasure?

Returning home after a long time away, my life feels a little like an old pair of jeans found in the bottom of my drawer. Putting them on feels paradoxically both familiar and new. I’m taking the opportunity in the daily routine of my life, to practice doing things with great pleasure. Folding laundry. Driving the car. Chopping peppers. Hugging friends.

How would your day be different if you allow even the most mundane tasks that you’ve done a thousand times to be done with pleasure, with much pleasure?

Instead of my habitual “You’re welcome,” my intention is to say “with pleasure” in response to any thank yous that come my way. Unless I panic and forget the words. Which could happen. Even in English.

CR022314 004Time is a funny thing.  A sometimes slippery, sometimes sluggish thing.  On one level, time is what our lives are made of.  Time is what allows me to experience my life unfolding, moving, happening, changing.

Intellectually, I know that time is rigid and crisply measured:  60 seconds is 60 seconds, an hour is an hour, a day is a day.  And yet, I have a strange, fluid, ever-shifting direct experience of time.

When we planned our month-long Costa Rica adventure in June last year, it seemed so far in the future, it was almost as if it would never come.  But of course, it did.  Once we left, when we gazed out at a whole month away, it seemed almost like it would never be over.  But of course, now it nearly is.

I am doing my best to savor our time here.  To be present for this precious, delicious time together in a beautiful foreign place.  There are so many things that I am longing for at home:  my favorite breakfast, teaching Nia, taking yoga, all my people and my cat (just to name a few).  Yet, I find myself in the funny human place of resisting time’s passing.  Resisting letting go of the things I love here.  Of course I know this is silly.  Of course I do.

The slight heaviness and tightness in my heart remains.  Silly as it may be.

CR022214 004Today was a day filled with adventure and serendipity and wet activities (therefore another lazy one for the camera).  We are in the last few days of our month-long exploration experiment. I feel torn between sadness that this experience is almost over and excitement about getting back to my Nia and yoga practices, about getting back to my teachers and students, all my people, and getting back to the life that I love in Charlottesville.  While we’ve traveled, I’ve done some yoga and danced some Nia, and practiced some meditation and mindfulness, but not like when I’m at home.  A day like today reminds me that my practices are always with me, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

In the morning, we took the long hike from our hotel to the farthest end of the public beach — next to a busy road, then down a steep slippery path, then all along the beach.  Half-way down the trail, we noticed movement in the trees and saw a troop of howler monkeys, the only Costa Rican species we hadn’t seen yet.  There were a couple of juveniles who wanted to ride on their moms but the moms kept plunking them back on the branches and letting them go on their own.

At the beach, we playedplayedplayed in the waves and watched some beach soccer and cheered parasailers llifting off from the sand and drank coconut water right out of the durn coconut.

Last night, we took the public bus to nearby Quepos to see their weekly farmer’s market.  On the way there, we met Nick and Kristin who are both rafting guides.  They not only helped us find the market but they suggested that we raft the Churro (or “chute”) section of the Naranjo River.  It is a narrow river that runs down a canyon of rock and the water is low now since this is the height of a dry dry season but they said the river and the forest is beautiful and worth the trip.  So this afternoon, we had a big rafting outing.  Nick and Kristin were so right:  the forest was lush and vibrant, the canyon was sculpted stone, and the river rushed cool and clean and blue.  There was much squealing and laughter.

It was a wonderful day.  And it reminded me to take one step at a time, to be open and see what happens next, to expand my awareness to experience with all my senses, and to relax to enjoy it all.

Our first day in Manuel Antonio and it is a completely different feel than what we’ve experienced so far.  First, it’s hot and dry.  Really hot.  The bathing suits and sundresses (mine, not Frank’s) and sandals that have been buried in our backpacks, we’re now happy to have.

The place has the feel of many beach destinations:  a combination of lazy and laid back with a strong line of party hardy and some high pressure scam artists sprinkled on top.  We took the public bus to Manuel Antonio National Park and were a little disappointed to hear that many of the trails and beaches were closed due to some recent storms. 

But for a disappointing day, it wasn’t bad.  We hiked the trails that were available on which we saw monkeys and lots of lizards and agouti.

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After a relatively short hike in the heat, I was very sweaty.

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We spent the rest of the day relaxing, swimming, following lizards and hermit crabs around, shooing away monkeys and actually chasing raccoon-like things.  One of which got away with a gluten-free granola bar.  I hope she appreciated it.

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It was beautiful.

Today was a travel day from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio*, so the camera was packed.  So just couple of thoughts on things I take for granted at home…and do not here.

1.  Roads – Many roads are unpaved, dusty, rutted, bumpy, steep, and otherwise, well, not like our roads in the US.  Also sidewalks.  Today I hopped into a drainage ditch to let a truck pass by. *Manuel Antonio was not on our original itinerary, but when we realized how time consuming and tiring it is to travel, we rearranged our plans so we would be on the roads less.

2.  Plumbing and electrical — Even at nice hotels and homes, there are pipes laid higgledy piggeldy, and sometimes the hot is on the right and sometimes the hot is on the left (which is even more confusing what with the “F” for cold and the “C” for hot) and sometimes it is a shower dance of scald and freeze.  Septic systems are so fragile that no paper can go into them (try breaking THAT habit, my darlings).  Similarly with wires hanging out all over the place.  Lights are often oddly placed and sketchy in terms of the actual illumination they offer.

3.  Grocery stores — The selection and prices that we get in our food stores in the US is stunning.  Truly.  Think of the worst grocery store in your area and for sure it offers ten fold what the average store here has to sell (and the stores aren’t really too bad here compared to other places in the world).  I think part of this may have to do with the infrastructure (see #1) but whatever the reason, it is so.

So as you go through your day today — driving to work or to the store to pick up a few things, brushing your teeth, taking a trip to the loo, showering without dancing around to get out of the water — know that you’ve got it purty sweet.

 

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