Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico

This was my first time out of the country and my first yoga retreat, so it was an amazing adventure, to say the least.

Yoga Journal Conference Midwest

Dharma Mittra, Seane Corn, Aadil Pakhilivala, Maty Ezraty, Jim Bennitt... Need I say more?

Sunday, January 22

The Lotus Pond | Carollwood, FL

LOCATION: Who knew when I was driving down the street, only a few turns away from my starting point... I'd end up in a wooded area, with a dirt road leading back to a log cabin (and lots of free parking)!?! I do have to say, at the major intersection just before arriving at my destination there was a bench with advertising on it that Lotus Pond scooped up and used as signage, saying to turn at the next stree... with the word YOGA big enough to see from far away. Smart, smart, smart! 
COST: $15—cash & credit card—not sure about checks
STUDIO:  I'm so glad I opted for a class at their Carollwood location, because this is their retreat center for classes, teacher trainings, and workshops. As you can see from the pictures, it's the gorgeous log cabin tucked back in the woods in the middle of suburbia—you'd never know wandering around the grounds or during your class. When you enter (after you kick off you shoes on the front porch) there's a small entrance (stairs up to the right that lead to... I dunno? #curious) with a check-in counter and ayurveda supplies (from what I can tell there's a ayurveda practitioner there with a small room located under the stairs (note to self: review that some day). And I remembered! The bathrooms were to the back, left—for women, I don't know about guys... I assume maybe back right? It was big enough for changing with possibly a couple toilets, definitely one, and a sink. To the direct back was another studio (where teacher training was going on). Our class was moved to the front left room (right before the check-in counter) due to the teacher training. So I believe we ended up in a smaller room—we somehow packed 30 people into it. If you read my first review in Tampa—I mentioned that yoga always manages to fit one more yoga mat in... well, I was proven right today as I watched us all pile in and somehow still comfortably do yoga with a few modifications. There were fans and windows, which we started/opened right away because we knew the heat would rise quickly with this large group. Props were supplied, including mats. 

CLASS DESCRIPTION: Hatha—The most widely practiced form of yoga in America, it is the branch of yoga which concentrates on physical health and mental well-being. Hatha yoga uses bodily postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana) with the goal of bringing about a sound, healthy body and a clear, peaceful mind. There are nearly 200 hatha yoga postures, with hundreds of variations, which work to make the spin supple and to promote circulation in all the organs, glands, and tissues. Hatha yoga postures also stretch and align the body, promoting balance and flexibility. 
INSTRUCTOR: Shari Feldman is a certified yoga instructor who has studied yoga for nearly 15 years, receiving her certification as a Hatha Yoga Instructor in 2009. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as an experienced teacher at the 200 hour level, and is always seeking ways to expand her yoga experience and knowledge. Outside the realm of yoga, Shari's professional background is as an Anthropologist. She combines her profound understanding of human behavior and culture with her intuition and sensitivity to a subtle energetic level. She approaches each student and group as a unique entity, carefully tailoring each practice to suit that particular moment. Her belief is that every person is born a yogi, and the practice of the yoga postures allows us to uncover the pathway back to our yogi-spirit. She believes that by integrating yoga into our lives, we embark on a transformation of body, mind, and spirit; depending on what the individual student wants or needs in his/her own life. 
CONTACT: The Lotus Pond

Well, once the room was packed in tight—she comforted everyone with awareness of heat and space as a new experience... not a bad experience. Shari normally doesn't teach this class, so she also made her best effort to make the group comfortable without morphing into the other teach they're use to. She was very present walking in and throughout the whole class, being as I wasn't aware of what was "normal"—I definitely picked up on the change of tone based on her concerns for her students. It was a kind effort that was well-received, from what I could tell. We started laying back (with the reminder that this wasn't a time to release the mind, but to actually bring it into the present), focusing on our breathing for some time. And I feel like we spent more than the first third on the mat to warm up. It was a nice extended period that I always enjoy, even as she challenged our core muscles with some yogi crunches and water wheel motions. 

Once we were up off the mat, Shari didn't slow us down one bit with holding poses that targeted some nice hip opening postures by holding them longer than usual. Which also nicely activates the core (as do most poses, right?). I could tell, because I'm still sore from my Swing Yoga class—which I love that feeling. There wasn't much direction in how to hold the pose, short of the direction to face your hips—she did say remind us to activate the core, which I often need the reminder, so I appreciated it. 

After probably an hour and fifteen minutes were up (of the hour and half class), Shari realized we had gone a bit late... so she worked us back to the mat. With plenty of time to still let go in Savasana, we were reminded of our breath once again. When she brought us back to sitting she read a poem from Mala of the Heart—I'd love to share it with you, but can't seem to find the poem specifically from it. It was relating the subtle kindness of animals in nature. It was quite lovely. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fun connection between the three of my classes this vacation—the first two having training or currently teaching in Asheville, NC (#mustgo), and Shari in this class... her bio I pulled from the Yogani website, where I had class yesterday. Love it! Definitely enjoyed my time with Shari and at this beautiful location—namaste, Shari and The Lotus Pond! 

Michael Johnson Workshop | Yogani | Tampa, FL

LOCATION: Easy drive into downtown Tampa once again—in one of my favorite locations, SOHO. I literally turned down the final street and there it was —great signage, near the street, easy to see. I learned from yesterday and looked up to see if they have free parking. Their contact page says in the back, but there were a few spots in the front—I grabbed one of those and didn't get towed (sweet!). There was the Gasparilla Children's Parade going on today, so they had extra signage (I saw when I was leaving) to direct yogis to free parking, which was very kind of them.
COST: $45—This is a workshop, so I paid online last week to save my spot. They had a beautiful set up that appeared to take credit cards. I assume cash is ok, not sure about checks. This was a full weekend of workshops with Michael, so I believe there was a discount if you signed up for multiple classes. 
STUDIO:  Yogani's space is HUGE! Grrr, I just realized I forgot to check out bathrooms again—to see how convenient it is for people to change. I decided I needed to add that information to the mix, because I normally show up in yoga clothes. But yesterday three ladies showed up in street clothes and changed in the back room—which made me wonder how the changing rooms were, was there enough space for three ladies back there, what's the bathroom like? You know, standard information to help you know the space better when you arrive—less confusion gives you more time to focus on yoga, right? So... sorry, I promise to do this in the future. I have another place to check out tomorrow, let's see if I remember! Anyway, back to the space: Huge entrance/foyer where the bathrooms are located, opens up to the check-in space with cubbies for your personal belongings, a yoga store, informational table, and check-in/register. To the right there were two practice spaces—the lunar room and the solar room (our workshop was in the lunar room), and I believe there were more spaces to the right and back. Amazing! When I walked in one of the instructors was talking to a yogi about their Bikram classes—but they seem to offer all sorts of yoga—best to check out their class descriptions. The lunar room was a large studio (with all props included, minus mats), the back wall was all mirrors (which, for me, was a great option since I'm not a fan of mirrors—but some are, so during a class they could still turn around to see their alignment... or say hello to themselves in a forward fold... ok, I may have done that—what?), there was something interesting happening around the edges with curtains, but they were pulled up—not sure what was going on there, in the center were different lanterns, and one side of the room had windows with shades on them to soften the sunshine coming in. The walls are all painted neutral—it was really a clean—but not sterile in the sense you still felt like it was home-y—and serene surroundings. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Compassion Meditation & Yin Yoga: Meditation is an essential key to happiness. In this relaxing workshop we will discuss some scientific studies that demonstrate how people who meditate 30 minutes a day not only live longer and get sick less often, but report having healthier relationships and a higher quality of life. We will also combine compassion meditation with yin yoga, which is a gentle method that targets connective tissues and the hidden rivers of energy that flow throughout our subtle body and mind. 
INSTRUCTOR: Michael Johnson: Since he can remember, Michael's parents were his first and perfect Teachers in this life. In a way, everyone he meets continues to teach him perfectly by being examples of both how and how not to live. Among the many teachers who continue to teach him, he has learned from Sri Swami Satchidananda, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Sharon Gannon, David Life, Geshe Michael Roach, Lama Christie McNally, Lama Marut, Kimberley Theresa, and his beloved partner, Stephanie.

It is his honor, privilege, and hope to return the kindness that so many people have bestowed upon him, by teaching the highest practices of Yoga to all levels of practitioners... responsibly, joyfully, and in a way that will help others achieve their goals in this life and beyond. 
CONTACT: Clearlight

Part of the Happiness is a Skill series of workshops (Vinyasa Krama, Compassion Meditation & Yin Yoga, and two Jivamukti Yoga classes), I am so very grateful for the opportunity to take one of the workshops: Compassion Meditation & Yin Yoga. If I wasn't in Florida to spend time with my mother (which has been great, by the way)—I would have gone to all these classes. Michael was a breath of fresh air, to say the least.

It's another workshop where as I  describe the poses and timeline of what we did—it all reads silly. It was more about the community that forms in these spaces, the experience we're all sharing, the quality time spent with each other and such an amazing teacher who is kind enough to share his knowledge with us. But I'll attempt to bring you the story of our class, versus the facts.

Michael started with a little background on Compassion Meditation—defining compassion and how it is scientifically tangible thanks to our neurotransmitters (I know, we were getting all sorts of schooling, which I love). Because of that communication we get immune system boosts, better brain functions (decisions), and basically a better grasp on reality—as I see it—happiness. I did not know this... there are 100 million neurons in the small intestine. So when you have a "gut instinct"—there's a reason for it, your second brain is communicating with your first brain... and hopefully they're in agreement. If not... I suppose you barf. And that's sad.

There were and order to which you focus during this type of meditation:

  • establish a sense of compassion with yourself 
  • organically take that same feeling and show it towards the people you already love 
  • then work out to people who you don't know—complete strangers 
  • then to people you do know... but upset you (as he put it, your Holy Teachers in life)
  • then to all at the same time

Michael said something along the lines at the end of class—when he was reviewing these five focuses to retraining the brain—thousands of years ago our ancestors would hear a noise in the brush and either get the heck out of there (survive) or not think anything of it (not survive). As a result we instantly take on paranoia in most situations. Or as what I'm constantly challenging myself not to do—assuming the worst in a situation. Then he said, "Why can't we treat every single person as if their our family? I mean, if you want to be literal, they are... at some point we have the same relative, if we go back far enough." It's definitely made me rethink how I interact with strangers, even more than normal.

For our Yin Yoga we did only a handful of (gentle) poses, but we held them anywhere from 5-8 minutes.

  • Butterfly (Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose) for five minutes
  • Knees to Chest (Apanasana)—rock your knees back and forth—Michael called this hammock pose—for a few minutes to recover from the last pose 
  • Pigeon Pose, on each side (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) for five minutes 
  • Windshield wipers for recovery from last pose—keep your feet on the floor though, no need to twist all the way over from side to side—you're just loosening up the hips. 
  • Reclining Big Toe, on each side (Supta Padangusthasana)—straight up for five minutes, then open it out to its side for 40 seconds, then cross it over the other side for 40 seconds (keeping your hips connected to the ground)
  • Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) for eight minutes—as Michael said, "I call this the Stairway to Heaven pose... and happen to know the perfect song that lasts for eight minutes." He walked around and tucked our blankets around our feet like a big sock—functioning the same as if you'd bind yourself with your strap, to keep the legs from falling apart. I have to add, this pose is regularly (as it was today) noted as one of the most beneficial poses for your body. 

Did I mention he would play guitar and sing to us while we held the poses? Oh I didn't? <smirk> What a talented man—I can't tell you how therapuetic it is to have live music going on while you relax your body into a pose. Complete bliss. And when he wasn't singing beautiful music, Michael would talk to us about different research results or ancient text or fascinating stories revolving around compassion. It was so inspiring. And we hold these poses for this long, because we're not relaxing the muscle (though we need that to happen first)—we're relaxing the fascia or connective tissue throughout the body.

One study—which I hope to find in one of the books he recommended to me after class (I had to read more of what he was telling us—I respond strongly to reading... I'm Ovo-Vegetarian thanks to The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. These books may be just what I need to get off my lazy brain and do some meditation!)—what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the study I wrote down, because I liked it so much. There is research going on about heart communication. If you are within 10 feet radius of someone else... your hearts are communicating. Think quantum mechanics—as in ripples. Ok, how often do we just think in terms of quantum mechanics, sorry, lol. Actually I was watching this amazing series with my Uncle (hi Steve!) over the holidays called Through the Wormhole (may have to own this one). It talked a lot about how if quantum physics current studies are true—we basically need to throw out all science we grew up learning out the window. Insane. I'm all over the place today—sorry. So! We communicate through waves. It's like the other story he told: If you take a bunch of grandfather clocks and set their pendulums to rock at different times... in a short time, those that are close to one another will adjust and swing with one another. Ladies, you may be familiar with this when you have a group get together for a long period of time and your cycles all start to match up. This sort of communication happens with our hearts too. What an amazing way to connect with someone and not even know it. And if you spend quality time with someone... eventually your heart pendulums will sync up. Which makes my heart pendulum smile.

Another great tidbit he left passed on to us—was the class Tal Ben Shahar teaches at Harvard. Apparently the most popular class taught at Harvard in all its history. It's a positivity class, and there is a top five to being happy (easy, right?):

  1. Accept Pain—it's going to happen, there's no avoiding it 
  2. Stop Texting People When You're Having Dinner with Your Friends—aka, spend quality time with the people you interact with each day 
  3. Thirty Minutes of Exercise Everyday—mental and physical 
  4. Practice Gratitude
  5. Do Less

I'll leave you with that—because that alone is an amazing lesson. If you have the opportunity to spend time with Michael Johnson, I highly recommend you take it. He oozes genuine kindness—enjoying his connection with every person he interacts with. It's incredible to watch. I had to chat with him after class, because I wanted to ask about these readings he was referencing. I, of course, dorked out... it's like talking to your favorite band after you watched them play. Just a nervous energy that makes me say stupid things... or not even think to just be normal and introduce myself. <blush> But he didn't miss a beat—asked my name, gave me the name of the books to read (first two in the list below, the others he mentioned during class), and wished me safe travels. Thank you Michael, namaste

People/Books Mentioned: 

Saturday, January 21

Yoga Downtown Tampa | Tampa, FL

Hello travel + yoga—I've missed you both so.

LOCATION: And GPS—I miss GPS too (mine broke, and I borrowed my mom's to get to yoga). This was an easy drive to downtown around the lunch hour (and this is the start of Gasparilla to boot). I just got off at the exit, took an immediate left and parked. I paid for street parking, but once I went in I realized they have a lot in the back—I guess you grab one of their business cards and place it on your dashboard so the owner knows you're taking a class at the studio.
COST: $12.50—they take cash, check & credit cards (all but Amex)
STUDIO:  I had the opportunity to take a few pictures—a small space with great design and they packed in 10 set-ups for Swing Yoga, which was the perfect amount of space for each yogi. The entrance was bright with big windows—and the practice space was calm and urban. 

CLASS DESCRIPTION: Flying Asana/Swing Yoga—Take your practice on and off the mat. We won't be swinging from the rafters, we will be using the yoga swing to get deeper into postures, increase balance and strength, and to pattern inversion. Everyone is saying it's nothing like what they expected... It's lots more fun! Of course just like our Swing Core Class, savasana is the best you've ever experienced, as you hang weightless in your personal cocoon. Please have a nutritious snack a half hour before class. We recommend a granola bar, banana, or peanut butter. Bring your mat and a towel—or we have mats for rent for $1. 
INSTRUCTOR: Francine Messano is the founder of Tampa's first urban yoga studio, yoga Downtown Tampa. With a Masters in Architecture and intense study into the practice of yoga, her devotion to design, urban life, and yoga led to the opening of the studio. It has enabled her to bring the benefits of yoga to those who live and work in downtown in a creative and unique setting. She is dedicated to improving both the quality of life of those who practice at the studio and the vibrancy of downtown. Yes. She likes hanging upside down.
CONTACT: Yoga Downtown Tampa

First off—Laura—where ever you are/whoever you are—thank you for not showing up to class today. It allowed me the chance to check out this studio. I should have known better than to do a drop-in on a Swing Yoga class, because unlike traditional yoga where you can always fit one more yoga mat in... there are only so many swings set up. So! Thank you, again, for hopefully taking time to do other kind things for yourself, I really appreciate it. 

I checked out swing yoga before, in Chicago at I.D. gym, and I loved it. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to get back to this practice and play some more. The music wasn't traditional yoga music—but modern picks by the instructor (that she'd charmingly sing to every once in a while). Being that this class is a little more intense, the music seemed appropriate—but when it came to savasana I would still opt for the new age-y chanting gongs sounds o' nature music (I think it's track 7, lol)... Especially while you float freely in your blue, silk cocoon. <bliss!> 

We did a nice warm up, including the wrists for  longer than usual, and now I know why. This class focused more on arms than the last class I did—starting with some plank work and crunches. Once we switched up to more standing work we also had to depend on our arms to hold us up as we did (or as I attempted) crunches again. We did some stretches once we were standing—folding into one leg at a time and what I would say is some great prep work for splits. There was the opportunity to go into Svarga Dvidasana (Bird of Paradise) from a different position using the swing—I always like new ways to enter a pose—it's good for my brain, more than anything—having to rethink how my body can work. 

There were quite a few of us that were new to this class, so we did some modified flips into inversions and then watched a few other girls do more challenging poses. So exciting to witness someone else do the work I will be able to do in the future—helps for seeing myself there. Honestly, you should go to my last review of fly yoga—to get pictures and detailed descriptions of this type of yoga. These classes were very similar in poses. As for this location to check out a new class—yes! Francine was a wonderful instructor (who leaves tomorrow for some aerial silk rope training in NY, so exciting—happy and safe travels Francine!), the space is quaint and comfortable for a new experience, it veers towards a gym sort of personality in the sense that we didn't open up with chanting om or any sort of meditation... the closest we got to those pieces of yoga was a simple namaste from and to the instructor at the end. 

I'll continue to dream of/wish for fly yoga classes in Champaign-Urbana—it would be fantastic to have this in the mix of my classes each week to really push my strength forward. I believe I said this in the last fly yoga review, but definitely worth repeating—this doesn't replace traditional asana in any way, but definitely compliments it. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me—I'll have two more reviews coming up for you while I'm visiting in Tampa. So grateful to be traveling and reviewing this weekend! *heart*