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?

Monday, July 9

Sangha Yoga | Kalamazoo, MI

I'm pretty excited for today's review, because it's with my partner in crime (in this class and in life), Jafe—and his first class too! I'm curious to hear his perspective.

LOCATION: The crazy thing about SW Michigan is every street is named Business 94 or Michigan Ave. For some reason Waze couldn't figure out the location I was looking for, so we went to google maps for directions. We somehow ended up on the wrong street, and didn't realize it til we parked. So we did another google map search and walked our way to class. Once we found ourselves on the right street the signage to get to the studio was great. We were late, but so were 4-5 other people, so we were able to sneak in with everyone after the starting meditation (which I was pretty disappointed Jafe missed, but hopefully there will be another class together). Parking is free in Kalamazoo from Fridays at 5pm thru Mondays at 8am, which is pretty great, in my opinion. 
STUDIO: The studio is inside a mall, and check-in was the store front, so to speak. We could kick off our shoes and leave our belongings there. I did it, but wasn't too comfortable with it as it was open to the mall—even if the woman checking us in stayed there the whole time. Since this was a community class we could pay what we like in cash—their normal drop-in fee is $16 (which is what you had to pay if you used your credit card). Once in the classroom (it was packed!!) we grabbed a mat for Jafe and our props (no rental fee), and were grateful to the two guys up front for making room for us. The walls were chocolate brown with the same fabric on the ceiling as the studio I went to the day before (Flow Yoga). There were windows to the side street and entrance of the mall, but they were covered in white fabric... which created a nice glow in the room. The instructor set up at the front on a circular yoga mat, behind her was a small shelf of candles and a statue, I believe. There was a bathroom, but only one and a line to use it after class, so I didn't get a chance to check it out, sorry. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Sangha means community. Community Classes are taught by rotating certified instructors within the Kalamazoo area. Community Classes give students an opportunity to be introduced to new teachers and styles of yoga. Open level, 1-2.
INSTRUCTOR: Ann M. Beattie, RYT discovered yoga at the age of 12 while watching Lilias Folan on TV. When Ann moved to Texas in her 20s, she found her spiritual teacher in Gurubachan Singh Khalsa. She studied Kundalini Yoga for 10 years and taught under his guidance. Upon moving to Kalamazoo in 2000, Ann studied Yoga Fit and began teaching hath a yoga at various gyms and fitness centers. Ann completed her 200 hours RYT training with Karina Ayn Mirsky at Sangha Yoga in 2009. This imbued Ann with new dedication and enthusiasm for her practice and for sharing her knowledge with her students. She continues to study with Karina Ayn and has participated in workshops by Chandra Easton and Gary Kraftsow. Ann believes that with yoga, there is the potential to experience your true self, and she feels honored to be able to help guide her students as they deepen their own self knowledge. 
CONTACT: Sangha Yoga

*Written by Jafe, Anni's comments in italic*

Finally, I made it to my first yoga class ever and it was long overdue. Anni has been telling me to try yoga for a while now to help with some of the aches and pains that come with being me (as did your physical therapist, for the record). Like many people, my lower back tends to give me trouble, but I aggravate other body parts as well. Most of these aches come from playing rugby, where players are never a 100% healthy and a common question asked is, "are you hurt or are you injured?" The answer to this question determines whether you keep playing or go to the sideline/hospital. Thus far (knock on wood), I have only been hurt but have acquired my share of aches. Enough about me and back to the class at hand.

We were in Kalamazoo, MI for a weekend trip and on the night prior to the class indulged in the local nightlife (I shake my fist at you, Old Style). This was not the best preparation for my first yoga experience, but we were on vacation and "when in Rome..." I found the class to be rewarding and well suited for a beginner. Even though Anni has described classes to me many times, I did not give it much thought before we were in the studio—short of being a little worried that I would be unable to participate in some of the poses (I am not often described as limber). However, the movements and poses were not overly complex, and I could do everything instructed, though not as well as anyone else. We spent a fair amount of time warming up the body at the beginning of class with stretches similar to those from other sports I have played. We did some poses, most of which Anni had shown me before (mostly it was back work & table top work—to keep us cool. Once in standing positions we stuck to Warrior I, eagle arms, and a wide-leg forward fold. There were a few twists throughout, it was pretty low-key), and ended with the cool down (sivasana for me, nap for Jafe). This class may not have been as rewarding for someone with experience or looking for a serious practice (it's always good, for me, to slow down and go back to basics—so I wouldn't complain), but for a beginner who had a late night, it was just right.

The instructor created a soothing atmosphere. Everyone in the class was focused on their own practice which allowed a certain anonymity that made it easy to maintain focus (you did say, you liked that we were instructed to close our eyes a lot.. made it easier to pay attention to your own work. I totally agree). What I liked the most about the class was the silence. The yoga and the studio itself created a cleansing space where I could relax and clear my head. I cannot help but think of it like a palette cleansing for your day, like eating a piece of ginger after sushi. I know this is not the most romantic analogy, but it is one that I can relate to (um, big fan of that analogy). My only complaint was that the room was crowded and it would have helped if I could spread out more, but I hear Saturday morning classes are popular. Since this was my first class I have nothing to compare it to, but I found the experience rewarding and hope to try again.

Did it help that there were guys in the classroom, or would you have thought nothing of it? 
It did help that there were guys in the class room. It helped at the beginning at least, it wouldn't have mattered after a little while. Plus they scooted over us, so there you go. The girls didn't move at all, they just threw rocks at us. What?! I'm totally putting that in here. 

Was it ok doing yoga next to me? Would you prefer to have gone on your own?
It was alright doing it next to you, I had no beef. I would have preferred if we weren't hitting each other, a little more space would have been good. (I must have made some sort of face) You wouldn't like more space? I don't like it that crowded, it's why I normally don't go on Saturdays—tooooo busy.

We chanted nine OMs to end the class... that's a lot of OMs. What did you think of it?
I didn't mind it. I don't know if I completely understand the OMs, I guess to bring everyone together? Do you know why? Hayli has mentioned briefly the healing effects of vibrations in the body (referencing the gong bath class Living Yoga Center hosted recently), but good question... let's look it up. I'm not sure if this is the best explanation from Daily Om (this link is to the full article if you want to read more)—so please, other yogis, if you want to explain or provide links in the comments, I fully welcome it.     
Within each human being lies the power to affect change through the power of a chant, the spoken words, or even a gentle whisper. The body's chakras or energy centers, so closely intertwined with their corresponding regions of the body, can be represented in sound, which parallels the energy pattern of the chakras and is symbolic of their essences. These unique sounds are the bija, or seed, mantras. The mantras are the one-syllable seed sounds that, when said aloud, activate the energy of the chakras in order to purify and balance the mind and body. When you speak the bija mantras, you resonate with the energy of the associated chakra, helping you focus upon your own instinctive awareness of your body and its needs. OM is the most renowned and expansive of the bija mantras. It is the mantra of assent and the form of creation, causing energy to surge upward and outward. 
What would you tell others (like a rugby player) out there considering their first yoga class?
It's a nice stretch, good core strengthening, and the spiritual part of it you can get what you want out of it... It's mandatory for the US rugby team, as part of their training, so that says something.

Thanks for going to class with me, baby, it was awesome having you there and your perspective is definitely refreshing. I can't wait to check out another studio with you. 

I have to also add, as it's completely in tune with the current NEOI collaboration with Duck Duck Goose—as we were leaving a car drove by and stopped... I assumed the couple was going to ask us directions, but she said, "Because you just left yoga together, here!" and passed a bouquet of flowers (to her boyfriend who then passed them) to us. It was the kindest random act of... um, kindness. And that's the mission of DDG, so I had to include it in this entry. Thank you random couple with a basket of flowers—you totally added to what turned out to be one of the best days in our relationship! 

Afterwards we hopped in the car and drove to St. Joseph for a day of playing in Lake Michigan (which had to be around 85° water) on the beautiful Silver Beach. I think Jafe is on to something... we started off the day with our palette cleanser and continued on to what is still making me one of the happiest girls. So grateful. 


There are two entrances, this is the main street one.

This is the entrance off the side street.
Our First Class!
The Gorgeous Flowers Complete Strangers Gave Us *heart*

Sunday, July 8

Veg*n Noms in Michigan

So, I thought I'd do a little review of where I stopped for food along the way during my visit to Southwest Michigan—inspired by the wonderful work/play of Will Travel For Vegan Food.

In case you don't know what veg*n stands for—it's a general term to include vegetarian and vegan. Since I do still eat eggs and honey, I can't say I'm vegan. But I try to opt for vegan, because I don't eat dairy (and well, it's the best choice for animal activists everywhere... or more importantly, the animals). Everything was found via a google search of "search nearby" locations along the way or HappyCow.net—I'm listing these in order of my lil adventure:

Sugar Bear (Paw Paw, MI) was my first stop (after my class at YogaGlow at Fernwood), which was tagged for having vegan sweets at their ice cream shop. But when I walked in there was so much more. They basically could "veganize" quite a few things on their menu, and when I started asking question the waitress brought out their trusty binder that covered all "food allergies." I had the Chicago Style Veggie Dog (which does have egg in it, unfortunately, but they did have vegan burgers and vegan stuffed pitas—all of which I realized after I ordered... always ask questions before you order people) and potato chips (I needed some serious salt after the 100° yoga class I just did outside). I may have grabbed three different flavors of Ope's vegan cookies on the way out too... and two of them (oatmeal and peanut butter) were amazing (the third one is being saved for tomorrow)! Thanks to Sugar Bear I looked up Ope's online only to discover they call home Kalamazoo, maybe I can go check them out. If not, it's ok, because thanks to them there are tons of restaurants around town with their products so I can eat anywhere!

UPDATE: The third Ope's cookie, double chocolate chip, was possibly my favorite. It's chocolate, I guess I could have predicted that :)

Sugar Bear, Paw Paw MI
Vegetarian Section & Vegan Options on the Menu
Veg*n Not Dog, Chicago-Style w/ Potato Chips

People's Food Coop (Kalamazoo, MI) had to be a stop to grab snacks for my weekend and some dinner for the night. I was very excited to try out their hot food (Thursday is vegan jerk tempeh, dirty rice, and roasted veggies in a coconut sauce), which was ridiculously yummy and I should probably have gotten less of it because I'm pretty sure I just ate two dinners. I also picked up a couple vegan breakfast burritos for the mornings, a vegan reuben sandwich (I love that I don't have to miss reubens... I wonder if Urbana's Food Coop or Strawberry Fields would make this one? So good.), and some nut bars for the day at the beach. I'm good for the weekend if I can't find anything else (which, thanks to Ope's, I can—I'm loving Kalamazoo!).

People's Food Coop, Kalamazoo MI
Vegan Reuben
Veg*n Nut Peanut Butter Bar (with honey)
Fuel (Kalamazoo, MI) was so close to being great... it offers up veg*n soul food, but doesn't market it as such. It's in this tiny little building that is so charming and well designed, but on 100° day the AC is running but not working (it was the same temperature as outside in there, sans breeze). They were out of the crab cakes and the vegan beignet (both of which I loved when when I was not vegan, so pretty disappointed)... at 7pm on Friday night and we were one of two tables in there (so they didn't make something on their menu that day? Not sure). The food was amazing, but for what we were served (amount and actual ingredients) it was probably double the price it was worth—and I value taste and presentation. I'm glad we went, but I wished it was everything it could easily be.

Cuban Stack (Mashed Green Plantains w/Garlic, "Chickenish," Black Beans, Red Sauce) 
Raw BBQ (BBW Mushroom on top of Mashed Cauliflower & Cabbage)
Schu's Bar & Grill (St. Joseph, MI) was too dark for pictures, but they served up a yummy veggie burger with guacamole on top (mmmm). We weren't expecting to be in St. Joe, so I had to do a quick google search for veg*n food as we walked away from the beautiful Silver Beach County Park. No results when I searched vegan, but vegetarian came up with Schu's... and that was it I believe. We talked about returning here next fourth of July, so I'll have to more research. Or be prepared to do lots of cooking, which is fine by me :)

Not bad for a four day excursion to Southwest Michigan, if I do say so myself. And it was fun to chat about food with you, hope you liked the lil switch too! 

Friday, July 6

Flow Yoga | Plainwell, MI

Some would get that the classes are flow based on the name, not this girl! Which was for the best, because I was so sleepy I may have talked myself out of the class if I thought it was going to wonderfully challenge me as much as it did. 

LOCATION: There was major construction going on in Plainwell, so my Waze app came in handy as I ignored its instructions and followed detour signs. But it obviously got me there eventually. Signage wasn't blatant, but all the yoga students walking in were :)  
STUDIO:  Before I walked in I realized this studio was on the river... two classes in a row on the river, big fan of that. Entering, there is a small little area to kick off your shoes, a desk for check-in, some yoga props on the back wall (no rental fee), and a nice open space for class. Near the props was a door to the bathroom, which was clean and with plenty of space to change if someone needed to. The walls are a calming Tiffany blue with a focus on the front, center of shelves with candles and music. The ceiling had fabric draping across it, which only added to the over all theme of flow (the river, the class style, the fabric, the day... for that matter. How did they know? lol).  
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  All levels welcome. Students will move through asanas (poses) designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles in a flowing format. All levels welcome, including beginners. 
**it notes a $12 drop-in fee, but I paid $14. Normally they accept charge, but with phone issues checks and cash were the only options for today. 
INSTRUCTOR: Betsy Vermeulen Young's yoga journey began in 1999, when she was in desperate need of stress relief from the struggles of being a single working mom with two small kids. After taking classes for several years, Betsy's instructor urged her to attend a Yogafit teacher training. There was no looking back. What began as a way to unwind has become a career. Betsy has completed her 200-hour teacher training with Yogafit. She lives near Plainwell with her husband, two teenage kids, three dogs, and a cat. 
CONTACT: Flow Yoga

I found this studio because today I planned on checking out the Grateful Acres Animal Sanctuary in Otsego, MI—so I looked for studios nearby. What a sweet town to experience for a wee bit, and with a charming yoga studio to boot. I do have to admit, my personal issue with flow classes is there is no stopping to talk about alignment or do any adjustments. Some people love that, and of course, to each their own... but I like the detailed instruction involved in a yoga class. Also, for this class specifically, I assumed I was going to experience a beginner class. Possibly because Betsy knew everyone in the room and knew my experience from my sign-in sheet she pushed it a little more, but I can't comfortably recommend this for beginners. Again, I'm quite sure if a newbie was in there the class would have been a little different.

We started in a sitting position for a little meditation and bring our focus to the mat. After warming the body a little with twists we immediately went into some standing flow. This is when I discovered how sore I was from yesterday—these Michigan classes are challenging my core a little more, and apparently I need it, lol. Most of the standing flow revolved around Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), working through to Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side Angle and Extended Side Angle) and connecting it all with Vinyasas (nice, quick article pointing out the vinyasas are not just chuturanga—up dog—down dog... but that's what I'm referencing in my blog) in between. Eventually we were back closer to the mat and did some a pose I hadn't done in a while, it was nice to revisit it. Betsy called it the Wild Thing (Camatkarasana), which you gotta love, and I guess it is normally referred to that... shows how much I don't do this pose and therefore hear it. 

We never really slowed down, even during back work we were challenging the core. So when Sivasana (Corpe's Pose) hit, I was about ready to take a nap. Some people seek out classes like this, so I would highly recommend it. I, the lazier yogi, can easily talk myself out of classes like this... so I'm grateful that I didn't know what I was getting into. Because it always feels amazing when it's done. 

Thank you Betsy, for a wonderful class—I hope you enjoy your yoga retreat in Italy (so exciting).

Pavilion Next to the River  (Next to the Studio)
Yoga Flow Studio (Betsy in the Background) 
Hey, I remember to look at the bathroom!
Front Door to the Studio
View From the Pavilion (Fly Fishing in the Background)
Watching the Plants Flow with the River

After class I headed to the Grateful Acres Animal Sanctuary in Otsego, MI. I wanted to include this because when I showed up it was clear they weren't open to the public anymore. But there were so many animals, and I was just curious I stopped anyway (maybe they wanted to reopen, maybe I could offer some help). The owner was so kind to spend a few of her busy minutes with me to reflect on her work at the sanctuary. After 20+ years of rescuing she has retired that business, but tends to the animals she still has. Her words of reflection included this, 
Make sure, if you have a partner, they're in it 100%, because this ended my first marriage... Start with a specific animal—only rabbits or chickens & ducks. I saw a lady who only rescues blind cats, so smart... And there are a lot of stupid people out there, which you'll get to meet because you're rescuing their animal. You need to be strong.
Thank you for sharing your time with me—and your past 20+ years of service to all life on earth.  

Thursday, July 5

Yoga Glow at Fernwood | Niles, MI

The original hot yoga, or at least that's what I was thinking when we ventured out near the river at the Fernwood Botanical Gardens to do some yoga. 

LOCATION: With my trusty Waze app I took off from Champaign this morning, luckily early (as I forgot there was a time change between here and Michigan). So grateful as I entered the grounds of Fernwood Botanical Gardens (which, by the way, had amazing signage along the way because it's a tourist attraction). Parked my car (for free) in the shade on this 100°+ day and walked up to the main entrance that smelled amazing. Thinking back on it now, it smelled like dried flowers... which may very well be the case in this heat. Regardless, it was a warm (pun intended?) welcome. At the front desk I asked about the yoga class, but I was the first one there so neither of us were sure if this class was really going to happen. So I looked around a bit, checked out the bathrooms (standard bathroom setting), filled up my water bottle, and looked at the art (beautiful photography by Sharon Beals). A second yogi showed up, so I was hopeful. Then our instructor showed up and we chatted whether to practice inside or outside. We braved it and opted for outside. As we walked down the pathway I was able to peek at some of the gardens set up, then we ventured into the woods (thank goodness our instructor grabbed the bug spray). We arrived at a wooden platform with benches to set up. It was beautiful. 
STUDIO:  How do you really top the beautiful outdoors? You can hear the river noises, little squirrels and birds chirping about, sunshine peeking through the leaves, and the view so relaxing. Even with the tempature at a heat index of 110°. Nature's hot yoga! 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: This class is designed to support all levels and is held outside (weather permitting) within the gorgeous Fernwood Botanical Gardens in Buchanan. The natural beauty of the surroundings will delight your senses and inspire deeper connection in your practice. 
INSTRUCTOR: Deirdre Guthrie holds a PhD in Anthropology and has been teaching yoga since 1998 in San Francisco, Chicago, and Southwest Michigan's Harbour Country. Deirdre complete the Chicago Temple of Kriya Yoga's two-year advanced teacher training program and Seminary, apprenticed with Dynamic Yoga Teacher—Godfrey Devereaux in Ibiza, Spain, and is certified in Ayurvedic nutrition and deep-tissure massage. She has helped facilitate yoga workshops and retreats in Scotland, Mexico, California, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. Read Deirdre's Yoga Journal article

Deirdre had us start out laying down to do a lot of our work, because of the heat. But that didn't mean that our yoga wouldn't be challenging with some great focus on core. She slowly started to introduce some viniyoga, which I always recognize when we do this in other classes but never really knew what it entailed. The linked article includes most of the bits I read from different articles. From my little experience, viniyoga is gentle yoga that revolves around the breath (I know, all yoga does, but I don't know how else to explain this... in class, viniyoga always gets the whole classroom honestly focusing on their breath) and the movement is from one pose to another repeated.

The sun moved on us (ok, we moved on the sun), so we shifted to the other side of the deck that was shaded. This is where the viniyoga really came into play. To be honest, I'm losing details in my memory because I enjoyed the view so much. Every Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) or lunge we went into had us gazing up into the trees. And when we'd go into Vrksasana (Tree Pose) the breeze would kick up (the hippy in me decided it was all the trees joining in). Basically, if you've never done yoga outside... find a class or just take your mat outside for your home practice. It really does heighten the experience.

We ended in a sivasana that was a little challenging as you felt the ants crawl on you, heard the flies buzz by your ear, or your mind wanders to the breaking of twigs in the distance (I enjoyed the thought of deer or other nosies watching us silly humans from a distance). Dierdre is a lovely instructor who didn't do any physical adjustments but was great at verbally walking us through the poses, stopping to correct us when needed. She is also working on a paddle board class (I've always wanted to try that) and shared workshop info with me coming up next weekend (see their website home page for details). This definitely has me wondering if I can sneak a class in at YogaGlow's studio to learn more about what this director is brewing up. 

I somehow was too distracted/forgetful to take pictures of the yoga spot, but here are a few pictures from the sculpture gardens (where that sweet lil red Elephant lives):