New Life Lessons
Through Yoga in Costa Rica
Thursday, September 15th, 2011
I wake up in paradise with pain shooting down my neck and back. I’m living in the most tranquil, stress free world I can imagine yet still my body ties itself in knots, tormented by night time worries. Once again, life brings more lessons to learn. This time the lessons would be learned through an effort to alleviate the pain in my body. I took a yoga class.
I have always loved learning. I seem to have been born with an inner compulsion to pursue higher aspirations and to become a better person. The desire to lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life is what brought me to Costa Rica. And indeed my life has advanced – so much so, that I created a program called “Change Your Life in Costa Rica” to help others do the same. A fresh healthy diet, swimming, riding bike, running on the beach, taking time for solitude in nature and time with good friends proved to be the recipe for well being. And then, wouldn’t you know it, a wrench was thrown into the works. Another problem, serious issues to deal with and figure out. The shooting pain adds to the torment. Fortunately I’ve discovered that problems never come without solutions tagging along. This one came in the form of a yoga class. I walked in with a sore body and a troubled heart, and walked out with a fresh attitude – pain free!
Yoga is a great form of exercise for people of all types and ages. Regular practice keeps the body strong, limber and toned. I have my own exercise routine I often do on the beach. I’ve been doing it for years and it keeps me feeling good. At age 56 I can do anything I could at 35 – running, walking, climbing, hiking, dancing – anything. And I am healthy as can be. Early on I found motivation through other people’s examples – good and bad. I heard older people complain of pulled muscles and a bad back. “All I did was reach around for my car keys and my back went out!” they would say. “All I did was bend over and – Oh, the pain! I could not stand up again!” I did not want that to happen to me. And then there were the good examples: Living in Montana, I met an eighty year old couple who still hiked in Glacier National Park; I knew a man who fly fished, hiked and played ice hockey up until he died, in his nineties. These people did not allow their muscles to twist and tighten up and then suddenly pop, like a rubber band. They were able to enjoy an active life because they kept their bodies loose and limber through exercise. This has also been my plan, yet now I see, through yoga, that there is something more. In addition to being physically healthy, yoga can be therapeutic, too. It can actually make you into your own therapist and enlighten you in surprising ways.
Silvia Broussard, my yoga instructor at her own Shakti Yoga Studio, has been teaching yoga for four years. Two hundred hours of teacher training are required for certification as a yoga instructor internationally and in Costa Rica. Silvia has completed two hundred and eighty hours of teacher training in a San Jose Yoga Institute and further training in Anusara, a specific form of yoga. In Costa Rica’s Caribbean there are tourists and expats from all over the world. Silvia speaks five languages, so she can communicate with anyone who comes to her class. Sometimes she gives the classes in English, just for me. At other times when a class member only speaks Spanish, Silvia gives instructions in Spanish, which helps me learn the language. And she always takes the time to be sure I understand. Working as a property manager, yoga had been a hobby for Silvia; a personal practice. She never planned to be a yoga teacher. When her former instructor, a highly respected teacher, decided to leave the area he surprised Silvia by asking her to take over his classes, contending that she had the capacity and talent to do it. On her instructor’s insistence Silvia tried teaching and it was an immediate success. Everyone loves her classes. She has a way of gentle persistence, making hard work a pleasure. Through her perspective on yoga, she intuitively leads you to unexpected insights into your own soul.
Originally from Italy, Silvia came to Costa Rica at age twenty three for a vacation. Like many others, she never left. She was offered a job in tourism and became a productive member of the community. Active in all types of exercise, Silvia tried yoga and was intrigued by not only the physical but also the spiritual benefits derived from it. After four years of practice, a tragic event left her devastated. She was distraught, with no desire to live. For lack of any other relief, she maintained her yoga practice, as it was the only thing she could focus on that seemed to alleviate the pain. Little by little, Silvia’s anxiety diminished and she began to see the joy in life again. Yoga was her pathway back to life. And indeed, I am learning through Silvia’s classes that it can be the same for me.
I‘ve had various yoga classes over the years. In my experience, Silvia’s classes are unique. They combine the physical with the emotional and the spiritual. At the beginning of each class Silvia talks about an aspect of the flow of energy: the sun, the moon, maybe one of the four elements; fire, water, earth and wind. She relates this energy to the body and how we are affected by it. She asks us to set a personal intention for the class. Then, while we are going through our postures and exercises Silvia reminds us of our intention and how our yoga practice is helping to achieve that intention. For example, the theme for today’s class was the element of fire. Our inner fire ignites enthusiasm for life and wakes up our inner child with joy and delight. When asked to set an intention for this class and for the day, mine came to mind easily. My life has been difficult lately with challenges of every kind. I tend to take it all too seriously, thinking too much and laughing too little. I knew without a doubt: childlike joy was just what I needed. That became my intention – to live with joy. The yoga postures for this class were specifically designed to arouse our inner fire. As we worked we could feel the heat begin to rise within. Then we released that energy by rocking and jumping and flinging our arms about – just like children do.
Each class is different. In one class the theme was letting go of things from the past that no longer serve us. In another the theme was balance, specifically between the male and female energies. This subject really hit home for me. As I said before, I have been having a hard time lately. After an especially difficult weekend I came to class feeling weak and tired. When I was not able to hold the poses and do what was asked of me in some exercises, I grew frustrated and almost cried! “Why am I feeling this way?” I lamented to myself. “Why would anyone be so silly as to cry over yoga?” Then it hit me. I am crying because feel hurt. I feel hurt because I am hearing the same voice I have always heard when I have trouble: the voice that says I can’t do it, the voice that says I don’t do anything right, the voice that says my ideas are flawed and I must do things their way or I will fail, fail, fail! This class was about balance between the masculine and feminine energies. The voice was masculine – it is my father’s voice. When I let it invade my thoughts it upsets my inner balance and overwhelms my feminine strength and self-possession. This is the voice I know from childhood. I thought I had left it far behind. Silvia’s yoga class touched my head and my heart with a bit of enlightenment. Now that I am aware of it, I can control my thinking and silence that critical, negative voice. No matter what the subject of the class, there has always been a way that each theme is pertinent to my own life and personal situation. I never knew how therapeutic yoga can be!
As many of my friends and readers know, at this time my survival here in Costa Rica is at risk. Problems with my rental in Montana have created problems for me here. This has happened before and I’ve overcome the adversity. I don’t know how, but I have no doubt that this time I will succeed again. I strive for clarity in order to make the right decisions.
Silvia says the ultimate goal is yoga is to diminish suffering – both physical and emotional. I’ve seen how this works. As you concentrate on holding your correct posture and focus on your breathing in an effort to utilize every bit of strength your body can muster, your problems and distractions fade away. By the time you are finished and you slip into peaceful relaxation, your mind has had the opportunity to clear and readjust itself. This provides great relief! And a fresh clear mind is a conduit for new ideas.
Life always seems to bring us what we need. I see that this is what I need to move further along in life, past the obstacles that constrain me. I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do or how to work things out. I know that will happen on it’s own. What I need to learn is how to clear my head and let it happen. I need to know how to stop the worries that plague me in the night and bind my body. I believe I’ve found a new way through Silvia’s yoga classes.