Friday, August 29, 2014

Kids leaving home & Yoga at Christmas in the Bajan Sun - by Vonetta

We've been having another super summer here at Vale de Moses. So many guests once again have made long trips from all over the world to spend a week or 2 with us in our home in these remote Portuguese mountains. Doesn't feel so remote here when we're surrounded by all these lovely people. You should see some of their sweet photos of their stays on our FB page and some kind words in reviews on our new Trip Advisor page.

We’ve had tremendous help from lots of great people too. Our Karma volunteers have relentlessly and cheerily washed dishes and tidied spaces. Katherine Smith has continually created culinary delights in our kitchen, wrote our first retreat menu cookbook and teaches her afternoon yin yoga classes. Fleur van Hille from Amsterdam is sadly leaving us today after running 4 inspirational vinyasas flow retreats in July and August. And Peter Packard, who Maria Mercati (my TCM teacher from Body Harmonics in the UK) sent us, has been brilliantly massaging our guests this summer and treated me too with regular with acupuncture and Thai, keeping my own body in good energetic shape for teaching and treating everyone that comes here.

Pete and I have decided to run our first Thai Massage Course with Yoga this October, 19th to 25th. We're really looking forward to it. If it goes well, we plan to run a few more courses next year too.

Big family changes are on the close horizon for us in the next few weeks. My Eloise got accepted into Art School in Lisbon, António Arroio. So she’ll be leaving home end of September to stay with a family there until we can find a place to rent together in Lisbon from January onwards. Gulp.

Joshua is also moving to Castelo Branco to finish off his last year at a new school, Nuno Alvares, studying Physics. He’s in England at the moment with Andy’s folks touring a few universities to consider. So both Eli and Josh are leaving home at the same time in under a month!! A little earlier than we had thought they would. Andy keeps telling me "breathe, Vonetta, breathe. Change is inevitable. It’s all gonna be OK."

I went shopping with Ellie and a friend of mine the other day and picked up a number of items of clothing I felt best represented my present incarnation as Von.  As I lifted up the choices for my friend’s inspection, I was thinking “yep, nice look”.  My friend raised her nose, smiled out of the corner of her mouth and noted “you can take the island girl to the city and through the desert and place her in the middle of the Portuguese forest, but you definitely can’t take the island out of the girl!”  I looked again at the clothes, one with a palm tree printed over bright magenta, others with orange, sunshine yellow or cobalt blue fabric.  I smiled back recognising the truth of her statement. I am an island girl and that is never going to change, no matter how far I have come since leaving Barbados at 17.  I left the shops that day knowing what I really wanted. To go home to that beautiful, feisty tiny rock in the middle of the cobalt Caribbean Sea, and teach some yoga surrounded by real palm trees.

Teaching and living in a temperate climate like this in Portugal is exciting.  As the seasons change, so too does my yoga practice.  More expansive in the summer months. More internalised in the cold winter months. Feeling the surge of energy as the Spring sap rises in the forest, and being refreshed by the Autumn rains as they douse the acute dryness of our long summer months. Yet there is nothing like practicing in a constant climate - the day and night temperatures are relatively stable in Barbados. Even the sea temperature varies little.  Air humidity is moist with a cooling drying sea breeze.  This constant temperature means that the body has the opportunity to remain in a pretty constant state of muscular relaxation. There are no sudden cold chills to shorten the back of the neck and lock the hips.  Flexibility is greatly improved by consistency, not only consistency of practice but also consistency of environment.

While recently away with Andy and the kids (and Sally & Jonathan my inlaws) on the Costa Vicentina in June, down on the South West gorgeousness of Portugal, I needed a vigorous practice of backbends, handstands and salutations before my body temperature was high enough to cope with the invigorating Atlantic sea.  It was fun to run around, get hot and then charge into the ocean, but I definitely felt the need for strength over flexibility.  While lying on the sand recovering from the shock and thrill of the cold water, I found my memory drawing me to a particular practice time I experienced last year when we ventured back to Barbados.  It was one of those practices you don’t forget easily. Instant ecstasy.

Everything feels more alive when we practice outside especially with the song of tropical birds in the ears and a turn to face the waves of the ocean or a monkey stealing a mango from its tree. A pre heated supple body, softened by an early morning swim in warm clear water retreating from the Caribbean sun to a shaded veranda for a long slow indulgence in the fine art of stretching and breathing.  I began the practice that morning with breath work and was immediately delighted by the ease of my breath. Warm salty water into the nose from the sea rather than from my usual neti pot meant my breathing was silky smooth and entirely relaxed.

In my sun salutations, I felt like a hot knife moving through room temperature butter as all 650 plus muscles in my body surrendered to the Bajan sun. There was no crunch in the spine as I slid from Chaturanga Dandasana to Updog.  I was able to assess the liquid nature of my spine as I folded into forward bends and the strength of fully relaxed muscles as I sprung into Full Wheel.  For the first time in several years I was able to effortlessly place both feet behind my head and sit, it was so good to experience easy open hips.  I emerged from Yoga Nidrasana thinking once again, “This yoga shit is the bomb”.  My mind was quieted and utterly present as the gentle swish of the lapping sea, placed me in a mellow mood.  I walked along the beach after practice towards the kids snorkling with Andy out on the reef and as my entire pelvis swayed effortlessly from left to right I lost the sensation of having bones or separate parts.  The supple nature of my spine made me feel somehow taller and thinner.  Liquefied is the word that most aptly describes the experience of practicing yoga in Barbados. My nervous system in tune with my mood worked with me and everything within flowed as one.

My practice on the beach in Barbados that day made me realise that I wanted to find a way for others to feel this comfortable while practicing yoga. For those who struggle with tight hamstrings, stiff hips and a rigid lower back, retreating to my little island might be just the thing for them to escape the pain and discomfort in their bodies that colder northern winters often bring. When we got back to Portugal we decided we’d run retreats there one day if we ever found the right place.

Bathsheba along the East Coast of the island has always been my favourite part of the island.  Our Sunday afternoon family outings there as a child always involved a drive and rest watching the waves of the Atlantic ocean crashing against the shore.  My mum and my dad both live in more populated and buzzing parts of the island. Bathsheba in contrast ushers in an energy of reverence as the small hills and dunes formed out of the flat chalk areas of the rest of the island and scenes of busy hotels and home districts fade to small wooden chattel houses and fecund tropical vegetation.  No matter the time of year we could always find a good breeze to lift the spirits and dry away the tropical humidity, easing us into serenity. Bathsheba gave me this as a child and 25 years later nothing has changed, serenity is still very much the spirit of the east coast.

Earlier this year my Dad called to say he had found us the perfect place to have Yoga Retreats and it was, of course, in Bathsheba.  A newly built retreat called Lush Life with a dozen or so luxury eco lodges, set in an 18 acre palm tree forest far from the often overcrowded parts of the island with their big hotels. We checked out their website and Youtube video and I immediately knew where we were going to be spending our winters from here on in, out of the European wet and cold and in with the new, hot Christmases of yoga and gentle rebalancing and maybe a little partying at night on the lively South Coast bars and clubs.

So we’re off to Barbados this December. Just for a couple of weeks this time. December 16-30. In these retreat weeks we will yoga chill, immerse ourselves in the tropical heat, moisture and natural Vitamin D boost of the sun, and explore a more supple, yielding, willing, adaptable body, possibly a little freer from our winter aches and pains.

My shopping friend was right, I am indeed still Vonnie from Barbados and I’m sooo looking forward to sharing my little island with those coming with us this Christmas.

When we return to Portugal in the New Year, it will be to a new phase of our lives, based more in Lisbon, until our 2015 yoga retreat season starts again at Vale de Moses.  We will have spent 7 years living here full time in this beautiful peaceful forested valley, and from January our adventure and our daughter are drawing us to the charming capital city of Lisbon.  Perhaps we’ll add to our annual retreat calendar, not just more Thai Massage courses and winter trips to Barbados, but also some short Spring and Autumn city breaks in Lisbon with yoga classes and treatments. I wonder....:)

Watch this space.

Peace and Love

Vonetta xxx