Signs in Tulum

Had I not been on a yoga retreat, I may have been a bit dissapointed with what Tulum ended up being. Especially when I can’t help but compare it to my beloved Puerto Escondido and Ensenada, and am a voracious consumer of authentic Mexican culture.

But no matter where you are in Mexico, it’s always a good place for introspection.

It reminds me of that 90s Rom-Com Fools Rush In, where the character Isabel’s uncertainty with important life choices was constantly validated by signs, an homage to her Mexican Roman Catholic upbringing.

Stay PresentFollow that Dream“Stay present,” “follow that dream,” literal signs I saw on the road while bike riding along the beach road, and validated as I pushed myself harder to clear stress, negativity, anxiety and stupid thoughts like what I’m going to eat for dinner, out of my mind during practice. Validated again as I connected with an amazing bunch of likeminded woman, all facing very different, yet very similar, challenges in life, in practice, and maybe even both.

I signed up for a retreat midway through a month sabbatical. I was nervous I wouldn’t be physically fit enough, but excited by the prospect of two yoga classes a day to challenge myself and maybe trim up a bit. While I practiced some amazing yoga, the best workout I got was for my mind. Some lessons learned:

Opening up your hips is more about breathing and meditation than how close you are to your split. I’ve gone through spurts of thinking forcing myself into nightly pigeons until near injury would get me there. Dummy! I was actually doing just the opposite – putting unnecessary stress and injury and making the parts of my body I want to be more flexible, less flexible.

Pam living in the moment, and bringing Be Love's spirit to Tulum (A "soul stretching" studio in Tulsa, Oklah. where she teaches classes and is amazing, if you happen to be in the area).

Pam living in the moment, and bringing Be Love‘s spirit to Tulum (A “soul stretching” studio in Tulsa, Oklah. where she teaches classes and is amazing, if you happen to be in the area).

The two most important things about yoga are clearing your mind from the outside world, and focusing on what you’re doing at that moment. Pretty simple. Like most of life, getting too caught up in the details often pulls you away from being successful at the endgame.

Sometimes it’s okay to let strangers in. America, and many other cultures (that aren’t Mexico) have a predisposition to always be skeptical of strangers, which I feel melds us to be a little socially anxious. In the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, it’s actually been dubbed the Northwest Freeze or Seattle Cold Shoulder where you’d actually cross the street than have to make small talk with that casual acquaintance, and you sure as hell don’t want to say hi to someone random on the street. We often don’t want to tell new people (especially strange men) our names, or are programmed to be thrown off that someone “wants something” because they’re talking to you. As the only person in my group with conversational Spanish down (pocito) I loved chatting with anyone and everyone (within reason, mind you, I wasn’t in sketchy situations). And guess what, no one said a single mean thing, was harmful, and actually gave me a ton of tips about traveling to other areas of Mexico, where to eat, what the locals do, etc. and so forth. It is the buenas dias/tardes/noches, wear your heart on your sleeve culture, after all. I’m sure I can implement this type of attitude more in America (within reason, being smart about personal safety), and feel like it boils down to a healthy balance of letting go of trust issues and fear – that most people can relate to.

Retreat leader Rebecca Jo leading an epic Mayan mud ceremony (photo credit: Alex Myall)

Retreat leader Rebecca Jo leading an epic Mayan mud ceremony (photo credit: Alex Myall)

Your job will never love you back, but people will. “My job is sacred” can be an adapted attitude that many have about their career. But nothing’s more sacred than your loved ones. That doesn’t mean fulfillment in work isn’t possible, and can even be a part of this love you’re sharing with people. I think it’d be pretty difficult to debate that genuinely caring about the people (and purpose) of your work won’t make you more successful. Yes, some jobs are thankless and relentlessly challenging, and if you can’t connect with it in a fulfilling manner – maybe it’s time for a career change.

Burning copal and covering yourself in Mayan mud is an amazing pre-hispanic ritual for cleansing the body, mind and soul. I brought back all the ingredients via Mixtex (best souvenir shop in Tulum), and essentially you burn the sap and crystal, and “cleanse your aura” (just like you would with sage, or you can use sage). Then cover yourself in Mexican Mayan Clay. Let it dry and soak up your impurities and figurative negativities. Then jump in the ocean. I realize I live in San Diego, and everyone isn’t so lucky to be able to recreate. Maybe a lake or river could work? I also realize finding Mayan Clay and these herbs in a local or online store may be a challenge. Another nod for the value of participating in said retreat.

You know the answer to the overcoming the obstacles holding you back in life, but maybe sometimes you need a “mirror” to bring it to your attention. Maybe it’s a retreat. Maybe it’s a Tarot reading. Maybe it’s advice from a new or old friend who went through a similar situation. You already know the answer, now don’t be afraid to accept it, face it, overcome.

The reversing nostril breathe in and out is one of the easiest, and best ways to meditate. I’m no expert, so check out this how-to from Mindful Minutes.

A mantra doesn’t have to be a complex Hindi word or Om, or something you’re not comfortable saying. Maybe it can be something simple like “I am love,” or “I can accept.”

Yoga Adventures Tulum is a rustic retreat right on the beach in Tulum. Set in Utopia Guest House, a palapa topped natural wood house with themed rooms and bare boned amenities, what you get is all you need to get the most out of the tranquil setting. Generator and solar-powered, the property features an oceanfront studio with pleasant ocean breezes, and various room configurations to keep it at an affordable price tag (this also means limited charging time for your phone, and no place or need for your hardryer, straightener or computer). The meals were superb, Elvira’s massage was life changing, which all participants agreed on, and I slept like a baby mostly every night – probably from all the mind workouts.

From gathering insights from other attendees, it seems there is a class of more bougie yoga retreats in locations like Peru and Costa Rica, resort-based and really expensive, so I see this as a great middle ground if you want that more “in with nature” experience and don’t have a whole lot of disposable income to drop. If you’re looking for something more physically intense, you may want to try something like Amansala’s Bikini Bootcamp down the street or another program attendee highly commended Wild-Yin-Yang retreats by Catia Leite in incredible destinations from India to Greece. An extreme sports themed one in New Zealand in December is seriously tempting, though not plausible for me with it slapped onto holiday vacation.

If the thought of seeing a lizard, iguana or a crab outside your room (they won’t hurt you) will make you scream like a small child, but you still want to do yoga and cost isn’t as much of a concern, I’ve heard excellent things about Maya Tulum from a teacher training graduate (see also Peru, Costa Rica and the like). If you’re looking to go even more budget conscious, and just want to do your own thing and yoga, Yoga Shala seems like a good option.

I personally wouldn’t change a thing about the program and am so glad I did it!

*As I’ve stated before, I’m no expert (in yoga, meditation, and certainly not therapy), so recommend working with a teacher and/or seeking other professional resources in real life or online to guide you through your practice and working through other life challenges.

Scenes from Tulum

One thought on “The Signs Are Everywhere: What I Learned at a Yoga Retreat in Tulum

  1. I’m terrible at yoga since I lack the ability to clear my mind of the outside world. This looks like an incredible opportunity. I’m glad to see you enjoying the finer things in life.

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