I recently traveled to a beach paradise—St. Martin in the West Indies. An invisible line divides the north French side from the southern Dutch, but it is all Caribbean. A much needed respite. A vacation. What would I discover here among these lush hills, winding roads, and turquoise waters lapping over sand the color of café au lait?
At the end of a rickety-rackety road is where we will stay, at the north end of Orient Beach. I stop to view families of les chevres, goats. A woman motions for me to walk with her to the edge of the lagoon. She calls, “Chicka, chicka, chicka.” Is she signaling the chickens to come closer? Mais no. The leaves shake on the mangroves. Out rustle iguanas, maybe ten, of various sizes with citrus stripes painted in orange, yellow and green. They quarrel and snatch the fruit and vegetables only meters from my feet. Across the street is a white stucco studio built into the hillside. Out bounces Alexandra who says, “Bonjour! Allo (hello)!” in her French accent. A pint sized beauty from Montreal with balled up golden hair and a sunshine smile. Her bronze skin is covered by a tiny sport top and stretch capris. Yoga. It is new to me, the more reason to practice it while I’m here.
At the first sunset and on two mornings a small group and I gather on mats on a raised deck on the beach. Loose clumps of eelgrass wash ashore. Over the crystal waters we see the distant jagged peaks of St. Barts. We stretch and pull and lengthen and hold the yoga poses—downward facing dog, chaturanga, balancing table, the cat, a chair, and a candle. I try to stay in the moment, but I think, “Is there a cow pose? I’m pretty sure I’m doing the cow pose right now.”
“Place yourself on your sit-bones. Reach your ahhms (arms) to the sky,” Alexandra says. “Open your ahhrt (heart).” Her words resonate within me.
A different day we kayak through anchored sailboats and catamarans to Pinel, a small islet northeast of our beach. We perch our vessel on a sand bar then pass through tan bodies scattered like fallen coconuts, some still unripened by the sun. We hike to the highest grassy knoll on the hill. Waves pound the north shore between us and Tintamarre Island. We practice standing poses on one leg—a half moon, the tree, Warrior III, or a modified Lord of the Dance. These are more advanced than my four-legged “cow” pose.
“Feel the aihrtth (earth) beneath your feet. Feel the aihr (air) against your skin,” says Alexandra. “Set your intention, whatever feels right for you today.” All feels right. I’m opening my heart, reaching to the sky, and finding balance physically and emotionally.
Another day we launch paddleboards on Le Galion Beach and row to a shallow, white sandy opening in the eelgrass. We tether to one another. This time we are coached by Melodi, long and lean with flowing hair. She says, “It is okay if you fall. Let go.” Balancing on our knees is difficult as we are rocked by light wind and chop. I’ve never seen a cow on a surfboard; this is why.
We arch our backs and hold a bridge pose, then extend one leg to the clouds. We then invert our bodies into a “V” for the boat pose. My abs and legs quake.
“The positions are hard, but you can do it,” Melodi says. “The pain is only temporary.”
At the end she says, “Hear the water beneath you. Feel the wind on your skin. I will release the lines.” And as she did, I felt the tension disappear. The pain was temporary. I let “it” go. We all need to let our “its” go. Daily.
I restore habitat for a living, and yet, at times I need restoration myself. St. Martin and a brief week of yoga taught me three life messages:
1) Open your heart.
I call it living in a full embrace. How do you “show up” to work, to others, and to this day? Is your heart open to others or are you walled off, protected and fearful of what (or whom) might bring you joy? Do you follow “group think” and shut yourself off from other people’s ideas and cultures, different from your own? Roll back and relax your shoulders, open your clenched hands and crossed arms, lengthen your spine, reach your chest and head to the sky, whether grey clouds or bright sun. Make these small adjustments in your body. Your mind, and especially your heart, will follow.
2) Set your intention for each day.
What if you had the power to change your day before you got out of bed? Maybe we can’t change our circumstances, but we can focus our intention. As you become aware of your first breaths and arise, set in motion the kind of day you want. Do you want one of peace? High energy? Laughter? Patience? Forgiveness? Throughout your day, find your balance as if you had to stand on one leg. Refocus your intention.
3) Yes, it is difficult, but it is temporary.
Most days pass easily without some challenges. We’ve all experienced loss, grief and sadness. But for the average day’s difficulties we can embrace the discomfort equally as we do the joy. Feel the pain. Then let it go. It is only temporary. Believe you can get through it.
At the end of my island trip, I felt the earth beneath us as the shuttle bus closed in on the airport. Soon I would say “Au revoir” and fly away, over the beaches that brought me such restoration and joy. After a short conversation with the Jamaican driver, he says to me, “I like your vibe.” I think, “I like my open-heart-yoga-beach-vibe, too.”
“Merci beaucoup,” I say, and fist pump him with “Irie, mon.”
Aime se jour. Love this day.