Editor’s Note: Yoga is more than a class we take a few days a week. It is an entire state of mind, nurtured with each pose and breath. South Hills Power Yoga Instructor Lee Anne (L.A.) Finfinger tells her story of how two serene retreats helped her connect deeper to her yoga practice and herself.
Telling your friends and family that you’re off on a yoga retreat feels a bit like telling them you’ve decided to become a vegetarian. It sounds like a lifestyle choice. You have now sketched the image of being someone who greedily whisks off for a bohemian, new-agey getaway to “find” yourself.
This past August, I joined more than 30 people, including my good friend and fellow South Hills Power Yoga Instructor Stacey Vespaziani, in Maya Tulum, Mexico — a beach-side haven nestled against the warm blue water of the Caribbean Sea, peppered with open-air beach-side huts and hammocks strung between the palm trees. Yoga teacher Bryan Kest, currently based out of Santa Monica, Calif., led this particular retreat where we spent relaxing in the warm white sand, eating freshly mashed guacamole, and practicing as much (or as little) yoga as we wanted.
At one point, I found myself floating along a stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula where the salt and fresh water mixed to buoy us effortlessly along the Mexican wetlands. Mangroves were blooming overhead, and even though the sky was overcast, I haven’t found a more serene place on earth.
The following days found us indulging in Mayan clay massages, chanting inside a traditional Mayan sweat lodge, eating fresh hunks of mango and papaya, and reading guilty, sand-soaked novels in lazy hammocks.
After returning to the U.S. refreshed and relaxed, I had the good fortune of co-leading a retreat with three other teachers from South Hills Power Yoga. Alas, we were not yet going to visit the Caribbean. We were headed into the woods for three days of fresh, crisp air in Cook Forest, Pa., at the Gateway Lodge.
After an Aveda Signature massage with a trio of oils designed to cool my fiery temper, I was relaxed and ready to explore my surroundings. I brought my mother along, and we enjoyed a suite complete with turn-down service truffles, a balcony with two rocking chairs, an in-room fireplace, and a hot tub.
The best retreats offer the ability to move about your day without schedule, and this was no exception. I was able to practice yoga in a warm cabin with radiating heat panels below the carpet, so even resting on my mat was rejuvenating. We enjoyed freshly baked gingerbread and sugar cookies in the afternoons with no guilt and little awareness of the clock.
With the sun shining on Saturday, my mom headed to the Great Room to read and relax by the fireplace. I chose to hike down to the water’s edge, which was lined with smooth, cold rocks, and sit, squinting at the sun’s reflection on the Clarion River. November blooms of fungi and moss scattered the floor of the forest. As I joined my friends near the fire to knit before my next yoga class, I felt centered and ready to teach again.
Retreats offer the chance to restock inventory and refill what feels low. In both of these locales, I often found times when my phone failed to find service. I’d put the phone back into my bag and occupy myself with the people and sights that were nearest to me. If that’s at all new-agey — sign me up.