#5 Unknown Side Effects of Yoga

Interior of La Casa De Paja, The House of Straw, a wonderful yoga studio in San Carlos, Mexico.   The studio was established in 2016 and has a wonderful following of community members. The studio hosts a variety of weekly classes.   All are invited to attend for the cost of $5 USD or 100 pesos. In addition to regularly scheduled classes, La Casa De Paja offers multi-day workshops for more intensive and focused yoga practices several times a year.  People love this place and it is easy to understand why once you step into the space.

With encouragement from a friend I started practicing yoga a few years ago.  At that time my only real question was…can I really participate in this somewhat mystifying form of exercise?  Yoga had been something I naively associated with vegetarian hippies and the puzzling terms of sun salutation, downward facing dog and namaste.  Could I really do this? Why not? So I joined the closest studio and began to experience yoga. Once my friend and I were able to stop “side-eyeing” during challenging poses and contain our laughter while listening to intense pranayama breathing I truly began to enjoy the side effects of practicing yoga.  I loved the way the class could “take me away” for 60 short minutes. No matter what was happening in my own hectic world, for that hour I had no choice but to focus on my yoga practice or risk losing balance and potentially landing on top of a fellow yogi. Yoga improved my concentration and ability to be more mindful of my actions.  There were of course the more obvious benefits of increased flexibility, strength and energy included. I appreciated the ease with which I could select classes at the studio in Flower Mound. The simple, descriptive names included Hot Yoga, Yoga Core, Power Flow or Yoga Calm and were a rather clear-cut guide to class options. Class selection was a real no brainer.

A month after moving to San Carlos a neighbor, Ruby, asked if I’d like to join her for a yoga class.  Why not? It was Monday, August 5th and for the first time in years, I would not attend professional development.  Why not start my new “school year” with my own personal development.  The yoga class was something Ruby referred to as Iyengar Yoga combined with 20-minutes of Yoga Nidra.  I had heard of neither but this neighbor was a faithful yogi, a bit older than me and had been taking part in this class for years.  Additionally, she had spoken very highly of this yoga studio on multiple occasions. It’s not Yoga Calm but hey, if she’s doing it surely I could manage the class.  So I jumped at the chance. Why not?

Ruby said she’d swing by at 8:00 am to drive to the 8:30 class. I found this odd since one can reach just about any location in San Carlos in a mere 5 minutes.  Soon I was enlightened as to the need for the extended time. From the main boulevard, I turned north on a small road between the convenience store and Hambones Insurance then traveled toward the foothills of the mountains that surround San Carlos into the Ranchitos neighborhood.  Many local families with children live in this part of town. The Ranchitos is home to the town escuela primaria (elementary school), a struggling but active community center and many small businesses. Uniquely structured, well maintained homes line the avenues and calles. Homes are accessible by a grid of dirt roads with limited signage and an occasional arroyo.  Ironically, it takes traveling through this somewhat jarring terrain to reach the establishment of relaxation.  As I literally bounced along the dusty avenue, a question entered my mind; would it be remotely possible to maintain any sense of relaxation from 90 minutes of yoga class I was about to attend with a return journey on this crazy road?

When I arrived at La Casa de Paja, The Straw House, I noticed the delightful surroundings.  The home was nestled against the mountain backdrop, a breeze rustled through the palms and somewhere nearby roosters crowed.  My immediate thought…this was worth the trip. I dropped my shoes outside the door and entered a heavenly space. The building had a stucco look that was constructed old style around stacked bales of hay, hence the name La Casa de Paja.  Wooden floors gleamed in the soft sunlight that entered from higher points on the wall through round glass windows created from glass bottles inserted between the bales of hay. Mats were gently rolled into baskets around the room while yoga blocks and Mexican blankets were stacked neatly along the wall for student use.  An ever so slight hint of incense infused the air. The atmosphere was quiet. The calmness of the space caused me to want to take part in the experience.

I felt welcomed upon meeting the instructor.  For whatever reason, perhaps because I’m in Mexico, I expected a Mexican woman.  To my surprise, Kathy Bereza was not only a certified instructor with 200+ hours of certification under her belt, she’s well studied in the health benefits of yoga and a graduate of the University of Michigan.  Twelve years of life in San Carlos had not completely erased her Michigan accent. Kathy had a delicate, reserved manner as she greeted newcomers and explained that the class for the day would focus on detailed movement, posture and alignment and conclude with 20 minutes of deep relaxation. She added that Yoga Nidra, aka yogic sleep, was intended to bring about a state of being that is similar to the feeling between waking and sleeping.  At this point I thought that sounds a little unnatural in a room full of strangers and tried to side-eye someone for verification. Unfortunately, confirmation was nowhere to be found. But I made it this far so, why not?

The Iyengar Yoga portion of the class wrapped up with no problem.  I had managed not to fall on either of the other two women during the class.  Now it was time for Yoga Nidra. It began with closing eyes and getting comfortable on the floor.  This was when I couldn’t help but revert to my childhood self, peek around the room and make sure others followed these directions.  As I eased into the prone position, Kathy spoke softly and directed us to focus deeply on relaxation of every part of the body. I pondered, how did she know my jaw was clenched, my foot was flexed, my shoulders tensed?  Her metered voice was serene. Over time there was a gradual transition to a mindset that mirrored the epiphany one would feel being simultaneously awake and asleep. It was similar to the feeling you have when you can’t quite determine if a dream is actually taking place.  When the 20 minutes concluded it was as if a weight I was previously unaware of had been lifted from my body.  Rising from the mat I said, “I had no idea how much I needed this class. I honestly haven’t felt this relaxed in three months.”  I continued with, “It would be great if you could just come to my house and do this right before I go to bed each night.” I was joking of course but abruptly thought, was that last statement taking it just a bit too far?

As I rolled up my mat, Kathy asked how long I’d been in San Carlos.  Ruby told her I was new but planned to live in San Carlos full time. I then informed her that we had arrived a month earlier and were really happy to finally be settled.  She asked what I had done when I lived in the states. I responded, “I was a teacher.” It was at that exact moment the unknown side effects of deep relaxation yoga slapped me in the face.  My guard was down and I burst into tears. Little did I know being so relaxed would thrust to the front of my mind how much I would truly miss teaching, my former colleagues, staff members at the school, my precious students and their families.  I tried to pull it together saying, “I’m not going to cry,” but it was too late the gate had already sprung open, so I followed up with, “Who am I kidding, I’m an emotional wreck.” I had now created a tense moment for the trio of women who remained that no savasana could erase.  As I rebounded from my graceless scene, gathered my things and left La Casa de Paja I wondered, do I regret my decision to leave teaching?  In a millisecond I knew the answer. No, I don’t.  But at that moment I had a realization. From that day forward when asked what I did for a living my answer would change from, I’m a teacher of gifted students, to slightly different wording… I used to be a teacher of gifted students.  As I climbed into my car and rattled down the road I questioned if I’d ever have the fortitude to return to yoga at La Casa De Paja. Goodness only knows what other unknown side effects of deep relaxation yoga could be lurking about.

Follow up: Two days later I was invited by a sweet friend, Amy, to a get together called the “Women’s Circle” which was held at the home of a neighbor.  The name of this social gathering reminded me of a witches coven so after confirming no caldrons were involved I agreed to take part. Why not, right?  Upon our arrival at the “Women’s Circle” (which was actually more of a square considering there were only four of us in attendance) I was introduced to two intriguing women from the Caracol Peninsula.  We were enjoying delicious food, drink and easy conversation. All was going pretty well and when a knock came at the door. The homeowner said, “Oh, I bet Kathy was able to make it after all.” Kathy, hmmmm, hadn’t I recently met someone with that name?  Enter the yoga instructor.  Yes, that yoga instructor. She turned toward me and comprehension eased across her face. Awesome.  The last time we were in the same room I was playing the role of mentally unbalanced yoga student while she was tasked with portraying the kind instructor dealing with a delicate situation.  The homeowner politely added, “Kathy, I think you know everyone here except our newest neighbor, Laura.”

Before she could speak, I quickly responded, “Actually, we’ve met.  I was the one having the emotional breakdown during yoga on Monday.”  I shook her hand and added, “I promise not to cry tonight if I can help it.”  The two of us laughed and shared the details of the situation. The remainder of the evening went well and as far as I can ascertain I did not embarrass myself further.  

Looking back, what did I gain from these experiences?  First, there are wonderful people that I am beginning to know in San Carlos, and they in turn are just starting to learn about the former teacher and new resident I am becoming.  Second, might I embarrass myself during my new personal development?  Of that there is no doubt.  However, sometimes the stories we like to retell and the events we look back on with fondness are indeed the very side effects of those situations. So, moving forward…why not?

August 21, 2019

“Your pants say yoga but your butt says tacos.”
T-shirt slogan from J.J.’s Tacos in San Carlos, Mexico

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