Finding Peace through Yoga in Mexico
Walking up the hill paved in cobblestones, I warned my friend, “This isn’t like yoga back home.” She nodded, focusing on the steep incline we would come to know over the next week. “The focus is on meditation. We will hold the poses much longer and with purpose.”
This wasn’t my first warning. My longtime friend, Angel, is a doctor. To cope with the daily stresses of her job, she is intensely active in sports and at the gym. For her and many other Americans, yoga has also become another workout for the body to achieve peak physical performance. Hridaya Yoga, the studio we were visiting in Oaxaca, Mexico, is a practice of spiritual heart meditation. Every morning, a donation-based class is offered to the surrounding small communities of San Agustinillo and Mazunte. Mexican locals and tourists alike fill the hall, which has sweeping views of the rising sun and the Pacific Ocean.
Angel and I arrive early, taking in the glorious views and observing the school’s students gathering in a circle for a morning prayer. Quietly, we enter the hall that has a thatched roof. Mats, pillows, and blankets are available for all to use. We choose our spots, lay down borrowed mats, and begin our own silent preparations. Many minutes pass, then a woman wearing white enters the hall.
She gracefully sits for meditation at the head of the class. Silently, everyone follows her example. Time passes. The sounds of the wind and waves gather in a rhythm. Soon, breathing becomes the only sensation. The ding of a calming bell brings us back to consciousness. Opening our eyes, each of us is greeted with a sincere smile. After a few moments, the teacher begins with a quote by Rachel Brathen as the focus for our practice.
The Goal of Yoga
(No, it is not the headstand)
The yoga pose is not the goal.
Becoming flexible is not the goal. Standing on your hands is not the goal.
The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are.
The goal is to love, well… You.
Come to your yoga mat to feel; not to accomplish.
Shift your focus and your heart will grow.
Class begins with fifteen minutes of meditation. Breathing, I try to reach my previous heightened state, but this quotation has me conversing in my head about acrobatic yoga practices. Finally, I catch myself and repeat, “shift your focus and your heart will grow. Breathe.” I peek at my friend, who appears peaceful, then take another deep breath while listening for the sounds of the wind and waves. Ding, we begin our first yoga asana.
Between meditation and the yoga poses, there is no break. The goal is to hold the pose without movement, bringing stillness to the mind so that the asana becomes meditation, or Kaya Sthairyam. No movement, no judgment, surrendering. We are guided to dispel the ego and open the heart to who we are. Many of the poses are gentle backbends to open the heart and stretch the chest area. In the hour and a half class, we perform only ten poses, with several minutes of rest in between. Somehow, the time passes quickly and we end with fifteen minutes of seated meditation. Quite easily, I slip into the void. Ding, class is over.
We decide to take the beach route home. Smiling, we walk down a path through the trees to the rocks and sand below. The midday sun is shining bright, warming our bodies. The calm azure ocean looks like heaven. We move quickly in the hot sand to our beach-side cabañas at Un Sueño and change into our swimsuits. Feeling fabulous from the yoga and looking good in my new bathing suit, I dash out the door. Immediately, I spot Angel at the beach, still in her yoga clothes. I bound across the sand to where she is seated.
When I arrive, my heart sinks. She is crying and when our eyes meet, more tears explode. Confused, I sit beside her. Angel is looking at pictures of her mother. Two years prior, her mother passed away. As a doctor, she stayed strong for her father and siblings, never fully grieving the loss until now. Embracing her, I smile, knowing the reason; I too have grieved losses here. For many years, I have traveled alone to this tiny fishing village of San Agustinillo and the yoga studio perched high above to take the time to open my heart, find peace, and play in the sunshine.