Retreating to Move Forward: Part 1

Do me a favor. Play this song: Faith’s Hymn and find a comfortable seat. Sit up tall. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Feel your breath as it fills up in your lungs and slowly makes it way out of your nose. Take note of your chest, rising and falling with each breath. Put your hands to your chest. Do you feel it? Do you believe in magic?

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On September 8, 2014, I came across the most magical photo on Instagram. It was a photo of women on what looked like a paddle board doing yoga on the ocean. It looked so magnificent that I almost questioned if it was real. Nonetheless, I screenshot it and deemed it a top item in my bucket list.

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At the time, I had no idea who Rachel Brathen (@yogagirl) was on Instagram and how she revolutionized the online yoga community, let alone invented Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga. I would find her years later after this post, as her positive messages and tenets of living resonated deeply with me first and foremost. Fast forward four years, one cancer diagnosis, four rounds of chemo, and many buried bucket list items later, I got an email out of the blue saying one spot opened up for a yoga retreat with Rachel in Aruba, and it was mine if I wanted it. Knowing how much yoga got me through the past year, I couldn’t help but take it as a sign. A sign that after many years of manifestation, I was finally being given the road to recovery, and even deeper — the road to healing. So I took the spot and quickly booked my flight to the sunny island (much to the initial dismay of the Hubby).

The time came for the retreat, and I left NY feeling somewhat excited but definitely anxious as I knew I had to do a bone scan when I got back and the unknown outcome weighed heavily on my mind. That, plus I was about to throw myself into a group of fifty other strangers, and I had to share a room for six days with someone I knew nothing about. What was waiting for me on the other side of that four hour flight? Would it be worth the time and money and energy? Was I going to learn something new and take home lessons I couldn’t get stateside? Was I finally going to learn how to do crow pose?

Off the bat, a fellow retreater found me at JFK – my big green yoga mat a dead giveaway. She had a warm energy and sweet smile, and I knew I wanted to connect with her more when we landed. We were on the same flight and rode together to the hotel where I chose the corner bed — a likely choice as I always liked the feeling of being tucked in a nook. Perhaps it made me feel safe and secure…already I was discovering things about myself.

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A goodie bag full of welcome treats was waiting on the bed for me, with a beautiful piece of selenite crystal being the highlight of the bunch. I immediately set it outside to charge under the moonlight come night time.

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The first order of business was a welcome drink at Island Yoga — the yoga studio that served as my refuge for the next 6 days. There, we met Rachel and her husband and baby, along with the other beautiful souls with whom I would share my time. We gathered into the Luna Shala, the main room where we would practice and gather. I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful wood ceiling and soft glow of red lights coming from above. I already felt the energy of the room stored in the fibers of the wall and striations of the wood. The energy was visceral and strong, penetrating deep into my soul. I could already feel my eyes welling with tears.

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We all sat in a circle – the first sharing of the retreat. “My name is _____, I am from _____, and I am here because ______.” One by one, we shared a concise recap of our story, what led us to this island at this time in our lives. Many expressed life transitions: divorce, loss of job, new business venture, and many expressed a desire to disrupt patterns: anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-judgement. The first tears of the retreat were shed, walls slowly starting to shake loose revealing softness and vulnerability. As we spoke, we each drew an angel card from a thick deck, working off the notion that we attract what we need so whatever card we end up picking speaks to how we feel in that moment.

As the deck went around the room and closer to me, I could feel a giant lump in my throat. I was already very emotional — do I tell them about the cancer? How much do I share? Do I really want to be that person? I made the decision to speak from honesty, and shared my cancer diagnosis, how yoga got me through so much, how I got a sign in the form of an email, and that I was here for healing…of body, mind, soul, spirit. I remember the heaviness of the words as they left my mouth, how I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for fear or judgement. And then I felt a hug coming from my left side with a slight whisper, “Omg, I’m an oncology nurse!”. We both broke down into tears and then I knew my being here was no coincidence. There is no coincidence, only synchronicity. Things do happen for a reason. Magic.

“Coincidences are not accidents but signals from the universe which can guide us toward our true destiny.” – Deepak Chopra

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