Trust Yourself: Yoga and Death on a Caribbean Island

Trust Yourself: Yoga and Death on a Caribbean Island

It was a very mixed, all levels yoga class. Older people, younger people. Flexible people. People with injuries. All different body types. Everyone with some previous yoga experience – whatever that means.

As we started I began looking for that sweet spot- that point where everyone is flowing together. Everyone finding something that fits them.

We slowly made our way off the floor, moving from breath work and joint warm-ups into a more active, flowing practice… and it started to happen. That feeling so many who practice yoga have felt, the behavior most of us have elicited, and the actions so many teachers have witnessed…that ‘Am I doing this right?’ look as students started to glance around the room. The shifting in focus from what one feels, to what one thinks they are or aren’t doing ‘right’.

I watched the looks. It was as if ‘Am I making the same shape as everyone else? Oh, she is so flexible, I must be doing this wrong,’ was written in bold black Sharpie on everyone’s forehead.

I watched as so many began to lose their focus. Shifting from a place of knowing and feeling to a place of thinking. Gauging their experience and their intrinsic knowledge of their own bodies against a group of random strangers.

In that moment, out of my mouth came, ‘Trust that you know what you are doing…on and off the mat.’

As the words landed boldly, and not exactly gracefully, my own surprise was noticeable in my quick to follow laugh. A laugh of knowing, of seeing and feeling connections.

The day before I had been caught in a situation of a drowning victim.* Before I knew it,  it was me leading the CPR process, knowing we were possibly too late. Me directing roles, reassuring everyone that what they were doing was exactly what they needed to be doing. Me hearing that medics weren’t coming. Me knowing that meant it was up to me, and whoever I called upon, to make a final call on life and death.

It was also me who would later research CPR best practices – and have to reassess and re-analyze the differences between my training for most common emergencies versus the situation I was presented with. It was me who would fight out the crazy town in my head having to come to terms with what I did and didn’t ‘know’.**

After the incident, I found myself in a position of supporting many of those who had witnessed it. People coming to me, asking if I was OK, then breaking down in front of me. I found myself describing my own world view. Repeatedly saying something along the lines of ‘Everything is right. All of us were supposed to be there to experience and participate in this. Our job was to show up. To be present. Maybe our job wasn’t to ‘save’ this person today. Sometimes the souls have a different plan. Let’s use this as a reminder of how short this life is and ask if we are living it consciously, doing what we are supposed to be doing with our energy.’

That evening my mind and soul were processing the details. I was feeling the inadequacy, the space between what we are often prepared for versus what we have to do. I was seeing everyone else’s perspective. The bazillion ‘what if’s.’ I couldn’t feel my own world view.

That following morning as those words so thoughtlessly flowed out of me, I knew they were meant for me just as much as the mixed group on the mats. 

Right, wrong, training, best practices, over-thinking, wondering if what you know is actually adequate, is a real experience many of us have frequently. How many of us don’t do something, try something, or help someone or something, for fear of it not being ‘right’ or because we know we will be judged by someone else?

What would it feel like to trust that each of us really are in the right places, at the right time, all the time? Can we practice being OK acting with confidence, humility, and intention? Knowing that maybe our only job is to authentically show up and trust that we know what we are doing.


*Red Frog Beach has been referenced by many as a death trap. All tourists. Beautiful water. Terrible currents. No lifeguards. I will also add, mostly foreign (US) property and hotel owners who appear to be more interested in money and development than training themselves or their staff or paying for lifeguards. Learning to swim, respecting the power of mother nature, investing in more community/citizen education on basic emergency response is huge.

**Most CPR training [to my knowledge] now emphasizes compression only. For drowning victims its the opposite. Breath first. Fast. While they are still being pulled from the water if possible. No one, no one, on the beach that day who was helping knew that. Including me. If anyone did know that, they didn’t say anything…So again, so important that you trust what you know and act on it…

Dear house sharing, thank you….


House sharing. The basic idea being that the cost of renting and buying homes is expensive (in some places more so!) and that if you have an extra room in your house why not rent it out? Someone gets cheap(er) rent and someone else gets help with their mortgage. The details vary – a room, a room and bathroom, half a house – but regardless, there are basic agreed upon house rules and good communication is a must. It’s most common to end up with strangers via sites like Craigslist or with friends of friends who you don’t really know prior to moving in. The bonus, is that if the homeowner is ethical, house sharing can play a positive role in maintaining affordable housing.

For many people in the U.S. house sharing is often perceived as something only for college students, nudist hippies, and the immigrants working 2 jobs all day to send money abroad. Or, many mistakenly think Airbnb is house sharing (it’s not, it actually reduces access to affordable living). The thought that working adults with some version of a stable job would choose to house share is beyond comprehension for many people.

I house shared for eight years before deciding to travel full time. I cannot count the the number of times I was asked “But you have a good job, you don’t have to share kitchens and bathrooms, so why would you?’

My favorite answers?
I’d rather buy a plane ticket every three months than have a private kitchen.
It’s like I get to date lots of different people -without the emotional responsibility.
It keeps my friend community from becoming completely homogeneous.
It’s a constant practice in compromise. (A good thing given there are 7 billion of us on this planet)
It keeps my consumption of new shit in check. More space=more shit. Less space=less shit.
It takes too many resources for each of us to have our own homes. The earth cannot afford that.

Now, I will add to this list: It allows me to more comfortably live in and enjoy the diversity and generosity of the world.

I can walk into any house or campground or community center and comfortably take a shower. Maybe I have to use a bucket. Maybe I have to share the bathroom with 10 people so I only get a few minutes. Maybe there is no light to shave by. Maybe I have to take an outdoor shower in a swimsuit with what feels like the whole community watching me. But, hey, a shower is a shower.

I can walk into any shared kitchen or dig through my camping cook box and find pans, plates, utensils and spices sufficient for preparing delicious, healthy food to feed however many people might just happen to be around at mealtime.

I am prepared to expect -and embrace- everyone’s unique form of crazy. Everyone has vices. Everyone has some version of religion or worldview. Everyone desperately wants to connect and be accepted.

So you are Mormon or evangelical and I’m not? So your drug of choice is more addicting than my drug of choice? So you live with lots of dogs in your apartment and I don’t like dogs? So you don’t know how to cook vegetables and I can’t eat fried chicken every night? So you are an older expat with a younger local girlfriend and the details of your relationship confuse me?

So what.

Thank you for accepting me (and my version of crazy) and my life choices into your home. Thank you for your generosity. I am thankful that I am ready to accept your generosity and respectfully share the kitchen, bathroom and bed you have offered to me. More so than sharing your space, thank you for sharing your energy, time, ideas, family, and stories.

Thank you also, to the many people who trained me. To the many houses that I was allowed to practice in. Ten years ago I would not have been as accepting. I would not have adapted as quickly to constantly changing ‘normals.’ The real benefit I have received from years of house sharing far exceed the money I saved through cheaper rent or the enjoyment of a few extra plane tickets a year. The real gift is that I am better able to love and accept random humans and their choices.

But this took time and practice.

For sure there are reasons we should all try this. For sure we all are starting in different places…

Maybe starting means hosting a traveler for two days through Couch Surfing. Or taking in short term renters – a grad student doing research, a traveling nurse with a three month contract. Or for a year- a Earthcorps or Americorps member who live on a subpar stipend while working to improve our communities. Maybe it is deciding your extra room is better used to house another human full time than to store your high school yearbooks and unfinished projects.

Maybe, for now, the process of putting yourself out there and interviewing people from different walks of life with different ways of living is your version of starting.

…But maybe we should all start somewhere.

The earth and the future you will say ‘thank you.’

Opportunities to rewrite our identity

Each ‘level’ of our life is a new set of curriculum for us to master. Each level requires us to realize a version of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Leveling up sucks. In a beautiful way.

Ten years ago, I remember feeling tears in my throat as I was being wheeled out of the emergency room. I fell off a mountain earlier that day- narrowly missing spinal damage, managing to only break part of my knee joint. At that time, if someone asked me who I was, or what I did, I would have said “I play outside. I snowboard, mountain bike, run, climb, do yoga.” When the nurse in the ER looked at me and asked if I had any questions before surgery, all I could choke out was ‘Will I ever play again?’

Twelve hours later, as the morphine wore off and I came to terms with the fact that my brain and spine were still intact and I was only out a knee, the message was clear. Close call. This life is short. I for sure was granted some more time.

Weeks of surgery turned into years of rehab. As I rebuilt my knee, so also I rebuilt my identity. I focused on my spirituality, my work, my community, social and environmental injustices. I took on projects – lots of them.

Fast forward ten years. I ask for and am granted a sabbatical from work. A crash pad I will call it, as I jumped off the cliff of ‘a good, fulfilling, financially stable, normal US life.’ I left my job and the life I had built to ‘listen to the universe’- the persistent voices in my head that occasionally make me question my sanity.

I spent the first two months working for trade at a hotel – teaching yoga, supporting volunteers, doing sea turtle conservation work. I was seen as a teacher, an environmentalist, someone who manages programs, someone who takes on new work, and ‘gets shit done.’ My identity was intact. Obliviously unchallenged.

During that time I was presented with an opportunity to live differently. The exact opposite as I had for the past twelve years. Disconnected from ‘the system.’ Living cheap (or broke by some standards). Living in beautiful places. More time enjoying,
observing, and talking with people – less time ‘doing’. Living on the road. In cultures that aren’t mine, speaking languages that aren’t mine. Relying on the universe to provide friends, family, work, and security.

I said yes.

Weeks turned into months. The labels that were so normal months ago, are now foreign. I am no longer known as the teacher, the government worker, the youth advocate, the yogi, the cross-fitter, the environmentalist, the thinker. My quick questioning and opinionated mind seems a thing of the past- as I am no longer in my first language and it’s struggle to keep up with even the most basic of conversations.

I occasionally make the mistake of diving into social media and watching the successes of those who ‘took my place’ in my ‘other life’. I start comparing. Today I am washing laundry by hand and sharing bathrooms (if there are any) – not bringing fairness into the world or shaping the minds of the future.

I feel my soul, my ego getting broken down, dismantled. But this time it’s not only the physical aspects. It’s the mental, the ‘soul’, the ‘doing’. The attachment to the idea that what I do, make, create, and ‘fix’ in this life is what matters. For over a decade I have believed that the important part of the human experience is defined by what we give. And when gifted the privileges of education, relative wealth, absence of trauma, then, especially then, our value should be defined by what we do, what we give, what we change, what we ‘fix’.

Then I find myself in a situation of ‘doing’ nothing. Of living and traveling, but not ‘doing’ anything. And I panic. Kind of. In a chill beach life kind of way. And I talk with close friends back home. Strong women. Who understand all of it.

And you know what they tell me?
‘You are learning that just being you is enough. It’s about time.’

So with that, I wake up each morning. Each day finding time to say ‘Who am I now? Who was I today?’ How was ‘being me perfectly natural and enough today?’

I am pretty sure the universe isn’t going to cut me any slack, so I’ll probably get a few more soul crushing identity assessments in this life. But I also know, the more I practice getting to know those things that I use to define me, the more I dis-empower them. The less power those labels have, the less I fear the day I am forced to shed them. And today, this practice allows me a little more freedom to enjoy ‘just being me.’

So, with a playful attitude may we be brave enough to practice detaching from our labels? Because for sure, we know, there is a ridiculously high chance we will outlive our labels in this life.

Today may we ask:

  • Who am I?
  • Is that label something that can be changed or taken away?
  • If it were changed, taken away, not part of my life, then what answer would I give?
  • Who was I today?
  • When was I naturally, perfectly me?

Remember it’s a practice:

  • Keep going. Try and find the labels that can’t be taken away- underneath those on the surface.
  • Don’t avoid the hard ones. They are the most important. I.e. mother, father, owner/founder/creator of ‘x’. The harder the question the more important it is.
  • Decrease the pressure. This doesn’t take thirty minutes a day. Casually and frequently have this conversation in the shower, while cooking, while riding the bus.
  • Laugh. It’s serious and it’s not.
  • Avoid comparing. To other past versions of you. To other people around you. Those reference points don’t matter. Now matters. No good comes from comparing – and it often feels terrible. Avoid it.
  • Look over your life. How many other versions of you can you identify? What labels did you have to shed in order to ‘level up’. Remember you survived each of those ‘sheddings’.
  • Allow yourself to be amused. To be surprised. To cry. To Mourn the idea of losing a label. To feel freedom in creating new ones.

With time, observe the evolution of responses. And, everyday, please walk into the world knowing that you are not your labels and that ‘being you is enough.’

The ‘Beauty’ of Trauma

Is there any beauty in trauma? Any silver lining, per se? Especially within the worst kinds of trauma – extensive sexual abuse. Is there any way that someone can heal from that kind of trauma? That they might not carry the PTSD it has caused into all of their other interactions in life? That they could ever use that trauma to create? To produce good? As a stimulus to find their gift to the world?

On many days I say the answer is ‘no’. No we cannot ask, assume, or expect that of the victims of such manipulative dark acts of abuse. And, it seems, to choose to see any positive – any lightness to this darkness- we are somehow not validating the pain, the injustice. Somehow we are making light of the complexities of these situations, the emotions, and the memories the victims carry with them everyday.

Finish reading at


“That was good yoga”

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A wise old man: 89 years young from New York –  a seasonal resident on the San Salvador beach, a musician and a photographer.
A traveler: A life traveler, artist, lover of dolphins, sea turtles and pelicans from El Salvador.
A teacher: Traveling yoga teacher, lover of humans and earth, from Seattle, USA.

The wise man, the traveler and the teacher take a walk on the beach…..

Walking for exercise. An alternative ‘yoga’ of sorts. A little strength training for the wise old man because we all know that what you eat and what you do matters- but at 89 years young what you eat and what you do take on a whole new meaning.

So this day they walked. To strengthen the wise man’s legs and balance. And talked. To expand their souls. Talked of the crazy that all humans carry inside them. And the beauty of the crazy – if they are open to allowing it to pass through and become something beautiful to give back to the world. They talked of the ugly power that shame and guilt can command. They talked of what can and can’t go with them when we die, of what the ‘good life’ looks like. Of trees and dirt, oxygen and food and not being able to ‘eat money’.

Soon the wise old man re-tells a version of a fisherman’s tale…. A fisherman out catching a fish, when asked what he was going to do after catching his fish he says “I will cook it, eat it, sit on the beach, play my guitar…” the other person follows with  ‘you could catch more, sell them, create a distribution system, make a lot of money, be in a beautiful office all day. Then you can retire and sit on the beach and fish, and play music all day. It will be wonderful…”

Point made.

The teacher looks towards the life traveler and says – “That is him. He is choosing that path. The one mostly free from the system. The money. The control.” The traveler responds with a laugh “That is what my mother always says to me. Stop traveling get a job. Then take vacation.”

Silently, the walk continues, with some reflection on choices and expectations of this life. Soon the teachers asks the wise man “When was the last time you swam?”

“Oh, too long, my balance and my strength, I cannot get in the water.”

“But today you have support, two of us with you, today we walk in the water”.

The teacher is convinced she will maintain some control – only go in knee deep, keep her clothes dry, quick walk…Minutes later control is lost. All three are wet, letting the waves crash over them, laughing, supporting the old wise man as the waves threaten to ‘win’.

Emerging from the water they are greeted by a fishing boat full of giant fresh shrimp, soon to be lunch.

On the walk back, the conversation turns to “Earth School”. The hardness and the beauty of what life ‘gifts’ us. We laugh. We don’t know shit. As soon a we think we understand something we are presented with a contradictory lesson to confuse us. We return to thoughts of ‘our crazy’ and our life choices.

Upon returning ‘home’ with ‘lunch’, the wise man looks to the teacher with a laugh “That was good yoga.”


It was never about the shorts.


I thought I needed board shorts. It was recommended that I had some if I was going to stay on the Salvadoran coast for any length of time. The pressure to pack and leave Seattle, and the ‘to do’ list associated with the process was overwhelming. The post presidential election energy was emotionally exhausting to top it off. I was struggling that last day, and the energy demand to go searching for a pair of boardshorts in Seattle in winter seemed like enough to break me. Knowing I had a 7 hour layover in Miami, I quickly took that shopping trip off my list, with the thought that I would for sure be able to find some shorts in the Miami airport…

When the Miami layover arrived, loaded up with my backpack -yoga mat attached-I set off. I approached each shop asking for ‘boardshorts’ initially. After much unanticipated confusion, I started calling them ‘beach shorts’. Eventually I was just asking for ‘shorts’. Any shorts. Or thoughts on shops where I might find shorts. I walked into any and every shop – now on a mission for information as opposed to thinking that the shop would have anything I actually needed. I approached a swanky upscale men’s clothing store and was greeted by a beautiful man, with a nice smile, who offered me the idea that in the next terminal I could find what I was looking for. As I was walking out of the store he yelled after me ‘Namaste’. I wasn’t anticipating this. Stunned, I turned, barely letting a ‘thank you’ tumble out of my mouth.

My search continued unsuccessfully for far too long. Trekking through the terminals with all my carry-on, backpacker gear weighing me down. On my way back to my gate I passed one shop with shorts. I was ecstatic for a minute,  I quickly bought a pair, made a mad dash to the bathroom to try them on, only to find they fit terribly, and so, with disappointment I returned them. By now I was fully accepting that this was not the time or place that I would buy shorts,  I caught myself  mumbling “WTF, I can make do with what I have. I can’t be the first person to live on a surfing beach without proper boardshorts.”

I decided to stop by and thank the guy at the swanky men’s store for the ‘Namaste’ – that interaction had at least felt good that morning amidst the internal uncertainty I was feeling. I chose to tell him a little about my journey, my unknown year of travel that was set to begin with a flight to El Salvador leaving within the hour. I talked about teaching yoga, the type of yoga, places and people I teach. He told me he was also a yoga teacher. At a YMCA. We had a moment of shared understanding about yoga as public health, publicly accessible versus the elitist Lulu Lemon scene that so often plays out. He validated my choice to travel, to teach and to learn. He validated both the excitement and the hardness in making that choice. “It is hard in our world to follow the path of our souls”, he said. “Some people think we are human beings having spiritual experiences, but really we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” With my jaw on the floor, he introduced himself as Miguel as we said goodbye. I walked out of the shop, and as I looked up I found myself staring directly at a giant art installation reading….”Peace and Love”.

I laughed. Out loud. In terminal D of the Miami airport. It was never about the shorts. I needed my decision to break away from my life to be affirmed. I needed a solid reminder, that in this time,  when fear and oppression so often feel like they are ‘winning’ that the path is always  “Peace and Love”.

And, you know what? I seem to be surviving just fine without proper boardshorts on the coast of El Salvador.