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…

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.