Gina Molinari yoga, wellness, travel and coaching
Our Surf, Service, & Yoga Retreat in Sri Lanka was such a fulfilling success! We all expanded ourselves and learned life's lessons in different ways. That's what travel gifts us - the opportunity to learn something we never expected to learn.
We stayed at Sion Surf Camp, a super laid back spot in Ahangama. It sits across from Devil's Rock and a famous surf break. Every morning, the crew of "real" surfers would line up along the rocks' edge and survey their Lover, the powerful and generous Ocean. I would stand behind them and watch their passion while trying to understand the jargon and make sense of the terrifying waves.
I've never been a great swimmer and my experience with the ocean is generally just dipping in to cool off after baking myself on the beach. Nonetheless, I was in Sri Lanka with clean surf breaks and patient instructors, so I gave it a shot. I started out by telling my instructor that I'm afraid of waves and a half hour later looked him straight in the eyes and said "I'm not even having fun." I expect he probably deals with stubborn learners often, because he laughed me off and helped to push me into the next wave. Lo and behold, when I accepted guidance and stopped trying to figure it all out on my own, I caught the wave AND stood up to ride the whitewater all the way toward shore.
Surfing over the next 2 weeks offered lesson after lesson. Just the same way we learn something about ourselves or our relationship to the world when we step on our yoga mats, surfing offers us the opportunity to learn something about the "real world". One of the most profound yet basic lessons I learned was the value of reading a situation and then adjusting accordingly. I would pop up onto my longboard and feel it wobble as my feet weren't in quite the right spot, so I'd jump off and call it a wash. After exhausting myself this way for a few runs, I realized that I could walk on the board. When I didn't land the way I needed, I could adjust and rebalance in order to ride it out.
How often do you try something new, whether it's an activity or a relationship, and find that it's not working out quite right? Do you abandon ship? Hopefully, you adjust and attempt to find an approach that feels true and stable. When we step into Warrior II, it's a process of finding the foot placement, wiggling our shoulders over our hips, engaging the core, and then stabilizing our legs. It's a natural part of surfing/yoga/life. We can't possibly expect to have things perfect at the start (or ever), but we can certainly adjust to make things feel steady.
Like the practice of yoga, surfing is a lifelong practice. Every wave is unique and the board you ride it on requires different strategy. Every day we come to our yoga mats, our bodies and minds are in a unique state and must be accounted for. Just as we practice yoga on our mats and surfing on our boards, these are all efforts to carry the lessons we learn in to our everyday lives.
Hola from Peru!
Much of this trip is about space: creating space, intentionally filling space, accepting blank space. It took a huge leap of faith to leave a steady paycheck and amazing yoga community in order to create the space needed to travel long-term, but that was only the beginning of the journey.
In the past 3 weeks, I've completed the 6 day Salkantay Trail hike through the Andes with a peak of 15,092 feet, experienced the mindblowing architecture and energy of Machu Picchu, indulged in a ton of amazing vegan cuisine in Cusco, and explored the many markets of the towns I've visited. Yet these were all planned experiences. Although my expectations were often blown out of the water by my actual experiences, I had some framework in my mind for how I anticipated these things to go.
So when we set off on another trek around Ausangate Mountain/Glacier with only about 1 hour of preparation, I was met with an entirely different experience. The snow covered mountain itself is over 19,000 feet high and the circuit around it is fairly untraveled due to the high altitude, extreme weather, and unmarked trails. From Cusco we traveled to he small town of Tinki, which doesn't see many foreigners. The night before our trek we stayed in a tiny 3 room hostel and had an intention setting ceremony with two other travelers who had set similar plans (albeit with a lot more preparation). We asked for things like being WOWed by the magnificence of Mother Nature, remembering to breath in moments of panic, getting back to out wild roots, and honoring our limitations without bowing out of challenges.
It's true, we all had the expectation of hiking for 5-7 days, seeing the snow covered goliath and the many colored lakes that sit around its base, and ultimately completing the circuit with a dip in the hot springs at its end. Yet, there is something different about setting intentions to bolster the expectations. Asking the Universe for guidance rather than results feels like such an ultimate act of creating space and just allowing it to be filled as Grace finds necessary.
When I typed "definition of intention" into Google, the second response after "an aim or plan" is "the healing process of a wound".
After hiking up to the gleaming white face of Ausangate and dipping in the hot springs during a hail storm, for an array of reasons, Orion and I made the difficult decision to turn back and not complete the Ausangate Circuit. If you know he or I, then you know that "turning back" is really not in our vocabularies. Having an expectation and then making a conscious decision to turn away from seeing it through is quite foreign.
The first day in we were at an elevation of about 14,430 feet. We had hiked for almost 4 hours and went from warm, dry desert air to mushy plains to a snow/hail storm and below freezing temperatures within that time. After setting up camp around 2:00pm we dipped into the natural thermal baths to warm our frigid bodies and then attempted to cook dinner (note: split peas do NOT cook at high elevation). I was unprepared for the extreme cold and wind and my socks, gloves and hat had all gotten wet during the snowy rain. Orion's ankle was aching. Our food wasn't cooking. Overall, things just weren't working with us.
Yet, our bodies and the part of our Conscious that has our better interest in mind made the call for us. Our egos certainly wanted to check another trek off our list, but when we truly tuned in and asked what is best for our healing and well-being, the answer was a resounding "Listen. Turn back".
We had set many intentions, including the overarching intention of creating space for the absolutely unknown possibilities that could present themselves during our trip. While abandoning our plans of hiking multiple brilliant mountains of Peru, we were also accepting our response from the Universe and Pacha Mama as we had been asking for the most healing experiences.
Our moments of most profound healing come when we look to the Universe and say, "Here's the space. I'm open to your guidance!"
When you set expectations, are you also allowing yourself to set space for intentions?
For an entire year I had been anticipating that I’d be in Haiti building a children’s school right now. I spent 5 months fundraising, 3 months getting ready for the trip, and a year talking about it. I had promised everyone that the day I left for Haiti was going to change my life and I wasn’t going to return to the one I was leaving.
Unfortunately, a week and a half before we were set to get on a plane, our trip was postponed. Haiti’s presidential elections have caused violent turmoil in the country and traveling there is no longer safe. So with my bag halfway packed and my plans cleared for the week, I slumped back with a mixture of emotions that starkly contrasted the excitement I had been feeling. Frustration, anger, disappointment, confusion, fear, sadness…
I had been imagining a spark, something that was to set my “old life” ablaze as it transformed into something new and brilliant. That date of January 31, 2016 held the promise of everything I’d been hoping for for the past 5 years. So when the date became just a passing Sunday, I was forced to sit back and observe all that I’d hung on it.
For me, this trip to Haiti was more than a service trip. It was the life event to mark my transition from full-time office employee in a job that sucked my soul, to a purpose filled and aligned life of doing work that actually felt good. The thing is, I did actually quit my job (with the last day being on January 29). I did witness the Universe placing blessings and opportunities in my path as I proudly walked along it.
All of the brilliance was already in motion, but I was waiting for some big event to actually acknowledge it all. I was waiting for Haiti.
How often do we hang our transformations and transitions on some opulent Big Bang? Maybe I had already walked into my “new life”, but I was still observing it from the outside as a faraway land. Like reading the travel guide on Paradise instead of looking up to see I was already there.
Fortunately, my Highest Self wasn’t waiting for a silly date to dive into alignment. This postponement has given me that chance to step back and look at what I’ve already created so that I can be grateful and proud of it all.
I didn’t need a date, a trip, a critical event to make a shift. In fact, I’d already done it - I just hadn't allowed myself to revel in the celebration!
One year ago this week I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand and decided that I needed to get around a little faster. After all, there was so much to see and do. So, I rented a moped (it was cheap and everyone else seemed able to drive one). I gloriously set off to explore the city... about 25 feet and then immediately crashed it. As my head smashed the ground all I was thinking was "Did I break the bike? Will I have to pay replacement cost?" with no concern for my own body. Fortunately, there was an emergency clinic right next to the bike shop and I got fixed up while still in shock, gradually realizing that I was cut up, bruised, and in pain as the adrenaline of the accident wore off.
I kept that accident a secret, lest my family find out and panic even more about my safety half a world away. Despite the aches and gnarly cuts that required constant iodine washes to keep clean, that crash was a blessing in disguise. Up until that point I was walking multiple miles every day and cramming in every little thing I could do. I HAD TO do everything.
That crash limited how far I could walk, so I couldn't take the 5 mile hike to the waterfalls in Pai. Instead I took a 90 min motorbike ride (I wasn't driving) to a cave that I likely wouldn't have otherwise agreed to. I couldn't go dancing, so I went and listened to reggae music and actually talked to the people I was interacting with. When everything slowed down, I was able to experience it much more fully. Don't get me wrong though, all of these gifts were very hard to see in the moments when I felt restrained and frustrated by my limited mobility.
The effects of that crash are still lasting today, including the frustration of not being able-bodied enough to do everything I want to do. Since I came home from that trip, my knee has been weak. I overcompensated for it and ended up hurting my elbow. For a long while I was basically punishing my body for the injuries and causing even more damage. As someone who grew up an athlete and never felt mobility restrictions, the whole process of being injured was met with kicking and screaming. Looking back though, the new experience has been enlightening, as most struggles are.
When I practice, I need to modify - some days I can't even hold Downward Facing Dog. Fancy shapes that used to be easy for me require a lot more awareness as I determine moment by moment if my body is going to be served by them, or if it's only my ego looking for gratification. Oftentimes my body limits me to gentle yoga and yin yoga. I won't pretend that I'm okay with it all either: my mind racing throughout class with judgments toward myself and it takes a LOT to bring myself back into the present. It's an active practice to truly love my body unconditionally and experience each moment for what it IS, not what it isn't.
Beyond my own practice, these injuries have made me a more aware and sensitive teacher. Just because I see another person's body does not mean I know how it feels for him. Further, I've become more understanding of people's injuries and limitations and I practice offering even more simple variations so that yoga can feel accessible to every body. I've accepted that I can't fix everyone's pain, but that I can encourage them to love their bodies as they are.
I've witnessed the need to respect my body and practice loving it, even with limitations. It's so easy to feel anger/frustration/sadness when my muscles ache, my back is stiff, and I generally can't do the things my 20 year old self could. Every day I am faced with an opportunity to chose to Love my physical body, or to serve my ego instead - and it's no walk in the park! Through experience I now have more to offer my students who are struggling with the similar issues as I can empathize with them and their journey.
By kindly treating injuries like a wise sages, they offer wisdom only to those who slow down enough to listen.
During my 10 days out in Colorado with absolutely no plan, no expectations, no idea where I’d sleep each night, and minimal internet/cell phone service, every detail of the trip was handed over to the universe (and my travel buddy) and I just enjoyed the ride, letting each piece fall into place as it came.
My journey took me from the surprisingly intellectual dispensaries of Denver to red rock canyons just shy of Utah and everywhere in between. I slept in a tent and woke with the sunrise. Hot springs were my personal hot tub. We cooked gourmet protein rich vegan meals over a camp stove and brewed fresh chamomile tea using the flowers growing out of the crumbled rock alongside the road. Most of all, I submersed myself in the bliss and gratitude discoverable through being surrounded by nature, completely disconnected from timelines and responsibility.
Please allow me to summarize the wisdoms Colorado’s Rockies shared with me:
Life Lessons Learned Through Hiking
1. When the path ahead seems unbearably long or difficult, look back at how far you’ve already come and don’t even consider turning back. We pulled into Curecante National Recreation area just as the sun was beginning to make its descent below the valley. After getting water from the brush barriered creek, we scoped out a potential camp spot just beyond what appeared to be a rocky mesa. We hiked, but all we found there was a rocky slope. So we hiked higher and higher,each time only finding surfaces too graded for the tent. I kept looking down the mountainside at the car becoming a tiny white speck below and wondering, “How much further can we go?” It’s a familiar feeling, glancing behind at how far we’ve come and wondering if the struggle has an end. Of course, when the place we’re in isn’t what we came for, there’s no choice but to trek on. Is turning back and losing hard earned ground really what you want? We had faith that a special spot was magically reserved for us if we kept moving. Finally, just as the sun was dipping below the peak, we found IT: the most perfect campspot with a breathtaking view. The entire valley, the lake in the distance, the peaks just above us. The car was just a speck below, and our persistence and faith paid off.
2. Never settle for mediocrity when there’s an incredible peak in view. Having already come 80% of the way, we took a morning hike to the peaks that were looming just above us. We could have settled for the incredible view we already had, but why not check the view from the top? It’s all attainable if you want it enough.
3. Be prepared for anything, but when you’re not, find the enjoyment in the situation at hand. About 2 miles up the 8.5 mile trail to Conundrum Hot Springs, it started to pour. Despite being entirely unprepared for rain, we knew that turning back was not an option (see Lesson 1) and we opted to beeline up the remainder of the trail with a poncho and tent rain fly wrapped around our packs. The trek took about 2 hours longer than it would have had we not been drenched, cold, and a bit downtrodden with not knowing how much further we’d be hiking until we reached the pot of gold, but when we did it was all worth it. Having our wardrobe, shoes, and socks drenched and muddy there was no option of hiking down the following day, so we enjoyed a mandatory day of bathing in hot springs, eating, napping, and hanging out with a friendly marmot. It would have been ideal to not have our belongings soaked, but the circumstances provided us with an unexpected luxury lockdown.
4. Handle the basics and the universe will provide the rest. Water, warmth, nutritious food, and good company. Our consumer society tries to convince us we need so much more, but a trip in the mountains exposes the hoax.
5. Remember the journey that brought you to your destination. Sure, the summit is breathtaking, but so were the wildflowers alongside the path. We wouldn’t really have a story to tell if we just jumped from peak to peak without the trails in between. Likewise, traveling along the road to our destinations and goals is where we picked up the most valuable information, lessons, and tasty treats.
6. Teamwork and community help to lighten the load. Despite the fact that I was hiking with Hercules and I’m practically a Sherpa myself, we both acknowledged how much more enjoyable and easeful it was to carry only half the load each. It’s okay to ask for help, share the weight, and acknowledge limitations.
7. Enjoy what is, rather than suffering with the desire of what you expected something to be. It’s really the only way to live mindfully and truly enjoy the NOW.
8. It’s easiest to move along with a light load. By leaving behind our literal stuff, there’s much less complication in taking the strenuous expedition. Not surprisingly, we need to do the same with any journey, be it physical, spiritual, emotional, etc. Our baggage gets too heavy and holds us back. I’m not saying you won’t make it if you hang onto your “stuff”, but after the backache it created to carry it the whole way, do you really need it all?
Ramblings, insights, & motivation