Yoga Retreat in Aruba with Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen

Susanne’s World has been under construction for the past nine months or so. My life turned upside down within the past year as I’ve been turning upside down, literally, advancing my yoga practice by doing handstands. The more work I did on myself, the more I realized I wasn’t truly happy. Today I am grateful I had the courage and the strength to recognize that and make the changes that needed to be made. I got divorced, sold and moved out of my house, and started crossing things off my bucket list. I spent last week in Aruba doing a yoga retreat with Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen, connecting with a beautiful new place on the earth, deepening my yoga practice and truly spending every day exactly how I wanted to. I have a new love in my life (an old friend since seventh grade) and couldn’t be happier. He joined me on the yoga retreat, and we had an amazing time together!

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arrival day

I was starstruck when I first saw Rachel and Dennis. She is an internet celebrity, someone who inspires me daily with her pictures, videos, and words. Seeing her in person at the welcome dinner was amazing. I was giddy, hugging her saying, “I love you!” She was so cool and down to earth with a friendly smile. She shares highlights and lowlights from her life on social media, so it was like meeting someone I already knew a little about. We talked a little about her wedding and honeymoon as well as the recent passing of one of her dogs. Out on the beach, there were baby sea turtles in protected areas hatching and making their way to the sea. I wasn’t lucky enough to see one of them, but some other people in our group did and posted videos and pictures. We had a lovely dinner and met new friends, enjoyed the sunset and starry night sky.

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with Rachel and Dennis

This is a typical view from the beach chairs in front of Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, where we stayed. We did our daily handstand in front of our spot that day.  Instead of beach umbrellas, there were beach tiki huts, and the kind staff at the resort set up the chairs and brought drinks.   Eagle Beach is the widest beach on the island of Aruba, and our resort didn’t have any kids activities, so it was peaceful and serene.   There was a relatively long walk on the white sands until you hit the turquoise waters due to the wideness of the beach.  The sand was white and didn’t get too hot.  The color of the water was something I’ve never seen before.  Bright turquoise is the best description I can muster.  There were gentle waves and plenty of room to swim and float around.  A line of buoys contained the swimming area.  I swam out there and back a few times. The water got too deep to stand right away so it was fun to take a little swim.

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handstands on the beach

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typical view from my beach chair

We had two Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) yoga lessons on Palm Beach near the high rise hotels. It was the more touristy and more crowded part of the island, but the water was still amazing! It was waist deep and calm. We used special boards made for doing yoga (Boga boards). They were wide and rounded on the ends and had a sticky yoga mat on the top. Doing yoga on the water is especially challenging because the stability of the floor is no longer there. You must release control to your surroundings and adjust accordingly. It works all the small muscles of your core and other places in your body in ways you normally don’t use them. The warrior series was the hardest of all the poses we did. Once one person fell, it was like a domino effect because the boards were so close together. Everybody fell in the water at some point or another, and I loved the metaphor with real life. When you have difficulty and fall down, laugh, smile, fall, and get back on the board.  The other life skill it helps develop is focusing on the moment.  If you let your mind wander and lose your focus, it’s pretty easy to fall off the board, so it really required being in the present moment.

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Rachel teaching SUP yoga class #1

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beautiful ocean

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excited to try SUP yoga for the first time

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SUP yoga class #1 in Palm Beach, Aruba

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headstands on the Boga boards

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Our group to an exciting hike on the north shore of Aruba to a natural pool.  It was located in the Arikok National Park, a large undeveloped area with a desert landscape, rocky trails to hike, bike, ride horses and four wheel drive vehicles.   There were beautiful ocotillo and other kinds of cactii, wild goats, and a varied terrain much different than the beachy areas.   Along the hike, we stopped to play at a beach where the waves are forced between rocky outcroppings.  Rachel said we had about ten minutes to play, so I jumped right in!   Unlike the waters in Eagle and Palm Beaches, these waters were rough. The waves were big, and I enjoyed body surfing in the crashing water.  The water took my hair tie and one of my earrings; I threw the other earring into the ocean as an offering.  I was exhilerated and felt that I could have stayed there longer to play!

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The natural pool had rocky outcroppings, and the water from the waves crashed over and formed the pool.  It was so cool.  There was another smaller pool up a little higher than this one. It felt like a hot tub.  Saw lots of little crabs camoflauged on some vegetation growing on the rocks.  I brought my goggles and dived under the water to see many tropical fish teeming in the waters. You can see a wind farm in the distance.    I climbed up and sat to watch the ocean for a bit, contemplating its vastness and its incredible power.  The sun was shining, and the wind was blowing.  What an amazing place and an amazing moment!

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My man taking it all in..

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sunset in Aruba

That night, we had a restorative yin yoga session.  This was the magical view as I walked into class.  Everybody was tired from an active day.  Yin yoga is calming and relaxing.  We hold poses for longer (up to five or six minutes) deepening the stretch to the connective tissues.  In contrast to vinyasa flow where movements are tied to each breath and we generate heat in the body, a yin practice is cooling and still.  The hardest pose we did (for me) was frog pose, and we held it for a while.  Rachel talked about how we hold of lot of tension in our hips and frog pose helps to release it.  We did heart openers after that to release whatever emotional tension arised.  It’s a soft practice that feels like a whole other place when it’s over.  Holding hands with my man during savasana made the experience even more magical.

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Yin Yoga class

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handstand technique help from Rachel

Rachel taught us a lot about yoga including workshops on handstands, headstands, forearm stands, arm balances, and paid special attention to teaching us proper technique and alignment for chatarunga to upward facing dog to downward facing dog.  There were two yin yoga sessions, and the rest of them were intense and challenging. Dennis taught a class too, and it was the hardest class I’ve done in a long time!  We worked hard on our core strength as it’s a fundamental for many advanced skills.  I was thrilled to get some personal attention from her and am working on the pointers she gave me.  For example, when we have hands down on the ground they should be firmly planted with the most pressure on the thumb knuckle and first two finger knuckles.  When we get tired, we tend to shift weight to the outsides of our hands causing the thumbs to curl instead of remain intact on the mat.  I never  noticed I did that before. She said it’s a common mistake. It’s something I really pay attention to now.  I also learned alot about how to do chatarunga and upward facing dog properly.  I didn’t know to shift forwards a bit from plank so when you drop into chatarunga your elbows can stay above the wrists and make a ninety degree angle.  Then, shifting backwards before going into upward facing dog allows the shoulders to stay above the wrists.  I think I’ve been doing those two poses slightly wrong all along.   I tried a forearm stand for the first time ever.  It was not solid at all, so I think I will follow Rachel’s advice to continue strengthening and preparing for the pose by practicing dolphin (downward facing dog on the forearms)  more often.  The arm balance workshop was my favorite because I’ve been wondering how to get into those poses for a while now, and Rachel gave us clear instructions and demonstrations.  Now they make sense to me, and I can work them into my practice more often.  I got a footprint sized bruise on my upper arm from working so hard in class!  I was able to try all the arm balances she taught us but still have a lot of work to do.

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bruise from arm balance workshop

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handstand workshop with partner work

Below are three links to videos from the handstand workshop.



 

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Rachel and Ringo teaching class

 

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Rachel and Ringo

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handstands at the go kart track

We met a lovely couple from Norway and enjoyed many good times eating, drinking, and laughing during our retreat.  They had an awesome idea to go to the go kart track for racing.  It’s something I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing, but I am so glad we went!  My man won the race, lapping me three times, as he is a seasoned motorcycle racer.  I didn’t mind coming in last place as I know racing is not my forte, but it sure was fun to do.  Despite the hot sun and the sweaty helmet, I was smiling and laughing my way around the track.  After we were done we thought it was a good spot for a handstand picture.

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go karting with our new friends from Norway

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al fresco dining at Machebo Beach Resort & Spa, Aruba

We took advantage of the all-inclusive meal option at the resort and enjoyed al fresco dining every day. Breakfast and dinner were at this restaurant by the pool, and lunches were at the cafe in the forefront of the picture. The views and the service were outstanding. Birds and iguanas joined us for breakfast every day, and the moon and stars twinkled over head during poolside dinners at night. The staff at the resort were incredibly warm and friendly. It’s a smaller, two story, hotel and I really enjoyed the personal attention we got during our stay. I have lots of food allergies, and I was impressed by their ability to accomodate my needs. In addition there were healthy fruit and vegetable based smoothies available every morning. Yum! We went out to dinner with the group once, visiting Rachel and Dennis’s favorite restaurant in town called Yemanja. It was a wood fired grill featuring delicious seafood, steaks, and vegetarian/vegan food. I got a superfood salad packed with greens, veggies, berries, and seeds and a ribeye steak with scallops on top.

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iguanas by the pool

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Rachel and Dennis

Our group took a sailing and snorkeling trip on a party catamaran from Palm Beach. What a fun activity! I don’t drink liquor except for (good) tequila, so it wasn’t a drinking day for me but for everybody else it was. We sailed up the shore and then stopped to snorkle first at a place right off the beach, not too deep. I snorkeled to the thore then right then left and back to the boat. It was amazing! I think I saw a baraccuda. I swam back toward the shore and then noticed the boat was raising the ladder. I guess I didn’t hear them blow the horn, so I swam back to the boat knowing they wouldn’t leave without me and rejoined the group. Others stayed on the boat to play on the water slide and jump off the side.

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sailing and snorkeling trip

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loving the view

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loving the view

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all smiles swith Dennis on the catamaran

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happy people

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the view off the back of the boat

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Rachel and some of the ladies in our group

We sailed some more and then stopped to snorkle in sixty foot deep waters. There were different kinds of fish in that deeper water, and I thought it was interesting there were layers of different schools of fish in the waters. Some of them stayed low while others were higher up. I dived down a few times as far as I could (holding my ears so the pressure didn’t hurt) and then floated for a few seconds in awe as I was surrounded by schools of bright and beautiful fish. How cool to be in their world just for a few seconds. I ventured out a litte farther and then lost sight of any fish, so I came back toward the boat more this time.

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our group after sailing/snorkeling trip

Here we all are, happy and high on life after the fun outing.

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our group after the sail/snorkel trip

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On the second day of SUP yoga, I wasn’t feeling too well. I was a little seasick after not having enough sleep and having a little too much fun the night before. To make things more challenging, I also got the orange board…the board that whoever is last and needs a board uses. The orange board is narrower and pointier than the other blue Boga boards. I took a “I’m a rock star. I can do this.” attitude and did my best. It sure was harder than the blue board I used during the first class!

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planking on the Boga board

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downward facing dog with hip opener

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IMG_4499.JPGSUP yoga class #2 in Palm Beach, Aruba

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heart/chest opener

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side plank

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finding balance

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chair pose

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had so many laughs with our Norweigan friends

We made new friends with people from all over the world. In addition to meeting other americans (Texas, Virginia, California, Washington, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, New Jersey), we met people from Norway, Sweden, Canada, Brazil,and Aruba. Our new friends from Sweden even brought their teenage daughter along.

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new friend from Sweden

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until next time

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thank you Rachel!

Since I wasn’t feeling well after SUP yoga class #2, I had to say goodbye to Rachel there on the beach. The whole group was walking down to a beach bar to continue the fun, and my flight was early the next morning. I thanked her for everything she taught me that week and for inspiring me. I couldn’t stop hugging her, just one more! My heart was full of love and gratitude. Just for fun, I asked if we could take the moment to get a handstand picture together. It was my last chance until who knows when. She happily obliged and went upside down waiting patiently for me to try and try again to join her long enough for a picture. She was so patient, hanging out in a beautiful handstand encouraging me saying, “you got it Susanne.” She right, I got it. Thank you Rachel!

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in the presence of greatness

 

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sunrise at the airport – departure day

This is a pictue of the sunrise at the airport when I was leaving. No filter, no hi definition enhancement. Just pure Aruba bliss. I am so grateful for my time there and can’t wait until the next time I can visit. Will have to stay for two weeks next time!

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

 

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30 Day Photo Challenge: Day 21 Calm

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This is a picture of a meditation spot in my room. I love this Buddha holding a lotus flower, and there are several bamboo plants like that one around my house. The unscented white candle represents pure light, and it makes me feel calm to sit and meditate, clearing my mind of thoughts and worries and inviting light into my being. I try to meditate every day in some shape or form, and I love the calm feeling I get afterwards. I first learned about meditation when I took a Buddhism course in college. It’s harder than it sounds to clear your mind of all thoughts and just be!

 

31 Day Music Challenge: Day 24 A Song That You Want to Play At Your Funeral

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space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiypaURysz4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfLI1l_Pda4

“Holy Now” by Peter Mayer is a song that I would want someone to play at my funeral (preferably on the acoustic guitar).  I got stuck on this question because funeral songs are usually about saying goodbye or religious songs in my experiences.  Goodbye songs would be for other people to pick I think, so I picked this song because of the essence of the meaning behind the poetry is an outlook on life that I would like people to remember about me and carry on to their own lives.  It’s not a religious song per se, but it references religion and contrasts the childhood experience of going to church where we learn that once a week we worship to the idea of seeing every day life as worship and finding the divine in everything around us.  It very clearly sums up my religious beliefs.  “Wine from water is not so small, but an even better magic trick is that anything is here at all” is one of my favorite lines from the lyrics.  I’ve written before about my experiences with religion and my scientific philosophy. If you’re interested, here are the links:

Science Saved My Soul

What Does Christmas Mean to You?

30 Days of Truth: Day 5 Something You Hope to Do in Your Life

The lyrics to this song are a reminder to look at the miracle of life with humility and to see the beauty everywhere around us.  I don’t know what happens after death, but I do know that life goes on.  It’s amazing to think about the vastness of the universe and the diversity of life on this planet.  If our spirits do transcend to other realms or reincarnate to new beings that will be incredible.  It’s all a big mystery, and I would hope to leave behind that feeling of awe and wonder in those I knew and loved.

“When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Everything, Everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven‘s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now”

See the whole music challenge list at DeBie Hive.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

Daily Prompt: Un/Faithful (Tell us about the role that faith plays in your life – or doesn’t)

To me, faith is wishing, hoping, positive thinking.  I don’t think it hurts, but I also don’t think it helps.  In a religious context, I’ve struggled with faith over the years. In fact I wrote a blog entry the other day explaining my position on religion and faith.  Here is a link in case you haven’t read it yet.

https://susannenelson.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/what-does-christmas-mean-to-you/

I don’t have faith that prayer works, but I don’t think it hurts to pray (to wish and hope for a desired outcome).  But over and over, I’ve seen prayers come back with tragedy (especially in the case where someone dies and people have been praying and praying for healing).

Thanks for reading. Peace out.

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Thank You

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Thank you for visiting me in my world. This is a place where I look inside and out at the world around me and share my thoughts with you. I truly appreciate you taking time out of your day to stop and read my blog entries.

I started my blog in an effort to build a writing habit. It’s a place where I tell the story of my life and share my thoughts and opinions on topics that interest me.
And it means a lot to me that you are here for whatever reason you came.

I’ve always been a thinker, and it feels good to have a safe place to share my thoughts. I hope I can offer you something while you are here. We are all in this life together.

Peace!

30 Days of Truth: Day 18-Your Views on Gay Marriage

I wrote about this topic in August when Chik-fil-a was in the news about their donations to anti-gay groups.   I think gay people should be able to get married. I just think it should be called something different.  Click here to read the whole blog entry.

30 Days of Truth: Day 6-Something You Hope You Will Never Have to Do

I hope I never have to bury one of my kids. That may be a morbid thought, but it’s real. It would be hard enough to lose a spouse. I can’t imagine losing a child. I hope I never have to find out what it’s like.

Saying a special prayer of loving, positive thoughts for all those parents out there who have lost a child ❤

30 Days of Truth: Day 5-Something You Hope to Do In Your Life

“Heaven is finding happiness right where you are.”

I hope to reach enlightenment if there is such a thing. At least that’s what I strive for. I read this quote and although I’m not sure who wrote it, I love it. It fits the Buddhist ideas of releasing attachments, karma, and accepting impermanence on the path to spiritual enlightenment. Attachments cause suffering, and to be truly happy we have to learn to let go and go with the flow. I’m not a Buddhist, but I like these ideas for living. I’m practicing and learning these lessons every day. I count the many blessings in my life and aim to let go of negative experiences and work through obstacles. Most of all I hope to live a long healthy life with my family, and I hope to be the best person I can be.

Genesis 4-10

On the heels of Genesis 1-3, it felt like one of those movies you watch where every other scene you say to yourself (or maybe outloud) “yea right.”  When I find myself saying that during a movie, I remind myself I have to get past that point and just realize that the movie is not realistic and that if it was, it wouldn’t be that same movie. The same is true with the bible, so far in my experience.  Genesis 1-3 was nothing but a compilation of ‘yea rights’ and it took serious effort to continue reading a book that is written like a tall tale yet millions of people live their lives by.  Genesis 4-10 was more of the same.  Yea right.  Let me start with the ages of the characters.  Noah was 900 years old, really?  hmm.  God was so mad at Cain and Abel that he cast them aside and sent Noah out to build an ark and put two of everything in it and start mankind over again?  Let me get this straight.  Here we are in the year 2011.  Scientists have not discovered all the species in the world yet (last time I checked we were at about 70%, is that right?)  yet somehow Noah got two of EVERYTHING onto his boat?  What did they eat? how did they go to the bathroom?  How did he load undiscovered species onto his boat?  What happened to the food chain while they were on the boat? Didn’t the snakes eat the rabbits? Didn’t the wolves eat the deer?  Do people really believe this stuff or is there some kind of story they tell themselves to make it makes sense?  There is no way that this really happened.  It’s not possible especially of a 900 year old man. If you can make it make sense to me, I invite you to… please…somebody….