When my travel companion suggested a trip to Mexico to embark on a yoga Ayruvedic meditative retreat, I thought about it for a few minutes and enthusiastically agreed. I stared in blankness as I imagined myself with only a loincloth in a carpet-lined kiva in front of a fire with naked and well-oiled women chanting tantric mantras around a flickering fire with the smell of incense in the background. After many hours and the ritualistic celebration of life and flesh over, I would surely sit with a chalice of good wine and fire-roasted goat on silk pillows while gaining energy for the next group soul journey. This was to be a good trip. My travel companion is a genius.
This vision and enthusiasm for the coming trip lasted a few more days until I talked to my brother as we hovered over the barbecue. My dream was dashed as he explained that everyone knows these Central American yoga retreats are run by stunning male yoga masters with 7 percent body fat, ebony Mediterranean skin, flowing dark hair, and donning a single thong made of natural materials such as hemp and supple leather from an animal that died of old age and was eulogized for over four hours. The yoga guru was there, he explained, to help my travel companion and other female yogis in their spiritual quest both on the mat and off while I would be running laps around the building or taking solitary meditative walks along the beach. The plane tickets and fees were already paid. There was little room to negotiate. I would soon be embarking on the trip to hell.
We traveled through Miami and picked up a third yogi, Sam, en route that we identified after meticulous observation by the yoga mat she was carrying. The airport in Cancun is straightforward if you follow the simple mantra of not believing a word anyone says to you. It also helps that there is a margarita stand at the exit. Through much confusion and an empty salt rimmed glass, we found our fourth yogi, Theresa, and our transportation. A bit less than an hour drive, we arrive at our querencia for the next four days — a hotel close to 5th street in Playa del Carmen called The Bric. Before I go on, I would highly recommend this boutique hotel. The owner, Kristin Roehner, and the staff are absolutely perfect and happy that you are there. The room is simple, clean, and comfortable with a private balcony and hammock. Meals are served in an outdoor kitchen beside the pool. Ask for anything and, like family, they will take care of it for you.
A few hours later, my travel companion and I are enjoying our second margarita in a sports bar called The Tequila Barrel wasting time before our first group meeting. My anxiety subsided. This wasn’t so bad. I can do this yoga retreat thing, I thought, as I ordered another. We came back to the hotel and met the fifth yogi — Melonie — a six foot plus ex-model and now documentary producer, at the side of the pool. Our room rested above our meeting spot and we waited for a few more students to converge before fashionably sauntering down. I became anxious again. Maybe the margarita was wearing off. There were no other men. I was the single lone male among 16 other yoga women. My heart sank as I thought of spending five days talking about fabric, high school flames, breast feeding, and color-coordinated accessories. At dinner, an Ayurvedic meal, I met five more yogis — Julia, Danette, Sam’s very young mother Marla, Lucy from Yale, and her daughter Jackie. For the first time I also met our leaders, Kendall and Kathryn, over a toast of hibiscus tea. I became enthusiastic again. These women were bright, beautiful, radiant, and knowledgable.
The next morning we woke up early and after a quick cleansing drink of hot water and lime we hiked along the beach and found an area to meditate as a group. By this time I have met the other girls as well, there was Karen and her sister-in-law Karen, Kim a psychiatrist from Dallas, Katherine who seemed to be in much better yoga shape than me, and Emily who I hope runs for Senate.
After breakfast, (which took a few tries to get my eggs in my chilaquiles just right), we sat poolside and listened to an Ayurvedic lecture. The girls around me, including my travel companion, seemed to take this a bit seriously. For me I thought, how hard could this be? Just commit to a life of vegetables and plenty of turmeric, the smell of Nag Champa Agarbatti, and walking around the house in a bath towel wrapped around your midriff.
It turns out it’s much more. I will say with conviction which began as skepticism that I have adhered to a Dinacharya (or daily regime) for the few weeks since my return, including setting the alarm clock a few hours earlier, drinking hot lime and water, tongue scraping (yes, yes… tongue scraping), nasya oil, meditation, and eating according to a sattvic diet, and I feel remarkably better. I’m sold.
Lecture over, we walked to Indigo Beach for lunch on the beach, and a deep massage. We then met at Yogaloft for yoga practice where, unsurprisingly, Karen and Karen got lost on the way.
Then we had a great dinner at Cueva del Chango (Cave of the Monkey) and a regional cooking lesson in their kitchen. This was quite different than any Ayurvidic retreat I imagined.
The next day we headed for Akumal, Muyil, and Tulum. These are Pre-Columbian Mayan trading towns, now ruins, that line the coast near Playa del Carmen. They were connected to the giant Mayan inland city of Cobá by a limestone road and a series of waterways which we decided to explore. First we take a yoga class in a small unnamed and very spiritual studio in Akumal. The breeze from shore entered through the sunlit open windows. After three years of yoga, this is the first time I felt any emotion — a combination effect of It’s a Wonderful Life, Old Yeller, and an episode of Little House on the Prairie. I tried to play it cool in front of my female co-yogis.
Next we went floating down the ancient Mayan canals. These were part of the Sian Kan’n Biosphere Reserve in Muyil and a must see. We met our boat guides after lunch along the shore and after 10-15 minutes of navigation we got out of the boat into the cool fresh water canals that were used for thousands of years to bring jade, spices, and textiles back and forth from the Caribbean inland to the Yucatan Peninsula. The canals were lined with trees and orchids. It was remarkable.
A few hours later, dried and changed, we are in the beach resort town of Tulum. This is where the beautiful people are. We eat and hang out at La Zebra resort where we had, what I think, the best meal of the trip. My friends will understand the gravity of my situation when I tell them I have had no wine, beer, or tequila in the last three Ayurvedic days. The night was finished with an hour of salsa dancing. I am a six foot six tall, very German looking man with little to no hand-eye coordination with 16 dancing women lined up to take turns on moves our instructor was desperately trying to get us to understand. This was no dance move. This was a high intensity contact sport.
Saturday, the next day, was much the same: early morning meditative walks along the beach, yoga practice, cooking demonstrations (I got my own date nut-ball named after me — the “Dain Ball”), sightseeing, massages on the beach, and dinner at Kendall’s beautiful rooftop patio and home. There we sat around and talked about our experience before heading home the next morning.
When it was my turn to share my expressions of gratitude, I tried to create an image for the girls around me whom I now call my yoga team members. I felt like I was in one of those black and white scenes from a WWII movie where the actor/soldier wakes up in a hospital bed wrapped in gauze from head to toe wondering where he was. Now being nursed back to health with the care of beautiful women around him, he comes to realize just how much trauma he had put his body and mind through. It was the healing that made him realize the previous pain and he could relax on the pillow. And like those old soldier movies, I fell in love with all the women — my fellow yogis — who unknowingly helped heal and nurse me on this trip.
While the trip did not go according to my imagination, it also missed my brother’s. An Ayurvedic retreat with 16 beautiful women was an unparalleled adventure I would repeat again.