Not long after Christmas ended last year and the New Year celebrations were behind us, I began to dread facing the dreary months of January and February. Having moved from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, I knew there would be few trips back home to help distract me from the winter doldrums I could anticipate setting into my psyche for the next two months.
We are all familiar with the grey, sunless days associated with what can seem like long winter months – even in the South. Something about frigid, winter winds blowing through trees without leaves that chill you to the bone and leave you shivering for hours – just dampens my Florida-native soul.
But, I wasn’t alone in my seasonal despair: a new colleague at work, who also recently relocated from north Florida, and I commiserated on the phone over the prospect of being house-bound for weeks as downpours of an endless January storm drenched city streets. During the conversation, she brought up the idea of a yoga retreat.
As she talked, I mindlessly surfed the web and Googled the perfect yoga retreat. We talked about the benefits of hot yoga – my friend’s favorite. She and I soon discovered an upcoming one-day retreat hosted by Lisa Goodwin at a local state park in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We immediately planned an escape to sunny Florida and booked flights and hotel rooms by the end of the day.
The Saturday we left Birmingham was moderately cold, but our minds were set on sunny South Florida and the benefits of yoga and mindfulness training. We changed flights in Atlanta and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale on a bright Saturday afternoon. The beach was full of swimsuit clad bodies and swimmers in the surf – what a welcome diversion, already.
We located our hotel quickly, changed into beach sandals and took a long walk along Broward A1A Coastal Highway just to breathe in the clean, salt air and to hear the seagulls’ familiar call.
A1A offered a variety of hotels and restaurants with outdoor seating -which we took advantage of with an early dinner as the sun began to drop below the horizon. Still, it was healing to walk along the scenic route – exploring the area -while making our way back to the hotel in the twilight of the Ft. Lauderdale early evening and without cumbersome coats and boots on frozen feet. It was good to be back in Florida!
Sunday morning dawned as gently as Saturday evening ended, and we happily set our sights on finding a Starbucks with an outside venue to start our day with a cup of Pike’s Peak and a protein-packed breakfast. It was another pleasant walk along AIA – this time across the street from the beach where a new hotel was under construction. We for preparing our minds and body for our upcoming retreat.
The walk to the event venue took us along another long stretch: Sunrise Boulevard, but we soaked in the warm sunshine and happily made our short trek to the tropical entry of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. At the gate, we joined others who were attending the retreat along with locals who were picnicking, hiking or enjoying the beautiful Sunday morning by bike or canoe.
As we entered the Garden Center, the temperature in the room was distinctly warmer than outside, so we shed our light jackets and kicked off our walking shoes. The instructors greeted us with a pleasant smile and hug, and showed us where to position our mats. Soon the room filled with men and women of all ages and the long-awaited yoga retreat began.
There were two instructors who were more concerned about correct form than flexibility and took time to guide each participant to feel the correct movement. The air was heavy and overhead fans were set on low and did not circulate the air rapidly to cool our sweating bodies. It was a new experience for me, but one I learned to lean into to get the full benefit of staying in the moment and controlling my positions to get the best stretch.
I learned a warm body is able to stretch a bit further – thus, the benefits of yoga in a warm room. Soon we took a break to prepare our minds for introduction into the body/mind sequence portion of the retreat. We were guided to stretch and to settle into a mode of accepting ourselves and our bodies “as they are.” The event, in fact, was as much about personal growth and acceptance as it was about learning the benefits of physically training our body through the use of correct, yoga stretching and movements.
During lunch we sat in the tropical garden and fed our soul with good conversation among new friends and fed our bodies in preparation for a longer life coaching session in the afternoon. We sat among professionals, educators, non-profit administrators, and teenagers who tagged along with parents for the adventure.
The afternoon session found us considering a life balance wheel where we colored in the percentage of time we devoted to each segment: life planning; spirituality; health; work; social; development; recreation; and family.
The final segment of the day brought it all together as we moved fluidly through the yoga positions practicing correctness of form and mindfulness of the moment. We ended the day gathered in a large circle where we identified what we would carry away from the event. When it was my turn to speak, I knew I would remember this break from an Alabama winter as one I would not soon forget, and my take away was PEACE.
Martha Davis Vignes is the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of Southeast Alabama Area Health Education Center in Montgomery, Alabama – a non-profit organization dedicated to improving primary care workforce development in rural communities. Her work and recreation often intersect and fuel her desire for lifelong learning both professionally and personally.