I recently led yoga and meditation for a women’s renewal retreat at an exquisite bed and breakfast called Minerva’s By The Sea. This island jewel is located in Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Emma Lapsansky, who runs the space, created an incredible sense of home for us all, joining us for delicious meals that she cooked with love, guiding us through conversation to help us all get to know one another, sharing her beautiful stories with us, organizing a mix of massage therapy, manicures, psychic readings and art projects, as well as making the house itself delightfully comfortable with whimsical, colorful decor, extremely lovely and relaxing rooms with names (my room was Anemone), puzzles, bikes, books and everything you could possibly need to feel completely at ease and at home.
During the retreat I met ten unique, beautiful, powerful women, each of whom shined her light to help create a special sisterhood. I was honored and blessed to get to know them, learn from them, and to hold space for them to connect more with themselves through a mix of meditation, restorative yoga and chair yoga. I was inspired and touched to encounter a mother, daughter and grandmother trio, a mother and daughter duo, three friends who had roomed together in college many years ago, and two friends who had decided to take a trip together.
In the latter duo was Thalia: an energetic, hilarious, amazing, inspiring, beautiful woman who has been on this planet for almost 91 years. When we met, she expressed her hesitation about participating in the yoga sessions, explaining that she sometimes gets dizzy and was concerned that the classes might not be accessible to her. Thalia shared that when she tried yoga in her twenties, the instructor told her that yoga wasn’t for her, that she shouldn’t do it because of an issue with her equilibrium. In that moment Thalia became convinced that she should never practice yoga asana (poses) again, and never did for over 60 years. I explained that yoga is about connecting with yourself; that the physical postures are just one tool to aid in the holistic union of mind, body, soul and Universe; that a physical yoga practice could be as simple as breathing with intention; and that every exercise could be modified to meet the capabilities and needs of the practitioner. She agreed to give it a shot.
Thalia blew me away in chair yoga! Her enthusiasm, playfulness, commitment to trying everything and finding her edge, her openness and the delightful feedback she gave throughout the session, enlivened the entire room. After the session, she expressed frustration for not having revisited yoga sooner; however, she was hooked and was determined to make yoga a regular practice for the rest of her life. Here is a video of her sharing her story. 😊
I learned so much from Thalia. Perhaps the biggest take away was the importance of embracing and celebrating our new beginnings, and that it is truly NEVER too late to make a positive change in our lives. How often have you told yourself that it’s too late to change [fill in the blank]? How many times have you felt ashamed, frustrated, angry or disappointed in yourself for the steps you have taken along your path that have led up to now? Perhaps in moments when you have decided to make a shift you have simultaneously felt upset that it took this long to get here. I’ve certainly experienced all of the above countless times. What if, instead, we choose to CELEBRATE the fact that we have arrived at a point in our awareness where we are finally ready to bravely change course? There are limitless ways that this can play out in our lives.
One area that I am applying this philosophy is in my decision to start studying Japanese again and to connect more with my roots. My father is from Okinawa, Japan. His father was from Lubang, Philippines, and his mother, my Grandma, is from Kohama, Japan. After encountering racism as a preschooler, I refused to speak Japanese with my Dad anymore. I wanted to fit in. I stopped learning what was inherently mine and missed out on opportunities to connect with my own heritage as well as to be able to have deep, fluent conversations with my Japanese relatives (particularly Grandma), as most of them are not fluent in English. I later realized how important it was to reclaim my language. In college I studied Japanese but gradually stopped practicing once I stopped taking the course, and have since forgotten much of what I studied. For years I felt guilty calling Grandma at all, out of shame for my limited language skills. I felt that I had fallen off track and that perhaps I would just give up talking to her until I had started studying again.
I have had Japanese on my list for years, thinking, “I’ll pick it back up when I have time.” But I realized that unless I decide to commit to it and carve out the study space in my schedule, I will never have time. Though I beat myself up over the years for rejecting my language and for not making it a priority to continue my studies, I realized that I could stop judging myself and embrace this new beginning. I realized that what mattered was that I reach out to Grandma, even if the conversations were very basic for a while. The heart can communicate beyond verbal language barriers. And I realized that it’s not too late to pick the language back up! It doesn’t matter what came before.
I am going to buy a language program this week and start studying Japanese regularly again, with the goal of being able to speak with Grandma on a deeper level by the time I visit her this December in Guam, where she now lives.
Thalia had the right to have a yoga practice. I had the right to learn and speak my language with pride. Both of us are reclaiming what is ours, NOW.
What are you ready to reclaim? What new beginnings are you ready to embrace? Is it a career, a relationship, a hobby, a habit, a new schedule that serves you more, a new way of expressing yourself, or something else? Today is truly the first day of the rest of your life! In yoga we practice embracing each new beginning (each new breath, each new pose, each new day of practicing, each new thought) and then letting go to make space for yet another beginning. Such is the beauty of Life.
May you experience gratitude toward Life, the Divine and yourself for each milestone of awareness and positive change along your path.
“Don’t let the past stifle your progress. Let it empower you.”
-Suguru Nakamichi Tangi (my Dad)
Namaste, じゃあまたね (jaa mata ne)