The weirdest thing was putting shoes back on.
For one week, I had been barefoot: wiggling my toes in the sand as I walked along the beach at sunrise, side-stepping bullfrogs and hermit crabs on the stony stairs, pressing all four corners of my feet into the yoga mat. Slipping into a pair of sneakers before the drive to the airport and flight home was an eerie reminder of the high heels and winter boots that awaited my arrival in New York.
I had spent the previous week on a yoga retreat in Nicaragua, in a thatched roof bungalow with a hammock on a balcony that overlooked a private beach. A group of Brooklyn-residing yogis had shed their fast-paced, success-driven selves for seven days of surf, sand and sun salutations.
It wasn’t a perfect week, or even the most carefree of vacations. Three of the twelve of us came down with an intense bout of food poisoning from some chicken enchiladas on the drive in (including yours truly); one broke his big toe exploring the rocky beach on the first day; and another didn’t even make it to Nicaragua after realizing the night before the trip that her passport had expired.
“I had a mantra for the week: release the past, embrace the future.”
The yoga itself was challenging, even with an ocean view—two hours every morning of quieting the mind and pushing the body. There was plenty of time to journal and go inward, without the regular distractions of deadlines, drinks, dates and a house to clean. There were evenings of group breathwork—the first time I’d ever experienced this type of therapy, and a practice that brought up a lot of tears and inner demons. Psychic reiki sessions invited relaxation and relieved areas of stressful energy in the body, but also asked us to look at what was causing that tension.
It was different than any other “vacation” I’d ever taken. Sure, it was in an idyllic location—did I mention that we had a private beach?—and there was plenty of time to swim, surf, and hike through the dense and deserted rainforest. I tore through the stack of magazines that had been piling up in my apartment, and read a typical chick lit beach read, and listened to acoustic playlists as I walked up and down the stretch of sand. We made natural facial masks out of mud in the river, sipped coffee in the morning and fresh coconuts in the afternoon, turned strangers into friends.
For me, it was a coincidental time of transition. The trip had been booked months earlier, when I was living with my best friend and working at a start-up. But I started a new job just a couple of weeks before the trip, and my best friend had moved across the country the day before I left. I was feeling unsure of my career decisions and sad about a having someone new in my apartment. But I had a mantra for the week: release the past, embrace the future.
I spent the week thinking about my life at home, then trying not to think about my life at home; thinking about what I wanted to change and about what I missed and about how I wished I could just shed all of those responsibilities and rent payments and rainstorms; thinking about all of the things I loved about my life in New York City. There was a lot of very sober, very uninterrupted time to think.
“Even if I wasn’t ready to let go of the past, I could make it a positive part of my future.”
Yet, as I basked in the last rays of sunshine on the bumpy ride back to Managua Airport, I realized that I hadn’t exactly released the past or shed my anxieties or experienced any life-altering changes despite all that inner searching. I wasn’t returning to New York City a brand-new woman.
But I was adding the week of carefree, barefoot freedom into my identity: seven days of my body twisting and strengthening and fighting off a virus; seven days of thinking and listening and thinking some more; seven days of waking up at sunrise and taking a walk on the beach. Even if I wasn’t ready to let go of the past, I could make it a positive part of my future—and maybe even find a few more opportunities to go barefoot in the city.