Portugal:Small Country,Big Heart
Exhausted and burned out from working in the fields of mental health and yoga through two and a half years of the pandemic, I left for 10 days in Portugal. I was tired of constantly marketing my yoga studio which is hanging on by its toenails. Nothing I did seemed to be working. I had added more teachers and more classes to the schedule, returned to regular weekend workshops, and spent too much money on google and Facebook ads as well as programs that promised to help me make my studio successful. Instead of experiencing success, I watched in shock as numbers and revenues dropped precipitously. I was ready to let the studio go and just focus on my counseling practice. I left New York City thinking Lotus Yoga is over and I need to find a way to energize myself for at least five more years of providing counseling services.
I arrived in a land that seemed stuck in the past in the most wonderful of ways. Everywhere I saw ancient stone work, beautiful art, and a masterful mix of both preserving the natural world and cultivating it for maximum production in a gentle and respectful way that depends not on machines and technology but on the constant, back breaking work of a sturdy and stoic people. As I obviously idealize and romanticize the Portuguese culture, please know that not every experience was pleasant! Some people are bitter and angry about both past and present hurts and burdens, to be sure. But overall, these people are rightfully proud of their gorgeous architecture, farm to table food culture, and their commitment to the environment that requires a more simple and scaled down lifestyle. And, frankly, a life with more fun and meaning, emphasizing relationships and the enjoyment of life. Portugal, although experiencing the same challenges of migration as other Mediterranean countries, is not turning to fascism for answers. After surviving decades of dictatorship, "Never Again" is universally embraced. I saw an inclusive diversity, a yogic peacefulness, and a big, open heart.
My daughter and son-in-law had planned a tour that took us from a night in the city of Porto to a small and beautiful town in one wine region for two nights and then over switchback roads traversing steep, rocky mountains to a tiny village where we stayed in a beautiful Quinta for the duration of our time. From there we took day trips, again over switchback roads with breathtaking views, to meet local vintners and experience small local wineries. Not everything went smoothly! The chef at the Quinta was stressed out. Our van broke down and the rental company struggled to find a replacement van and get it up to our remote location. We sometimes drank too much wine too early in the day and couldn't do yoga. Yes, I was there to teach yoga! And I did. But, as is often the case, I learned more from my students than they did from the classes themselves and I learned the most by simply being present for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The stonework and tile and art everywhere is stunning. The terraced farming methods that produce delicious grapes, apples, lemons, figs, olives, potatoes, and multitudes of vegetables is remarkable. The bounty of fish from the sea and pork and beef from the land is impressive. But I can't imagine ever eating cod again! And even potatoes, one of my favorite foods, is off the menu for a while. And I missed my chocolate! The delicious Portuguese sweets and desserts are almost one hundred percent focused on dairy, sugar, and pastry. However, one of the most delightful experiences was our group effort to make the famous Portuguese croquettes that combine the two most ubiquitous foods in the region: cod and potatoes. Click here to see a short video of that:
Perhaps most heartwarming was the small group of travelers themselves. Five couples and myself thrown together in an intimate setting for eight full days. We got along famously, some old friends from past trips reuniting and new friends warmly welcomed into the fold without reservation. Politics avoided for the most part, we shared our stories about marriage, children, work, parents, growing up. But this was a group who excelled at being in the present moment and fully enjoyed whatever was at hand whether it was one of our few small disasters or, much more frequently, another sweet triumph of beauty in the form of nature, food, or art. There is so much more I could say about the big heart of Portugal and the kind and friendly nature of my travel companions and our hosts, but that is a book that may or may not be written. Follow this link to view the photo gallery of our adventures on the Lotus Yoga Facebook Page: https://fb.watch/fRM1J3-gp7/
So, now I am home and I do feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I am inspired by the hard work and pragmatism of the Portuguese people that in no way diminishes but, rather, enhances their ability to dream of and aspire to acts and works of magnificent beauty, emphasizing simplicity, friendliness, comfort, and ease. I still don't know what will happen with Lotus Yoga but I feel a sense of peace as I recognize the value of both hard work and ease, supported by a focus on simplifying whatever I can and definitely maintaining the yogic practice of friendliness. (Stay tuned for another blog about the social skills of yoga:)
Namaste, Lotus Yogins!