Unplug and Treat Yourself to a Yoga Vacation

By Monique Parker

The beautiful group of participants from Taos, NM and Tuscon, AZ at the 2011 Mandala Retreat.

I often think of the world today—where a vast majority are plugged-in and information is as plentiful as clean air and water used to be—as “the quickening”: that momentous movement toward some unknown destination of more, more, more. It seems that just about everyone I know is multitasking with aplomb, juggling responsibilities, taking care of others, and, for good or ill, staring into a myriad of devices geared toward making our lives easier and more connected.

But the reality is that our fast paced lives also carry a price tag of chronic stress and a slew of related symptoms, such as adrenal fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension, and anxiety, to list a few.

Even those of us in good health can only live the “all work and no play” mantra so long before it leads to a madness of sorts, where you feel off-centered, irritable, disconnected, and questioning what’s important.

One of the best ways to unplug and recharge is a yoga retreat. If you’ve been craving rest, peace of mind, a broader perspective, beautiful surroundings, and delicious food, then consider treating yourself to a yoga getaway. A yoga retreat not only energizes physically and spiritually, it also offers practical tools that you can take home and incorporate into your life, thereby extending your vacation. Some retreats include excursions and recreation, others spa treatments. Many are built around the ancient and still relevant teachings of yoga.

Here is a sampling of getaways offered by local teachers both nearby and abroad in exotic destinations.

Mandala Retreat Center

The Mandala Center in Des Moines, New Mexico

In the upper eastern corner of New Mexico, situated on the slopes of the Sierra Grande Mountain, overlooking the Capulin Volcano National Monument is a non-denominational spiritual retreat called Mandala Center, named after the universal symbol for wholeness and balance. Each summer I facilitate a Svastha Yoga Immersion, combining twice daily yoga sessions, hiking, yoga nidra (deep guided rest), chanting, meditation, and lectures on personal practice. Whether you need to embark on a new wellness path, or delve more deeply into your existing yoga practice, this retreat helps practitioners develop a “yoga habit” that you can take home and integrate into your life. The next retreat is August 8-12 and includes meals and lodging. The early bird rate has been extended until July 23. For more information, visit www.mandalacenter.org.

Ojo Caliiente Mineral Springs & Resort

For those on a limited budget or who can’t afford time away from work or family, a trip to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Resort is the perfect solution. In less than an hour’s drive, you can leave obligations behind for a day of pampering you wouldn’t find in town. Spa therapist and yoga teacher Doug Gilnett, LMT encourages Taosenos to take a break. “You can spend a whole day out here and feel like you’ve been on vacation. At Ojo, nobody’s going to tell you to hurry up and relax.”  Monday through Thursday Ojo Caliente offers two yoga classes each morning at 9 and 11 am, led by UNM-Taos trained instructors, Gilnett and Elisabeth Martin. You can stretch and soak for the special price of $25, or if you splurge on a spa treatment of $100 or more, admission is free. For more information, visit: www.ojospa.com.

Costa Rica Yoga Vacation

Aura Garver of Aura Fitness leads annual yoga treks to Costa Rica. These retreats combine yoga with kayaking and hiking, tempered by ample time for relaxation and meditation. Surrounded by the rainforest, participants eat local cuisine and enjoy a vacation that strikes a balance between playful adventure and renewal. “A major component of these getaways is encouraging women to take time out for themselves and life’s hectic pace for a week,” says Aura. “It continually amazes me how fast life moves. More and more we need to consciously create time for nurturing so that we can be our best selves.” Aura’s next yoga adventure is scheduled for April 20-27, 2013. For more information, visit www.aurafitness.com.

Vaidyagrama Yoga & Ayurveda Vacation

Shirodhara treatment at Vaidyagrama in Southern India

Next summer I will be taking a group to Vaidyagrama Ayurvedic Village (vaidyagrama.com) on the outskirts of Coimbatore in Southern India for two weeks of authentic ayurveda and yoga. If you would like to experience the 5,000 year-old Indian healing system, inclusive of daily panchakarma treatments, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, daily prayers, chanting, a private apartment with verandah, lovingly prepared vegetarian meals, and twice daily doctors visits, then please inquire with me for more information. Travel will be in either May or June of 2013.

Published in The Taos News on July 19, 2012

From Rags to Ragas: How I overcame PMS

By Monique Parker

The Curse

PMS: it’s been derogatorily called “the curse of womanhood”, and for those of us regularly plagued with premenstrual symptoms the term is apropos. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, over 85% of women who menstruate experience at least one Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptom each month but don’t require treatment since their symptoms are mild. I however, fell into a subset of women (3-8 percent) who experienced a more severe and disabling form of PMS, termed premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Ever since I started menstruating I had not one, but a whole gamut of PMS symptoms that appeared a week before my period and lasted until the bleeding started. Each month I suffered through my obligations: meetings, travel, and teaching with little-to-no sleep, low energy, headaches, apathy, muscle pain, mood swings, bloat, binge eating, anxiety, hot flashes, and nonstop cramping. This was, I thought, normal.

It wasn’t until my 200-hour yoga teacher training with A.G. and Indra Mohan (and their son Dr. Ganesh Mohan, who is both an eastern and western physician) that I learned that Ayurveda, India’s 5,000 year-old holistic medical system, viewed PMS as an imbalance of the doshas, the bodily humors that make up one’s constitution: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

Women in India supported during Menses

In India, a woman’s menses is a highly respected cycle of interconnectedness with nature, and specifically, the moon. Women are encouraged and supported by those in their household to rest and take on a lighter load during their monthly cycle. Hearing this was music to my ears! Imagine an ideology that lies in direct contrast to how Western culture views a woman’s needs at her time of natural cleansing. Certainly my soldiering on in spite of my monthly discomfort was one of the reasons why my symptoms endured.

Xeno-estrogens Exacerbate PMS

Another potential reason for PMS that Western women should be concerned about is exposure to environmental toxins: food additives, pollutants, birth control pills, and pesticides. Once these “xeno-estrogens” enter the body, they create a hormonal imbalance, imitating estrogen and leading to a slew of symptoms and conditions. Besides lifestyle and dietary changes, Ayurveda recommends Panchakarma, the detoxification and rejuvenation process used for thousands of years to treat disease and bring the body back into balance.

Vaidyagrama: The Wisdom of Ayurveda

Earlier this year I traveled to India to see the Mohans and decided that while there I would to treat myself to a couple weeks of Panchakarma. One of my companions, Liz Kruger, an Ayurvedic practitioner from Pahrump, Nevada, inquired with an instructor from the Ayurvedic Institute of America as to where we might find authentic and traditional Ayurveda. This led us to Vaidyagrama, an authentic Ayurvedic village on the outskirts of Coimbatore in Southern India.

Vaidyagrama means “a true healing village”: it is both a hospital and a learning center, but to call it either would be limiting since it is much more. It is an ashram, and a temple of healing—a community in harmony with nature and its neighbors; a green and eco-friendly space built upon the principles of Vastu Shastra—India’s version of feng shui. Vaidyagrama is a coalition of doctors, therapists, staff, and local villagers who have come together to share their gifts with patients from all over the world so that healing, learning, and transformation can take place. It was one of the best ways I have ever spent a vacation.

Not only did a four-week upper respiratory infection that I picked up in Mamallapuram disappear, in the process of surrendering to my detoxification plan, it seemed as if my potential as a person—my reason for waking up each day—heightened. I grew lighter in mind and body. My attitude softened. My heart opened. Sleep deepened. Muscular aches and joint pain dissolved. I felt as though my nervous system both rested as well as purged years worth of waste.

Ragas: No more Singing the Blues

Because my period arrived during my treatment plan, I was given castor oil purgation as part of my overall therapy. I was also sent home with a three-month supply of herbal medicine, and one additional castor oil purgation to be taken on the first day of my next period. I am elated to report that for the past four months, since returning home from India, my PMS symptoms have abated. To my surprise, my period now simply arrives, quietly, and without warning—for the first time in twenty years! Although it would be easy, it’s not worth lamenting over the lost years spent suffering from PMS. Instead I hope to encourage women to seek out this ancient tradition for help recover a healthy menstrual cycle.

If you go…

At Vaidyagrama each patient has her own private apartment and verandah overlooking a garden. Ninety percent of the materials used to build the facility are natural—from stone floors and mud walls to water-based paint and bio mass briquettes for cooking. The center started with three barren acres—no water and no plants. They have since grown to twenty acres, planted more than 8,000 trees, including soap nut from which they produce natural cleanser for washing clothes and floors. Over 150 of the 5,000 herbs used at Vaidyagrama are now grown on the property. And it has only been three years since they opened their doors.

Every day consists of morning and evening prayers; herbal medicines; three delicious vegetarian meals based on the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent; two daily doctor consultations; one external body treatment; yoga nidra—a “sleep-like” guided meditation, and evening satsung where patients can ask questions about Ayurveda. Because doctors and staff are actively involved with each patient’s experience, the atmosphere at Vaidyagrama feels like a home away from home.

Twice daily my physician, Dr. Hari Krishnan, ended our consultations by placing his hand on his heart as a gesture of the spirit of humanity. If only all healthcare professionals did this, not only would it improve allopathic medicine’s bad rap for poor bedside manners, patients might also be more inspired to heal.

I plan on returning to Vaidyagrama with a group next year so that I can share the wisdom of authentic Ayurveda with others.

Published in Elephant Journal on July 5, 2012

 

Vaidyagrama: The Wisdom of Ayurveda

The healing hands of Vaidyagrama: AyurvedaOf all places to return to after nearly two months in India, I am grateful that it is Taos I call home. For simple, yet profound reasons I consider the Northern New Mexico environment to be “life support” for those of us who not only value, but require a quality of life beyond the accoutrements and clamor of urban life.

By Monique Parker, E-RYT

Of all places to return to after nearly two months in India, I am grateful that it is Taos I call home. For simple, yet profound reasons I consider the Northern New Mexico environment to be “life support” for those of us who not only value, but require a quality of life beyond the accoutrements and clamor of urban life.

Taosenos are innately drawn to live in harmony with nature just as the ancestors of the Taos Indians were drawn to this valley a thousand years ago. Here our wealth lies in environmental capital like clean air and water, beautiful landscapes and views, four distinct seasons, and a slower pace of life. Perhaps this is why the vision of Vaidyagrama resonates so profoundly with me.

Dr. Ramdas (& daughter), Monique Parker, Dr. Ramkumar, and Dr. Hari Krishnan

One of the highlights of my trip was experiencing the traditional system of medicine practiced in India for more than 5,000 years. For two weeks I became part of Vaidyagrama, an authentic ayurvedic village on the outskirts of Coimbatore in Southern India.

Vaidyagrama means “a true healing village”. It is both a hospital and a learning center, but to call it either would be limiting, as it is much more. It is an ashram and a temple of healing—a community in harmony with nature and its neighbors; a green and eco-friendly space built upon the principles of Vastu Shastra—India’s version of feng shui. Vaidyagrama is a coalition of doctors, therapists, staff, and local villagers who have come together to share their gifts with patients from all over the world so that health, healing, learning, and transformation can take place. It was one of the best ways I have ever spent a vacation.

Monique Parker receiving shirodhara

Not only did a four-week upper respiratory infection that I picked up in Mamallapuram disappear, in the process of surrendering to my detoxification plan or “panchakarma”, it seemed as if my potential as a person—my reason for waking up each day—heightened. I grew lighter in mind and body. My attitude softened. My heart opened. Sleep deepened. Muscular aches and joint pain dissolved. I felt as though my nervous system both rested as well as purged years worth of waste products.

Ayurveda is comprised of the words “ayus” meaning life and “veda”, which refers to a system of knowledge. Thus, ayurveda translates to “the knowledge of life”. According to the “Charaka Samhita”, one of the oldest and most authoritative texts on ayurveda believed to date back to 400-200 BCE, “life” is defined as “the union of body, senses, mind and soul.” Ayurveda’s intentions are to heal the sick, maintain health in those who are healthy, and to prevent disease.

Martha Flanders and Monique Parker planting jasmine before departure.

At Vaidyagrama each patient has her own private apartment and verandah overlooking a garden. Ninety percent of the materials used to build the facility are natural—from stone floors and mud walls to water-based paint and bio mass briquettes for cooking. The center started with three barren acres—no water and no plants. They have since grown to twenty acres, planted more than 8,000 trees, including soap nut from which they produce natural cleanser for washing clothes and floors. Over 150 of the 5,000 herbs used at Vaidyagrama are now grown on the property. And it has only been three years since they opened their doors.

The six-taste daily vegetarian lunches at Vaidyagrama…Mmm!

Every day consists of morning and evening prayers; herbal medicines; three delicious vegetarian meals based on the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent; two daily doctor consultations; one external body treatment; yoga nidra—a “sleep like” guided meditation, and evening satsung where patients can ask questions about ayurveda. Because doctors and staff are actively involved with each patient’s experience, the atmosphere at Vaidyagrama feels like a home away from home.

Kerala astrologer Mahesh Panikker, Monique Parker, and Aparna Sarma, Vaidyagrama’s Manager.

Now that I am back in Taos, many things remain with me: a balanced ayurvedic diet; a more refined lifestyle with daily routines such as warm sesame oil massage and before-dawn pranayama; less propensity for negativity; a greater awareness of the affect food has on my digestion, and last, but not least, something I did not expect from my doctor.

Twice daily at Vaidyagrama my physician, Dr. Hari Krishnan, ended our consultations by placing his hand on his heart as a gesture of the spirit of humanity. If only all healthcare professionals did this, not only would it improve allopathic medicine’s bad rap for poor bedside manners, patients might also be more inspired to heal.

*First published in The Taos News on March 15, 2012

 

Bali Yoga Retreat: Treat Yourself Like the Goddess That You Are

By Monique Parker, E-RYT

If you’re like most women today who multitask with aplomb, juggling responsibilities at home with a full-time career, then you have probably (at one time or another) fantasized about taking a vacation in some exotic locale where you can unplug and recharge without an alarm clock or laptop.

While you love your family and your job, you love yourself too. Deep down you recognize the necessity of getting away every once in a while in order to rest, regain peace of mind, and widen your perspective on life. Whether you’ve taken a personal vacation before (and loved it) or find yourself putting it off to some distant future when you win the lottery…let me give you two good reasons to trade in those frequent flier miles now:

  1. A Goddesses on the Go Vacation in Bali: May 20-30, 2012
  2. with me, Monique Parker, who will instruct you in two daily sessions of Svastha Yoga

Still not convinced? Stay with me.

Location, location, location

Have you ever dreamt about taking ten precious days in a warm tropical garden where tension melted away (maybe along with a few extra pounds)?

Look no further. Bali is the perfect place to reclaim your goddessness. Whether you’ve been feeling spiritually hungry, lackluster in your career or creativity, unmotivated to exercise, or simply needing to break out of the monotony of routine, a vacation (sans husband, boyfriend, and children) in exotic Bali may be just what you need.

Back2Bali specializes in retreats for women who want to combine an exotic cultural experience with world-class yoga instruction. If you’ve always wanted to visit Bali, but have been uncomfortable traveling there on your own, Back2Bali’s Goddesses on the Go is the ideal way to take PTA (personal time away) with like-minded women.

Back2Bali is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Barbara Millstein and Henry Abramson, who’ve been traveling to Bali for over thirty-five years. As hosts and tour guides, they assure the highest level of service and pampering (including a Balinese massage, facial, manicure/pedicure, and natural scrub at the local spa, in addition to a meeting with a local Balinese healer). As well, they will lead us along the back roads of Bali to experience music, art, dance, and religious ceremonies. Our sightseeing includes a visit to the water gardens of Tirtagangga, the village of Tenganan, and finally, lunch in the picture-perfect seaside town of Candidasa.

For those unfamiliar with Bali, it is located in the center of the Indonesian Archipelago, between the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean. The island is a natural paradise with waterfalls, volcanoes, beaches, villages along rice fields, and modern cities. Hinduism has predominantly influenced Bali’s culture, whereas most of the other 15,000 islands follow predominantly Islamic religion.

Our accommodation the first week will be at Gaia-Oasis, a comfortable seaside resort with ample sacred spaces for quiet reflection. It’s elegant bungalow-style guest rooms have private verandas and are set amidst a lush tropical garden and swimming pool. And if the complementary spa treatments aren’t enough, in-house massage and facial services are available for reasonable rates. Three luscious meals are included, with most of the fruits and vegetables coming from gardens up the mountain.

The last three nights we’ll be staying at the Arma Resort in Ubud, the cultural heart of the island. There we’ll visit museums, attend dance and gamelan performances, and enjoy additional spa treatments. Oh, and did I mention—shop until we drop? (Think antiques, artifacts, jewelry, silver, textiles, baskets, and a whole lot more). While at Arma Resort daily breakfast is included.

The timeless teachings of Svastha Yoga

Have you ever wished you could take a magic elixir that would help you feel like you again?

Now you can because each day while we are in Bali, I will be facilitating two group Svastha Yoga classes, one in the morning that focuses on core strength and stability; the other in the afternoon, a restorative practice that will include meditation and chanting.

The word Svastha in Sanskrit refers to the state of complete health and balance. It literally means, “to stay as yourself.” The approach is based on the teachings of the legendary Sri T. Krishnamacharya, as passed on by his personal students A.G. and Indra Mohan, founders of Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda in Chennai, India.

The beauty of Svastha Yoga is that it honors the individuality of each person. The practice is breath-centered, meaning we synchronize the movement with the breath in order to maintain spinal integrity and to focus the mind. Intelligent, orderly sequencing of asanas will leave you feeling balanced and complete after each session.

Monique Parker Maha Mudra

Even if you are new to yoga, rehabilitating an injury, or consider yourself a beginner, you will benefit from Svastha Yoga because each class is personalized—the postures are adapted to meet your body so the sessions are both safe and effective.

Each afternoon, after our restorative class, we will use Sanskrit chanting as a baseline for pranayama and meditation practice. Chanting is considered nature’s organic pharmacy: it boosts the immune system and reduces anxiety by balancing the endocrine system.

Chanting calms the mind by lessoning mind chatter and compulsive thoughts, moving us towards more positive vibrations or thought patterns. It also awakens and enlivens our connection with all by opening our heart so that we can begin to feel more subtle energies. Similarly, by opening our ears we learn to hear from a place of receptivity and openness. Chanting is easy and it’s free. Even if you don’t think you sing well—like I once did—you’ll surprise yourself because it’s not about singing, but surrender.

For more information or to register for Back2Bali Goddesses on the Go with Monique Parker: May 20-30, 2012, visit www.classicyogaofindia.com or www.back2bali.com

*First published in Southwestflair.com on January 2011.