I spent most of my life actively avoiding physical activity. I was fortunate enough to have a quick metabolism when I was younger, which afforded me the option of not caring. About six years ago, I started running. I’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with running before, but there was never really any middle ground for me with exercise. It was something intense or nothing at all. In the past few years I’ve realized that there’s more to exercise than losing a few pounds or reaching a race goal. The psychological benefits began to outweigh the physical for me when I started practicing yoga. When I was younger, I thought yoga was boring. Maybe it’s my age showing, but I’ve started to truly understand its benefits. During the time I’ve been practicing, mind and body have become intricately intertwined. I even practiced some meditation-something I never thought I’d do. I grew up a secular New England skeptic, so the Eastern philosophy of yoga and Buddhism were a lot to wrap my head around. I was predisposed to think it was a load of phooey but the more I learned, the more facets of my life became manageable.
One of the first things I did when I moved to Hawaii was look for a yoga studio. For me, falling for yoga was all about finding the right teachers in Lora Markova and Jessica Miller at the Core Connection in Northborough, MA. One of my saddest goodbyes was leaving that place. I was seriously worried I wouldn’t find another teacher that could make me love yoga like they did. I was so insanely lucky that my Google search pulled up Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii. I’ve been a regular at Mizuho’s Wednesday morning class since my second week in Honolulu. Beach Sunset Yoga is exactly what it sounds like: a yoga class on the lawn overlooking Waikiki Beach. The majority of their classes take place in time for sunset. In order to practice in a public park, you have to let go of your self-consciousness and find a new type of focus. The tradeoff is you get the inspiration of one of the most beautiful settings on Earth.
Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii also offers Jungle Mindfulness Yoga Hikes and Wellness Tours. I’ve been wanting to try either one since I got here but felt a little funny about spending the money while I’m unemployed. I’m happy to say I was able to finally to do both last week! Let me be clear that I am not being compensated for this post, I genuinely loved these experiences and wanted to share them with you. I did let Karen at Beach Sunset Yoga know I’d be writing this post as a courtesy and she agreed to share her photos with me – bonus for you!
On Wednesday I went on the east side Wellness Tour with Karen and one other girl, with whom I became fast friends. On our Wellness Tour, we drove from place to place from Honolulu to the windward side of Oahu, experiencing spots unknown even to some locals. Karen has lived here her whole life and knows the island inside out. It was fun as a newcomer to get an inside look at some of these hidden gems.
We started the day just outside town, hiking a short path into the Po’olau Mountains. It was incredible how much we could see in such a short hike. In fact, Karen said it’s one of the only places you can see the valley with so little work. The trail was made a bit treacherous by light rain, but the atmosphere was only made better by the clouds. I felt like I was on an enchanted mountain, complete with a rainbow! We stopped to do some yoga on a flat spot overlooking the valley. It’s pretty easy to find your center in spot like that.
After the hike, we stopped at a Korean Temple. I’ve never actually seen a Buddhist temple in person, but it was truly stunning. The carving and painting was intricate and beautiful. As we walked around, Karen told us about the temple along with stories about Buddah and why the lotus is the most common symbol of Buddhism and yoga. There’s something poetic about the growing out of the mud. If we can push through the mud of our worries and our busy lives and center ourselves, our minds and spirits can grow. We took a few minutes to do a quick meditation outside the temple. It was a genuinely transcendent experience. I felt at peace in the moment and connected to nature. I can’t think of a more moving place for this exercise with the rain falling lightly around us.
Next, we visited tide pools bordering the ocean. I got to jump off a makeshift diving board jutting out of the rocks and swim protected from the current. The waves were actually pretty big that day and it was very cool to see them swelling and crashing right next to me without any effect. We capped off the morning with the best poke I’ve had since I’ve been here. I also tried kimchee cucumbers for the first time, spicy but delicious. After lunch we visited Karen’s favorite windward beach and a sacred spot with offerings to the gods. It was very cool to get a window into this side of the local and ancient Hawaiian culture.
We ended the day with a stop at a cliff overlooking the ocean. We rolled out our mats for some more yoga in another totally different but equally inspiring spot. Balance was challenging on the uneven surface with the rolling waves in my sightline, but it was also an incredible experience seeing the waves crash on the rockface in front of me. It was the perfect way to end a perfect island day.
On Friday I went for the Jungle Mindfulness Yoga Hike with Valerie. It was a more active experience in a slightly larger group. We started the day hiking through a bamboo forest where Valerie pointed out all kinds of fascinating plants. We saw cinnamon trees growing in the wild, which isn’t found almost anywhere else in the world. She also pointed out the makahiya, or shy plant, whose leaves close when touched. I included a short video below because it’s hard to imagine without seeing and it blew my mind. We also saw ginger and tiny wild raspberries and blueberries. Eventually we emerged from the forest into a clearing surrounded by mountains with an old reservoir at its center. The reservoir reminded me of a New England lake plopped in the middle of the spectacularly lush Hawaiian landscape. We stopped to do some yoga on a flat area between the mountains, adding yet another unique, inspiring landscape to my practice.
We continued our hike to a small waterfall, where we shared some lychee Valerie bought at the trailhead. Lychee are almost like a peeled grape, but with an intense sweet taste. So good. After, some of us scaled the waterfall back up instead of taking the trail. True to form, I fell in a hole. It was still really fun. We continued on to another sacred Hawaiian spot, where we did a quick meditation. We also got to climb a giant banyan tree and do some more yoga in the bamboo forest. This day was a super fun experience for more adventurous types.
These outings were both incredible experiences. I was really just trying to get out of the apartment since I’ve been a bit down about being unemployed and alone most of the time. These outings delivered on so many levels. I didn’t just find something to do, I found peace. I found the patience to wait, the courage to keep trying, and a new comfort within myself.
Photos courtesy of Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii