Yoga Farm, Oleiros, Portugal

One donkey, one rooster, one dog, two goats, two teachers, three cats, three hens, apples, peaches, pears, figs, yoga, sun, forest, a whole lotta brown rice and even more love. That's been my home for about the last two weeks.

The Ashtang-Vinyasa Yoga retreat I found rests in central Portugal, in a sleepy village about 15 km from Oleiros. The setting is peaceful and the ambient hippy. The property overlooks a deep valley of farmlands and cork oak, pine and eucalyptus forests. Organically grown fruit trees and garden veggies dot the grounds. The retreat just opened this year, and they seem to be doing really well, as people from all over Europe end up there just by virtue of their web site:

I tend to think of the last couple weeks as my stay on the yoga farm, as the setting is definitely farmlike, with animals and fruits and veggies growing everywhere. Willow, the gentle pranayama honking donkey, whoops out the most hilarious noises I have ever heard. Donkeys apparently are one of the few animals that make noise on inhalation and exhalation. I still can't stop myself from laughing every time he busts out into his tonkey song. Trying to stay focused and unsmiling during savasana when he starts up, is a feat in itself. The two brother and sister goats love to gnaw chairs and eat napkins. The male goat has nads as big as his head and the testosterone they produce reeks cheesily. He actually smells like goat cheese. The rooster and hens peck around the compost daily and the adult cats keep pretty much to themselves. The kitten with a deviated tail, Annie, climbs anything she can stick her claws into. Queenie, the dog, was rescued from the nearby village people who were about to kill her. Supposedly she'd been in a rage with fits of biting. She still limps due to a broken hip, which healed out of socket (and which happened before she was adopted). You wouldn't believe she ever had a mean streak by the way she coos for love and rolls over on her back to give you better access to rubbing her belly.

Days start at 8 a.m. with Sue's dynamic yoga practice. She teaches in the form of workshops, delving more into the spiritual side of yoga. Each day focuses on a different element of the practice: earth, wind, fire and water. These sessions also give more time in certain postures (along with suggestions on how to correct them) to ensure the body is properly grounded and aligned, allowing us to come into our postures with more integrity. Breakfast and tea follow around 10 a.m. and we have free time to sleep, sunbathe, sway in a hammock or read from their cool library until lunch at about 2 p.m.

After lunch, it's back to the hammock or for a walk on one of the several fireroad trails that stem off the property. Sometimes we go to Rio Zezere, about a 10-minute's drive away, to swim and watch the local fisherman watching us. Evening yoga at 6 p.m. is the full Ashtanga practice with Peter. I'd never done Ashtanga before, so it's interesting to practice a different kind of yoga. It's quite a strong class, but he constantly reminds us to listen to our bodies, be patient and ease off. Build good associations in the body and not bad ones: Don't over-force your poses or let pain or tension creep into the practice; breathe. A yummy (macrobiotic) dinner follows shortly after our night practice. We sit around the table and chat. Since I am here mostly on trade, I do a whole lotta dishes during the day as well. It's kind of like cleaning up after a small Thanksgiving, every day, twice a day.

After meeting lots of other people who have been practicing yoga all over the world, it makes me feel more even thankful for my yoga beginnings than I already felt. Luckily, I have a great yoga prof, Susana, in Puerto Natales, who has always focused on the spiritual side of yoga, and not just taught it as some exercise you do at the gym. She has always encouraged us to be present and tried to make sure we do what we can while maintaining proper form, that we don't compare ourselves with our peers (or even with ourselves on previous days). Apparently it is not the norm to teach yoga holistically, as a way of life. And it is a whole lot more common to egofy the practice, turning it into an exercise or flexibility competition. Which it is not. Anyway, my yoga farm days rekindled my yoga, energized and relaxed me just in time to meet up with Serkan again in Istanbul.

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