Tally ho, yogis and yoginis! Don’t we all love how a good Boat Pose (Navasana) feels from head …. to buttocks … to toes? What’s not to love about Boat Pose? Arr! Come on, let’s get stronger abs!
Boats have been a significant part of my life for the past five years, since I left the U.S. and moved to Belize, a tropical country just south of Mexico. I can hop on a motorboat and arrive at the northeastern shoreline of Guatemala in 45 minutes, after a pleasurable trip across warm Caribbean waters and occasional sightings of enormous, brown manta rays leaping into the air.
With easy access to ideal conditions for sailing on crystal blue waters, I’ve been invited to be a crew member on many memorable nautical adventures: I’ve driven a 40-foot sailboat up a winding river, swabbed the deck (while sipping piña colada), pulled up anchor (albeit with vociferous complaints about the weight of said anchor), driven a tugboat in tropical waters, and made passionate love on said tugboat….
I savor the freedom of being on an actual boat: the sensation of buoyancy, surveying a clear, expansive horizon of sea; the excitement of dolphin sightings, the rocking of the waves, and the pleasure of a good captain who knows how to expertly handle both the boat and me, the latter of which requires … special skill.
As one experienced captain pointed out, “When you’re on a boat, your body is always working.” While on boats, I’ve experienced this to be true: The muscles must constantly adjust to the persistent rolling to and fro, back and forth of the boat; especially the abdominal, lower back and leg muscles — which is why every good sailor girl should regularly practice Boat Pose.
Here’s how this butt-balancing posture can benefit you:
- Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine
- Stimulates the kidneys, thyroid, prostate glands and intestines
- Relieves stress (now, who doesn’t need that?)
- Improves digestion
I currently offer daily sunrise yoga classes at Cotton Tree Lodge, an ecolodge nestled deep in the rainforest of southern Belize alongside a magnificent, emerald green river. For centuries, this area has been home to the Mayan people, who live in off grid, thatch roof huts in tiny villages, where nearby ancient Mayan ruins can be explored. This is a remote, isolated area: I imagine there still remain many ruins deep in the jungle that have not yet been discovered.
I’m a spoiled yogini. I can’t imagine going back to teach or practice yoga in a climate-controlled yoga studio enclosed within four walls. Here, I practice yoga outside, surrounded by some of the purest, most pristine nature left in the world.
Suffice it to say that I am blessed to practice and teach yoga in a magical place, beside one of the last remaining rivers on the entire planet that has not been polluted by industrial inputs. Here, the Mayan people live simply and self-sufficiently. I have had the privilege to become friends with the local Mayans, whom I find to be hard-working people with strong will, tremendous patience, endurance and a mischievous sense of humor.
Living in the jungle has a way of teaching you to be patient and to honor the rhythms of nature: Here in the rainforest, nature will take over and kick your ass if you’re not … capable and willing to work in harmony with the land, the fertile soil, the animals, and the lush plant life. Not to mention harmonizing with the spirits who protect the land, but that’s another topic, perhaps worthy of a separate blog entry….
This morning I encouraged and guided my students to courageously hold Boat Pose for five full breaths, intentionally eliciting giggles when I exclaimed, “Whatever floats yer boat!”
For anyone who’s done Boat Pose, you know how it gives your abs a good, steady burn and makes your hip flexors work hard. But it’s so worth it…. You never know when an actual boat will show up in your life, at which time you’ll be better prepared for the adventure after having practiced your Boat Pose.
The unexpected arrival of a boat into my life is precisely what transpired after this morning’s yoga class: I was sitting at my desk overlooking the Moho River, when in the corner of my eye I spotted a large floating object that I thought at first must be a log* …. I stood up, got a closer look and realized it was actually a wooden canoe floating upside down, drifting slowly downstream, as if being delivered straight to my door. (Thanks, spirits of the river and the land!)
I dashed outside and called for Mr. Bo, my coworker and foreman at Cotton Tree Lodge. I found him knee-deep in mud beside the river, tending to the motorboat that we use to take guests out on snorkeling adventures — just a half-hour ride down the Moho River to where it meets the Caribbean, where crystal clear waters of offshore island cayes can be explored to your heart’s content. (Yes, I am reminded that I live and practice yoga daily in a veritable paradise. Thank you).
“Mr. Bo!” I said, catching my breath, “There’s a canoe coming our way! Will you help me get it out of the water onto shore?”
Being the helpful, cooperative Mayan elder that he is, Mr. Bo immediately jumped to action: He retrieved a long rope, ran to meet the canoe just as it was passing by, waded through the water and lassoed it so that he could haul it up (with help from Martin, a fisherman who happened to be passing by in his own canoe) onto the nearby embankment while I stood by and watched, cheering the boys on.
Again, I’m such a spoiled yogini. I have a whole crew of able-bodied men who do all the dirty work for me. I have to make a concerted effort to go out into “the bush”, as we call the jungle here, put on my boots and sweat while I swing a machete. The Mayan men–and women, for that matter–are much better at manual labor than I’ll probably ever be, though I do at least make the effort to learn basic survival skills.
When I’m not busy offering therapeutic massage and spa services here at the riverside Wellness Center and Spa at Cotton Tree Lodge, I am building my own off-grid, 16×16 foot thatch roof hut and cultivating a small garden on an acre of fertile land on the outskirts of the closest town. I had been picturing how cool it would be to make a couch out of a dugout canoe and put it in my living room, like the one we have in the main lodge here at the resort.
Well, my wish for a canoe couch came true. Within hours after this morning’s yoga class, the Moho River gifted me my very own handmade dugout canoe … and all it took was me holding Boat Pose for 5 focused, meditative breaths, and –bing!– there was my very own boat!
Like all dedicated yoga practitioners, we must sometimes practice the art of “letting go” and “detachment” … Later that afternoon, two village boys paddled their canoe to shore and stopped to inspect mine, now drying out in the sun. I greeted them and asked if the canoe belonged to them.
“Yes,” they said, “We came to get it for our father.”
My heart sank (pun intended). “There goes my canoe couch,” I thought. I practiced deep yogic breaths and resolved in my mind to … let go.
I thought to myself, “If you love it, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s meant for you.”
This maxim proved to be true for me today. After inspecting the sides and bottom of what I thought was my very own wooden dory, the boys abandoned it and headed back home, telling me that my boat was leaking from too many holes. In the end, it would make a perfect … couch.
“I want you to deliver it in your truck to my house!” I replied. “It will make a great bench!”
My friend and coworker Mr. Jose Bo, a well-respected, lifelong resident of nearby San Felipe village, laughed at my proposed idea of turning the now useless canoe into anything other than a vehicle for doing work.
Then, he launched into what I thought was an interesting story, which I was careful to catch (again, puns intended)….
“I used to haul 200 bags of rice in my dory down the Moho River from the village of Boom Creek all the way to Punta Gorda town three times a week to sell rice at the market,” he told me.
“Each bag of rice weighed 100 pounds.”
Wow, that’s one sturdy dugout canoe!
I was impressed and interested in Mr. Bo’s story, so I asked him to tell me more (keeping his native Kekchi Maya dialect intact in his quotes)….
“I learned to be a dory maker when I was 20 years old. The full story, I make 40 feet in length and 4 feet wide. It took me one month to carve the dory with five guys to help me.”
Skilled at the art of canoe-making, Mr. Bo has taught his five sons how to make their own canoes from the logs of local hardwood trees (namely, Santa Maria and emery).
“It was my belief that if I could somehow pass this skill to the younger generation, they could also practice dory making.”
“Today, it is a tradition of Maya transportation for farmers to cross the rivers to work on their farms. We still use dories to haul materials from the jungle that we use to build our houses.”
Now, that’s what I call sustainable living with a minimal carbon footprint.
[A side note: We have a lot to learn from the indigenous people, if we privileged elites can get over our hubris long enough to let them teach us, instead of the other way around.]
The nearest town of Punta Gorda used to be a tiny, remote fishing village accessible only by a dirt road, until a highway was built within the past two decades. Three days a week, Punta Gorda hosts a bustling market where local farmers can sell fresh food grown and harvested from their own land; including rice, corn, beans, and plantains, as well as a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Before there was a dirt road connecting the surrounding villages to the marketplace in Punta Gorda, farmers like Mr. Bo traveled via dugout canoes via the Moho River and Caribbean Sea.
The market, which is still active to this day in Punta Gorda town, was one of the most compelling reasons why my used-to-be-husband and I chose to buy an acre of land and settle here 5 years ago, until he left me to revert back to a more civilized living arrangement (that’s another story).
Years later, I’m still thriving as a single woman, living as frugally and simply as possible, paying skilled workers like Mr. Bo to help me build my off-grid homestead and plant cash crops like coconut, cacao, and bananas. One day, I might be selling my organic produce in the local Punta Gorda market. I’ve gone from a successful, lucrative career in the U.S. to a much simpler, more enjoyable life in a third world country where I can own land and grow my own food: the culmination of my dream to be self-sufficient and walk lightly upon the earth. Living my yoga.
Mr. Bo continued to share more details about the art of canoe-making: “We used many different tools to build our dories: axe, adge and drill bit.
“The adge is used to fall the tree. The drill is used to maintain the thickness of the dory. You have to drill the dory carefully so it keeps the same thickness all around.”
“Do you still grow rice in Santa Ana village?” I asked Mr. Bo.
“Oh, yes, I’m still a rice farmer, along with many other villagers” he said. He paused to think about the details, then continued, “Land clearing starts in the month of February. That is slash and burn. The planting time is May 15th before the rain, and then the rice will be harvested in the month of September.
“We have to flog the rice and then bag it. You have to make sure it’s not too moist so you can get a good price.”
I asked him, “Do you notice climate changes in recent years? How is that affecting your rice yields?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “The climate changes are causing us to get a high yield sometimes and sometimes a low yield. There is a time when we get hurricane or flooding. It damages the crops. This year, we are getting a lot more rain than last year. A lot. It is flooding the crops. That will make us get less grain this year.”
For now, the Moho River area is virtually untouched and unadulterated by the impact of human civilization. Maybe I can help keep things in balance by practicing my butt-balancing Boat Pose regularly beside the river, deeply meditating on gratitude for the life I’ve been given. After all, if we can’t stop runaway climate change, as the science indicates, then at least we can practice yoga postures to get stronger abs and to stay calm, which makes for better, longer-lasting lovemaking and resilience in general.
Don’t miss the boat: Live fully! Laugh often! Love all of it (even the ab burn). After all, love makes life worth living.
I’m in love and always will be….
Thanks to Boat Pose and other core body strengthening yoga postures, I will surrender and go down (peacefully) with this ship.
*For readers who care (hey, thanks for reading!): There is both legal and illegal logging going on regularly in the Moho River area, for which the local Mayan people lament. When I brought up the topic of nearby logging in the jungle to my friend Mr. Jose Bo, a well-respected, lifelong resident of nearby San Felipe village, he commented, “Oh, we are so sad about that going on. It’s too much. They are cutting down all the old trees — the trees that our kids will need to build their houses. Soon there will be none left.” (Now, this is another topic, about which I probably won’t get the chance to write a blog entry. I don’t want to rock the boat too much).
Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S. Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. Five years ago, she left her career in the U.S. to purchase an acre of fertile land in Belize, Central America, where she currently lives in an off grid, thatch roof hut. She offers yoga classes, therapeutic massage and retreats internationally.
Check out her latest published books here.
Join Parama on the next wellness retreat (March 11th, 2017) with live drumming, yoga and dance on a white sand beach overlooking the Caribbean Sea in tropical Belize!