Unexpected Lessons from My Yoga Friend


Another sleepless night in Playa Tamales, Costa Rica. There’s a whole host of reasons I stay awake here, mental chatter being the most prominent. Itchy bug bites being secondary.  Weird animal sounds are very common. The rustling as a small frog jumps out of my bed. A cicada casually hanging out on my foot. Usually it’s sweltering—sheets sticky with humidity. Tonight, though, it’s bad breath.  And it was not my choice to be shoved down the pathway to halitosis horror. Earlier in the evening, with no fanfare or explanation, a friend casually handed me a clove of garlic and just said "eat this."  It was a straightforward command, with what appeared to be good intentions. She was somebody whose holistic conventions I admired, so I accepted this token no questions asked as she prepared to leave for good. With packed suitcases at her feet, she hugged me goodbye and turned on her heels to leave the home we’d shared the past three months. But as soon as I took the first bite, I realized I was the victim of deceitful trickery. My eyes watered, my palate violated. And now I’d have no shot at getting back at her. My face grimaced and I wanted to spit, but I kept chewing, because there had to be a catch. This prank couldn’t be without its benefits. My friends here have a propensity to nurture, especially to the confused puppy dog sort that I am: tilting my head to one direction, thinking "ruh roh" every time I don’t understand a reference to "ayurveda," "chakra balancing," "witch hazel," or "positive self-talk."

My eyes watered, my palate violated. And now I’d have no shot at getting back at her.

Let me just clarify. My life here at an Osa Peninsula yoga retreat is not filled with a bunch of hippy-dippy-baby-boomer yogis of yore. This is a unique group of wanderers, keepers, and kindreds.  They’ve busted through any of my preconceived notions about what it means to be young and adult at the same time. I grew up on Friends, and figured my twenties would be filled with coffee-house shenanigans. Sex and the City had me envisioning a certain kind of thirties: a decade of glamorous art gallery openings, fussy cocktails, looking hot, and supposedly not being poor. My situation comedy took an unexpected twist. I married young and spent the last half decade as the breadwinner while my husband chased his dreams. Now I’m on the cusp of my 30th, in substantial debt, and single for the first time in my adult life. Forcing down garlic and surrounded by new-wavers I never envisioned as co-stars.  Because at no point did Monica Gellar build a moon altar in Central Perk, nor did Samantha Jones casually throw Sanskrit into a Sunday brunch. "Costa Rica has been good to you," I was told the other evening by somebody who hadn’t seen me in awhile. It was meant to be taken in the "you look relaxed, less high-strung, more tan" way; the way you'd compliment a colleague after their twelve-day escape to a timeshare in Cabo. In spite of the abhorrent flavor in my mouth, this place has indeed hit a deliciously savory spot in my life. Tranquil beaches and the thrill of wildlife and luscious greenery would do anybody a mess of good. But even more, it’s my transformational tribe here that’s doing good work in me—or spurring me on to do good work in myself, even if it means an intense aftertaste.

In spite of the abhorrent flavor in my mouth, this place has indeed hit a deliciously savory spot in my life.

The garlic-giver is a true tribeswoman. Unapologetically Texan, she wears a ring in the shape of the state on her finger. And if you double-cross her, she can be a fired-up hellion bitch. She lives halfway between Southern charm school (“please” and “thank you” being of particular importance), and the Alamo. Her story is an exciting one. She was working in corporate America, and by all capitalist standards doing quite well. But she was leading a double life. By day she was steadily building her 401k—by night, getting certified as a yoga instructor, learning to belly dance, having tantric sex, and opining in a satirical blog. Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but wouldn’t be shocked if the story of her getting to Costa Rica was something romantic—the sound of a tambourine playing at a Renaissance fair syncing up with her heartbeat, or Mother Universe communing directly with her that she needed to take Spirit specifically to the wilds of the Osa. I don’t know how else one gets here. We arrived at the retreat within several days of one another. We were both writers and photographers. Both of us unsure what our jobs would be in the following months, but it was clear from the get-go that our personalities and experiences and quirks were very different.

I sized up both of us: she was quick and I was slow. She was adroit, I had a case of RBF (“resting baffled face"). She was committed to healthful habits—going on a self-imposed alcohol fast for 90 days—and had the work ethic of a mule. I’d rather sit around with beer in hand, head in the clouds, talking about the time a gang of mules almost murdered me in Holland. But her choice to quit a life that wasn’t fulfilling, leave her job, and step over a cliff into who knows what kind of Central American experience, seemed extremely brave to me. And after the first day I asked her to do a private yoga practice with me, I’d never fathom her in a smart pantsuit, mingling with corporate types and eating an iceberg lettuce salad in the convention room of a Holiday Inn. She was a healer, dialed into the needs of my body and its link to my soul-stuff. And through the next three months, this was where I found she came out guns blazing, ill feelings dissipated in sacred practice and washed away with ocean breathing. Her mat was always true north. Over time, we grew closer as our experiences got messier. Inspired by ShaniaTwain and a canon of other good country songs (for which I have newfound appreciation, thanks to her Texan fervor), we gals hit the road for a two-week trek around the country to discover together the wonders Costa Rica holds. I wanted to kill her at times for listening to The Muppets Movie soundtrack while driving, but…actually no “but.” I wanted to kill her. Yeah.

Over time, we grew closer as our experiences got messier.

Only four hours into our trip, I was already hopelessly injured; limping and sore from being thrown off a horse, and without the sense to seek a doctor. She stretched me out in the back of our rental car, flung a stadium-sized bag of ice onto my side, and handed me a cold Imperial for good measure. (Please note: this cerveza tastes like nectar of the gods, and not garlic in any way, shape, or form). She spent the next days caring for me, challenging me back to health with homeopathic remedies, yoga stretches, and weird breathing exercises. Notably, they worked.  I’d like to think I nursed her in some way when emotions ran high from travel weariness and work stress, although I didn’t have anything profound to say other than a few awkward, ill-timed jokes. No balms or essential oils to apply. But because I valued her, I used what I had (which ain’t much).

She’d be the first person to tell me that comments like that about myself were off limits.

She’d be the first person to tell me that comments like that about myself were off limits—that I should say something positive to myself every morning, even if I don’t believe it. And that is something I’ll likely struggle with for awhile (kind of like the malodorous breath she gave me).  

But like garlic’s apparent healing properties (I’m told it wards off insanity and yeast infections), this particular friend is both a help and a hothead—the kind of friend I was lucky to find right when life got hard to swallow. Even the lull of Playa Tamales waves won’t help me drift off now.  I’m paranoid about my oral stench, and chances are I won’t talk much tomorrow. Maybe the real goal of the garlic-giving was to get me to be silent, so I might start having a kinder conversation with myself. Thank you, friend, for leaving such a sweet taste in my mouth.

About the Teacher

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Leah Holder Wyman
When photographer/writer Leah Wyman found herself in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, she left her... Read more