Our driver chattered away about the lay of the land, the crops we were passing, and the weather we were to expect as we bounced along an uneven dirt road leading to the retreat center. It was roughly a 30-minute drive from the nearest train station in Villamartin, Spain, to the Suryalila Yoga Retreat Centre located between strikingly green Andalusian farms and an impressive snowcapped mountain range.
We came up to a large wrought iron gate that gave entry to 45 acres of green plains, colorful gardens, hills for hiking, and whitewashed buildings with burnt-orange roofs. We could hear roosters clucking, even in mid-afternoon. Horses whinnied in the distance. And orange trees were planted symmetrically throughout, accompanied by brightly colored flowers of all shades, shiny Buddha statues, and solid wooden benches for lounging.
The retreat center was breathtaking and the workshops and practices to come highly anticipated, but they were simply a side dish to the true purpose of our Spanish vacation. This was our first genuine mother-daughter getaway. Sure, a few years ago when I uprooted my American life in exchange for a new one in Barcelona, Mom came along to help with the move, but this time it was different. This trip was not just about me, it was about my relationship with my mother, and hers with me. We have always been quite close, but we grew even closer in the years following my parents’ divorce. We share many loves, including depressing foreign films, food, wine, great conversation, and yoga. I envisioned that traveling with her would be a beautiful addition to the list of things we shared. And you know what? It was.
This was our first genuine mother-daughter getaway.
It takes a specific kind of person to travel with me. I am insatiable when it comes to exploration and extremely nervous about looking too “American” while traveling, which means maps, sneakers, and Starbucks are out of the question. One time, for example, a friend and I spent an entire afternoon wandering aimlessly through the El Carmel barrio in Barcelona, looking for Park Guell, the largest and most famous park in the city. Due to my inability to understand Spanish directions and my insistence that "maps were for tourists," we finally threw in the towel in favor of a bottle of wine and some cheese, assuming that we would never find it. (I did discover a few months later that we had only been two streets away!) As far as my ideal travel companion goes, my mom absolutely fit the bill, exploring with me for hours with no complaints through windy Sevillan streets toward a church that “had to be around here somewhere” in pretty ballerina flats and a colorful pashmina. Through our (occasional) blush-inducing attempts at speaking Spanish, inability to translate bus schedules, and difficulty making dining decisions, my mother and I stuck together like glue, and I loved every minute of it. I admired her open‐mindedness, cultural sensitivity, and observations of easily missed nuances. And Mom was up for anything—walking for miles without destination, skipping the touristy sights in favor of smaller local places, eating jamón (despite her usual vegetarianism), and enjoying a glass (or two) of wine with lunch.
Eventually we arrived at the retreat, stuffed with cheese and ready to detoxify. It was time to connect with our minds and our bodies. Each day Mom and I devotedly attended morning asana practice together, dined together, and went for walks together. We talked about yoga, the other people at our retreat ("Do you think that couple really likes each other?"), and our own lives. We shared a bed, lost sleep due to lack of pillows (another thing mom and I have in common: normally we both sleep with three pillows each), and suffered caffeine withdrawal. We gained weight at the detox where we should have lost it (buffets are killer, even when the food is healthy), and neither of us would have had it any other way.
Why was this all so important to me? Allow me to digress just for a moment. I dabbled a little in yoga around the age of 16, mainly because my mom was an instructor. But because I was a typical teenager, doing anything my parents suggested wasn't “cool,” and I quickly abandoned the practice until college, when yoga classes became more accessible and days became more stressful. Life, as it’s known to do, presented me with many challenging situations during my first two post-college years, including my parents’ split, my own heart-wrenching breakup, a wanderlust-driven decision to relocate halfway across the world to Spain in 2009, and a sorrowful financially driven decision to return to the U.S. in 2012. Yoga and my mother’s support got me through it all. Upon my return west, I booked a trip to Costa Rica to complete a 21-day intensive yoga teacher-training course with Vidya Heisel of Frog Lotus International. More than a training, the course allowed me to pinpoint my bottled-up emotions surrounding those events and to (eventually) let them go.
A small, square piece of paper that I had scribbled on two years before fell out onto my lap.
I can recall one particular teacher-training activity that was especially effective in facilitating my emotional recognition and release. We students were asked to rip a sheet of paper into 12 squares. On four of the squares we were asked to write our spiritual motivations for practicing yoga; on another four, the physical reasons; and on the remaining four, our emotional reasons. Two years later, while packing for this mother-daughter trip to Spain, I decided to bring along the same journal I had used to hold my notes from teacher training. Precariously placed inside (as I am not the most organized person in the world) were the 12 original motivations behind my yoga practice. On the second-to-last night of our retreat, as I lay in bed waiting for mom to finish brushing her teeth so I could turn out the light, I pulled out my journal. A small, square piece of paper that I had scribbled on two years before fell out onto my lap. I picked it up and smiled as I read the most significant emotional motivation of them all: “Something to share with my mom.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful and supportive mothers out there, especially to my own. You are my role model and my inspiration, and I can only hope to be half the woman you are. Love you, Mom!