Sedona: Between Earth & Sky

Sedona

Sedona, or “Slow-dona,” as some of the locals called it, has proved to be one of the most peaceful places I’ve visited thus far. Life has a seemingly effortless and natural process of unfolding there. Those I’ve spoken to who have moved to Sedona from elsewhere claim they have been “guided” to Sedona for one reason or another. My mom and I planned this trip back in January and we totally understood the vibe of being guided out there.

One of my 2018 intentions was to travel to the Western United States. After putting that  out to the Universe, I saw an advertisement for a yoga retreat in Sedona and wanted to go, but it seemed a bit too costly to make it a reality. A few days later my mom called and asked if I would like to meet her in Sedona instead of her coming to visit me in Florida. I responding with a resounding “YES!”

There’s something—some high energetic, magical quality—about Sedona that extends beyond the physical. It can’t be explained, it’s something that needs to be experienced. I recommend Sedona to anyone looking for a relaxing, self-reflective, healing vacation.

Below is a guide based on our favorite things we did during our time in Sedona.

WHAT TO DO

LITTLE HORSE TRAIL TO THE CHAPEL OF THE HOLY CROSS

You can drive right up to the chapel, an architectural landmark built into the red rock. Orrrrr you can do an hour hike from the center of the vortex (a place of powerful Earth energy) out to the chapel. If you have the time, do the latter. We stopped about half way to admire the tall red rocks, sat down and did some chanting meditation. Right before we were about to move on, my mom insisted she get a picture of me doing a yoga pose in front of the rock. I positioned myself with my arms reaching outward. Upon later inspection of the photos, we noticed an orange orb (denoting protection) in the direction I was reaching. The trail, the nature, the chapel, the energy, all made for a Divine experience.

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AMBITABHA STUPA AND PEACE PARK

Windchimes and prayer flags line the perimeter of the park and in the center stands The Amitabha Stupa, a monument imbued with the power of higher consciousness to honor the Buddha. As I walked the path that surrounds the sacred structure, I was met with feelings of grace and gratitude. The peace and stillness of the park make it the perfect place to practice meditation and send prayers.

INTUITIVE READINGS AT THE NEW AGE CENTER

Intuitive readings are like spiritual “check-ups.” They provide insight into your emotions, energy, and overall spirit. I used to be wary of readings, but overtime I have learned there is nothing to fear because it’s all done in the interest of your highest and best Self. You can call ahead to make an appointment, but I chose to do it right then and there with one of the readers who was available. In one half hour session, I laughed, I cried, I worked through some major mental blocks, and obtained extreme clarity. 10/10 recommend.

DAY TRIP TO THE LOWER ANTELOPE CANYON, HORSESHOE BEND, & THE GRAND CANYON

Okay, not going to lie, this day was pretty intense. We totaled about 400 miles (5 hours) in the car, but the views were so worth it. We drove directly up to the Lower Antelope Canyon and got the longest part of the drive out of the way early. The Lower Antelope Canyon is a canyon carved out entirely by water. The smooth rock ebbs, flows, and swirls around mirroring the fluidity of the water that created it. Unfortunately, state law prohibits anyone from entering the canyon without a tour guide, so we had no choice but to cram into the tight space with a lot of people more concerned with taking photos of the Canyon than the canyon itself. Honestly, I was pretty annoyed about the people at the time, but thinking back, I only remember the beauty of the canyon, so if you can handle confined spaces with a large group then 100% do it! After the Lower Antelope Canyon, we headed South again and drove a tiring 8 minutes to Horseshoe Bend where we found some space to breathe. Then, we got back in the car for a two-hour ride to the Grand Canyon. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I saw because WHOA. The canyon stretched on for miles and miles making it impossible to comprehend the enormity of it. My mom and I remained silent on the edge of the rock and basked in the beauty of the scene in front of us with one thing on our minds: nature is heaven.

THRIFTING

There is plenty of shopping to do in Sedona, but no need to get caught up in all of the touristy shops. I found some real gems at the thrift and consignment stores scattered around the city. Gently used holistic food and healing books for $1 each, a designer dress for $15, silver earrings for $5. Thrifted items are inexpensive, good for the environment, and wayyy more treasurable than anything you’ll find in a destination themed gift shop.

EAT AT CHOCOLATREE

If you know anything about me, you’d know I’m crazy for cocoa, so I had to check out ChocolaTree, a café and shop specializing in homemade chocolate and vegetarian eats. They import their cocoa from South America and stone grind it on site, a process that typically takes a few weeks. You can totally taste the difference in their chocolate and the chocolate you’d get from the grocery store. It’s rich, it’s raw, it’s full of antioxidants, and it tastes the way real chocolate is supposed to taste. The best part about this place? They ship worldwide, so you don’t even have to leave your house to enjoy their delicious sweeties! Shop here.

WHERE TO STAY

THE SKY RANCH LODGE

I owe this one to Mom. I was in charge of flights, she was in charge of stay and she knocked this one out of the park. Located high above the rest of Sedona, the Sky Ranch Lodge promises awe-inspiring views. We had an incredible stay. The rooms were clean, the grounds were beautifully manicured, and the staff was beyond friendly. When we weren’t out and about, we either chilled poolside or relaxed in the wedding area. When the views are this good (↓) there really is no need to venture out!

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Namaste,

Mary

Lessons From Hurricane Irma

Though her physical impact on the Tampa Bay Area was minimal, Irma provided us with insight into living life with quality. Here’s what she taught us:

  1. Embrace the essence of non-attachment

At one point, it was predicted that Tampa was going to be a direct hit with an incredible storm surge. If that were the case, our little first floor apartment on the bay stood no chance against the forces of water. It was time to practice non-attachment; a state in which a person lets go of the identification of their being with their worldly possessions. Sometimes, it’s difficult to part with our materials things, especially if they are imbued with memories. But I had no choice. I threw all of my clothes and books and travel souvenirs on the highest shelf of my closet with the understanding that all of my things were at the mercy of the storm. When I shut the door of our apartment, for what I believed would be the last time, I decided my things aren’t mine anymore. But then, again, they were never mine to begin with. It was unexpectedly liberating.

  1. Sometimes all you can do is surrender

After all of the hurricane prep was complete to the best of our ability and we fled to higher ground, there was nothing we could do but wait. We monitored the storm via weather apps, hoping Irma’s power would begin to dissipate, but the enormity of the storm was not up to us. I had to relinquish my perceived control of the situation and flow with Mother Nature’s plan.

  1. There are more angles than what the media presents

I had friends and family call and demand why I wasn’t fleeing the state. They watched the news, they said. It’s gonna be bad. The biggest, baddest storm to ever move across the Atlantic, they heard. They suggested I fly out, or pack up the car and hit the highway. But they weren’t here. All of their knowledge about my situation was regurgitated straight from their television. They didn’t know that gas was so sparse that you’d empty your tank just going out in search of a station to fill up. They didn’t know that the highways were practically live parking lots. They didn’t know that flights were packed and at risk of being delayed and cancelled. This lesson was not to undermine the love and well-intentioned advice that I received. It was about using the entirety of our minds to think critically; to think further than what we’re told because there’s always more to a situation than what the media lets on.

  1. Build an emergency fund and get the right insurance(s)

I’ve been advised to do this a few times before, but it never resonated with me until now. Having an emergency fund is crucial. Anything can happen at any moment. A pipe can burst, a fire can start, a hurricane can blow through. And while none of those are favorable, they are very real and very costly. My boyfriend and I spent few hundred dollars on dry food, water, and survival equipment and even though it was a small amount of money, we weren’t expecting to spend it on emergency supplies. But, thankfully after securing our lives, we didn’t have much at stake. We are renters without any valuable assets so the loss would have been minimal if our area was as devastated as they forecasted. But, there were some who had to worry about losing their homes, their businesses, their boats, etc. And while everything is replaceable, it is easier when you have a back-up fund.

  1. Shake it off

While Irma didn’t cause much damage here, she did shake things up. Loose leaves fell from the trees like confetti, dead branches snapped and separated themselves from the trunks of healthy trees, while the unhealthy trees uprooted themselves from the dirt. It seemed as though Irma forced the Earth to release all that no longer served Mother Nature. Since humans embody an Earthly element, we can relate. Sometimes, we endure metaphorical hurricanes, having to face strong winds and heavy rains, and while these situations may seem dark at the time, they require us to revisit our beliefs and let the dead things go.

  1. Be grateful

I couldn’t believe our luck when I woke up the morning after Irma to the low hum of the refrigerator running. We had power. And even more amazing, we had survived the storm unscathed. So had our apartment. And all of our belongings, and our neighbors and all of their belongings’. We went from preparing for homelessness to a joyous return to life before the storm. I felt an immense gratitude for the life I live, a feeling I promised myself I would continue to cultivate. Count your blessings. Even the mundane ones because chances are, if they disappeared, you’d want them back.

  1. We live in a fast-paced society, but slow transitions are okay

The morning after Irma, it seemed society was on track to return to it’s normal speed by noon. I found this quick transition to be too radical. The energetic balance of life was still off, yet people were headed to work as if nothing happened. I know I am more sensitive than most, but I saw this rapid transition to be of sociopathic nature. As progressive as our fast-paced society seems, I find that it does not always support the highest and best for our emotional and mental bodies. The lesson here is: society is going to continue moving at a rapid speed. Let it and catch up when you feel like it. Or don’t. It’s up to you to live your life at the speed you want.

Please take a moment to open your heart and send love to those whose lives were compromised and those whose homes and communities were devastated as a result of the storm. There’s power in prayer.

Namaste,

Mary

The Return

I felt like a fraud. Inauthentic. Fake. I was lying to everyone— my friends, my family, my entire social media following. But even worse than all of that, I was lying to myself. I was preaching about love and union and oneness, yet I felt so separate. So isolated. So alone.

I was depressed and afraid to admit it. What if I told my friends and family and they didn’t take me seriously? What if they dismissed my illness because of its deceptive invisibility? What if they discredited me as a yoga teacher? What if this feeling never went away?

For two months, I wouldn’t acknowledge those questions. I refused to give them any sort of attention. Until, I went to a psychic who told me I had an aura of sadness surrounding me. Yes, I paid someone to tell me how I’ve been feeling lately: depleted, drained, unhappy. But, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to hear the truth. I had gone to her as an escape, a desperate final attempt to prove to myself that I was okay (even though I totally wasn’t). The last palm reading I had, about a year ago, I was told that I am a world traveler and I will always have safe comings and goings and that I was about to embark on a chapter of self love and discovery, so I thought that this visit would elicit the same kind of feel good, sunshine-and-rainbow type of fortune. But, that was not the case. Instead, I was left to face the undeniable truth. My depression was real.

And when I did, I felt temporarily relieved. It felt good to talk about it, to free the words that I had encaged within for so long. But then I got caught up in the label of depression and felt worse. Every few days I would feel better until inevitability something would cause me to retreat back into myself. Eventually, this irregular emotional confusion changed form to a vicious cycle of hopelessness and despair. I felt sorry for myself, which made me feel sorry that I even felt sorry for myself in the first place considering how good I have it in comparison to the rest of the world. And then, I would go back to feeling sorry for myself anyway because the pain was so real. I even began to indulge in it, suffering for the sake of suffering. Somewhere in the middle of it all, I began to identify with my deep despondency, as if my depression and I made some sort of arrangement to keep my painful memories alive and to only focus on the sour parts of my life. I completely lost myself. I was saying things I didn’t believe in, throwing myself daily pity parties, and self-sabotaging to another degree.

Even though I was barely recognizable to myself, there was a part of me that was still paying attention, that cared to take note of all of the things that helped and didn’t help. I learned that listening to sad songs, and pitying myself, and oversleeping and believing that I wasn’t good enough, hurt. While being patient with myself, practicing yoga, doing intense physical exercise, writing, believing I was good enough, and reaching out to to people, helped. Especially that last one. (Let’s read it again: reaching out to people helped). While I was unaccepting of feeling most of the love I received, it’s the support from others that really helped me recover. My family and friends offered all that they could from their level of understanding, and my boyfriend helped me flee a toxic situation. I was not alone, after all.

It’s been about a month since I’ve felt really low. I still have good moments and not so good moments, but for the most part, I feel that my energy has returned. I’m sleeping regularly and laughing more. In the last few weeks, I made the move to sunny Florida with my boyfriend and even though I am starting anew without much direction, I am optimistic.

As I begin this new chapter of my life, I am grateful for all that has transpired to get me here. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It was all a part of the process. We endure difficulties in order to experience growth. It’s just one of life’s overwhelmingly complex laws, confusing and incredible at the same time. I could spend years pondering the concept, but I don’t think I will. All I know is I am alive. And that is enough.

It should be noted that no two people are ever going to recover the same. Healing is a very personal process. What works for one, may not work for another. So, while I did not participate in therapy or the use of prescription drugs, does not mean that I do not discredit them. It simply means it was not a part of my process.

If you ever feel depressed, know that you are not alone. Reach out to friends, family, or helplines. To connect with the Depression Helpline, call 1-800-826-3632. For more information, visit www.dbsalliance.org.

Namaste,

Mary

XX

Key West

Key West is home to the southernmost point in the continental United States. But Key West is not just geographically unique. The island is a tropical paradise full of pastel conch style homes, more boats than you’ve ever seen in your life, brazen roosters, and a bunch of other eccentricities. It’s a definitely a place to check out. Here’s why:

Life is now in Key West

Island living tends to differ from life on the mainland. At all times, fisherman are heading offshore, tourists are sipping frozen fruity drinks on the beach, and locals are hanging out at the bars. The only thing people are concerned about is enjoying life. Which is why in any other part of the country, a disco ball hanging from a tree may strike you as odd, but here it’s just a part of the island decor.

Key West is well established in the arts

Whatever your taste in art may be, there is bound to be something you appreciate. There’s art in the familiar sense— galleries and exhibits can be found up and down Duval Street with displays of abstracts paintings and bronze sculptures. There’s the art of fishing, as Key West is the fishing capital of the world. And, there’s the art of sex. Sex shops and tranny shows are fairly common, further proving nothing is really taboo in Key West.

The food is killer

Casual, upscale, fast-food. Lobster Benedicts, conch fritters, grouper sandwiches. It’s all good. If nothing else, Key West is an ideal place for a culinary adventure.

Things To Do:

  1. Visit Mallory Square for breathtaking sunsets and nightly entertainment courtesy of Key West’s finest street performers
  2. Spend some time at the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory for a peaceful experience
  3. Take a boat trip offshore to do some kayaking and/or snorkeling.
  4. Take a day to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park
  5. Go to Fort Zachary Historic State Park

 

Namaste,

Mary

XX

Florence, Italy: My first solo travel experience

What am I possibly going to do with myself for the next six days? – My first thought after checking into the hostel in Florence.

I had never traveled solo before and until that moment, hadn’t thought what it would be like to be alone for days at a time. Despite my initial question, it didn’t take long before I fell into a routine of drinking espresso after morning yoga, journaling in the park, eating bruschetta outside in a piazza, and making friends at the hostel. Below are a few thoughts about my experience:

I realized it was best to blend in

Italy was a last minute decision. I had no idea I was going to be stopping in Florence when I packed for my trip. The contents of my suitcase clearly reflected this. I had lightweight yoga pants, tank tops, and sandals. All of my clothes were meant for too-hot-to-breathe weather, not breezy springtime in Tuscany. So when I first arrived in my yoga flip-flops and thin, cotton pants, I got a few stares from the locals who were still sporting jackets and scarves. Normally I wouldn’t have cared about being looked at funny, but in the interest of my safety as a solo female traveler, I figured it was better to blend in. I traded my flip flops for running shoes and bought a cheap jacket. I felt much more at ease after looking as if I belonged.

There were a lot of selfies

Since I didn’t experience my trip with another person, there is no one else who could help me remember it. No one else I could reminisce with. When I wanted to document the moment, I took a selfie. At first, I felt a little awkward and slightly vain pulling out my phone to take a picture of myself. But I quickly got over it when I realized no one was looking at me. No one cared if I took a selfie at the café. No one cared if I took a selfie in front of the Duomo. Only I cared. And once I stopped caring I started to compile a whole camera roll of selfies to remember my trip by.

I could do everything at my leisure

When I was hungry, I went to a trattoria. When I was tired, I went back to the hostel for a siesta. When I wanted to write in my journal, I found a quiet place to write in my journal. I only had to answer to my own desires. Everything was on my own terms. I was blissfully selfish for the week and, man, did it feel good!

Strangers quickly became friends

Engaging in conversation with other travelers was all it took to make friends. While relaxing in the courtyard of the hostel, I met a guy from Australia and invited him to come to dinner with me. We bonded over our love for adventure and swapped stories from countries we’ve visited. I told him all about my current trip, barely stopping to breathe. “You probably won’t believe me,” I told him. “But I actually am such an introvert.” I also met a lovely Moroccan woman at breakfast one morning. Like me, she was alone, but had plans to meet up with her sister to do more traveling around Tuscany. She told me she planned to be in Siena in a few days and invited me to meet them out there. We connected on WhatsApp and sure enough, a few days later, we were eating raviolis in a restaurant outside the Piazza Del Campo in Siena.

Would I do it again?

Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling by myself. I learned that I enjoy my own company and that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely.

Namaste,

Mary

XX

Why you should do your YTT in India


If you’ve ever contemplated doing a yoga teacher training, consider this your call to action. And definitely consider heading to India. Here’s why:

You will learn the true essence of yoga

Yoga in the West is typically watered down, focusing almost exclusively on the physical aspect of yoga. The physical practice, better known as asana, is only one of the eight limbs of yoga and is not yoga in its own right. In training in India, you will be exposed to and expected to practice the other seven limbs. These include: discipline, moral observances, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and union of the self and the Divine. Obviously a month is not long enough to become a master on subjects that have been thousands of years in the making, but at the very least, you will leave with an introduction of what they are.

It will cost less than getting certified at home

Yoga Teacher Trainings in the U.S. cost upwards of $3,000. My program in India cost $1,500. In addition to the course, that cost covered my month’s accommodation, three meals a day, and one weekly excursion. Add in $1,000 for a roundtrip flight and it’s still less than getting certified at home.

There won’t be any outside distractions

You’re going to be pretty disconnected from the rest of the world. Unless you have an international data plan (which costs short of a million dollars a month), your cellphone is going to be nothing more than camera to take photos of the cows in the road and a calculator to convert rupees to dollars. And while my school and a few cafes accommodated us Westerners with free wifi, connectivity was usually poor. At the school, I would be lucky to get two minutes of FaceTime in before the wifi would stop working for the day. Refreshing social media and news apps also got pretty frustrating, so it didn’t take long before I would give up and put my phone away. However, I considered the bad wifi to be a blessing. My interest in scrolling through Instagram abated and I didn’t feel so bombarded by the bad news circulating the media. Because of this, I found it easier to concentrate on the course, myself, and the present moment.

You’ll make friends from around the globe

Like every other abroad program I’ve participated in, I thought I was going to be surrounded by Americans. But to my surprise, there were only four of us out of 40 students. There were a few Germans, some Argentinians, a Brazilian from Australia, an Australian from Brazil, one from India and so on. On the first day, we all swapped our reasons for coming to India and I was struck by how similar all of our stories were. Though our cultures, religions and backgrounds differ, we all felt captivated by yoga and pulled to India. I promise you that after making friends with such likeminded and incredible people from all around, the world will seem a lot smaller and infinitely more comfortable.

It will change you from the moment you step off the plane

India is vibrant and full of life. And all of this life is out in the open for you to experience— the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is India:

You walk into a shop and almost immediately fall into a deep conversation with the shopkeeper about the value of honesty. Outside that same shop, you find a beggar with a single arm and no shirt, sitting upright against the wall, clutching his prayer beads and waiting for someone to throw money in his cup. And around the corner, someone is burning a pile of garbage despite the extreme heat. Behind you, a cow stands in the middle of the road, blocking traffic and provoking drivers to slam those damn high pitched horns. But it’s okay because the bells of the ashram ring, signaling a call to prayer.

In my opinion, there is nowhere better to apply your yogic knowledge than a place that stimulates your mind and colors your thoughts. A place that both drains and revives you of your energy. A place that is going to flip your perspective on society, humanity, and life itself.

Namaste,

Mary

XX

 

Rishikesh, India

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In the months before I got to Rishikesh, I would daydream of what the city was like. I don’t remember exactly what I imagined, but I do know, reality exceeded my expectations.

Rishikesh, also known as “The Yoga Capital of the World,” is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India. The sacred River Ganga flows through the center, separating Rishikesh in two. But, the entire city preaches oneness since yoga literally translates to the word “union.” Rishikesh is filled with yoga schools, ashrams, spiritual centers and visitors from all over the globe paying pilgrimage to the holy city. “OM,” the sound of the Universe and the most well-known Sanskrit chant echoes throughout, literally and figuratively.

Here, life is simple. Everyone lives, eats and breaths yoga. I mean it. Asana is practiced throughout the day, aryuvedic food is served at every meal, and inhales and exhales are very much a part of everyone’s awareness.

So far, I love Rishikesh. Even though, I’ve only been here a week, I’ve already learned a lot about my self and my body, established beautiful friendships, climbed a mountain to visit a meditation cave and celebrated Holi like a local. Below are a few pictures that have captured a glimpse of these amazing events.

Namaste.