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Every year, I am lucky to spend a week at the beach in Stone Harbor, NJ. It is a beautiful, quiet place. My whole body loves it here. I can feel my tension melting away the moment we drive over the causeway leaving the mainland behind. Returning to this stretch of beach year after year has taught me a great deal about the gift of embracing life as it is rather than wishing for what was.
One of my favorite things is to take long walks to the southernmost point of the island. The changes to this landscape year to year are amazing. Huge storms this winter and spring sheared off the dunes, leaving the beach ten feet lower than last year. The point itself is now an entirely different shape. The drop-off into the bay where boats anchor for a swim or a beach bar-b-q is now on the far side of an inlet that didn’t exist last year. The sand bar that runs the length of the beach at that end of the island is now high enough to walk on at low tide. The divots in the beach that form tide pools filled with crabs and tiny fish are deeper and more dramatic than they were last year, forming a moonscape of craters.
It’s not just these massive, year-long changes that captivate me. Each day this week, my low-tide rambles have been different. One day I reached the point at exactly low tide and was able to walk back on the sand bar with water on either side of me. It felt as if I were walking on a private pathway in the middle of the ocean. When I tried to replicate this experience the next day, there was simply too much water, but I was able to wade through amazing, warm tide pools that hadn’t been there the day before. On another walk, the light was just right and the water was so clear turquoise and the sand so sparkly white that it seemed like I had managed to walk to the Caribbean. Yet another walk was all about wildlife – I saw pelicans, dolphins, piping plovers, a baby terrapin, two living horseshoe crabs, a pair of wrestling hermit crabs and gulls of all colors and sizes.
Another favorite part of this annual trip is that I go on a yoga vacation. Over the years, I’ve started calling it my “yoga safari.” I confess to having a favorite teacher here, yet the classes he teaches are wildly different from the yoga I practice (and teach) each day at home. I also deliberately attend as many other classes here as I can. I try styles of yoga I’ve never done before – restorative, vinyasa, Bikram-based, hatha and some I don’t even know the names of. I’ve practiced in heated rooms and air conditioned spaces. I’ve practiced alone with a teacher I’ve just met and I’ve shared classes with so many people that there were only two inches separating our mats.
Each time I walk into one of these classes, my intention is the same. “Embrace it.” One morning, in a class with a teacher I had never practiced with, we were told to grab a bolster, blanket and blocks. I caught myself thinking, “Hey, this class was listed as Vinyasa, not restorative. This isn’t what I expected.” I exhaled and re-focused on my intention. “Embrace it.” I thought. “Open yourself to the gifts this teacher wants to give you.” And I did. As we moved through class, though the postures were familiar, the series was not. Unlike Ashtanga yoga, we sat in the beginning, did our sun salutations in the middle of class and the backbends were not at the end of the practice. My body initially resisted the newness, and then, as my mind let go to embrace the experience, so did my body.
As I lay in savasana at the end of class, there was a moment when my mind released every single thought the way my body let go of its tension when I crossed the causeway onto the island. I dropped into a quiet, still inner place that mirrored the peace I feel during this week on the beach. As I rolled up my mat to leave the studio, awash in gratitude for the gifts this teacher had shared with me, I realized I had just experienced the yoga equivalent of a walk to my beloved point. I love yoga the way I love walking this special stretch of beach. That the landscape changes day to day just makes the experience even more beautiful.
I hope to take my vacation intention with me when I cross the causeway to return to the mainland. I hope to stay open to the gifts that life is offering – even (especially) if they look unfamiliar or are surprising.