Tag Archives: vacation

A couple of hours at NYC art galleries

I am just now getting around to processing all the photos I took on a trip to New York City last month. After riding a cruise around Manhattan, we walked over to the art district and were bowled over by the number of art galleries crammed into a block. It was late afternoon on Saturday so we did not see but a sampling of the exhibits available. Sorry, for the time being, I don’t have the names of the galleries or the artists. We barely had time to take a few pictures.

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Mindfulness in museums and sensuous overflow

The Phillips Collection is introducing a mindful approach to accessing the art work on display there:

Washington PostAt the Phillips Collection, viewing art through mindful meditation:
As with traditional yoga practice, the mindful viewing program focuses on breathing and its restorative power, says Kanter, who teaches at Yoga District in D.C. and Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park. “Even just slowing down the breath, noticing and deepening the breath,” she says, can trigger “your relax-and-renew response. When you can mindfully attune to your breath and start to influence it, you trigger deep changes in your body. So that immediately has an impact on how you feel.”

The new approach benefited from yoga therapist Elizabeth Lakshmi Kanter‘s insight. The Phillips will make the program available via a smart phone app. Many European museums already hand out headsets that provide information and commentary in the language of the visitor, but I did not notice any mindful tones in the narration of the headsets that I used.

Proponents of mindfulness have long emphasized the power of breath in managing stress. “It’s like we mimic the relaxed state by breathing more slowly,” says Klia Bassing, a mindfulness meditation instructor and founder of Visit Yourself at Work, a stress-reduction program based in the District. “It’s a state in which the body is more able to heal.” That shift, she says, can stay with you beyond the immediate experience, such as contemplating a work of art. “A body at rest will stay at rest,” says Bassing. “A body at nervousness will stay at nervousness.” (Does using a cellphone as a medium for mindfulness disrupt the mindful moment? Not necessarily, says Bassing: “It’s still effective in bringing the body and mind into a state of present awareness.”)

Photo: tourist crowd in from on Michelangelo's Pietà
The crush of tourists at major museums makes it hard to appreciate the art work.

I could have used more than a mindfulness app when Teresa and I were trotting through museums during our recent trip to Europe. We were there in September and early October when crowds had dropped off a bit. But it was hard to slow down when thousands of multinational tourists are being herded through the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You almost feel bad when lingering in front of a particular art piece because you’re holding up others.

Of course, you can develop plenty of mindfulness while waiting in long queues to buy tickets, get in the front door or get passed security.

You can only take in so much visual input and stimulus, especially at the major European museums that flaunt their riches with national pride. During our trip, there were several moments when we had to say “Stop, enough is enough.” At the Orsay Museum in Paris, after feasting on Impressionist artists all morning, we walked out and found the sun light a relief from the overpowering brilliance inside the museum. We sat by the Seine River, ate some fruit, and let the emotional overflow spill into the river.

Photo: vaulted, glass roof of Orsay Museum, Paris
The interior of Paris’s Orsay Museum

On cruise control in the Mediterranean

Photo: a couple stand on a bridge in Florence, Italy
Teresa and I pose on the iconic covered bridge over the Arno River. The shot does not do justice to the other-worldly beauty of Florence.

When the idea of taking a Mediterranean cruise came up, I thought it was a good, leisurely option for seeing as many European cities and countries without being shuttled between hotel and airport, with reliable living quarters and food, and a high degree of security. Twelve days, five countries, and two days at sea to relax and recover. And you do need to recoup because the one-day visits (really just six to ten hours) to each city means that you keep a frantic pace. It is not immediately evident that the places you want to see are not in the seaport, but inland. Florence, Rome, Naples and Athens all require a minimum of 40 minutes or more to get to the tourist sights.  We had great weather, sunny and barely a drop of rain, but that meant we were outdoors a lot, sweating and panting.

My days of backpacking through foreign lands are long ended. I dread the thought of being thrown into a setting in which I don’t know the language or the culture and stick out like a hapless gringo wandering through a street market. Because most of my past travels have been in Latin America or Spain, I’ve been used to speaking the native language and breaking the stereotype of the “ugly American.”

False expectations

Photo: man writing at table
One of the rare moments when I could sit down and write what we were experiencing.

I thought I would have lots of time to write in my travel journal, review my photos and read through the backlog of my Kindle books. After all, I was a writer headed for a Paris café. Instead, as the resident cultural scout, I found myself reading Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports to research and plan what we would be doing in our next stop. Because urgency compressed our exposure to a few hours, I felt as if we were being spoon-fed each city, each country, without having a chance to dig deeper, wider, more curiously. But I kept telling myself that just walking through Rome or Istanbul even the pre-packaged tourist circuits, was a privilege,  a banquet on its own, so open my senses.

Because of the “all-you-can-eat” buffets for breakfast and dinner on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s  Spirit, I soon noticed that I needed to fit in some cardio work at the fitness center to burn off all the carbohydrates. By the end of the trip, I lost about eight pounds, part from pounding the pavement and part from a couple of bouts of dysentery. I should note that in both Rome and Venice we were encouraged  (in Steves‘  book and by local residents) to drink the potable water from fountains and taps, a point of local pride.

Food was not the only thing that was filling me up: cultural saturation, at times, seemed overwhelming. Beauty-laden museums, Baroque churches, bustling marketplaces and throbbing public transport fill the senses with ancient vibes and contemporary thrills. There came a point when I could not absorb another Tintoretto painting of saints and angels shimmering under the arches of a cathedral. I just wanted to chill out. I had tapped into all my reserves of resilience and energy; all my spare memory cells were overflowing. I needed time, space and comfort to process all the experiences, and I was not going to find them while on the road.

I never got to write in my journal as much as I had hoped, and even then, I was playing catch-up, describing what had happened a couple of days before, never the gut reaction to turning a corner and being bowled over by the postcard setting of Venice canals and sunlight. But thanks to modern technology, we have plenty of memories, photos taken by Nikon, Samsung smart phones and Apple iPads. I can go back to those shots to pick up the internal narrative.

On our last days in Paris, I realized that I had not set aside adequate time for meditation or pranayama. No yoga classes; I did not pack a travel mat. I did do my restorative yoga in the evenings, but that was out of necessity because my muscles were quivering from the exertion of the day and I needed to soothe down to get to sleep.   For the most part, however, I was always leaning forward, senses on hyper-alert to all the signals of life, moving towards the final flight home.

Home again, after three weeks in Europe

Teresa and I enter the sacred space of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (tourists know it as the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey
Teresa and I enter the sacred space of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (tourists know it as the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey

Although I’ve been back from my extended vacation since October 4, it’s taken me a while to get my legs under me. My travels, spotty availability of Internet access and shortage of idle time determined that I could not post to my blog. I will giving an accounting of my awesome journey in installments because I am still processing all the events and experiences.

So what did my trip involve?

  • Four days in Barcelona, Spain because we never made it to Cataluña during our first trip to Spain in 2008
  • A 12-day Mediterranean cruise with port calls in Toulon, Livorno/Florence, Civitavecchia/Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice
  • Extra two days in Venice and an overnight sleeper train to France, an adventure in and of itself
  • Four days in Paris because my wife demanded that if we had we made it all the way to Europe, she could not leave without seeing Paris
  • A 28-hour return to the States on three separate flights (Paris, Barcelona, London, Washington), including a forced march through London Heathrow Airport security checkpoints, terminal trains, escalators, elevators and duty-free shopping malls

This itinerary is a really long time to be living out of a suitcase, no matter how tightly packed to meet airline baggage restrictions. And you still have to drag the luggage around when you’re not in a plane or cruise ship. But since my wife was in charge of planning the trip, she kept adding a day here, a weekend there, until it grew into 23 days. Continue reading Home again, after three weeks in Europe

An anniversary, illness, injury and spiritual practice

September 5 was my 39th wedding anniversary so Teresa put a air ticket in my hand and we headed off to Boca Raton, Florida, to spend a week together. I owed it to Teresa because I had been isolated (in mind and body, at least) for a month doing my yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga. Now Teresa got her chance to get my exclusive attention.

Photo: couple sitting on the beach with waves in background
Our 39th anniversary found us in the Boca Raton beach, enjoying the Florida surf and sun.

Of course, there were other complications. The week before, I came down with acute bronchitis, which kept me pretty debilitated and hoarse for most of a week. I had to give up yoga classes. Even when I was in Florida, my breathing was wheezing whenever I did anything too strenuous. I had to be careful doing my restorative practice in the evening because I felt the phlegm bubbling in my chest when I was laying down, and it would frequently provoke coughing. Luckily, I was still able to walk around so that was our main activity in Boca Raton.  There were lots of jellyfish just off the shore, which discouraged us from spending a lot of time in the water. On our last day, the winds and tides seemed to clear waters of the jellyfish so we could spend more time swimming. Continue reading An anniversary, illness, injury and spiritual practice

Yoga fun in the sun

The summer season of festivals of yoga, music, feel-good culture and magic has begun. The first Wanderlust festival opened in Vermont:

Well+Good NYC –  Behind the scenes at Wanderlust Festival The Wanderlust Festival kicked off its third year in Stratton, Vermont yesterday. And Well+Good came to experience our first one ever (we had to check out the buzz), joining yoga and music lovers from the all over the northeast, who poured into the adorable ski village for four days of non-stop superstar yoga.

This spread has some nice photos of the activities.Wanderlust is the leading organizer of yoga festivals (seven in 2013), but there are others springing up all over the country, just as yoga conferences in the model of Yoga Journal have proliferate. There will be a yoga festival in Virginia in Labor Day weekend, Floyd Yoga Jam, but it’s hard to consider that in the DC area. It a five-hour trip down the Shenandoah valley. But I guess that’s the point. None of the festivals are smack in the middle of metropolitan areas: people want to get out into nature and landscapes.

Wanderlust does organize yoga in the city events, this year in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

Life throws curves

In this case, the curve took the form of my wife, who mixed up the dates that she had booked a week at Virginia Beach for her periodic treatment for living without the ocean next door by getting exposure to ocean waves, sea breeze and warm sands. So yesterday, we threw our swim suits, beach chairs and toothbrushes in the car trunk and drove down to where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Last night when we arrived at our hotel, we were given free tickets to a Cirquesa Dreamquest, a circus-like show more modestly scaled than Cirque du Soleil but still fun to watch. I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil as I wrote here before, so I can appreciate the story-telling ambition and the affinities with yoga that were displayed last night. Of course, the show was targeted at harried parents trying to find things for their kids to do when not on the beach. Virginia Beach is not Las Vegas or Broadway, but imagination and inventiveness reinvigorate circus traditions anywhere.

So I will be here until Friday, following my wife’s recipe for re-energization, using the isolation and slower pace to work my way through some reading, tasks and planning. I guess this is what happens when you get pitched a hanging curve ball.

A month of yoga practice and few classes

June was a rather uneven month for my yoga practice. While treatment had gradually improved the issues arising from my iliopsoas to the point that I could resume taking class, other problems intervened to keep me from getting back to a regular practice at Thrive Yoga.

Vacation on Cape Cod

For one thing, I took a week off (June 16-23) with my wife for a vacation on Cape Cod. We went up via Amtrak and rented a car to get out to Provincetown (or “P-town,” as they like to call in Massachusetts), which must be a full two-hours from Boston or Providence, so it’s not an easy reach. We probably could have gotten along fine without a car once we were at our resort because P-town and neighboring boroughs have regular free buses running the main roads, including the beaches. But having a car was necessary to get to Plymouth (for the Plimouth Plantation and museum about the Pilgrims) and New Bedford for the National Whaling Museum. We went to those site on Monday and Tuesday when the weather was too chilly for extended time on the beach. The weather heated up for the rest of the week, but the temperatures on the Cape were still 10 degrees below the heat in the rest of New England.

A heated practice

Speaking of heat, this weekend in the DC area has been extreme: the “derecho” storm that flew through here on Friday evening has created havoc. Power has been knocked out in most of my area of Montgomery County (but by some miracle we have been without electricity for 90 minutes at most!), and most businesses, including yoga studios, have shut down. Considering that the Washington, DC area has been through multiple weather events that devastated infrastructure (snow and ice storms, hurricanes, earth tremors), inhabitants have absorbed lots of disruptions in public services. It’s especially bad that the power outage come at a time when air conditioning is vital to getting through the heat. It may be a full week before most people get power back.

Daily Practice

I was able to make it to five class at Thrive Yoga in June, far less than I expected to attend. That did not mean that I stopped doing yoga. Practically every evening, I went through my sequence of yoga poses and restorative routines that seem to help me control the discomfort caused by my peripheral neuropathy. I took my travel mat, strap and roller with me on vacation, and I needed them after spending time behind the wheel. The stress tended to accumulate between my shoulder blades, knot up my neck and tighten my lower spine. I don’t think I would get to sleep at a reasonable time without my practice.

But the shortcoming of my practice has been that I have not done a strong vinyasa practice and I can tell that I don’t have the strength and stamina that comes from a more dynamic, upbeat, balanced practice that I usually get in class. I could feel guilty about being a slacker, but I want to approach my practice on an even keel, not leaning to the physical side with an alpha-type intensity or endowing it with a kind of magical power to change to transform my mind, body and spirit (but isn’t that why I’ve been going yoga for the past eight years???).