Triathlon to Tree Pose: Discovering the Power of Breath in Mexico

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

I am married to a man who loves to compete. He is long, lanky and as strong as an ox. Much less competitive but also athletic, I have shared many challenges by his side for more than two decades—from running and cycling to rock climbing and skiing. While he strives to win, I just want to sweat, stretch and inhale some fresh air.

Every year since our wedding 21 years ago, we’ve celebrated our anniversary with a trip—like biking in Croatia, skiing in Park City, Utah, museum and pub hopping in London, and golfing in Hilton Head, North Carolina. As soon as each trip is over, I start thinking about our next springtime getaway—a rare chance for us to have extended time together, away from our three beautiful kids and the stresses of daily life.

When it was time to plan last year’s trip, I was intrigued after hearing from a friend about Esencia, a small 29-room resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. I love Mexico not only for its food, climate, and culture, but it also makes for an easy trip—a non-stop flight from New York to Cancun, and then a one-hour drive.

Once the beachfront estate of an Italian duchess, Esencia is a 50-acre white-walled property that looks out over the Caribbean. It is a peaceful oasis with two pools, a day spa that uses ingredients like juniper berries and rosemary grown in its on-site garden, and a welcoming open-air restaurant called Sal y Fuego. 

But what really grabbed me was learning that Esencia offered yoga—every morning, free of charge, outside in the open air.

This was my chance. A rare opportunity for my point-scoring, lap counting, time-keeping husband to perhaps let down his competitive edge and try something that would greatly benefit his body—and soul. I’d been urging him to try yoga since I began my own practice 15 years ago, but he always found something else he’d rather do—you know, more of a challenge. Maybe at Esencia, he’d be so relaxed from the previous night’s Temazcal massage, tuna ceviche and lime-soaked margaritas, that I’d be able to coax him to give yoga a try.

The wake-up call came at 7:30 a.m. and we ambled slowly along the hibiscus-lined path to a gazebo, just steps from the sea. Pieces of white linen hung from three of the outer edges of the open bamboo structure to keep the hot sun from hitting us directly.

I instructed my yoga novice husband to take a mat and a block, and yes, definitely, a bottle of water. He had no idea what he was in for. The young female instructor quickly realized that Rich was unfamiliar with the poses, and helped adjust him as necessary. I thought it’d be best to leave the teaching to her, so I kept my own focus, enjoying the poses, the flow, and the sound of the nearby waves. At one point, I glanced over at him and saw beads of sweat rolling down from his temples. He was struggling.

After shavasna, a final relaxation pose, we rolled up our mats and walked back down the path to our casita.

“What did you think?” I asked gingerly. “Will you do it again tomorrow?”

“I liked it," he said. “But I don’t want to slow you down.”

I explained that yoga is not about what anyone else is doing. It’s about your own mind, body and breath. Nothing he could do would "slow me down."

During our four days at Esencia, he joined the yoga class twice. I asked him if he’d consider doing it back in New York and, to my surprise, he answered, “Sure.”

Well, that was enough for me. Within days of returning home, I found a local, highly-recommended instructor—the fact that she was young and attractive did not hurt my sales pitch—who now comes to our house on Saturday mornings to lead my husband in his yoga practice. I couldn’t be happier that after all those years of training for triathlons and pounding the pavement (did I mention he’s had knee surgery three times?), he’s finally discovering the power of the breath. 

Trying to keep his competitive nature at bay, I thought it best to opt out of his sessions with Samantha. I didn’t want him to feel the need to “keep up” with me. My 16-year-old daughter, however, is a willing participant. While I sip coffee and read in the kitchen, Rich and Emily descend to the open space of our basement, ready for their time together on the mat.

I wondered if my husband had left behind a little of his competitive edge with each asana. Emily emerged from downstairs one morning and declared: “Dad actually said he can lift his leg higher than I can. Can you believe it?” Yes, I could. We had a good laugh.

I hope to return to Esencia one day soon, for the beach, the warmth of the Caribbean sea, the Mayan culture, and the delectable ceviche. I'm not sure if my husband will opt for round two of yoga in Mexico. He'll probably prefer to swim—and count—his laps. If so, I'll just go to yoga on my own.

 

 

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a New York-based journalist who writes essays and features, often about travel and education. You can read about Caren’s travels on her new blog, Embark. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Travel and Escapes sections, National Geographic Traveler, Travel & Leisure and others. She is also the co-founder and editor of the Drinking Diaries, a blog about women and drinking, which is soon to be a book, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up (Seal Press, Fall 2012). Read more about Caren on her website, CarenOsten.com

photo by skynesher via istockphoto.com.

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