A smile for the soul

On day three of the Ferry Xpress journey from Bocas Del Toro, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia I needed to unfold. Quietly, so as not to wake David on the top bunk, I detangled myself from the tiny bunk I shared with Steve, and took a lap of the decks searching for anything resembling a gym or quiet space. Even the “chapel” had stayed closed the entire journey, but what I did find was a dark corner of the “disco” where one young Panamanian was simultaneously charging and playing a video game through one of the few western-style wall plugs on the boat. The space was far from sacred — a cage still covered the liquor cabinet of the bar, and in the windowless lighting all motion came as a surprise — the room itself felt hung over.

Steve, David, and Sarah, all smiles boarding the Ferry Xpress at Colon, Panama: 2 hours late due to long immigration lines.

I removed my shoes, ignored the crunches in the stained carpeting, and started a series of yoga poses to sweat and stretch and energize. Just as I got to the “standing L” portion of my handstands against the wall, my flipped vision noted a women who had approached the carpet’s edge and was doing simple side stretches. I abandoned my inversion and gave her my favorite Spanish — a giant smile and a “Buenas!” (Hello!)

She smiled back and immediately opened up, “Mi doctor dice que necesito hacer Yoga porque tengo cancer de pulmon.” (My doctor says I need to do yoga because I have lung cancer)

Without letting my smile fade one bit, I asked, “Quieres practicar Yoga conmigo?” (Do you want to practice Yoga with me?)

She let me share the movement and breathing techniques she practices, and most importantly, the smile that radiates from her soul.

The rest is history. In short order two other women and the video-game-playing boy joined us, and we all took turns leading stretching and breathing exercises in a playful circle. Practicing on a moving boat adds a different challenge to Yoga, and some of us took a few light-hearted tumbles!

“Silver Jack” was only interested in “challenging” moves, so I showed his mom some accessible poses, then challenged him to try the more pretzel-y versions of the same. He even stuck around to meditate at the end.

One of my goals while traveling has been to attend a yoga class taught in Spanish, but every time I try to attend one it has either been cancelled or is full of English-speaking folks, so the language changes. So most yoga has been done on my own, and the Spanish vocabulary I have picked up has been related to the activities I do — eating, surfing, shopping, border crossings, swimming, and getting un-lost. I know anatomical words, and I know the imperitive conjugation, and I know I can ask others to mimic me, but the “capitol Y” Yoga I wanted to share has more meaning behind it. Luckily, the wonderful yogis with me also have the same context, and share my new favorite phrase: “Una sonrisa para el alma,” which I felt had depth in the moment they shared it, and when I rushed to look up later I understood the translation: “A smile for the soul.”

These ladies had amazing poise and strength, especially for practicing asana on a moving boat, but their biggest concern was that they would rip their jeans. Sometimes making Yoga accessible simply means not ripping your jeans, a lesson I learned at Bailey-Boushay house years ago.

We even sat down and meditated together for 5 minutes to close our practice, where I learned the phrase, “cerebro blanco.”

Steve and David watched our approach to the coast of Cartagena, Colombia from the sundeck.

Steve and David had walked by our group during the silly, unsteady balancing pose portion. They smiled and continued along, and hours later, after I was fed and showered, Steve succinctly addressed his observations, “of course I wasn’t surprised to see that you went to practice yoga and instead ended up teaching a class.”

It’s my honor to not only teach others, but to be taught as well. You never know who your next guru will be.