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