Caribbean yoga: a path to inner peace

Traditional yoga is becoming steadily more popular in the Caribbean. So are new forms of yoga which the Caribbean has developed for itself

Arpana eagle pose. Photograph courtesy Ginny PlumptonDean Ammon practices an alternative branch of the yoga family tree, Thai yoga massage. Photograph by Edward MontserinPractising yoga in the ajoupa at Kariwak Village, Tobago. Photograph courtesy Kariwak Village, TobagoPractising yoga outdoors in Dominica. Photograph courtesy Jungle Bay Resort, Dominica

The ancient Indian practice of yoga was once thought to be only for the very flexible. But it is used by women and men all over the planet, with a single goal: to combine the forces of the mind, body and spirit, and so to strengthen the self and find inner peace along the way.

Yoga takes many different forms. Hatha, Ashtanga, Anusara, Kundalini, Iyengar, Moksha, Vinyasa; gentle, aligning and calming; or fast, hot and challenging; purist or adapted to local needs …

We yogis, yoginis and goddesses in the Caribbean are not to be left behind.  Wherever you go in the Caribbean, you’ll find a yoga studio; enthusiasm is building, from Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Dominica and Grenada to Jamaica, Belize and Costa Rica. There is even a Caribbean Yoga Conference – the first edition took place last February, in beautiful Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Of course, nothing happens in the Caribbean without the injection of some local flavour. Our variations include Dubasana (yoga infused with the beat of hip-hop, reggae and drums) and Paddle Board Yoga (moving through a sequence of yoga postures while standing on a surfboard – how sweet is that?). There are wild and wacky spinoffs like nude yoga – but we conservative West Indians aren’t quite ready for that yet.

Dean Ammon, a Thai yoga massage practitioner, describes another branch of the yoga family tree. This massage is performed on the floor in loose and comfortable clothing (no shorts). It incorporates rhythmic motion, palming and thumbing along energy lines, gentle stretching and breathwork, creating a slow, warm, flowing “dance” around and with the recipient’s body. It improves circulation, relieves muscular tension, gives you energy, and puts you in a calm mental state. It is both a physical and spiritual massage. So very dreamy.

Being blessed with beautiful weather most of the year, Caribbean yoga instructors can take their students outside into completely natural surroundings.  I myself have practised under a full moon; by a spectacular poolside kissed by the coastline in the evening; at 6 am in Port of Spain’s Botanical Gardens, listening to the birds and doing 108 sun salutations. I have practised handstands against a coconut tree on a quiet beach. When I inevitably fall on my head, the golden sand provides a cushion.

Yoga studios in the region are mostly open-air: sunny verandas, breezy rooms. There are also tranquil air-conditioned areas (except for Moksha yoga, which is done in a heated closed room). Rates are reasonable, and some studios are even donation-based, to remain accessible to everyone. Classes might trek occasionally to hilltops, coasts or countryside hideaways for a change of scene or a day-long retreat.

I have given part of my life to yoga: to its oneness with the natural world and its non-judgemental approach to life, to our planet, to our universe.

Jacqueline Quesnel, a Trinidad-based anusara-inspired yoga instructor who trains under anusara founder John Friend, says: “We are so blessed here in the Caribbean with our proximity to nature. Lush beauty, the warmth of the sun, and sweet natural sounds abound just with a look or a listen through our windows. We are an interesting and diverse people with our varied dialects, races and religions. Yet we are one Caribbean people, joined in our region of the globe and connected through our families and our history. This is cause for celebration and reflection.”

She considers that Caribbean people are naturals for yoga. “We have an innate sensitivity to natural rhythms that can be heard in our music and seen in our dance. The waxing and waning of the moon affects our tides and so our fishermen. The poui trees signal the beginning of the dry season, and the rains when they come feed our rivers and our soil. Cycles of rejuvenation, cycles of balance.”

The traditional methods of yoga are still very much a part of the Caribbean as well. Chinese and Indian practitioners incorporate meditation, introspection and contemplation as an integral part of the daily routines; they place less emphasis on physical postures (asanas), and more on spiritual teaching.

There are in fact four fundamental elements in yoga – and the asanas are only one (see box above).

Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe is a certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Spice Harmony Yoga Studio in Grenada. This is how she views yoga practice in the Caribbean: “More and more everyday people, from teachers to students to farmers, are finding the value in developing a yoga practice.

“We, as Caribbean yoga instructors, are planting seeds of social change. We are helping people to realise their creative power and seek what they deserve. When people tap into their feeling of bliss, when they experience what that is like, they demand it in every aspect of their lives and encourage everyone to create the opportunity to experience that kind of peace and joy.”

Many hotels now provide peaceful sanctuaries for practice and meditation, and several of our idyllic beaches have provided the backdrop for instructional yoga videos (see pages 63 and 68 for some Caribbean hotel retreats and classes/studios).

Christy Punnett, a Barbados-based certified anusara teacher who studies directly with the founder of anusara, John Friend, says: “The uniqueness of Caribbean yoga practitioners is that we have this sweet expressive sense of watery movement. You don’t find this everywhere in the world, but just being close to the sea and inspired by the trade winds, surrounded by the ocean, means that we have this affinity with slow rolling gentle movement. This makes a part of our practice deeply grounding, our hips tend to be open and we are very receptive.’

However you do it, wherever you do it, whichever form of yoga you choose – give yourself the opportunity to discover your inner strength and beauty, to provide calm and balanced coping mechanisms for everyday problems, and to welcome and embrace the positive energies and hidden beauty in your life. Nourish your heart, your soul, strengthen your physical and emotional structure and learn to love yourself and all your fascinating flaws.

Start in the Caribbean.

Namaste.

 

Some Caribbean retreats and classes

•     Moonlight Mountain Retreat, Tobago
•     Kariwak Village, Crown Point, Tobago
•     Hacienda Jacana, Trinidad
•     Guru Ram Das Healing Centre, Jamaica
•     Malmok Art & Leisure Retreat, Aruba
•     Jungle Bay Resort & Spa, Dominica

 

The Four Fundamental Elements

•    Karma Yoga (asanas) is the yoga of action; you do the practice while performing your duties in the external world.
•   Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge or self-enquiry: knowing oneself at all levels through the process of contemplation and introspection.
•    Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion, of surrender to the divine force or God, practised in ways consistent with your own religion.
•    Raja Yoga is the meditative school of yoga, such as that systematised by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

 

Yoga around the region

TRINIDAD

Moksha Yoga – hot yoga, www.sanghayogatrinidad.com

Bliss Yoga – power yoga with hatha yoga, www.omblissyoga.org

Kundalini Yoga – (868) 628-3335

Akasha Studios – www.akashastudiotrinidad.com

Anusara (Trinidad) – Jacqueline Quesnel (868) 685-9971

Thai Yoga Massage – Dean Ammon (868) 762-9239

 

BARBADOS

Anusara (Barbados) – www.somuchkula.com

Yamuna Yoga Studio – www.yogabarbados.com

Sunshine Kula – www.sunshinekula.com

Sukha Yoga & Wellness Studio – www.barbadosyoga.com

JAMAICA

The Negril Yoga Centre – www.negrilyoga.com

Amrit Yoga Institute – www.amrityoga.com

Shakti Love Fest – www.shaktimindbodyfitness.com

Blissful Monkey Yoga Studio – www.blissfulmonkey.com

Afya Yoga & Pilates Studio – www.afyajamaica.com

 

ST LUCIA

Anse Chastanet – www.ansechastanet.com

 

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Soul Sisters Cabarete – www.soulsisterscabaretedr.com

Blossom SUP & Yoga Retreat – www.blossomretreat.com

 

GRENADA

Spice Harmony Yoga Studio – www.spiceharmony.org

Fountain of Youth Yoga Studio – www.yoga.gd

The Grenada Yoga Studio – grenadayoga.com

BELIZE

Belize Yoga – www.belizeyoga.com

Ak’bol Yoga Retreat & Eco Resort – www.akbol.com

ANTIGUA

YogaAntigua – www.yogaantigua.com

Hermitage Bay – www.hermitagebay.com