Jungle Self-Love

I just spent seven days in the jungle in the mountains outside Puerta Vallerta, Mexico at a retreat center.  I thought I was (just) going to a yoga retreat, doing a lot of yoga, and laying by the pool, but it turned out to be a week of detoxing, disconnection, reconnection, new connections, getting out of my comfort zone, healing, and deep rest. 

 

I expected no cell service, and didn’t want it.  Part of my self-care involves intentionally disconnecting from technology on a regular basis.  I love the outdoors and adventuring, and part of that involves going places where I won’t have phone service, or even if I do, turning my phone off.  This practice alone resets my nervous system.  But this adventure took that to a whole new level.   Internet was only available 20 min a day, and that was if the solar panels were fully charged, in a small hut, for a fee, and highly discouraged.  Disconnection from technology allows extra space to reconnect with oneself.

Surrounded by dozens of different plant species, green of every hue, shape and size held us in a jungle womb.  You could FEEL the plants.  The vibration of such aliveness all around was soothing to the soul.  And speaking of plants, unbeknownst to me, this was a vegan retreat center.  It was Ayervedic gourmet vegan,with absolutely amazing food at every meal, all from scratch, even the almond milk. It was gluten free, too, which I have been since 2012, but for others that was a new way of eating.   The food was so delicious, we didn’t feel deprived for a second the whole week.

En route from the airport, I found out there would be no coffee.  Aahem…what?!  I am only a one cup-a-dayer, but hey, I like my one cup.  I usually follow that with a cup of Mate tea, which also has caffeine.  And usually ice tea with lunch.  Coffee was replaced with herbal tea, a different flavor everyday, all caffeine free.  My caffeine headache the first day was so bad it showed me I had been consuming way more caffeine than I thought I had.  I already know I am sensitive to caffeine.  This was a good reminder just how much.

No Electricity.  We did have solar power, but that powered the steam room, kitchen, hot tub, and charging station, and the minimal wifi access.  On a cloudy day, conservation of power was key. We carried around little solar powered lanterns in the evening, which you had to put out in the sun every couple days to charge.  They were bright enough to see while walking, or go to the bathroom, but not bright enough to read by.   This made for a good, long night’s rest listening to jungle sounds (a million insects, a panther, an owl, and no telling what else…).  I slept 11 ½ hours the first night.  Whoa!

One evening we had a Temazcal ceremony, which is a part sweat lodge/part sacred ritual.  A rustic dome was built that day out of tree branches covered with canvas, while a fire was built, stocked and loaded with large rocks to heat all day.  I had never heard of this experience, and didn’t know what to expect.  We crawled into the “tent” through a small flap and sat in a circle around an empty fire ring.  One by one, 7 red hot stones were brought in and placed in the center, with herbs sprinkled on them, like Palo Santo.  Then they closed the flap, and we were in complete darkness.  Momentarily, I panicked and grabbed the person’s arm next me before I settled.  The medicine man poured water on the stones, filing the tent with steam.  We set intentions, we chanted, we sang, we cried, we sweated.  I don’t mean just a little sweating.  I am talking you could hear the sweat dripping off everyone as if it was almost raining. The door opened, and 7 more stones were brought in.  Door closed.  We went through three more rounds of this, each time with it getting hotter and hotter, different herbs on the rocks, different chants, and reflecting on different periods of our lives and our ancestors.  I have never sweated so much in my life, and I love hot yoga, so that’s saying something.  Benefits of sweating are detoxification, calming mental chatter, clearing skin and it can aid weight loss.  But it was so much more than that.  It really was a spiritual experience.  You come out a little different than you went in, more peaceful, and lighter, like you had taken a pack off your back that you never want to put back on.

Another evening we did a burn ceremony, writing out things we want to let go of that no longer serve us.  I have done this type of thing annually for over a decade at home by myself, or via an online program, but not in a community of other women in a setting like this.  We had candles, and one by one burned what we had written, letting go of old hurts, resentments, habits and ways of being.   Again, we left feeling a little lighter, a little freer, and a little more open.

Our last evening culminated with a cacao ceremony, which was probably my favorite of all.  Led by two beautiful Mayan women, a mother and daughter, accompanied by a medicine man who played music with instruments such as the didgeridoo, chimes, guitar, ankle bracelets made of seeds with the pods inside that rattled, and a drum.  Upon walking in the room, we were “washed” with smoke of sage and palo santo to clear negative energy before we entered.  The space was adorned with a bowl of fire in the center with a large circle of flowers around it in a beautiful pattern, and candles filling the space.  We learned a tiny bit about Mayan culture, more about cacao and their sacred view of it.  A cacao ceremony invites one to feel deeper, to surrender, to trust and to listen, to connect with your own heart, and to speak your own truth.   It opens up a space for a greater vision of your life, your connections, and what you are capable of. 

I signed up for a Reiki Treatment combined with a Sound healing complete with brass singing bowls, chakra balancing, essential oils and pure relaxation.  My practitioner was a beautiful Mexican woman with the softest, most calming voice and touch.  The bowls were placed on my abdomen, my back and around me.  Each one was a different size, connected to a different chakra, and made a different sound.  I practically floated out of the treatment room.

Most days were encouraged to participate in the practice of hold and cold therapy.  We could choose between sitting in a hot tub, then jumping into a cold pool, or sitting in a hot steam room for seven minutes, then standing under an ice cold outdoor shower for 30 seconds, then repeating. This practice has been around for centuries, and is good for reducing inflammation, stress, pain, and boosting immunity.

We journaled a lot, as each day we were given prompts to write on and questions to answer, such as, “What does healing mean to you?” or “What does it mean to love yourself, and what does that look like?”  This provided some structure for processing swirling thoughts and feelings coming up, accessible without the distractions of everyday life, and pushed to the surface through movement, detoxification through sweating and clean eating, and the gift of time and space.

On the last day I broke out the watercolor kit I had brought.  I have never painted a picture in my entire life, but something prompted me to bring this kit I had ordered a year ago and never touched.  I sat on a bench in the sun next to a stone path and began to paint the various flowers, bushes, trees, vines, and other plant life in my view.  I attempted a spider, but it turned into a blob of moss.  I used every green shade I had in the kit, with some pinks, red, rust, and browns.  It actually turned out better than I anticipated.  I decided I am going to turn it into a notecard set for sending thank you notes.  You won’t see me having an art show anytime soon, but I had so much fun painting, I am going to do more of it.  Inspired by nature, I already know all my paintings will be of plants, animals or landscapes.

 

My ADHD brain really struggled for a few days, as did my body adjusting to the slower pace, with no to do list, a different diet, and no way to read before bed to wind down.  I actually felt exhausted and uncomfortable for several days till I adjusted to the diet, environment and pace.

What eventually came was increased energy, clearer thinking, clarity, focus, a calmer nervous system, a relaxed state, feeling more connected to myself and my friend who had joined me, and the new people I had met on this retreat.  I knew when I went home, I was going home not only relaxed, but a little different.  I was going home knowing I wanted to make some changes, and not just go back to exactly the same routine, habits, eating, drinking, rushing, and filling my calendar. 

Slowing down and creating space is something I work with clients on all the time, because that is where the magic is.  When we allow a little space, we can process instead of stuff emotions.  We can engage our creative brain, problem solve and come up with innovative ideas.  We can give ourselves permission to let our thoughts play, expand, and connect the dots. Intentionally carving out thinking time, and scheduling it in your calendar can be one of the most productive things you can do.  

I did a slow re-entry back home.  I wasn’t anxious to get on social media, check my email, or eat a cheeseburger and fries, or have a cocktail.  Some of my group did just that at the airport before our flight home.  I just felt so good, I didn’t want to disturb the space I was in and how my body was feeling.  Now that I have been home a bit, I am slowly adding things back in.  Now, when things start to feel busier than I want to be, I pause and reflect on my jungle time, and am intentional about carving out space in my calendar to just be. 

And yes, if there are any Steve Miller fans out there, the title of this article is a play on the song title Jungle Love, one of my faves.

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