The Hanuman Yoga Retreat held recently at New Life was a refreshing combination of yoga, Thai massage, and JourneyDance. The facilitators were Tammy Hayano and Justin Green, both of whom volunteered and trained at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts, USA. During the retreat, Tammy and Justin demonstrated the meditative aspect of yoga, the caring and gift-like nature of massage, and the freedom – and safety – that can be found in dance. Tammy named the retreat after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, who represents ease in travel, change when the situation calls for it, being happy and content, physical strength, devotion, agility, willpower, persistence in learning, and a good sense of humor. In this interview, we chat with her about the concept behind the Hanuman Yoga Retreat and what attracts and surprises students about it.
Dance, yoga and massage are not something you would automatically put together, what has been the response?
It has been great. People have been curious and maybe someone has been interested in the yoga but not really sure about the Thai massage or the dance but this allows them to say “Hey, I’m here, why not?”.
What is the generally the thing that draws people in?
I’d say maybe yoga because it’s so trendy and people might get caught up in the “trendy” tag and are exposed to all the advertisements with people doing the really hard poses. That’s not what it’s really about but it’s often a hook. But we’re also in Thailand and I do not know anyone who lives in Thailand or who is a tourist here who does not get Thai massages. So sometimes it’s a physical part of it that draws people in and that’s great, it’s good to feel good in your body and have a good body awareness but it’s also about uncovering and digging a little bit deeper into energy and being mindful.
What have people been surprised about?
With the yoga, people learned that it can be a form of meditation or mindfulness practice – that it’s not just about the moves you make but also what’s going on in your head, listening to your inner dialogue. It’s called “listening to your yoga mat”.
So it’s looking at when you are holding a pose maybe for five breaths, what comes up in your head? Are you frustrated, are you enjoying it, are you thinking of your shopping list, are you bored, are you challenged?
It gives you the chance to notice the things that are repeatedly coming up and then looking to see if they are a reflection of your life as a whole.
For example, I didn’t realise I was hyper-critical until I started listening to my yoga mat and a lot of negativity was coming up – thoughts of, “I can’t do this”, and, “I’m mad at the yoga teacher because she’s having me hold a pose too long”, or I’m getting frustrated. When in the midst of the yoga it gives you the chance to change those patterns – to change the thinking to something as simple as breathing, breath, focus, peace.
A lot of people can be very self-conscious about dancing, including me, and perhaps think, “I’m not a dancer”. I thought that too about me but I did the JourneyDance and I loved it. The process gives you things to use in the dance – visual imagery and intentional music that evoke different emotions – so it takes you away from the self-conscious and critical part of you that’s saying you’re no good or not doing it right. There were people of all ages, body sizes and no dancing background also doing it and having an amazing experience. It gives people the freedom to express themselves through dance who had no idea they could do that.
I’ve had so many Thai massages but it never really occurred to me that I might enjoy giving one. A lot of the participants have said [that] they, like me, were a bit skeptical about it. I was not convinced when Justin said giving was as good as receiving but when you experience it, it really, really is. It surprised me and it surprised a lot of people too.
It also took people out of their comfort zones – with some of the male/male pairs and getting stressed over the giving part because it is technique and wanting to maybe please the partner, even though that’s not really what it’s about. I have to admit though, when Justin was doing the demonstration I was the demo person, so I was just lying there with my eyes closed and I could hear him saying, “So you hold the hip here, then you take the right foot, hold it with your left hand, and cup the ankle”. I just thought, this sounds soooo complicated people are never going to get this but, actually, when you do it and you go through those motions it’s so much easier than you expect.
And the emphasis is on being at ease. If you are not then there is something you need to let go of and I think it’s that ego of your expectations, thinking you have to be perfect at doing something. You don’t, as long as you are caring, that’s the point.
You mentioned people having to step outside their comfort zones in the pairing up, how did that unfold?
During the sampler evening we got people into partner work right away with partner yoga and Thai massage and it was great. It was very responsive, the people were really open and I think that set the tone for the rest of the retreat, people just put their fears, nerves or skepticism to one side and got on with it.
There’s a great example of that with two of the residents. They didn’t know each other, because one had just got here, and they’re both men and all of a sudden they are giving each other a massage. It weirded them out, admittedly, but they looked around and saw that everyone else was also doing Thai massage and yoga and they weren’t making a big deal out of it, so it made them feel a little bit better and they just got on with it. If you’re open and willing to go to the edge of your comfort zone or your vulnerability and the other person does then you can get a huge reward from it. It worked out great for these two guys – they really engaged in and enjoyed the course and even chose to stay partners for the next three days!
What do you hope the students will take away from this?
That’s a great question and we talked about this on the last day – what do I want to take away and what will they end up taking away. The biggest thing in terms of me would be to shift people’s thinking on what they first thought yoga was. Realising how you can make it a personal practice, a meditation, a way to get insight into your thinking rather than something you do when you go to a class or to get fit.
With the Thai massage, it’s about knowing that it’s about showing care for somebody and not about, “Oh, how am I doing this, am I doing this correctly?”. It’s also about knowing that you are completely okay with showing care for another person and actually get some joy from it. People went away with a gift thinking, “Oh it’s something I can give to a member of my family or a friend”.
For the dance, people got to take from it the knowledge that there is no right way to dance, it’s just free expression and it’s a safe place to be able to do that and to share that and no-one is going to judge you.
NB: Interviews and testimonials on our blog have only been edited for length and grammatical accuracy.