Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tinderella 2

Yes, I'm addicted. No, not to drugs (relax, mum), alcohol, food, the internet, cigarettes or Tinder (sorry for the misleading title). I'm hooked on a love that isn't love. It's a love that is abuse, confusion and misuse of power and the grip that it's had on me for the past two years has made it almost impossible to break free. Until now. 

My most read blogpost To the beat of a broken heart was published over a year ago, when I thought that my great love story had ended and I officially said goodbye. That was, however, just the beginning. Since then, my "love" and I have said goodbye a thousand times and yet we always end up gravitating back towards each other. The dealer needs the addict as much as the addict needs the dealer, doesn't he? It used to be all about the fun. We would get high together and the ecstasy could last for days, weeks or even months. But I was the one suffering from the withdrawal symptoms. And every time I crawled my way back up, growing stronger, my dealer would return, more than happy to intoxicate me again. And I was powerless to resist. Even though I knew that our relationship had become destructive and that it was driving me to some very risky behaviour at times, I was always willing to go back for more. 

About five months ago, I managed to break free for a while. I sobered up and got some of my power back. I created a Tinder profile and started using lighter drugs. They didn't get me quite as high but they also didn't hurt as bad. First, there was the amazing artist who took beautiful pictures and told me that he loved me after just one week. Then, there was the charming soccer player who made a million promises and didn't keep a single one. There was also a salsa-dancer who got his ego hurt when I didn't fall for his lines and an intellectual filmmaker who turned into a friend. 

And then there was the one that I actually liked, even though he wanted to take me camping on our first date. After some negotiation (I'm not really a camping kind of girl), we went out for drinks instead and quickly bonded over suicide scars, random jokes and an unconditional love for animals. He made me feel appreciated, cared for and safe and didn't bolt even when we ran into my dealer on one of our dates. Unfortunately, however, between two jobs, five dogs and a lot of marijuana, there wasn't much space left for me in his life and I wasn't willing to settle for second place (or fourth or fifth for that matter).  

So when my dealer came back once again, I'm ashamed to say that I relapsed. Actually, scratch that. Why should I be ashamed? I'm human, after all. But then one day I woke up and couldn't take another second of this life. Of destroying relationship after relationship for someone who isn't capable of being in a relationship. Of wasting two years of my life loving someone who only loves himself. Of lying to my family and friends because I can't deal with the look of fear in their eyes when I mention his name. Of spending all this time thinking I'm not good enough only to realize that actually he's not good enough for me.

So I gave back the needles and the pins and asked my dealer to take his poison and hit the road. For good this time. Let's just say it didn't end well but at last, I'm free. Somebody get me 14-day medallion because I haven't been using for a couple of weeks now. And I feel rather spectacular having stood up for myself. I walked away with my head held high, not because I did everything right but because I'm willing to learn from my mistakes and move on. Maybe it's not so much about who we can't live without but more about who we can actually live with? 

Of course I will need rehab but not through Tinder. My account has been closed for a while now and it will remain that way. Swiping for matches can be a fun experience and it can lead to some interesting encounters but it's not for me. It may be good for the ego but it doesn't feed my soul. I'm not interested in short-term flings and false promises. I want real conversations and genuine connections. Maybe some day, I will meet someone who is looking for the same things but until then, I'm quite happy just being me. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hippies and other stories

A couple of weeks ago, I was very excited. My friend and I had decided to go to Vilcabamba in the south of Ecuador for the holidays and we were looking forward to four days of hiking, doing yoga and relaxing by the pool. I told my friend that I could hardly believe it - for once we were going on holiday without any drama! I could almost hear the universe laughing in my face as I said it. Yeah, right. 

We had already reserved our accomodation at the beautiful Hostería Izhcayluma so all we needed were the bus tickets, which can normally be bought on the same day or sometimes one day before the actual trip. Since it was a national holiday coming up and we knew that most people would travel, my friend went to the bus station a couple days early to make sure we would have tickets. She was told to come back on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. So on Tuesday (the day before our trip), I took the two-hour Ecovia ride to Quitumbe station, arriving there at 4 p.m. only to be informed that all tickets to all destinations had been sold out in the morning. Sigh. Welcome to Ecuador! 

Time for plan B. Neither of us had been to Ibarra, a small town about two hours from Quito so we decided to try and get there instead. Buses to Ibarra run every ten minutes and tickets can't be bought in advance. Even so, there was a three-hour wait to get on the bus when we arrived at the station on Thursday afternoon. So we ended up sharing a taxi with two other travelers, which only cost us six dollars more than the bus would have anyway.

We finally arrived in Ibarra just before sunset, happy to have a hostel reservation and Google maps to navigate the streets of La Ciudad Blanca (the white city). Unfortunately, the hostel staff had never heard of us and they had no rooms left. Sigh. Thank you! By now, it was already dark so we used the hostel's wi-fi to search for hotels online and called the first one we could find. Luckily, it was just around the corner and they offered us a double room each for only $12 per person, including a gorgeous view and soft beds with tons of blankets and pillows. As my friend put it, we spent two heavenly nights sleeping on a cloud.

The next morning, we had breakfast in Olor A Café, a cosy little coffee shop decorated like a library and playing French music. We were served a delicious torta de choclo (corn cake) and as we were leaving, the staff gave us beautifully wrapped meringues and wished us a lovely day. We later learned that this is the most romantic spot in town; it's a popular place for proposals and many anniversaries have been celebrated here.

Feeling energized after our hearty breakfast, we took the local bus to nearby La Esperanza, a small community at the foot of volcano Imbabura. Once there, we knocked on the first door we could find to ask for directions. By chance, we had arrived at Casa Aida, owned by a charming old lady in her eighties (we're guessing). Aida immediately invited us in, asked us to sit down and brought out her guestbooks along with some of her homemade marmalade. The dogs fell asleep on the floor next to us as she told us the story about how once upon a time, the hippies had made it all possible.

Aida and her many stories

Over forty years ago, Aida was a poor woman. She had three kids but no money. Her house was dirty and didn't even have a bathroom. One day, two Italian hippies knocked on her door. They told her that no one wanted to take them in, their hippie clothes and long hair made everyone think they were thieves. Aida generously offered them to stay in her humble quarters. They thanked her for her hospitality and left the next day. Two weeks later, 35 hippies knocked on Aida's door. The hippies ended up staying for months, paying Aida more money than even the wealthiest people in Ecuador earned at the time. With this money, she built her hostel and if the stories in the guestbooks are anything to go by, it has been a great success. People who visited forty years ago continue to return, some even with children named after Aida! An incredible woman who showed kindness to two strangers who turned out to be wealthy foreigners. Also, believe it or not, one of the hippies that came later was, in fact, Bob Dylan!

Outside Casa Aida
The rest of our stay was relatively uneventful, apart from receiving the news that burglars had broken into my friend's building (my previous home) on Friday night. We decided to return to Quito on Saturday, along with hundreds of other travelers. It was a stressful journey but we made it and back at the bus station, a persistent taxi driver managed to convince us to let him drive us home. Just to make conversation, I asked him how his holiday weekend was going and to my great surprise, he burst into tears. 
I'm far away from the loves of my life, he sobbed. My wife left me for another man and took our two daughters with her. 
He showed us pictures of his beautiful girls, played love songs that made him cry even more and told us about all the things he was planning to do to get his family back. We did our best to nod sympathetically and offer him some gentle advice. We've all been there and it does get better, we know that. We've been through this story a hundred times already. But for him it was a first and he hadn't even told anyone yet. I got the feeling that this meeting was about him, not us. We were the teachers in that car, in every sense of the word. He needed someone to listen and we could give him that. 

Everything happens for a reason. That's what a friend told me when I was feeling disappointed about not making it to Vilcabamba. And maybe he was right. Our first choice is not necessarily the best one. The hostel that I had reserved in Ibarra actually looked awful when we saw it up close and I would not have wanted to stay there. If the hippies hadn't been turned down so many times, they may never have arrived at Aida's house to help create a good life for her and her children. If the taxi driver hadn't picked up me and Jas, he may never have found the courage to open up and share the burden that he was carrying alone. So even when life throws us a curveball, let's trust that eventually it will lead us to the right place. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 4 - Ecuador

The picture below was taken during my first week in Ecuador, over a year ago now. I had just arrived in Montañita, found a yoga school at the beach and one night after class, one of my new friends and I rushed down to the water to catch the sunset. She snapped this picture of me and literally two minutes later, the sun sunk into the ocean behind the cliffs and the moment was over. The next morning an Ecuadorian marketing website shared my picture on Instagram and it was liked more than 3000 times. I literally had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Was this really happening? Was this my life now? I ended up staying in Montañita for 6 weeks, working hard at the Celta course but also enjoying the sun and the sea and making friends for life. 

Arriving in Quito was different. I knew the moment I landed in the mountains that this is where I belong. This is where north meets south and everything finds balance. Even so, it's probably not my forever home. I still stumble and fall and the roller-coaster that is my life here makes me a bit nauseous but I'm not quite ready to get off it yet.

During the #yogagirlchallenge, there was a bit of chaos in my apartment. My fridge broke and I had to wait two weeks to get a new one. Construction workers kept walking in and out as they were finishing the work on my terrace and painting the outside walls of the building. But I wasn't too bothered; I would just lay my mat down in the midst of all the dust and then invite friends over for a glass of wine. I have a home and that is all that matters. Nowadays, I also make sure to reserve one day a week for me to slow down and practice restorative yoga. It helps me to find peace and to feel grateful. For the challenges that teach me patience. For my friends and family. For my strong, resilient heart that is open and ready to let people in. And above all, for this adventure that allows me to grow and become more than what I am.

I dedicated one day of the #yogagirlchallenge to practicing headstands in honor of everything I was feeling when the picture below was taken. Seeing it now brings out such a mix of emotions. It looks so peaceful and yet my life at the time was in turmoil. I had just found out that the person I thought would be mine forever was, in fact, somebody else's. Since forever. Not knowing how to deal with a pain I hadn't seen coming, I fled. I took my towel and my tears and went down to the beach to bury my head in the sand. What I didn't know then is that the very things that weigh us down are also what will lift us up. And so, through yoga, what had started out as one of the worst days of my life shifted into one of the best. I barely remembered how to put one foot in front of the other but out of nowhere, I could stand on my head. My world had literally been turned upside down.

The truth is that I don't really identify with this story anymore. Of course it will always be a part of my past but it no longer defines me. I've let go of my role as the innocent victim and come to realize and accept that I was no angel in this drama either. I may not have played my part the way I should have but we all make mistakes. A while ago, I even confronted my ghost and let him back into my life. Forgiving both him and myself has given me an enormous sense of relief and for the first time in a long time, I feel free.

My final #yogagirlchallenge picture was one of me on holiday, eating delicious vegan food at a yogi café in São Paolo and my plan was to write about being healthy and happy. Until the stomach flu hit me. At first, I thought it was just a 24h virus so I went back to work the next day feeling like a warrior. Then the flu came back with a vengeance and completely knocked me out. Hence the only yoga I managed on the last day of the challenge was a weak attempt at meditating while an intravenous drip slowly delivered fluids and medication into my body.

It was fitting in a way. Throughout the #yogagirlchallenge, I focused on both looking back and letting go and somehow it worked as a great big cleanse, mentally as well as physically. To me, yoga is an adventure but it is also what keeps me grounded in a world that never stops spinning. It has taken me through the jungle, out into the ocean and up to the mountains. Overall, it was an amazing experience to look back on my journey and it felt good to share the adventure with other yogis around the world. However, since the challenge, it's also been nice to step on my mat and let whatever happens on there stay there...

Read more here:

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 3 - Thailand 
Yoga Girl Challenge Part 2 - Costa Rica
Yoga Girl Challenge Part 1 - Bali

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 3 - Thailand

In July 2015, I lived in a tree house in the Thai jungle for two weeks. Although it was actually the home of a gecko who did not seem to enjoy having company. It would hover over my bed as I slept and stare at me suspiciously every time I took a shower. However, while in Thailand, I learned that when a gecko comes to visit, it means that we are about to peel off many layers of ego to discover what is really in our hearts. The reptile is there to remind us of dreams we may have forgotten and to help us break out of routine and create a new reality. And that is exactly what happened on the mystical little island of Koh Phangan that summer.

One morning about halfway through the #yogagirlchallenge, I was flowing through a vinyasa class centered around love when a butterfly flew in through the open window and landed on my hand. It made me smile. A butterfly brings color and joy and represents major transformation. It means that massive changes with unexpected outcomes are about to happen...

Many people had some kind of breakthrough (or breakdown) during our Thailand retreat but I didn't. I was in a state of constant bliss. For the first time in a long time, I felt connected. To the other yogis, the trees, the animals, the ocean... My phone was switched off for two weeks but I never felt alone. There was always someone to dance, laugh or have a deep conversation with. It is amazing how deeply we can connect with someone we've known for only two weeks and even more mindboggling is the longlasting impact that those short meetings can have on our life. It may sound ridiculous but this was also the first time I realised that I have a voice. Or maybe not so much just a voice but a voice worth listening to. My whole life I have been the one who listens and I thought that was just my identity. But why would what I say, think and feel be any less important than what anyone else is saying, thinking and feeling? Since the retreat I always speak up when I have something to say and not only has it changed the way that other people treat me, it has changed how I feel about myself. Self-respect is everything.

Around the time that I was posting about Thailand, the friend that I had a falling out with at beginning of the #yogagirlchallenge reached out and we made the time to sit down, listen and share. This not only brought us back to where we had been before, it brought us even closer and I'm endlessly grateful for that. Words are powerful.

My friend also made me see that I hadn't exactly been answering my questions with love over the past couple of months. I had been angry at the world for what happened to me and it wasn't until she pointed it out that I realized my pain had been coming off as anger. Which is not what I want. Love is forgiveness. Love is letting go. Love is starting over. So for the rest of the #yogagirlchallenge, that is what I tried to work on, both on and off my mat.

I don't know if I will ever find the words to explain how the retreat in Thailand changed me. Yes, I improved my yoga practice while I was there, I learned some new poses and became more flexible but something more profound took place on the inside. The inner voice calling for adventure became too loud to quiet down and my life hasn't been the same since then. I went back home only to say that I'm leaving again. I didn't even know where I was going until I heard an outside voice that said: Come to Ecuador. Meet me here. And I believe a butterfly must have been present then too because that was the beginning of a massive change with a most unexpected outcome... 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 2 - Costa Rica

Costa Rica was my second yoga trip but a number of firsts in many other ways. It was my first time zip-lining, my first time climbing down a waterfall, my first time nearly stepping on a giant frog and my first experience with meditation. The latter may seem like a silent practice but it came rushing into my life like a roaring thunder, stirring up everything I thought I knew. Not unlike the raging thunderstorms that shook my cabana and scared me to death every night. Apparently June is rainy season in Costa Rica. 

In the summer of 2013, I stayed at the School of the World in Jacó, a little beach town on the Pacific Coast, for three weeks. Feeling out of my element, I spent my first week there fighting hard to resist change. It took three yoga classes a day for me to finally give in and just surrender to what was. I let go of fear, frustration and judgement and that is when I finally started to progress. That is when I made friends. That is when I fell in love with the jungle and all it has to offer - adventure, thunderstorms, frogs and all. That is when I learned that if I stop struggling, I float. The things meant for me will always come easy. They flow, just like the waves in this surfers' paradise.

Imagine a bunch of drunk monkeys jumping around and screaming for attention, all at the same time. This is how the Buddhists describe the human mind and they claim that the only way to silence these loud creatures, also known as thoughts, is to meditate. So that is what I've been doing (almost) every day since my Costa Rica adventure. While I was at the School of the World, I learned various meditation techniques and I began to see that my energy is different, better and happier when I start my day by sitting in silence. 

During the #yogagirlchallenge, I didn't actually have a lot of time to do yoga every day, despite my commitment to practice daily. Some days, I would simply rest in child's pose on my mat. But I always made sure to meditate, at least for a few minutes, and that is what really saved me during this crazy hectic month. For some reason, I had thought it would be a good idea to not only take on extra work while doing the challenge but also join Tinder and start dating again. Madness. There were days when I felt restless, others when I felt exhausted and others when I felt like people were pulling me in every direction. Meditating is what got me through it all.

I also made an incredible amount of progress with my yoga practice in Costa Rica. Practicing three times a day with an amazing teacher really helped. I went from barely being able to do a downward-facing dog to mastering crow pose and a headstand. I still remember the first time that Alejandra, our teacher, helped me to get upside down. I kept saying: Don't let go, don't let go! To which Alejandra simply responded: Don't worry - I got you. The truth is that I often feel like I did then. Terrified. Like I'm going to fall or the world around me is going to collapse at any minute. How lovely it is then to find support, especially in unexpected places.

I can also recall the first time I was able to get into dancer's pose. Alejandra walked up to me and whispered:

Look at you now. Who is ever going to stop you from getting what you want? 

Unfortunately, I didn't believe her then. I had come a long way but not long enough. It would take another trip, another beach and another jungle before I finally found the courage to go after my dreams...

Read more here:

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 1 - Bali
Yoga Girl Challenge Part 3 - Thailand
Yoga Girl Challenge Part 4 - Ecuador 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 1 - Bali

Last month, my Instagram account was all about yoga as I took part in the #yogagirlchallenge. The challenge was to practice yoga every day for 30 days, to post a picture related to your practice and to get real about how you were feeling that day. I signed up to make myself stick to getting on my mat, to connect with other yogis around the world and to try something new. I decided not to post pictures of my daily practice as that's just me on my mat, on the floor every day. Plus, I suck at selfies. So instead, I chose to post pictures from my yoga journey; a journey that started long before I'd even heard of Instagram. The challenge turned out to be an interesting experience. Somehow, I was always able to find a lesson from the past to help me deal with whatever I was going through in the present. Everything appears to be connected. Also, I had never realised before that all my yoga trips had taken me to places where I was surrounded by jungle, palm trees, monkeys and beaches. Ending up in Ecuador no longer seems like a coincidence. I was always coming here... 

1. Bali

Bali was my first yoga trip and my first experience with a practice that would open up my eyes to a whole new world. My friend and I travelled here in July 2012 to take classes at The Yoga Barn in Ubud. Inspired by the movie "Eat, Pray, Love", we were hoping to spend two weeks in a peaceful paradise but the reality of Bali turned out to be something completely different. Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful but it's also hot, humid, messy and loud. People were always asking us where we were going and although we found it a bit annoying at the time, I later learned that this is an important part of the Balinese culture. Knowing where everyone is at all times is their way of maintaining balance in the world. Our answer was always the same: 
We're going to the yoga studio. 
When we asked the guesthouse manager where he was going, his answer never failed either: 
I'm going to sit by the road to watch the traffic. 

Another phenomena that I found curious in Bali was the flower arrangements. They are a form of self-sacrifice and devotion and Balinese women prepare them every day, putting in the time and the effort, even though they know for sure that by the end of the day, the flowers will be gone. From this, I take away the lesson that there's no point in trying to hold on to anything because nothing is forever. The people that are meant to be in our life will come and stay. Others will come and go. All we can do is breathe, surrender to what is and trust that everything is as it should be. 

Those first yoga classes were much harder than I had expected. Believe it or not, my first ever yoga teacher's name was Pain and she certainly lived up to her name. She used to make us lie on tennis balls until our bodies were full of bruises and if we cried, she laughed. But the tennis balls had a purpose - they were there to release emotions that needed to come out. And Ms. Pain didn't laugh when she saw me sitting up straight in a room where everyone else was in a forward-fold with their foreheads touching the ground. Instead, she walked up to me and said: 
I'm jealous of you. I'm pretty much done but you - you've got somewhere to go... 

Throughout the #yogagirlchallenge, I arrived on my mat dressed in the same T-shirt that I wore in Bali and even though it says "Home of the Brave", I was feeling anything but. Around the same time that I signed up for the challenge, a friend and I had a falling out and didn't speak to each other for several weeks. Unwilling to deal with this unnecessary drama, I was uncomfortable and upset, which reminded me of going to yoga therapy in Bali. The healing sessions brought up memories of past hurts and all I could think about was the scene in "Eat, Pray, Love" where Richard from Texas says to Elizabeth Gilbert: 
I know you feel awful... but your life is changing. And that's not a bad thing.
So that's how it all started, on a magical Indonesian island about five years ago. Through yoga, I was invited into a community that is welcoming and warm and my life has changed in so many ways since then, which is a very, very good thing. Even so, it would be a year before I stepped on my mat again. A year before I found myself in a place where the monkeys are just as loud as the ones in Bali and the sunsets every bit as spectacular... 

Read more here:

Yoga Girl Challenge Part 2 - Costa Rica
Yoga Girl Challenge Part 3 - Thailand
Yoga Girl Challenge Part 4 - Ecuador

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Today is the day

I'm almost 30! was one of the first things you said to me. You were 28 at the time and I couldn't understand why you were so desperate to join a club of 30 year-olds. But I also found it endearing; maybe you were an old soul who had wandered this earth for a long time already and you just couldn't wait to be reunited with the ones you had met in a previous life. 

We said so many other things to each other that day as well. It was the first time we met, over a year ago now. It was a three-hour drive from Guayaquil to Montañita and everyone else fell asleep in the car but you and I couldn't stop talking. Maybe our souls had met in another lifetime already and they just couldn't wait to catch up.

And now it's finally here. Your 30th birthday. My wish for you is to spend this day seeing yourself through the eyes of those of us who love you. Also, I'm just a teacher with no money so I wrote you a list of random things that make you special and unique and that I'm grateful for, instead of buying you presents. Sorry about that. Anyway, here it is.

  • can turn any meal into a work of art. (When you're not surviving solely on cornflakes that is). Never seen anyone else try to shape spaghetti into a heart. 
  • hate winter clothes so much that you wear breezy summer shirts even when it's freezing outside and the rest of us are wrapped up in blankets.
  • go through all the ups and downs with me.
  • have such a big, brave heart. Especially for such a tiny person. 
  • love me the most when I deserve it the least because you know that's when I need it the most.
  • support all my crazy ideas.
  • have taught me that lipstick is always a good idea.
  • have the sweetest, most gentle voice in the world. When you're not cursing in Swiss German that is. 
  • are the best haggling partner ever. Your "shocked" face when the poor guy at the beach dares to suggest five dollars for a pair of sunglasses is simply priceless. 
  • encourage me when I'm right and correct me when I'm wrong.
  • tell me the truths I need to hear and make me see and accept reality the way it is.
  • laugh with me when I'm happy and cry with me when I'm sad.
  • stand up for me when others put me down.
  • are the best cocktail partner ever. Although I still can't believe we got the guys to drink our mix of rum and frozen aloe vera (or was it naranjilla? Can't remember). 
  • love those around you so, so much and I'm so, so proud of you for how far you have come at starting to give some of that love to yourself as well.
  • are sunshine and such a star.
  • make the funniest goofy faces (see picture proof below).
  • are my family and my home away from home and the best friend anyone could ever ask for. 
  • have such a bright future ahead of you. Turning 30 is just the beginning! 
  • are making your way in this world step by step - paso a paso - and I can't wait to see where you end up.

Don't worry, I'm getting you a real present as well. Love you, my sillybilly*. Happy birthday! 

*Sillybilly (n.) = a person, who acts in a special way and is not afraid to do so. Usually a small, cute, person who is very happy and can make you laugh whenever they want to. Also someone who is very fun to be around and acts in the silliest way possible.