NOLS WILDERNESS FIRST RESPONDER, AT YOUR SERVICE

Before I launch into who and what NOLS is. . . enjoy some photos of friends, clients, and me over the years (they go as far back as 2008, when I was but a wee one) in beautiful and remote places, partaking in what my mom would consider dangerous activities. Ok, she would think only some of them were dangerous. Now when you look at these, I want you to imagine “What could possibly go wrong?” (Absolutely nothing went wrong in any of these, by the way. . . except for one of them. More on that later. But I still want you to imagine, just to get in the mood for this blog;)

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Haines, Alaska

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Some island, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Aaron, bless his heart, Skaha, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada

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Somewhere snowy in British Columbia, Canada

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Underneath the Root Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Some island, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska

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Lago Serrano, Patagonia, Chile

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Somewhere icy in British Columbia, Canada

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Rio Serrano, Patagonia, Chile

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Worthington Glacier, Valdez, Alaska

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Somewhere snowy in British Columbia, Canada

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Somewhere rocky in Canada or the U.S.

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Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada

If you’re like my mom (or grandma) you’re probably feeling a bit nervous looking at some of these photos, even though I already assured you that nothing went wrong in any of them (except for that one. . more on that later). But if you are feeling nervous, that’s good! That means you followed directions and thought “What could possibly go wrong?” The truth is that any number of things could have gone awry in any of these photos. Some of them involved awfully sharp objects. . . some mighty long falls. . . some coooold water. But another truth is that there’s a lot of fun to be had in amazing and remote (or not so remote, nor so amazing) places. I’m not gonna stop doing this stuff! However, there are many ways that I, as a professional guide, can commit to mitigate the risks and consequences if something were to go awry. One of these ways is to educate myself in the wonderful ways of wilderness medical training.

And now there’s this:

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What ya got goin’ on there, Naomi? Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Now for a little background: NOLS stands for National Outdoor Leadership School. Founded in Wyoming in 1965, it is a global nonprofit wilderness school that educates students around the world in leadership, wilderness skills, and risk management. You can participate in courses anywhere from 6 days Canyoneering in Utah, to 135 days in Patagonia. Rock climbing, sailing, backpacking, ski touring, sea kayaking, mountaineering, ice climbing. . . the list goes on.

(Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten to get back to that one photo.)

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This is not an ad, even though it sure does look like one

I participated in a 3-month NOLS Semester Program in 2008 in Patagonia, Chile. Prior to embarking on consecutive month-long remote mountaineering and sea kayaking expeditions, we started off with a ten-day (80-hour) Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Course to learn the best practices for responding to medical situations (and emergencies) in a wilderness setting. For most of that program, we were more than a days travel to definitive care (and that would be if the horses could gallop!). A WFR course teaches students invaluable skills in how to prevent, determine, and take care of almost any medical situation “in the field” with the limited resources available (think of you with a med kit the size of a loaf of bread, ski poles, ice axes, and sleeping bags in lieu of a hospital filled with doctors, unlimited medical supplies, crutches, and a hospital bed). I’ll never forget the lesson on how to relieve testicular torsion. Unfortunately, no photo available. Yikes!

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Me on my NOLS course, Somewhere in Patagonia, Chile

I also learned in my WFR course how to make good decisions regarding evacuations and group/risk management. In a wilderness setting I’m dealing with a lot more than simply a client with a belly ache. I’m dealing with the rest of the group, inclement weather, difficult terrain to accomplish a safe evacuation, spotty or non-existent communication with the “outside” world, and limited resources. Questions that WFR course instructors have drilled into my head are 1) Can this person stay on the trip, or do they need to be evacuated? 2) If they need to be evacuated, how and how quickly? I can’t just dial 911 (on my cell that has no service) and wait ten minutes for an ambulance with a team of medical professionals to whisk away my client who is complaining of abdominal pain. I am taught to become a detective to try to solve a medical mystery. However, more importantly, I know that it’s not necessarily essential that I figure out precisely what the cause of the mystery abdominal pain is, but I do need to make a decision and act on it. KC needs to go asap! I need to wrap her in a sleeping bag so she stays warm, keep talking to her to provide comfort and to monitor her, and use my satellite device to contact the office to get a helicopter here right now, as well as make sure that the rest of my group is warm, safe, and not freaking out. (This scenario is a true story, by the way. My co-guide, KC, got evacuated via helicopter from Columbia Bay on the last day of a 5-day sea kayaking trip in Prince William Sound, Alaska. From the moment she first approached me complaining of severe abdominal pain, to the moment that she landed at the hospital in Valdez, about 1.5 hours had passed. Not bad. Plus she got a heli ride over the largest tidewater glacier in the Sound out of it. She was fine, by the way.)

Here is a link to a DeLorme Satellite Communication device, similar to the one that I take on every trip. This is what saved us after it became clear that my VHF radio communication wasn’t going to do the trick. I highly recommend one of these communication devices. It could save your life, or the life of someone who you care about.

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My friend, Naomi, checks my pulse during my first WFR Recert. course in Victoria, B.C., Canada

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Naomi practicing building splints during our WFR Recert. course in Victoria, B.C., Canada (ex-boyfriends can come in handy)

 

Now that I’ve been guiding professionally since 2010, and have dealt with medical situations, as well as evacuations, I see the value in fostering these decision-making skills. I know that it’s negligent of me to walk away after giving someone a cup of water whose breathing is labored and who is the color of a lobster, sitting directly underneath a bunch of coconuts on a tropical island. I’m a WFR! And along with that comes the responsibility to treat this person to the best of my ability. You never know who (and in what condition) you are going to come across out there.

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The splint that earned me my first WFR Recert., Victoria, B.C., Canada

 

To keep up with my skills and to continue honing them, as well as to keep my WFR certification current, I take a NOLS Wilderness Medicine Recertification course (3-day, 24-hour) every two years. These courses are scenario-based, which is the best way to get as much practice as possible responding to medical situations. This past October I completed my 4th course in Salt Lake City, Utah. These courses, often in beautiful locations, are challenging, fun, and a great way to meet others working as outdoor professionals. I highly recommend them. In fact, being a WFR is a requirement for a lot of jobs in the outdoor industry. Even if you don’t work in the outdoor industry, but you spend time in the outdoors (or not even), I still recommend taking a Wilderness Medicine course, or First Aid. There are varying levels of courses, depending on how far you want to take your training.

So get out there and get educated. Visit NOLS and NOLS Wilderness Medicine to learn more and to find courses, as well as for resources to assemble your own adventure medical kit (very important!). NOLS has a lot of other great activities and environmental initiatives going on as well, so check ’em out!

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Lenticular Clouds on my NOLS course, Somewhere in Patagonia, Chile

To all of you Ileneinakayak prospective clients, rest (and paddle) assured that I, your guide, will be up-to-date with my wilderness medical training.

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Keepin’ it safe! Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada

 

Here are some photos from the NOLS Wilderness Medicine website to give you more of an idea of the fun that awaits you on these courses.

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My official NOLS WFR Seal of Approval

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My official Alaskan Seals of Approval

Oh yea, I almost forgot! The one photo at the beginning of this blog where something actually did go awry is the one with. . . . actually, you have to write in the blog comments which photo you think it is and what you think happened. I’ll mail the winner something cool! Good luck:)

 

INSPIRATION FOR A CARIBBEAN WINTER HOLIDAY

Hi there! I’m getting amped up for another tropical season of paddling and adventuring in the Caribbean of Panama. To get you excited I’m here to inspire you with some scenes that will have you feeling a warm sea breeze on your sun-kissed skin. Close your eyes and you’ll hear the soothing sounds of palm fronds shaking in the breeze, and small waves lapping against the shore. Imagine sun-warmed white sand between your toes. Look around and you’ll see colorful hammocks swaying underneath bunches of Coconuts, while kayaks wait to take you on an adventure. Enjoy!

There are still spaces available on an upcoming Yoga/Sea Kayak/SUP/Snorkel Adventure Retreat January 6 – 14, 2018. More info can be found here.

Contact me for more information on how to create the trip-of-a-lifetime in Alaska and Panama. Thanks for checking in! Stay tuned for more on my blog.

HOLIDAY WITH A GREATER PURPOSE: 4 fun ways to enhance your vacation with good deeds!

First, a quick udate from me: Hello from Vermont! I’ve settled into my November annual three weeks of house/pet-sitting in the lovely Green Mountain State. This is a time for me to slow down a bit after a busy guiding season in Alaska. Late fall is when I finally get to spend an extended amount of quality time with my family in Philadelphia (and eat lots of Asian food, which Philly is exceptional!), as well as take the time to make plans and set future goals for myself. It is also the time of year when I amp up my cider, apple, maple, and woodstove game! Bring it on, New England!

With the recent horrific attack in New York City , as well as other tragedies playing out locally and globally, my reaction is to bring more joy and happiness into the world, as well as to seek out others doing good things. Yes, there are a lot of horrible things going on, and those are not to be ignored, however it’s important to acknowledge that there are also a lot of wonderful and positive things going on that you can be a part of. It’s more important than ever to be good to one another, and to show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones.

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Jared and his crew of Guna boys, sharing the love of kayaking

One great way to do good things for others is to incorporate acts of kindness and compassion into your vacation. Maybe you are someone who wants to do good things for others, yet finds it difficult to find the time during your hectic daily life. It might even be difficult to do good things for yourself! Welcome: vacation! This is a great opportunity to do good! You finally have the energy and the time for yourself and for others.

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Lovely day for a paddle in Guna Yala. Do something good for yourself, as well as others!

The kayak trips that I run in Guna Yala, on the Caribbean of Panama, are a wonderful opportunity to travel with a greater purpose. Donations are always welcome and well-received. Opportunities for home-stays and volunteering abound. And of course each trip uses local Guna guides. We try to buy as much seafood from Guna fishermen as possible, as well as experience much of their fascinating culture and crafts. Check these trip options out here. Or maybe a Yoga/Sea Kayak Retreat is more your thing. Check out this 9-day all-inclusive trip January 6-14, 2018, that explores both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama. Click here for a detailed itinerary. Contact me with questions or if you’d like to book a trip. Read on.

Here are 4 ways to enhance your vacation by adding an element of good deeds.

1) Donations

Look around you. . . you probably have more than a few things to spare that others might find useful or even life-saving (i.e. medical supplies, shoes, or warm clothing if you’re traveling somewhere cold). I read something (I wish that I could remember, so I’m paraphrasing) that said “If you can afford to drink a beverage other than water, you have the means to give.” This might sound a bit extreme, and I’m not saying to stop drinking your tea and coffee. However, these words inspire me and made me realize how many material things I have that are not essential to my survival, such as that box of Chai tea that I love so much. Maybe next time I’m looking at all the Chai tea options, I’ll opt to spend that money on some art supplies for children instead.

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A sweet Guna girl wearing her new dress, made by donation from a group of kayakers

Collecting things to donate is fun, easy, and potentially free (no need to go out and buy things). It’s also a win-win situation; You clear out things that you don’t really need, and those you’re donating to benefit by getting things that can enhance their lives. It’s also a great way to have a positive interaction with locals. Here’s an idea: Next time you go on vacation, throw a party and have everyone bring a few items that will serve the people where you’re traveling. (Maybe don’t bring a bag of winter jackets to the Caribbean. . . but clothing for warm weather will certainly be useful.)

 

 

 

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A school in Ecuador that I helped donate supplies to, 2004 (I’m wearing my Jerry Garcia t-shirt on the left)

Donation ideas:

  • Clothing (in decent condition and appropriate for the climate)
  • Medical supplies (good condition, appropriate for the environment, and that the people fully understand how to use the supplies, as this could potentially be harmful)
  • Books (in their language and yours, lots of photos are great, do the people want to learn English?)
  • Art and School supplies (notebooks, paper, writing and coloring supplies, stickers, markers, folders, beads)
  • Games (appropriate for the age level, and the environment. i.e. As it’s quite windy in Guna Yala, and the kids love them, I always bring down a bunch of kites. Guna also love cards, dominoes and dice:)
  • Kitchen/bathroom supplies (appropriate for the environment. i.e. I get requests for graters from Guna women to use to grate fresh coconut for coconut rice – so delicious!)
  • Other useful items (appropriate for the lives of the people where you’re traveling. Some ideas: eyeglasses, sewing kits, fishing supplies (the Guna love it when I bring them different kinds of fishing hooks and line, as fishing is very important to Guna livelihoods), life vests, headlamps (I find these to be useful for everyone!), certain electronics, etc. . .)
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Young Guna artists at work on their masterpieces, after my friend, Suzannah, donated the supplies. They were so excited!

The photos below are from a group of 11 women, and my co-trip leader, Dave, who were part of a 4-day sea kayaking trip in Guna Yala earlier in 2017. These women collected bags of clothing to donate to Guna families, as well as sewing kits and eyeglasses for Guna women to use to sew their gorgeous molas. Check out a blog about this amazing trip and more on compassionate tourism here.

If you’re not with an organized group, it’s pretty easy (with the internet these days) to find schools, community centers, and other organizations to make donations. I love shopping at thrift stores, so whenever I go thrifting I always buy a few extra items and books to bring with me to Panama. And because I go back to some of the same Guna communities each year, it’s fun to see Guna walking around in clothing that my family and I have donated:) There’s a Guna man walking around with my dad’s neon pink Philadelphia Folk Festival t-shirt!

2) Home-stay and/or Volunteer

There are many ways to find opportunities like home-stays and volunteering while traveling. Home-stays are an excellent way to immerse yourself in another culture (this is a main reason why we travel, right?!), share your own culture, learn/practice a different language, and benefit a family financially, as home-stays usually cost money. I recommend the mighty Google machine. It’s actually overwhelming how many wonderful organizations there are that allow you to combine good deeds while traveling, whether this is the focus of your trip or not. Make sure to have good communication with the organization, so ensure a successful and positive experience! Keep in mind, it doesn’t need to take up your entire travel itinerary. It’s also important to do something good for yourself that fulfills you, like a kayak trip (hint, hint). Don’t feel bad about laying in a hammock on a beach. . . it is your well-earned vacation, after all! So, whether it’s dedicating two weeks to help build a school in a rural area, or spending an afternoon playing with kids at an orphanage, everyone benefits.

Personal story: Ten years ago I was traveling in Ecuador and wanted to find a home-stay that also included volunteering. The first organization that came up on Google was a women’s group of artists called Las Colibris (The Hummingbirds) that were making art from natural materials that the women would harvest. I thought I would stay a week, and ended up staying for 6 weeks because I loved it so much! I lived with a family, ate all of my meals with them, and helped them in their workshop everyday. I recall my home-stay mom telling me how much the income from this organization was helping her and her family. It also gave her a sense of independence, as she was making a living for herself, and not relying solely on her husband for money. Unfortunately, I could not find an active website for this organization anymore. Following are photos from that trip.

3) Tourism,Crafts and Food

In some places, especially remote and small communities, tourism and selling crafts and food might be the main source of income for families. Include in your travel plans activities that use local guides. Eat local food. Buy local crafts. Find out about local festivals and holidays. Check out a traditional dance or music performance. You’ll have a blast while learning about the area and making new friends and connections. And what better way to bring home a reminder of your wonderful holiday than to buy a hand-made craft from your travels!

4) Teach, Share, Learn, Play and Smile

I know, I cheated and combined five things. Basically, #4 is to enrich the lives of others by giving your time and having positive interactions. Just have fun! Share laughter and smiles. Get silly and play games! If you’re on a bike trip, kayak trip, climbing trip, fishing trip, whatever it may be, invite the locals to check out your gear and give it a try. Just keep them safe! You might plant the seed for a local to get the training they need to become a tour guide. Better yet, if you have the resources you might get inspired to start your own organization to teach locals the skills they need to guide/offer a certain activity/craft, or offer them something else they need, such as solar panels or language skills. The Guna always take to kayaking quickly, and it brings a lot of joy for them to play around in the kayaks. Smiles and laughter all around is a wonderful thing! Plus, I’m secretly training the young ones to be future sea kayak guides:)

Below are two of my closest Guna buddies, brothers Hectoriano and Ertaliano, who took to kayaking quickly. I’m hoping future Guna kayak guides!

I hope that this blog will inspire you to incorporate some element from my list for your future travels. Share your ideas with me! Have a wonderful day, and remember to be good to one another, and show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones. 

PACK YOUR BAGS. PANAMA IS WHERE IT’S AT! (part 1)

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Kayak guides celebrating another season

Hi there! It’s been a while. The end of my 6th season sea kayak guiding in Alaska sadly came to an end a few weeks ago. What an amazing season filled with adventure, wonderful clients, and exciting camping trips. The other kayak guides are all off to start new and exciting chapters of their lives. Whether staying in Valdez to enjoy backcountry skiing and ice climbing, which Valdez is a world class destination, or venturing off to Idaho, California, Utah, New Zealand, or Central and South America, we all share a tight bond formed in Prince William Sound.

 

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Dalton and I topping out in City of Rocks, Idaho

As for me: Since I’ve left Alaska I have been road tripping with a fellow kayak guide through Washington, Idaho and Utah, mostly rock climbing (Leavenworth, WA and City of Rocks, ID) and hotspringing (Idaho is amazing for this!). I am currently in Park City, Utah, recertifying my Wilderness First Responder (medical training). As much as I love sea kayaking, the shoulder season sure is fun, when I get to experience other places and activities!

PANAMA, HERE I COME!

I’m getting excited for the upcoming paddling season in Panama. There is still space on an all-inclusive 9-day sea kayak and yoga retreat. This is a wonderful opportunity for people of all experience levels to escape to warm, tropical sea breezes and to do something healthy and nourishing to welcome 2018! This trip explores both Caribbean and Pacific coasts and also includes touring a scenic area of Panama City, stand-up paddling, snorkeling, and a visit to the famous Panama Canal. Contact me for more information (but hurry, as it’s right around the corner and space is limited!).

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Here are some scenes that await you in Panama!

WANT TO EXPERIENCE MORE OF PANAMA?

I figured that most people who join this trip will travel from pretty far away and will want to extend their stay in Panama, which is an incredible and diverse country that has a variety of unique and beautiful areas with fun activities to check out. I’ve been going to Panama since 2010, and each visit I discover new places that I love, as well as make annual trips to my favorite spots, where I’ve developed close connections with the people there. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries. (It was hard to choose just a few.)


GET YOUR CITY FIX: PANAMA CITY

Most likely you’ll fly into Tocumen International Airport, and it’s worth it to spend a couple of days exploring this modern and colorful city, located right on the Pacific Coast.

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Panama City

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Fishing boats at the Mercado del Mariscos

The yoga/sea kayak retreat does include some of the best-to-do in Panama City, including a visit to the famous Panama Canal and museum, as well as an overnight and farewell dinner in Casco Viejo (a charming “Old City” on the waterfront, also where the President resides). More time spent in this area offers visits to historical sites, churches, museums, theaters, beautiful plazas, galleries, and some of the best options to dine on Panamanian cuisine and to shop for traditional crafts from all over Panama. There are many colorful craft markets to enjoy. One of my favorite spots is the Mercado Del Mariscos (Seafood Market), where you can eat as much fresh seafood as you like, while you watch fishing boats bring in the fresh catch-of-the-day, while Pelicans dive all over the place. I like to sample the different kinds of ceviche. This is extremely popular for both tourists and Panamanians.

I have spent hours strolling along the Cinta Costera, a long path right along the coast, which is very popular among Panamanians to spend time with their families, as well as a popular biking, jogging, and exercising strip. The Cinta, as it is often referred, will take you all the way to the Amador Causeway, a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects the continent with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Canal. Here you will find lots of restaurants, shops, and the Biomuseo, the Biodiversity Museum (the colorful building in the bottom left photo).

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Amador Causeway

 

If you’d like to take in great views of the city, as well as get exercise and see wildlife without leaving the city, head to the Parque Metropolitano, which is an unspoilt tract of tropical rainforest that is home to more than two hundred species of birds and mammals, including Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys, white-tailed deer, sloths and agoutis.

Beautiful vista in El Parque Metropolitano


HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS: SANTA FE

If cool mountain air, more solitude, and adventure is your style, head to Santa Fe in the province of Veraguas, about 5 hours from Panama City. I love this small mountain town and make a trip here each year. Some of the activities here are swimming, rafting or tubing down one of the many unspoiled rivers (lots of waterfalls!), horseback riding, hiking through virgin rain forest as far as the Caribbean coast, birding, and visiting organic (coffee, flowers, and produce) farms and orchid gardens.

Whenever I’m in Santa Fe I love to stay at Hostal La Qhia, a beautiful mountain retreat, which offers tranquil respite from the bustle of the city. This is a great place to launch local adventures and you will find lots of information (and maps) there about what to do in the area. You can conveniently arrange tours here as well. The above photos are from my last visit (Dec ’16) with my good friends, Jared and Suzannite. We hiked through a beautiful mountainous landscape to an organic farm, where we sampled delicious and fresh food and coffee, as well as hired a local guide to take us to gorgeous waterfalls.

We also discovered the most amazing Cambodian food that I’ve ever eaten at Anachoreo Cambodian Restaurant, which also offers lodging. We were so delighted to discover such authentic food so far away from Cambodia, that we ate there two nights in a row!


REMOTE BEACHES, TRADITION, ADVENTURE & CONSERVATION: AZUERO PENINSULA

The Azuero Peninsula, which many Panamanians proudly refer to as the “heartland” of their country, was a new discovery for me, filled with many unexpected and memorable experiences. This area is extremely rich in tradition, folklore, farming, and partying! That’s right, you will find town-wide parties every weekend (probably multiple parties a week if you’re really gung-ho!) with traditional live music and all-night dancing. Not to mention sampling Panama’s Seco Herrerano, something of which they are also very proud of. Seco is a white spirit distilled from sugarcane. We became friends with a family who invited us to a couple of these parties. Talk about dancing all night! My friends and I were also the only non-Panamanians at these parties. . . I’m talkin’ authentic Panamanian partying!

Traditional Panamanian music

Heading south my friends Jeff, Jared, and I took multiple buses down the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula, an area of great beauty (and remoteness in many parts). We stayed at a lovely locally-owned place in the small beach town of Malena called Hostal Iguana Verde. Upon our arrival the hostal owner, Anna, invited us to join her to liberate dozens of newborn sea turtles to Mama Mar (Mother Sea). What an experience! Anna is part of a group of local conservationists who strive to increase the survival rate of these sea turtles. You can easily get involved in a project like this. Visit the Facebook page for Marine Turtle Conservation Panama for info on how to get involved. It feels good to help out such a worthy cause while you’re on vacation! Plus, these sea turtles are ridiculously adorable.

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Go little buddy, go!

From Malena it is a short ride to another, more developed beach town called Mariato, which offers a variety of accommodations and activities, especially surfing. Anna told us it was possible to walk along the beach from Mariato back to Malena, so we enjoyed an afternoon sampling food and beer (some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had, and patacones) to fuel up for a gorgeous sunset beach hike.


GET REMOTE: CERRO HOYA NATIONAL PARK

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The boys get loaded in with the pigs, Las Flores

Continue farther down the peninsula if you really want to get remote adventure! I had read about an infrequently visited National Park called Cerro Hoya. You’ve got to make sure you catch the sometimes only once-a-day bus to a tiny end-of-the-road town called Las Flores. (There are more populated and accessible routes and towns on the eastern side of the Azuero Peninsula.) Created in 1984, this 80,450-acre national park contains some of the last remaining primary forest on the Azuero Peninsula. Until recently, the park was extremely difficult to reach and only explored by intrepid travelers. We got off the bus and immediately met a friendly pig farmer named Rueben, and his son, Ruebencito, who loaded Jeff and Jared into the back of their truck with the pigs (to my extreme delight and amusement – they made me sit comfortably in the front, the pig-free seating). We were welcomed into their home by Rueben’s wife, Celmira, where we stayed for a few days and enjoyed river walks, traditional food, and becoming part of their family.

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Las Flores, Azuero Peninsula

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The pig farmer, our guide, and new friend, Rueben

It would be hard to write here how to be in touch with Rueben and his wonderful family, who are very interested in tourism and acting as local hosts and guides to those adventurous travelers who wish to get an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. Contact me for more information. It was well worth the travel and planning to get to this beautiful and remote part of Panama. Jared and I have a plan to return to Las Flores and buy a few pigs for a giant pig roast for the whole town! You’re invited:)


I know I said I’d only highlight just a few places in Panama, but as I write this I still have more places that I’m itching to write about. I will be continuing my “Panama Is Where It’s At” series. So look forward to more about Panama, as well as Alaska (because Alaska is where it’s at also!).

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska


I will sign off by saying that of all the places in Panama that I have visited, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands) remains my all-time favorite place. This is where I guide sea kayak tours in the winter and this is where the sea kayak portion of the aforementioned retreat will be held. This is why: It is one of the most spectacular places for sea kayaking. The Guna are my favorite people. It’s as simple as that. Click here for more info on Guna Yala.

Thank you for reading. I hope you are inspired to join me January 6 – 14, 2018, and that you visit more of the beautiful country of Panama. Stay tuned for more blog posts. You can also follow Ileneinakayak on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

 

TROPICAL PADDLING & YOGA: A MATCH MADE IN PARADISE

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: JANUARY 6 – 14, 2018 CARIBBEAN & PACIFIC OF PANAMA

ALL INCLUSIVE~YOGA~SEA KAYAKING~SUP~SNORKELING~PANAMA CANAL

Book by Sept. 15th for the Early Bird Special! Contact me.

I know, I know. . . summer isn’t over yet! Although, here in Valdez, new snow on the mountaintops greeted us yesterday morning. All the more reason I’ve started daydreaming of colorful hammocks beneath swaying Palm Trees, sipping from coconuts, kayaking in flip flops and a bathing suit, and practicing some nourishing yoga!

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Chillin’ out, relaxin’ all cool. . . on the island of Misdup

September is right around the corner, a time when school starts up again and calendars get filled before you know it. That’s why I’m encouraging you to set aside this week to treat yourself to an adventure in Panama. You might enjoy your fall work days more knowing what you’ve got coming up in January. At least it’ll make the shorter days more tolerable:)

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Treat yourself. . . you deserve it

Not a kayaker? No problem. Been meaning to start doing yoga but wouldn’t know downward-facing dog from warrior pose? No worries. Never left your hometown? Think nothing of it! Newbies and those who are more experienced will find that this trip was created with everyone in mind. After all, there was a time when I sat down in a kayak for the very first time (now I’ve been guiding for 6 years) and did my first downward-facing dog. I will be joined by founder of Yoga Currents, long-time yoga instructor and seasoned kayak guide, Leigh Lubin. We’re here to ensure that everyone who joins us has a spectacular and unforgettable time. It’s time to plan your winter holiday in paradise. What could be better than treating yourself to a nourishing, sunny, tropical get-away? Click here for more info and a detailed trip itinerary.

Why yoga and sea kayaking in Panama together? It’s a match made in tropical heaven. . . they’re perfect for each other. A beautiful retreat on the Pacific side offers tranquility and beauty, an ideal setting to sink in and reap the benefits of a yoga practice. Then we’ll travel to the Caribbean coast, where the San Blas Islands (called Guna Yala) offers us the perfect location for sea kayaking and beach yoga, as this tropical archipelago is comprised of hundreds of palm tree-dotted islands.

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Tropical Paradise, Guna Yala

I’ve been practicing yoga on my own (my active lifestyle of moving every 5 months hasn’t quite allowed for much time in a yoga studio) for only a few years. Like many people, it took me a couple of years to begin to scratch the surface of all of the amazing benefits of yoga, from the physical to the sometimes more subtle emotional and mental ones. Yoga isn’t only something that I love because it feels amazing, but I consider it an important part of my life as a professional kayak guide, a job that is extremely physically demanding. And now that I’ve entered my 30’s it’s become even more important to grow my yoga practice (what I mean is, I ain’t gettin’ any younger!). I spend about half of each year sitting in a kayak, paddling for hours and hours, loading and unloading hundreds of pounds of gear into boats on camping trips, carrying these heavy kayaks and gear up and down docks and beaches, and bending over a lot to assist my guests getting in and out of their kayaks. But I absolutely love what I do and I want to be able to go kayaking when I’m a little old lady, like Ernestina (below left), who thoroughly enjoyed her first time in a kayak! Also noteworthy is the group of 11 women ages 55-75 (right photo), who joined me in the Caribbean for a paddling adventure earlier in 2017. You can bet some of those ladies practice yoga!

Even if a busy day allows for just 10 minutes of stretching, this will have a positive impact on how my body fares as a guide. You’ll be amazed at how good it will make you feel too. It’s important to awaken and enliven the muscles each day, as well as strengthen and lengthen them. I feel stronger and more flexible now than I did as a 20-year old, before I started doing yoga.

Here’s what Leigh has to say about the benefits of yoga, as well as some insight into why practicing yoga for four days prior to going kayaking on our trip will revitalize you and leave you feeling like a better and more open version of yourself:

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Tropical sunset, Guna Yala

Yoga can make the difference between feeling fluid, alive, healthy, connected, and having fun or not. On this retreat we’ll create space in the hips so it’s easier to stay upright in your boat. Tap into your support instead of fighting it! We will strengthen the core and stimulate innate energetic pathways that move supportive energy upwards to sustain you from the inside. We’ll learn to internally float over our pelvis, riding our own inner waves and wind, as we increase shoulder mobility and strength. By the time you get to your kayak you’ll feel stable, fluid, grounded, engaged, and playful. We’ll take those feelings to sea.

During the sea kayaking portion, you’ll enjoy playful white sand beach yoga sessions to stay supple and strong throughout the trip. Yoga and sea kayaking are the perfect opportunities to sink in, revitalize, discover, and connect to yourself and the wonders of the sea!

We’ll also be eating fresh, healthy food on this trip, as well as doing other fun activities, such as standup paddling, snorkeling, hanging with the Guna (the indigenous group who live on the Caribbean islands who I’ve worked with for the past 4 years and who we’ll be visiting), exploring the scenic Casco Viejo (“Old Town”) on the waterfront in Panama City, and visiting the famous Panama Canal. All of these are included in the trip. See you in Panama!

 

Compassionate Tourism: Sharing sewing kits, eyeglasses and so much more in Guna Yala, Panama

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“Loving Hands” mola

My last trip of the season in Guna Yala came as a serendipitous surprise. I wasn’t supposed to be a guide on this trip. However, at the last minute I was called to duty. With paddle in hand I sprung into action! This trip was in collaboration with a wonderful organization called Venture Outside, based in Maine. Check them out. With 11 inspiring women between the ages of 54-73 with varying degrees of experience in a sea kayak, and the tour organizer and fellow sea kayak guide, Dave, we set out for 4 days of Guna Yala fun and adventure. What an inspiring and memorable way to finish off my fourth season sea kayak guiding in tropical paradise.

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Everybody in!

So why compassionate tourism? Stick with me here and I think you’ll understand what I’m getting at. I’m currently reading a book for the second time called “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness,” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Nepalese Tibetan Buddhist master. I’m not a Buddhist, however I just happened to obtain this book in Panama and didn’t have another one to read after I finished it for the first time. He explains, “The Buddhist understanding of compassion is, in some ways, a bit different from the ordinary sense of the word. For Buddhists, compassion doesn’t simply mean feeling sorry for other people. The Tibetan term –nying-jay– implies an utterly direct expansion of the heart. Probably the closest English translation of nying-jay is “love”- but a type of love without attachment or any expectation of getting anything in return. Compassion, in Tibetan terms, is a spontaneous feeling of connection with all living things. What you feel, I feel; what I feel, you feel. There’s no difference between us.”

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Donating clothing to the Guna family on Misdup

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Wearing her brand new dress on Misdup

Now let me share a story from this trip. These 11 women (and one man; let’s not forget Dave) collected enough clothing and shoes to fill two huge suitcases to donate to the Guna, along with a dozen pairs of reading glasses and sewing kits for the women to help with their mola-sewing. Our third and final morning on Misdup (the island we stayed on) we gathered around the Guna family with one of the suitcases and the glasses. It just so happens that Nemesio’s (our lead Guna kayak guide) “day job” is at an eyeglass laboratory in Panama City, so he was able to help the women find the right pair of glasses. He crouched at one of the older woman’s feet with the pile of glasses, and one by one had her try them on. Upon putting on each pair she glanced down at the mola that she was currently working on. After a few pairs that didn’t seem to be quite right a huge grin spread across her face. She threw her arms up into the air and exclaimed “Nuedi!” which means “Good!”, followed by some other words in Guna. The crowd went wild! Cheers and laugher erupted. The joy that spread through us onlookers was almost palpable. I nearly broke down in tears. Later on Nemesio told me that what she had exclaimed afterwards, looking right at him, was “I can see your heart!” Now if that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings. . .

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Showing off her new eyeglasses

So this is what I mean when I say compassionate tourism. Elisabeth, the woman who had brought the glasses and sewing kits, gave me very clear instructions with what to do with the remaining glasses at the end of our trip. “I want the glasses to go to women to help them sew their molas. As a woman who sews and wears glasses this is very important to me.” What Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche had written came to mind, “There’s no difference between us.” Once the group had left Nemesio and I continued on to a community called Nurdup for a visit. Not wanting to disobey Elisabeths’ wishes I distributed the remaining pairs of glasses and sewing kits to the older women on the island. I only wish that they could have been there to see the smiles spread across the faces of the women upon seeing more clearly the beautiful intricate designs they had sewn onto their molas.

Trips with Ileneinakayak are a lot more than sea kayaking excursions to beautiful Caribbean islands. We look within ourselves to discover how much we have to share with other people. The joy we experience from simple acts of giving and sharing become a part of us. They become beautiful memories that inspire us to keep looking, to keep discovering and to keep giving and sharing.

Here are some other highlights from this wonderful trip:

And to finish it off, everybody’s favorite little Guna dancer (he’s 7!)

Last one. . . everybody’s second favorite little dancer (she’s 32!)

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Thanks for reading everybody! Come back for more:)

First trip of the season: An amazing sea kayaking adventure in Guna Yala, Panama

 

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Hola! Nuedi (Guna greeting)! I’ve just returned from the first sea kayaking trip of the season here in Guna Yala, Panama. Seven days of bliss in tropical paradise. I want to give enormous thanks to my clients Suzannah Sosman, Jeff Bounds, Shannon Eide, and Jared Martin for being spectacular people, always willing to engage fully in whatever situation we found ourselves with open minds and hearts. . and there were plenty of incredible and fun situations out there for us:) I couldn’t have dreamed up a better group of people to kick off the paddling season. Before sharing a few of the trip highlights with you, I want to invite you to my website www.ileneinakayak.com, where you will find information on how to book your next holiday in Panama or Alaska, where I guide when I’m not kickin’ it with the Guna in the Caribbean.

And now some trip highlights:

With a mixed group of kayaking experience, from none to hardcore whitewater paddler, we set off from Puerto Gardi, eager for our adventure. One of our shared goals was to enjoy as many interactions with the Guna as possible, and while paddling to our first island we were able to buy fresh fish from a few Guna teenagers.

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Traveling with our Guna kayak guide, Nemesio, allows us to have a lot more unique interactions with the Guna, such as visiting communities that are always curious about us and eager to check out our kayaks and gear. Below, Jared is quite the spectacle for Nemesio’s family. They laugh at our attempts to speak in Guna, especially when we refer to Jared as our “massi sibbu dummad”, which means “big white dude”. The rest of us are “mergi ome bibbi”, which means “small American women”. A trip to Guna Yala goes better with a fun sense of humor and the Guna are certainly not lacking in this.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile Jeff and Shannon chose to go fishing with the Guna on one of our favorite islands (we loved it so much we stayed for two nights) Suzannah, Jared, Nemesio, and I paddled to a community to learn the Guna Danza (traditional dance) and play with the Guna kids. It never takes long before we have a large entourage of little ones following us, holding our hands and yelling “hola, hola, hola” repeatedly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Here, Jared quickly learns how entertaining he is to a group of young boys. However, they were no match for Jared when he dropped his hands and they all went tumbling down, laughing. Imagine how many times Jared had to repeat this! In the meantime Suzannah and I got our Guna Danza on, after receiving our “uini” (the beautiful and colorful beads worn by the women up their arms and legs, pronounced “weenee)”.

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I don’t know if it’s my “mergi ome” luck, but my “sabured” (the colorful skirt that the Guna women wear) always manages to fall off while I’m dancing, which adds additional entertainment value, as if that was needed to the already entertaining display of us trying to follow the intricate patterns that make up each Guna Danza. As I said, one must maintain a sense of humor! I’m no newbie to the Danza, so I have learned (the embarrassing way) to wear shorts under my skirt! There’s only so many times your skirt can fall off!

After winning the community over with our incredible dance skills, the fun continued! Jared gave kayak rides to his crew of giggling little boys, who delighted in tipping over his kayak, while Suzannah distributed paper and coloring pencils that she brought to a crowd of eager artists. One-by-one they turned in their masterpieces to her, as their mothers laughed at their frolicking and happy children.

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It always amazes and inspires me how close you can grow to people who are seemingly living a very different life, and who also speak a very different language. During our three days with this kind and welcoming Guna family we shared meals, including the traditional Guna dish “Dule Masi” (a fish stew with coconut and a type of hard banana), flew kites, went fishing Guna-style, played soccer, cuddled with puppies, practiced yoga, relaxed in hammocks, snorkeled, and drank coco locos (fresh coconut with rum).

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Did I mention the sharing of undiscovered talents? Who would have thought that Jeff was a master coconut juggler! It’s a good thing I found this awesome helmet on the beach!

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Our time with our new Guna family came to a close as we packed our boats and moved on to the next tropical island. . rather, sailed on!

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Determined as they were Jeff and Shannon sailed the entire way to our final island, where we stayed up late into the night laughing, sharing stories and recalling all of the fun and memorable moments of the trip.

We reluctantly returned to Panama City to celebrate the holidays Panamanian-style, which apparently involves an endless display of fireworks and music blasting from all directions! Jared had such a great time with the Guna family that he actually returned to stay with them for a few more days bringing them lots of gifts including fireworks, chickens (not living! The Guna eat so much fish that whenever they have the chance they request chicken), art supplies, and lots of kites!

Thanks for sharing this amazing and memorable journey with ileneinakayak! I hope you enjoyed the photos and stories. I hope to see you in Panama for your own adventure in Guna Yala! Don’t forget to check out the Gallery on my website for videos from this trip and others, including coconut juggling, Guna Danza and more!

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Yoga & Sea Kayaking Retreat: More Important Than Ever

Hello, greetings, saludos, nuedi (Guna greeting)!

I hope this finds you happy and healthy. I know “happy” might be a bit of a stretch depending on your political stance and country of residence. I am not much for politics, nor do I ever post political materials. . . however. . . being an American I cannot ignore the turbulence going on in my country right now. Regardless of your stance, there seems to be a general feeling of anxiety and discontent in the U.S. right now. Transitions can be hard enough as it is, and many people appear to be dreading the current one more than usual.

This being said, it is more important than ever to slow down, search within and find peace, openness, gratitude, and love. When these are tapped into on the inside, there grows the freedom and willingness to spread them to the outside. These qualities are already there, waiting for you to discover them. The more individuals who practice this, the better we will all be! We could all use to deepen our breaths. In fact, treat yourself and take the deepest breath that you’ve taken all day. . . go on, do it. Aaaah, don’t you feel better already?

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There are also great benefits to stepping outside of the situation (and the U.S.) to gain a fresh and clear perspective, while immersing yourself in a serene, happy and healthy environment. What better place than a tranquil yoga retreat and tropical paradise?! I can’t think of anywhere more amazing (because sea kayaking in Alaska is really cold this time of year. Brrrr:). The combination of yoga, massage, sea kayaking, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and lounging in a hammock as it’s gently swayed by a warm tropical breeze, will do wonders for your body, mind and spirit.

I encourage you to take a deep breath (again and again and again) and choose to do something good for yourself (like book this retreat!), so that your love and light may grow within and shine on others. Follow the links for specific retreat details and costs. We are offering an early-bird special if you book by December 6th, which is right around the corner.

I send love and peace to you all. . . no matter your political stance.

Love Yoga? Love Travel? Love adventure?

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I do too! Sea kayaking is also something that I love very much. I’ve been practicing yoga for about two years, mostly on my own. I’ve been to very few classes. Actually, YouTube has provided me with wonderful teachers.I find that yoga and sea kayaking complement each other wonderfully. Sea kayaking, which utilizes a lot of core, can be strenuous, but also very meditative and rhythmic. Strength, stamina and flexibility help with everything.

This is why I’ve reached out to a wonderful yoga instructor, Lisa Nicole Tai, to create an exciting offering that combines yoga, sea kayaking, travel, and Guna culture. (If you’re reading this blog and haven’t checked out the rest of my new website, please check it out. You’ll find more information about who the Guna are and why Guna Yala is such a spectacular place to visit.)

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I met Lisa last spring in Santa Catalina, Panama (on the Pacific side), where she was instructing yoga at a lovely hotel called La Buena Vida. I was there visiting a kayak guide friend of mine, Liz, and wanted to join a few yoga classes. La Buena Vida has a gorgeous yoga space, overlooking the mountains, and I highly recommend it. The food at the restaurant is fresh and delectable and the whole place is covered in gorgeous mosaics. . . so awesome!

I attended two classes with Lisa. That was all I had time for! I loved her teaching style, her soothing voice, her hands-on approach to yoga, and her attitude. I thought hey, a yoga/kayak trip would be amazing! I’m grateful that Lisa was interested. So here we are, planning for this new adventure. We are in the process of contacting a beautiful yoga retreat center outside Panama City. I’ll post an update when we have confirmation. If the center is a no-go, yoga on a tropical white sandy beach in Guna Yala it is! Either way, contact me if you’re interested in this positively life-impacting journey. We’re planning on offering this in January. Specific dates to come. Let me know your availability. And if this winter doesn’t fit into your schedule, keep it at the top of your list for next season:) Thank you!

Meet Lisa:

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A practitioner of yoga since 2001, Lisa Nicole Tai is a Sivananda-Certified Yoga Instructor, as well as a graduate of the Hatha, Vinyasa, and therapeutic-based Yoga Space Teacher Training program. Her passion for helping others, especially with relaxation and self-care, led her to become a Thai Massage Practitioner, Holistic Nutritionist, and Holistic Esthetician. She teaches various private, semi-private, and group classes, and hosts retreats and workshops.

A hands-on teacher who believes in the healing power of therapeutic touch, Lisa brings elements of Thai massage into all of her classes. Guided by the Buddhist practice of metta (loving-kindness), she creates a supportive and safe environment in which to explore and grow. Her classes focus on breathing, alignment, mindful movement, and love! She sees yoga asana as a vehicle for mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual transformation. A creative and inspired teacher, she has developed many unique offerings, including a fun and invigorating class called HouseYoga. Over the years, she has become attracted to more therapeutic forms of yoga, such as Restorative and Yin, and she is excited to share their benefits.

As a Women’s Studies graduate of York University and former board member of the York Women’s Centre, she has a particular interest in women’s health. Teacher and student, Lisa is consistently striving to explore and deepen her practice. Her goal is to make yoga and yoga-based healing practices as accessible as possible to diverse populations of people.

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