When I landed in Sofia on October 7, 2012 at 10pm, I emerged from customs grateful to see the YOGA WARRIOR sign held by a kindly driver, whose name I, unfortunately, could never remember.
Dark, no cars on the road, no sign of life, except a solitary figure under a bridge, (I wondered was this person for sale), I thought I may have landed in the Soviet Bloc, but then remembered it had been approximately 20 years since the end of Soviet communist repression.
Finally the van began the ascent up the mountain towards the Jasmin Hotel. Excited, hungry and a bit nervous about what lay ahead, I expected a Spartan cell-like room, and was delighted as I checked-in to find a jar of chicken noodle soup, thoughtfully left by Yariv, who had divined that I would be famished after the long flight from Los Angeles. This was only the first of so many kindnesses and gratitude-filled moments I would experience on my Yoga Warrior adventure. And, the room was perfect!
I slept well, and late, had the first of 13 terrific breakfasts in the restaurant; the scrambled eggs warm and filling, the two double cappuccinos that reminded me of my favorites in Italy, and was filled with hope — we are not in Soviet Russia!!!!! Yariv sent a driver to collect me and took me to what would be ‘home’ for the next two weeks at Nu Boyana Studios.
Once in the huge studios, I followed Yariv around like a new puppy, meeting people, renewing my friendship with the ever-cool and hip Daphne, drinking in the café, and then went on a discovery tour of the sets: New York streets, which felt like home; the Roman sets, which really felt like home; a walk in the forest, a meadow, and many of the work shops.
In fact, because my husband had spent so much time here shooting several films on these lots and sets, it really felt like a part of our family had helped to grow this magical factory of storytelling, and I was very happy for this home.
I didn’t get a roommate that night as I expected, though I had left welcoming roses culled from the balmy hotel garden and a pillow in between our spaces to smooth the transition from strangers to bedmates!
The next morning many of the people I had met in LA reassembled in the hotel lobby to begin the first of many shuttle rides to and from the studio. The days have since blurred together, but I remember the first class I participated in as a ‘script supervisor’, where I imagined myself as part of the filmmaking crew, as I admiringly watched all the lovely young people follow Rudy’ Mettia’s every word. I remember thinking ‘how strong and beautiful they all are!’
We had two sweet Bulgarian women doing make-up and hair. At first, everyone really indulged in the pampering, as if Angeline Jolie or Nicole Kidman were part of the Yoga Warrior shoot. And though I wanted to look my best, I quickly grew tired of the process and the sweat that gushed out of my pores in the heat of the indoor shoots, oozing make-up all over my face.
Our original dressing room was located right next to the 300 shoot where seemingly countless shirtless men in Roman dress flowed like a human river of flesh. Ah, I love ancient Rome!!
Yariv had invited me to teach a class to film, and since LA, I had been formulating a theme that could tie into the Yoga Warrior shoot. I developed my theme around the element of fire, the anatomy of the psoas muscle, grounding and centering into the earth, and keeping in mind some teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Do not the action for the fruit, but for the action itself’, ‘evenness and skillfulness in action’, and to be present always in the Self.
I had never practiced with this group of people, nor had I ever taken a class with Rudy. I fancy myself an advanced practitioner, and thus was very shocked during the very first class I participated in as a student, that I could not hold my poses as long as everyone else. I was not used to the particular sequence change, so I often stumbled through it, my thighs smoking from effort, my fragile little ego whining quietly. I knew I was ruining the whole shoot by not being able to keep up to everyone and sweating till the make-up made me look like Heath Ledger’s Joker.
After that shoot, I retired to a tree where the stray guard dogs gathered for their sun-filled naps. I meditated on all the space around me, filling my heart with gratitude at being on this adventure, and setting the intentions I had planned to teach for my own video deep in my heart. I was going in there to practice, participate, be present and do my best, not to look good, but for the practice itself. I would hold my poses and move through the practice as evenly and skillfully as I could. I would remember to keep my attention grounded in my breath and in my heart.
Though this was a practice different that what I am used to, I began to admire and respect the power it took to hold the body and mind steady. Rudy’s guidance inspired me to be there for him and for the group of kind young people who had traveled across the globe to be here.
I don’t think I physically grew stronger in that one day, but I know my mind became clearer, more focused, more aware, my breath more steady, my heart more open. I knew I would hold that intention to manifest the desire in my heart. And I knew I was going to hold those poses even if my thighs went up in flames.
I believe when we live our lives with the awareness of our body, our mind, our heart, not to mention practice our yoga in the same fashion, that we increase our ability to handle intensity. Practice helps us hold steady in changing and challenging times, and helps us to offer our best to others. Connecting to the power, the source of this embodied experience connects us to the greatest source of love and transformation. This force awakens our own true power and love. Connecting to this force is a crucial part of the inner journey, and no matter what kind of yoga one practices, as long as we practice with all our heart, we cannot help but evolve, transform and grow.
Our yoga practice is a practice of power, heat, intensity, tapas, the churning power of consciousness. It burns away obstacles, obstructions, refining the will, stabilizing the individual, not as a limited ego, but in all its infinite possibilities as an embodied spirit, thus supporting spiritual development. With this power comes a proportionate amount of responsibility – to use the power wisely, and for the benefit of all beings.
My time in Bulgaria, in the company of strong and steady individuals, in the practice of the many phases of the warrior, left me truly, a grateful and humble warrior. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have participated in this adventure, and to practice with every fiber in my body, what I teach to others.
My ‘Remarkable Facts’ List:
- All meals lead to the Shopska Salad.
- Churches are BIG in Sofia. Dour octagonal-shaped halos over holy men, with the only female in sight being the seemingly depressed and resigned-to-male-domination-looking Mary, holding baby Jesus before receiving his crown of thorns.
- Favorite historical fact: Bulgaria is the land of the Thracian Spartacus! In fact, he was born in the present day territory of Sandanski where I went on a mineral hot springs day-long odyssey. I found no hot springs.
- My road trip to the above mentioned Sandanski, approximately 100 miles south of Sofia, brought me to the realization that Bulgaria needs to invest in its transportation infrastructure and is in great need of highways and freeways.
- Bulgarians appear to smoke non-stop, about 100% more than Italians!
- All Bulgarians I met were very well-educated.
- Young people listen to ear-splitting techno-pop NON-STOP.
- Restaurants regal their diners in folkloric Bulgarian dance and song, perhaps to distract one from yet another shopska salad?
- Yoga barefoot in forest moss is incredibly exquisite and spiritual. I recommend it highly.
- I am incredibly grateful for this experience, in case I hadn’t mentioned that already.
I’ve since returned to Nu Boyana each year for Udaya‘s yoga shoots in 2013 & 2014. And soon I’ll be packing my bags once again to be a part of their next shoot coming up in August 2015. This never gets old.