Tag Archives: Greece

Post-Paros Musings

I am sitting poolside at Margarita Studios, the location where we have spent the last ten days practicing yoga, sharing meals, laughing, bonding and basking in the Parian energy that keeps me coming back with different groups of friends and students year after year. It is always emotional for me to say goodbye to the people with whom community was built during these events, and this moment is no different. The degree of joy that came from every person throughout our stay and the oversaturation of beauty that we soaked up from this island is simply not communicable through mere words. This time we have shared together is a concentrated moment of intense radiance, one that every one of us will be illuminated by when our thoughts meander back to our time together. 


Once again I am struck by how fortunate I am to be able to bring people from all over the world to experience the incomparable beauty that is Paros. It is because of how affected this year’s group is by what they’ve absorbed here that I have decided to announce the 2017 Yoga Vacation on the Greek Island of Paros. For all of you who have been following our time here through social media and have been feeling drawn to what you’ve seen, begin your planning now! We will return here September 9-19, 2017. Shared/double occupancy – $1550+taxes, single occupancy – $1950+taxes…AND, there will be a $100 discount offered to every person who has previously joined our groups over the last 5 years! Block the time off work, start shopping for your airline tickets and get ready for an experience you will never forget! Contact me at bram.levinson@gmail.com for info or to register!


To all of you whose energies still surround me as I sit here in the space that we have all imprinted through this trip, please know how grateful I am to have been able to observe your experience in Paros. Seeing that joy and experience of wonderment is exactly why I work so hard to make these journeys possible. Sharing meals and laughs, in the spirit of family, was a privilege, and I’m looking forward to reuniting in the near future. 


With love, Bram

From Paros to Paris Pt 4

imageI’ve opened my iPad before the seat belt signs have been turned off, eager to write this as soon as the wheels of the plane I’m on have lifted off of Greek soil. So far there’s no sign of my infraction risking the lives of my co-passengers, and so I’ll keep going with the assumption that this blog post is meant to be pounded out now 🙂

The Paros retreat ended today on a great note with one last breakfast en groupe. One last morning to feast on the greatest 10% fat yoghurt (that NO North American company can ever duplicate as they reduce calories and fat, despite the trend to market yoghurt as “Greek Style”), the most delectable watermelon, bananas, pears, tomatoes and cucumbers, and the revelation that is Portokalopita (look it up…you won’t regret it). Our group splintered off as we drove away in our separate vehicles, and continued to do so as our separate ferries whisked us away onto the next step of our journeys.

This retreat has been a really special one, in much different ways than previous ones. This group was the first to want to be together almost all the time. This group was the first to express the desire to have the classes brought to an intermediate level. And this group was the first that saw three people stay for the first week, and three more come for the last 4-5 days. Regardless of all of that, this group wasn’t completely unique to past ones, as once again, a fantastic group of like-minded souls came together from different spots around the globe to bask in the soul-stirring energy that is only found in Greece.

Every person who participated in this retreat, regardless of where they came from or why they were there, walked away with more than they arrived with. From having a clearer idea of where they want their life to go, to knowing that being away from family was a true test of patience, these people gained something from the experience. And all the while, around our asana and iRest classes, they were given the platform from which they could jump off into the unknown and explore the miracles that are found in Paros. Hunting down new beaches on a daily basis, descending on the city centres of Naoussa and Parikia, visiting a local winery…there was stuff to do, even in the remoteness of this island paradise. Throughout all of it, we all knew that no matter what our days consisted of, we were coming home. Home to Margarita Studios, and home to Stella Fyrogeni.

Stella runs her hotel with one intention: to make sure everyone staying there is happy. If that means whipping up a last-minute meal for someone not drawn in by that evening’s delectable dish, so be it. If that means giving someone another room that better suits their needs, so be it. If that means driving into the port to drop off or pick someone up, so be it. If that means preparing a meal based on requests from her guests, so be it. This woman goes above and beyond what’s necessary, and so it comes as no surprise that she will celebrate her 25th year with Margarita Studios in 2014. She was a mother to us all, even if only for 10 days, but a mother nonetheless.

I didn’t find Stella or her hotel on my own. I had help from Michael Shepherd, who after living on the island of Paros for 10 years, familiarized himself with local businesses, their owners and their customs. Not only did he take care of the logistics of accommodation, meals and transportation for us, he does the same regardless of activity and interest on any Greek island. He also works at providing personalized travel guides for Greece, Ireland and Czech Republic. Michael brought his own signature style to the retreat by taxiing people around and organizing a couple of meals for us at alternate locations around the island, and I can honestly say that the retreat would have not been the same without his input.

As the second and last retreat of 2014 starts to recede in our calendars, we know that it steeps in our awareness and will inflect future moments with its images, sounds, tastes, smells, and sensations. Anyone who has visited the Greek islands is all too aware of how the light falls on the landscape after 4pm, how the vividness of the bougainvillea jumps out to meet you wherever you can find it, and how the sun and salt-drenched air softly envelopes you regardless of the time of day. These memories serve to not only inform the future, but change how we define what we know by expanding our frame of reference. They serve to provide new heights of what we know beauty to be, and in the case of this (and previous) retreat groups, they also serve to provide new heights of how we define community.

Those who weren’t in Santorini with us in 2011, Croatia in 2012, Istanbul in April 2013 or Paros over the last 10 days won’t ever be able to fully understand what it’s been like in these albeit briefly adopted families. The essence of the groups isn’t only comprised of the location we live in – it’s built on the personalities that inform it. Every single person who participates brings their own uniqueness to the moment, and without them, the moment wouldn’t be what it is destined to be.

For every single one of you who is on your way back from Paros, know that you’re taking a little bit of every other person’s energy from the group with you. Thank you for making the retreat what it was.

For every single one of you who has come on any of my retreats, thank you for proving me right when I insisted on ignoring that inner voice of doubt that almost talked me out of holding my inaugural solo retreat in Santorini in 2011.

You are all family, regardless of how long we spent with each other and whether or not we stayed in touch.

The retreats for 2014 are being organized, bit by bit, and are being tweaked based on past retreats to ensure that they live up to the standards I know will help bring fresh insight and perspective to the participants. Full details will be made public when they’re finalized, and so in the interim, feel free to visit the Facebook page with pics from this latest jaunt, and I’ll post again later next week from Paris.

From Paros to Paris Pt 3

imageThe first rain to fall in 6 months has passed through Paros over the last 3 hours and has left a warm,  blustery wind in its wake. We’re halfway through this retreat, and we are surrounded by beauty. The landscape here is absolutely divine. The shades of blue that are everywhere, from the sky to the ocean, are indescribable and inimitable. The food is literally overflowing with fullness, richness, tastiness…a veritable multi sensory experience. The kindness from the locals is exemplary, something we should all be aligning ourselves with. These people give. Of spirit, of time, of food, of comfort and of kindness, these people are givers. We are surrounded by light and beauty and each other, and the bonding amongst the members of this group and the people who have welcomed us to this hotel is intensifying daily.

We will have a day-long boat tour of Antiparos tomorrow, during which we’ll stop at various beaches and take an hour to practice asana on one of them. I’m seeing, once again, how overflowing with all the things that truly matter these retreats are. I’m seeing, once again, how they leave each one of us imprinted with the experience that collectively enjoying everything that life has to offer. As all of you who have come on retreat with me are aware of, these events stay with you vividly, the images and memories of which never fade in vibrancy. Each time I realize the power of these retreats, I find myself floored by the position I have come to be in. I work hard to make my life and the life of others full and rich and complete and full of abundance. And when I accomplish what I set out to, it leaves me silent. And stunned. And grateful.

If I died this minute, I would have a smile on my face and peace in my heart. I can’t begin to express the magnitude of how humbled I am to find myself, after years of dedication and perseverance, in the position where I’m affecting the lives and happiness of others. Hopefully these words are a good start.

Sending light from Greece…

 

From Paros to Paris Pt 2

20130911-062244.jpgIt’s sunrise in Greece. I had this thought earlier this morning, after sleeping for 5 hours during my first night here in Paros: I love my life. A massive event took place last night as I ate dinner with the small group of eager students who had arrive a day before the start of this retreat, an event that, with little fanfare, was celebrated with raised glasses of wine and kind words from the gang…and at the risk of leaving you hanging, I’ll stay mum on said event until the time is right.

The event itself is irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. The second I reflected on how much I love my life, I realized that it wasn’t MY life that I was feeling bowled over by, it was the possibilities contained within life itself. By calling it MY life, I felt like I was fraudulently claiming proprietary rights over it, which is ridiculous.

I’m currently living a period in my life where the possibilities that life has shown me could be more than mere possibilities are impressive and surprising and nurturing and humbling. These possibilities are not solely available to me, I’ve just made it my mission in life to explore the boundaries of what’s possible, of what could potentially redefine what I had foolishly believed life to be. These possibilities are not only available to every single one of us regardless of what colour our skin is, how much money we have in the bank, what are our education looks like on paper, and what language we speak…these possibilities are waiting. For each and every one of us.

That’s what I love. You should too.

From Paros to Paris Pt 1

20130910-223326.jpgIt’s 5:14 PM and I’m on a ferry cruising from Athens towards the Cycladic Island Chain to bring us to the island of Paros, where I’ll be giving the second European Yoga Retreat for 2013. I won’t write too much – I’m much too aware of where I am, of the rolling Mediterranean waves on either side of me, and of the silhouettes of islands rolling by in their salt-and-sun obscured haze.

I’m back in Greece. I’ve come home again. Back to where I first got the nudge from the universe I had asked for back in 2008, when I decided to chuck it all in and leave my career behind because I wasn’t happy with or proud of how I was earning a living. Greece is the one spot in the world where I feel most connected to my spirit. It’s where I feel most connected to rawness of the elements, and where I feel my body exhale and let go of all tensions, more so than at any other time or in any other place.

I’m with Stephane, James and Katie. We landed together and spent our day together, transferring from Athens Airport to the Rafina Port, assuming that the 6 hours we had between arriving and departing for Paros would be taxing. It’s always a test in staying conscious after flying overnight. That first day after a break in the typical sleep cycle is always peppered with sensory overload…squinting at the light that’s just a tad too bright, shrinking from the noise of the foreign sounds that seem to follow you wherever your path leads you. The assumption that today would be a challenge was unfounded. We caught the shuttle bus to the port easily, chowed down on a Greek salad that reminded us what REAL tomatoes, olives and feta cheese was, and then dragged our luggage the 50 metres to the beach. Clothes hurriedly flew off our bodies, and we launched ourselves into the ocean…and time stood still. It was a perfect moment. One to wash off the residue of the flight, one in which the others tasted their first drop of vacation, and yet another one for me in which I found myself tasting the salt of the sea as my body floated weightless, thinking, “I am at work.”

We splashed around for another hour and then walked back to where the ferry picked us up, and here we are, flying through the magnificence that is the Mediterranean towards our home for the next 11 days. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone together, to seeing the faces of those from past retreats, as well as those whose faces I’ve never seen.

The adventure is just beginning.
20130910-223459.jpg

Yoga Retreat on the Greek Island of Paros

Paros4

I have always tended to work in 5-year chunks of time. From buying and selling property to carving out my niche in yoga, I have typically allowed myself a full 5 years to execute what I needed to, knowing that through hard work, dedication, and respecting the process, I would find myself exactly where I needed to be. Without trying too hard to see the end in the beginning, I have learned that the 5-year allowance always brings me to where I can continue to move forward, even if it’s not where I would have envisioned myself.

I told myself late in 2008 that a big change was coming, that I was going to drop everything I had built career-wise up to then and focus on foraging my way to a place where I could help people heal using yoga asana and philosophy. I also told myself that if after 5 years I simply wasn’t content with how things were evolving, I would rethink my plans. Little did I know how authentically I would be pursuing and beginning to live my dharma, and how after even one year I was hope-FULLY devoted to my life’s work.

It’ll be 5 years in November since that fortuitous chapter of my life, and 2013 is indeed the year of fruition. Traveling to Calgary and being received so warmly by the Bodhi Tree Yoga community…my jaunt to Kripalu this Sunday to get my Level 1 iRest® Yoga Nidra training…this summer’s Montreal Yoga Festival…the Wanderlust Whistler Festival…the Weekend Yoga & Personal Development Retreat that I am blessed to be giving with my mentor and friend Jennifer Maagendans…the Yoga City Break in Istanbul that I just returned from and fear putting words to so as not to diminish how truly perfect and magnificent and beaming-with-light it was…these are the just the things on my radar. There is much more waiting to be revealed to me, but there is a new blip on said radar that I am adding to the list of incredible events for 2013: Yoga Retreat on the Greek Island of Paros.

I have known that I would eventually organize and lead 2 retreats annually, and so this year is the year for it. One City Break and one beach retreat. Both set in locations that allow participants to feel truly away-from-home, both with dramatically surreal landscapes. I am returning to Greece simply because of its beauty. And its beaches. And its food. And its warmth (temperature and otherwise). Greece has been so good to my students and myself (ask anyone from the 2011 Yoga Retreat in Santorini), and I have been told by a few Greek friends that Paros is a true gem in the Cycladic Greek Island Chain, and so voilà! Here we go 🙂

The retreat will be a 10-day event – arriving on the island on Wednesday, September 11 and meeting as a group that evening, holding the last morning class on Saturday, September 21. We will be staying at a family-run, environmentally-conscious hotel minutes away from the beach, and where 3 meals daily will be prepared for us. Shuttle service to and from Paros airport or the ferry port is included in the price, as are the 90-minute daily morning classes, intended to instill everyone with clarity and perspective to fully be able to live the retreat to its fullest. Things to do while on retreat include excursions to neighbouring islands (which include Santorini), Greek cooking classes, going for dinner at different locations on the island (already included in the retreat cost), or simply listening to the waves of the ocean crash on the shore.

I am doing this retreat simply from a place of gratitude. Now don’t misunderstand me – this is my business and passion, my livelihood, my raison-d’être, if you will. I hold these retreats to be able to show participants how majestic our world is, and how capable they are of taking a decision to create a moment in their lives that they’ll never forget and always cherish. But I do it all from a place of gratitude. I want to share my passion for yoga and travel, and this is year 5. Join me in Greece as I ride it out as best I can, with humility, love, and gratitude.

For complete details, please visit my website here: http://www.bramlevinsonyoga.com/retreats.html.

Blindsiding Ourselves

How many of you have ever compared yourself to the people around you? How many times have you seen your friends accomplish incredible things and then compare what you’ve done in your life to their accomplishments? How many of you have ever felt crappy about yourself because your siblings or friends make more money than you do?

Four years ago I went to Santorini, Greece for the first time, and the experience was so incredible that I made sure that the first yoga retreat I ever organized on my own would happen there. Those of you who have been there know that Santorini is one of the most magical places on earth – in fact, being there almost feels like you’ve left earth, like you’re on another planet. The geography and landscapes are absolutely surreal, and the panoramas that are found there essentially consist of a whole lot of blue dotted by the white houses hanging off the cliffs. The island made such a huge impression on me that for at least a year after I went there, I found myself comparing it to wherever else I traveled. In 2009 I went to Spain and traveled the country constantly comparing everything Spain had to offer to Santorini’s treasures, and in the process, deprived myself of truly experiencing Spain’s essence. From the food to the beaches, nothing could live up to the magnificence that I had found in Santorini. It was only while visiting my last destination in Spain, Sevilla, that I snapped out of it and realized that if I kept comparing everywhere I went to Santorini, I would be setting myself up to be disappointed. It’s obviously not surprising that Sevilla proved to be my favorite Spanish city.

I came back last week from Germany after leading a yoga retreat in Croatia, and the last city I visited before coming home was Berlin. Before I go on, let me say one thing: I never wanted to go to Germany. I never thought it had anything as a country that I’d want to see, and I, on some level or another, didn’t want to visit the country that I associated with the mass genocide of millions of people. I ended up choosing to go to Germany to once again show myself that I don’t know everything about everything, and that I couldn’t let the sins of previous generations forever stain what could potentially be a great country. I was wrong. I loved Germany. More specifically, I loved Berlin. Loved. Like, I’d pack my stuff and move there in a heartbeat, kind of love. If you haven’t been there, make sure you go.

In the center of Berlin is a tower, similar to the CN Tower in Toronto and the Space Needle in Seattle. Once I saw it, I started drawing up comparisons in my head of the 3 cities, but quickly checked myself, aware of my tendency to cheat a destination of it’s individuality by comparing it to other places, and subsequently fell in love with it.

Being witness to the experience got me thinking about how conditioned we are to categorize and compare who we meet, where we go, and what we experience to people, places and experiences already in our frame of reference. We are used to seeing images of what famous people look like and then beating the shit out of ourselves because we don’t look the same. Instead of celebrating our loved ones’ successes with abandon, we, on some level or another, compare what they’ve accomplished to what we have or have not. We never broach the subject of income with people because that would immediately bring us to a place where we’re asking ourselves why we’re not making the same amount OR feeling superior because we’re making more than others do. From our homes to our clothes, from how often we travel to how often we eat in restaurants, everything gets measured up. On some level, this constant comparing and contrasting becomes a tool for control: we identify, classify, and discriminate all the criteria until we’ve put everything into a nice, compartmentalized category so that we can forget about it and move on, confident in the knowledge that it all makes sense to us. We use it to feed our egos, and we use it to make ourselves feel better about why we don’t live the lives we once hoped we would. We live with the illusion that we have control over that which really is uncontrollable, and the truth of the matter is that we are wasting our time. We are wasting our energy. We are robbing ourselves and others of the individuality that makes us who we are, all to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

With all this mulling over in my head while in Berlin, I wrote down something that I wanted to share with you: Stop trying to control what is uncontrollable – you live with the illusion of control as you choose what to keep to yourself and what to make visible to others, what to say and what to hold back. The truth is that we have control over very little. As soon as we let go of the illusion that allows us to believe that our actions keep everything tidy and together, we will feel that same letting go in our body’s physiology and our mental energy.

Yoga students are always looking at each other, at magazines, or at DVD’s and comparing their own practice to the one on display. It’s good to have an idea of what a posture or sequence can look like, but it’s also important to recognize that the physical aspect of yoga is secondary to one’s breathing and overall awareness. We need to stop letting ourselves be second best. Every time we hold ourselves up to a standard that was never meant to be the example, we set ourselves up to fail. We willingly accept that we are inferior, allowing ourselves to be smaller and less empowered than we should  be. If you’ve ever read or seen an interview with an Olympic athlete, you’ll know that the only competition that these people have is themselves. They don’t gauge where they are performance-wise based on where their peers are – they do their absolute best and channel all their efforts into that. We need to learn from this. Stop looking at what the people around you are doing/wearing/eating/driving/accomplishing and look at what you have to offer. Do your own thing. Go your own way. You are more capable than you know. You are more talented than you know. You are more of EVERYTHING than you know. It’s time to stop doubting that and accept that by comparing and criticizing and judging, you are wasting time. We are all holding onto darkness and negativity when we should be propelled forward and onward by light. Tap into it and let it show you where you’re supposed to channel your efforts. Do your best, and that’s all anyone else can ask of you. It’s all you could ever ask of yourself.