A SERIES ABOUT WOMEN LIVING SOLO IN THE AKUMAL AREA – Part 5
On The Flip Of A Coin
I drive down a jungle dirt road near Akumal riddled with potholes from a recent rain only to reach massive wrought-iron gates which I must open manually. Ahead of me is a winding jungle path. As I look up after closing the large gates, I see someone approaching with four large dogs on ropes leading the way. After greeting the dogs first (how can I not?), we introduce each other and then continue to talk about the canines clamoring for my attention. All rescues – two with serious heart conditions that require daily medication, one with brain damage, and the fourth is new to the brood and shy. “They found me,” she says, literally for two of them, and later on I discover how profound this statement really is in relation to people in Akumal – they find her.
We sit in her new rental apartment which is really a stand-alone casita with earthy decor, tapestries, and natural elements such as a stone wall. Beautiful brass Himalayan Singing Bowls of varying sizes are lined up on a gorgeous wood table and, as I learn later, are used in Vibrational Sound Healing. They are placed at different points on the physical body and played, allowing their vibrations to naturally clear and balance the energy within, resulting in deep sensations of physical and emotional release and overall feelings of relaxation and well-being. Before knowing anything about her, I get a sense that the surroundings are in perfect harmony with this lady!
Outside, wind chimes sing ever so gently hanging from the terrace as butterflies fly in and out of the wall of windows that are pulled open to allow the breeze in. It feels like she’s lived here a million years, yet it was a sudden, unexpected move only one month earlier from a previous home just down the road.
From Baltimore, Maryland, she worked as a clinical psychologist in a residential treatment facility for high-risk adolescents, and on the weekends, with teenagers and families in a private practice. Keeping this pace and doing this type of high acuity work takes its toll emotionally and physically on the best and brightest, and she was no exception. After six years she felt “overworked, tired, burned out”.
Like anyone who might find themselves in that situation she and a good friend decided to take a vacation. Having heard of Tulum, but also wanting to visit Puerto Rico, she flipped a coin to decide their vacation fate. Little did she know back then how monumental this mere flip of a coin would be. “Heads – Puerto Rico. Tails – Tulum … and it landed on tails,” she laughs. Already both yoga enthusiasts, it seemed like a perfect fit.
“We arrived with our backpacks … and we came to that break in the ocean when you can first see it. I will never forget it. It took my breath away, and I fell in love with Tulum, right there … I knew I was in the right place.”
I know what you’re thinking – this is supposed to be about women in Akumal, not Tulum. Hold on, we’ll get there!
She describes their arrival at their hotel that day with astonishing clarity. “Everything was in slow motion … there was a man sifting sand and a girl came in her little harem pants and she looked like she’d been napping in a hammock all day.” She fell in love with the environment: only a few hours of electricity, no phones, no television, no air conditioning, no neighbors, candles for light, and the ocean. I can tell by the look in her eyes she can literally see the memory and it’s clear this was a pivotal moment in her life. “That whole trip is what is called a flashbulb memory”, a recollection so burned in the mind finite details are as clear as the lines on your hand. They spent those days wondering the beach, laying in the sun, indulging at local eateries, and doing nothing. It was exactly what they needed!
Over the years, the duo visit Tulum many times. Inevitably the trip came that solidified her need to be here permanently. The only problem: how to make it happen, when one has a successful career back home?
She had an interest in the indigenous culture in Mexico, and in how the Maya and Aztecs treated mental illness. The thought crossed her mind, “I can come here and also learn and study and explore avenues of ancestral medicine and how they conceptualize and work with what we call today mental illness.” Through this, she could also explore her own healing journey. It sounded like a thoughtful, professional decision – they would quit their jobs and come back down for six months.
At the end of that fateful trip, she arrived at the Cancun airport carousel to pass over her bag and stood weeping. Recalling the man at the counter saying, “Oh, you must have been to Tulum … For $29.99 you can change your flight.” She fought the idea knowing she had a responsibility to her employer which she voiced to the man. “You can just take this cell phone, and you can just go over there and call them and just tell them that you’re not ready to come home yet.” So she did, and returned to Tulum that very day!
During that extended stay, another idea came to her – a much more practical reason for quitting her successful career and moving to the beach permanently when compared to the idea of studying the indigenous modalities of treating mental illness. “I was going to come down here and start a coffee business.” And the reason was very real “There must be something more than Nescafe out here!” When telling people of the plan “everyone thought I was insane.”
Meanwhile back in the United States, applications for jobs on the west coast sent out before the trip had yielded interest. During the time when she was entirely off grid, the job opportunity of a lifetime appeared, then disappeared, unbeknownst to her. Instead of focusing on the negative, she chose to see the upside, “That seals the deal, I’m going to Tulum.”
When asked if she has always been able to see that events will unfold as they should – that having the man at the airport push her in the direction of extending her stay which resulted in her losing her dream job, which opened the door for her to see the possibility of moving to Mexico – was fate at work? She responds, “My connective-ness to … the intuition, and following the signs and the synchronicities, absolutely.”
The rest of her family and friends didn’t have that same feeling. “It goes against the grain of what you’re supposed to do … Here I am saying ‘No, I’m going to go to Mexico and give everything away and sell coffee and sit under a palm tree and contemplate life and take it easy’.” We laugh at how funny it all sounds now. She told her family she was only going for six months, but she knew in her own mind that she would be gone for good!
She arrived February 14, 2011, started her coffee business, becoming the first to have a coffee press in the area. After a time, however, the difficulties and challenges of starting her dream business became daunting and within three months she gave it up. Let’s face it, the reality of living and working here is vastly different from vacationing, and it becomes alarmingly clear as it does for all of us who make the move.
Still in the “tourist illusion phase” a period of soul searching followed. She needed time to go through the transition of living as a tourist, to living as an expat who needed to work to support herself. Lunch with a good friend at Om would be the chance encounter that would pivot her life in an entirely new direction. The universal forces were at work again! The owner of Om invited her to work at the hotel in a variety of capacities, which she did for very little wages, rent free, for about a year.
The next four to five years she spent working at several hotels doing hotel and restaurant management. At one point it dawned upon her that the yoga teachers working at these hotels made more money and worked fewer hours. She had been pondering getting her yoga teacher training and now seemed like the right time. Shortly after receiving her certification she began teaching at the very hotels she once worked. She believes that the connectivity of her experiences began working in her favor once again.
Then in 2015 a huge opportunity came her way – she was hired to teach yoga exclusively at Azulik, one of the premier boutique hotels on the Tulum beach road. Working seven days a week for four years, she had a profoundly wonderful experience assisting guests on their path towards reconnection, and teaching yoga and meditation to a long list of celebrities and stars. She retired this past November 2019 from teaching publicly in the hotel zone in order to focus on expanding her own business, Euphoric Yoga & Wellness, and to return to practicing psychotherapy.
Over the past year, her practice as a psychotherapist came back into being. “I was called [back to it] … by the people. I kept seeing such a need for people here who were searching for a therapist, an English speaking therapist … I had been doing occasional emergency calls for people in crisis, to hotels, through people who knew I was a psychologist.” She felt herself stepping back into the role again as a therapist. It grew organically, and started to unfold through social media.
Her business Euphoric Yoga & Wellness came into being about five years ago, but didn’t really get it’s footing until she found a location in which it could flourish. Moving from Tulum, where she’d spent so much of her time during the early years of being in Mexico, was coming to an end and a new era in her life was about to begin. It would take hold in the jungles of Akumal!
It was an old, stone house with a studio attic space where she could teach her own classes, host workshops and retreats, and lead 200-Hour Yoga Alliance Certified Tantra Hatha & Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Trainings. “Tantra yoga, in a nutshell, is a lifestyle. It is a way of living that focuses on conscious awareness, observation and developing our ability to stay in the present moment, no matter what is happening around us … In a physical practice, we focus on expanding and liberating our physical bodies through the breath in traditional yoga postures … there are a lot of other meditative practices, exercises and techniques that we apply to become more consciously aware in every moment of our day.”
Up until then, she had been attending many ceremonies in “temazcal”, or sweat-lodge, and was particularly moved by the ceremony led by Victor Medina, a local temazcalero originally from outside Mexico City. The traditional ceremony that Victor guides is very therapeutic, focusing on physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
When asked what this process in the temazcal feels like, she says, “Well, its HOT! But it’s the heat that helps us to detox the physical body, face our fears and release our emotions. And Victor takes us right to it [helping] us to verbalize and process our worries, pains and discomfort, and to work through it, very gently, very beautifully … And there is a feeling of joy and happiness and release and ‘we made it!’ Success! Experiencing a temazcal with him was a life defining shift in my journey of where I was and who I was and where I was going.” So moved by this experience, she thought, “We need to have more of this.” Referring to the temazcal, “Let’s put one in my front yard.”
She asked Victor if he would build a sweat-lodge at her home and his response, “Well, it’s not everyday that a gringa asks me, so maybe we should sit and talk about why you want that.” It wasn’t a slam-dunk. “He said to me, ‘We don’t just go around building temazcals and having ceremonies. Do you want to learn? Do you want to actually have this to help heal you in your journey?’ And the answer was yes.” And so the temazcal was built. “We wanted to have authentic [ceremonies], holding true to the tradition of the culture, but also with a focus on emotional health and well-being.”
When she moved from the old stone house one month ago, the temazcal was taken down and burned as an offering to the land. A new temazcal has been built at Victor’s home in Chemuyil, and this is where the ceremonies will continue to take place as they have once a week for the past three years.
She feels the work with the temazcal has “been very transformative for me and for guiding my path. It helped me to realize that I could really … stand on my own, in my own practice.” When asked what that must feel like, “Extremely empowering … It’s taken a lot of self-work to get to this point of … [of] knowing who I am, of feeling proud of who I am, of knowing what I have to offer.”
When talking about the old stone house that gave life to so many years of her work healing others, she has realized the house merely supported her work, and it is the work itself that made the difference, not the building it took place in.
In terms of being on her own in Mexico, we talk about how this journey has truly been a solo experience, and that in essence she really isn’t alone. It’s been her intuition – her “inner knowing” – that has been with her the entire way. “I’m always listening to my own internal voice. There are so many times on this journey that I could have listened to the other voice, the voice of my ego saying ‘you can’t do this, go back, nobody thinks you can do this’ … but there was always an inner voice saying ‘no, you belong here Laura, this is your home, you can find your way here’.”
When I asked what allowed her to begin listening to that voice she says, “Because I’m terribly unhappy when I’m listening to the other voice … It’s like a slow realization … of who I am, and my real shift with really knowing and really feeling secure. It’s been in the past two years that real shift has happened. But it took everything up to then … everything that transpired, every person I met, every interaction I had, to bring me here. It was necessary … there’s no other way out here than to work on yourself. You are forced to! Whether people think that when they come here or not … when the illusion goes of what we think it’s going to be like living here … when that disappears, you’re left with yourself.”
Thank-you Laura Segro, owner of Euphoric Yoga & Wellness, for your stirring words and sharing such a meaningful story.
You can read more about Laura online at https://euphoricyogatulum.com/about/ and you can reach her at:
Whatsapp: +52 1 984-234-4196