The New Normal…For Now
I greet each arriving Wild Woman in the parking area for our Algonquin Edge Yoga Adventure Retreat, not with the usual hug or handshake. Instead, I wield a clipboard of questions. Fever? Chills? Headache? Coughing? Sneezing? Aches? Travelled out of the country in the past 14 days? That one always gets a chuckle, and often, “I wish. I was supposed to go to [fill in the blank] this summer.”
But, instead of Greece, Iceland, Argentina, Mongolia, Thailand, Bali, Italy, Galapagos, Ireland, India, Spain, Morocco… here we are, a small group of Wild Women from Southern Ontario, gathered together on the shores of Lake Kawayamog on the outskirts of Algonquin Park, north of Huntsville.
After the COVID checklist, I help each woman with her luggage, and we take a short walk to the cabins tucked amongst the mixed hardwood forest full of magic, and this time of year, amazing coloured mushrooms, in bright reds, oranges, yellows.
Each woman is assigned her own cabin or room unless sharing with someone already in her personal “bubble.” There’s a bit of free time to unpack and unwind before our orientation. Once settled, I invite each woman to take some time in nature and notice what draws her attention, and to feel grounded after the drive and arrival in a new place.
Once everyone has arrived, we gather for the group orientation, which now includes a section on protocols in place to help keep us all safer during the Covid-19 pandemic. We go through the use and cleaning of equipment, hand sanitizing stations, use of masks indoors, communal toilets and showers (some cabins have their own), and mealtimes. We then participate in a fun boundaries exercise to bring awareness to physical distancing and our own and others’ comfort zones.
Women partner up and stand several meters away from one another. They take turns advancing, step-by-step, toward one another until it feels close enough to each of them. If it feels too close, they take a step backward. We switch partners a few times to feel how it can change from woman to woman. Then, we do the exercise as a large group, in a circle, advancing toward the centre, stopping when we feel close enough for our comfort level.
During the weekend, if women choose to get closer to one another, perhaps sharing a hug or moment of physical comfort, that’s their choice, as long as consent is given and received. We invite conversation and encourage the women to feel empowered to speak up if they feel uncomfortable or have suggestions to improve our processes. We’re learning to adjust to this new normal, and we appreciate all feedback and suggestions that will help us all to feel safer.
We aim to flow with the rhythms of hearts, even as we disinfect and keep our distance!
Meals are outdoors on the lakefront when the weather is nice and indoors when it’s windy or raining. When we’re moving around inside, we wear masks but remove them to eat and drink.
For yoga, we downward dog outside on the dock or hilltop terrace whenever possible. When indoors, we wear masks when we’re active and upright, but remove them for savasana (relaxing at the end of class) or other supine postures. All yoga mats and props are re-used by the same women for the whole retreat, and they take them to their cabins between classes or store them in their personal area of the shared indoor space.
Paddling is a perfect physically distanced activity! Either tandem in a 16-foot canoe, or in separate kayaks, easily distanced apart. Outdoors, with the sun and wind on our faces, and the fresh air filling our lungs, it’s easy to forget we’re living in the middle of a pandemic. It soon becomes routine to disinfect paddles, canoe gunwales, and kayak cockpits after using.
After we shower, we flip the tag on the door from green (good to go) to red (used). This lets the cleaning staff know which showers need to be cleaned and lets the participants know to choose another shower that shows a green tag.
Although it can feel a bit awkward or cumbersome at first, we soon settle into the routine. It feels worth the effort to care for one another, sharing precious moments in person together. During the retreat, we are entirely off the grid. No cell service or Wifi, and electricity is provided by two large solar panels that are turned by hand throughout the day to maximize exposure to the sun.
Being outside, away from all electronics, we settle into the rhythms of the sun and moon, the earth and water, wind and weather. We tune in to each other and listen to our stories in our own voices, in real-time. We gather around the campfire and nourish each other with sisterhood, and forget for a moment that the outside world exists.
As we share our closing circle, spaced apart on the lawn by the lake, we reach our arms out, not quite touching each other, and imagine the group hug that we might like to share, then wrap our arms around ourselves to receive that energetic hug from the group. We say goodbye in the parking area, not as strangers going through a checklist of symptoms, but as friends who have shared adventure and mindfulness, meals, laughter, intimate moments of connection and deep care for one another in the midst of a global pandemic.
【 Does the new normal look different? It does, but as we begin planning our return to travel, the safety and wellbeing of our travellers, staff, local hosts and communities will remain our priority and our all our trips will be run in a responsible way. See how we are creating a safer space. 】