Yoga Residency in Punta Cana for the holidays

I have never been one to love the traditional holiday season (Christmas/New Years). For me it had become more of an obligation, an expected time to overspend, overeat, and spend time doing things with others that usually took the “happy” out of Happy Holidays. Last year was particularly hard, because I was going to be alone, for the first time in almost a decade. My kids were going away with their dad, and my relationship of 9 years had come to an end.I saw an opportunity to teach in the Dominican Republic during that time and thought “WOW, that would be amazing”. Yira, the owner of Ananada Yoga International was looking for someone to come stay with her and do a residency during the busy tourist season in December and January, teaching yoga at private residences and some of the luxury resorts she partners with in the DR. Travel has always been on my bucket list, and Punta Cana has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world so I decided to throw my hat in the ring not expecting anything to become of it. I was surprised when Yira reached out to virtually interview me almost immediately. Her and I hit it off right from the start, and before I knew it, I was planning a trip to Punta Cana in a few short weeks.

I had some reservations about the trip at first. The DR has a reputation of being a little “unsafe”, especially for single blonde American tourists. Accommodations were part of the residency package, but meant that I would be staying in Yira’s home, with her family, for the holidays which I wasn’t sure how that would go. Then there was the pay…which was not really a great compensation given the services provided. But I decided to look at it as an opportunity to travel, learn about another culture, teach yoga internationally to clients from all over the world, and create a holiday season that was completely original from years past.

I arrived a few days before I had to start teaching in order to become familiar with the area and the family I would be staying with. I haven’t spoken Spanish since my college years, and communication upon my arrival reminded me that I needed to make Dulingo a daily practice if I wanted to be understood with the locals. Yira picked me up at the airport and I knew immediately that her and I would be great friends. She is a Native of the DR, has the business sense of an American, and has European standards ( her husband is French). I was pleasantly surprised by how safe and westernized Punta Cana was. Each “community” has a guard/ gated entry that is very strict. Her home was located in a modest community for the area but was a very large, 3 level condo with a rooftop patio. The first day, she drove me around to the communities I would be working in, so that I could start to get my bearings. I was shocked at the huge, spralling mansions that seemed to be the “norm” in every community we visited. I was excited to get started, and when we went to the beach that first day, I knew I was going to have a great holiday.

The day before “work” started my rental car was delivered. Let’s just say, the DR does have some “shady” things for sure and the car/driving situation is one of them. My car had a piece of paper taped on the back as its license plate. Yira said her husband would take me driving to get used to the car, which ran on natural gas. I had never heard of this, and when we went to gas station, I was a bit terrified when I saw the huge propane tank in the trunk, and how while pumping, everyone gets out of car and stands 10 feet away. Pierre, Yira’s husband, assured me it was safe and so I decided I needed to just go with it. Then came the driving…There are virtually no signal lights ( and if there are, they are often ignored) and driving is really “at your own risk”. Roundabouts are the standard there, and its a good thing that I am from NY & LA, otherwise, I am not sure I could have handled the aggressive and reckless drivers in the DR, but Yira and Pierre both said with my skills, I would be fine…not sure if that was a compliment, but I decided to take it as one:)

My days consisted of teaching 1-3 clients in the morning, then 1-2 in the late afternoon/early evening. All of the yoga sessions, with the exception of 2 luxury resorts I taught at, were booked and taught for private clients in a residential setting. This gave me every afternoon to enjoy the beaches and spend some time working on some personal struggles I was dealing with. Most clients were visiting from other countries and it was incredible to meet and work with so many different people. Some of my clients included Venezuela Diplomats, a French designer, a professional football player from Canada, Surgeons from France, venture capitalists from NY, Writer from Brazil, and the family of the golf course designers for all the best courses in the world. Everyone was so gracious and I truly enjoyed each and every session I led, and even though my compensation was below average, the tips I received were generous and made it more financially rewarding than I had expected.

Christmas was approaching, and Yira’s family had a tradition of going to the Hilton All Inclusive for the holiday. Her brother in law is the GM, and he extended the family rate so that I could go and spend the holiday with them, while having a little space of my own. The grounds there were great and they made the holiday very festive. Christmas Eve was a beach buffet with fire dancers, vocal performers and dancing. I stayed with the family for a good portion of the evening, but I did retreat back to my room early. I couldn’t help but feel sad missing my kids this year, and what used to be “my family tradition”. The next morning, I got up early, went to breakfast alone, and spent the day at the beach & pool pretty much alone. It was hard, but I knew that I needed to accept that change is inevitable and be grateful of the opportunity before me. The day after Christmas, I returned to my regular teaching schedule, and felt back in the groove for the rest of the week.

New Years is a BIG thing in the DR. I hadn’t really decided what I would do, and was waiting to see if Yira would have plans that might include me. Unfortunately her husband received word that he would have to leave for Africa on January 1 for a professional project, so she and her husband were not doing anything and wanted to have private time. I understood and asked what would be something I could do. She said everyone goes to Playa Blanca (the beach club) and they stay up all night to see the first sunrise of the new year. I hadn’t pulled an all nighter in years, but I figured I would do my best to party like the locals. The “club” opened at 12:30pm…it was packed and there were live bands and dj’s all night long. I have to admit that it was a bit scary going to a club, in the DR, on New Years, alone, and I don’t speak the native language but I am so glad I did. After a few Tequila shots, I got my groove on, dancing my a** off, by myself. I have never in my life done that and it was so liberating. At the bar, several people introduced themselves to me and I spent the rest of the evening (well technically morning) talking with local people. The sunrise was nothing short of spectacular and I was so glad I didn’t fall asleep. The next day was pretty rough, between the tequila and no sleep, I spent the first day of 2023 in a zombie like state stuffing my face with Dominios Pizza.

Throughout the 7 weeks Yira and I spent a lot of time together. She was gracious enough to take me to see the “local” area and allow me the true Dominican experience. She and I also took a day and drove to the capital, Santo Domingo, where I got to see the history of the country and do a little shopping. The very last night, Yira treated me to the VIP experience at Coco Bongo. Let’s just say it was a blast! If you have never been, I think everyone should experience this entertainment complex once in their life. Before departing, Yira gave me beautiful jewelry made from a precious stone that is only found in the Dominican Republic. I wear them everyday, as a reminder of the amazing experience I had and the lifelong friend I have made.

I initially went to Punta Cana as a holiday getaway that could be justified because I was working.However, the experience gave me more than I ever could have imagined. I met and connected with people from all over the world, I learned how to be alone, and be ok, I learned about other cultures, about different relationships people can have, how lucky I am to have so many opportunities as an American, I learned about how yoga is viewed & practiced in other cultures, I got the opportunity to teach internationally, and I found my new Dominican Sister, Yira.

I know I will go back someday, and look forward to it, but until then, I cherish the memories & connections I made, and will remember that sometimes even good times can come from diffu

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