Some months ago I attended the Apura Yoga Surf & Yoga Retreat in Peniche, Portugal. I´m so glad that we finally managed to do the interview as due to Yvonne´s tight summer schedule full of retreats and new personal challenges we haven´t found the time before and those questions where in my head since I attended the retreat. Let´s call this a lecture in patience. I hope you will find the result as interesting as I do.
Yvonne, both Donovan and you have many years of surf and yoga experience but you also have some Buddhist related background. Could you please shortly resume how you got in touch with Buddhism and how it influences your daily life and yoga practice?
How we met the Dharma
Donovan grew up in a Tibetan Buddhist environment from the age of 4 years on. His mother, Christine Longaker, is a practicing Tibetan Buddhist. After Donovan’s dad died very early from cancer his mom began working in the hospice movement and met a Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the book “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”. She ended up creating Sogyal Rinpoche’s first American Sangha (Buddhist community). The center was the house in which Donovan grew up. Therefore, he had very unique circumstances in his life that allowed him to meet some of the most renowned masters of the Tibetan tradition at a very early age. Because the American center was in California, Donovan’s mother created retreats for people to come to from all over the US and Europe. In the summers, Donovan traveled with his mom to France starting when he was about 9 to spend their summers on Buddhist retreats created by the Sangha in Europe. When the opportunity arose – in 2006 – to do a traditional three year Tibetan Buddhist retreat, Donovan was asked by his mother and then step-father to join. It was difficult at first for him to give up his life in Santa Cruz, but then doing the retreat became something that was quite natural because it was already a part of his life.
Some time after he came out of retreat, the both of us met. I had been practicing yoga and also meditation for about ten years on and off before that time. In my hometown I had visited all available Buddhist centers and even conducted a study, where I questioned practitioners about their beliefs on Karma and Reincarnation. But to me, it took about 10 years of asana practice before I could sit more comfortably and work directly with my mind. When I met Donovan, I had a daily meditation practice but felt a bit stuck, because, I’ve never had a teacher.
So we met in a surfcamp environment, both working as surf teachers and I found out that he had just done this three year retreat. I begged him to teach me. And he agreed to sit with me. So we got up every morning before dawn and meditated together on the beach. He later brought me to a retreat in San Diego to meet Rinpoche, which was a life changer for me. Since then, I consider myself a student of Sogyal Rinpoche as well.
How that path influences our daily life and yoga practice
We attend retreats and teachings and practices if we can. We have a Sadhana practice which we practice on half moon days, if we find the time. The summers are difficult.
Mostly, we try to apply the teachings in daily life and work with our minds in our relationship, in our work, with the people around us.
Being a Dharma practitioner influences our yoga practice and how we teach yoga in a way that we honor asana practice and what it can do for the body. But in the end, asana practice is not the most important thing in yoga. It is working with your own mind really. Insofar, Buddhism is not so different from the eight fold path in yoga as stated by Patanjali. He just cited three yoga asana postures, which were all sitting positions. He understands yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations/obscurations of the mind (yoga citta vritti nirodha).
So in my personal practice, I work mostly on staying present, with the breath within the body. I use asana practice to strengthen the body and release tension. To stay grounded within the body, to find space and tranquility. With that, asana practice becomes a tool to develop more mindfulness of the body, of the breath and also of the mind. If I have an active life, I do not have to do much asana, and can sit more. If I sit a lot in my life, then I prefer asana practice over a seated meditation practice.
Would you say this also influenced the concept of the Apura Yoga Retreats?
Of course. Practicing the Dharma is kind of the foundation of our relationship and also of what we do.
We started with the idea of wanting to make people happy. Because happiness, or joy is one of the four immeasurable qualities. We wish for all sentient beings to have this happiness as being Buddhists. Well, and teaching surfing and yoga, we really feel, that we can provide this. It might not be lasting, although we had a lot of participants who feel, that attending one of our retreats was a life-changing experience. That is really what Apura Yoga is about: we provide a framework, that allows people to be happy. They can experience the ocean and nature so closely. This brings a lot of things in life into a bigger perspective. Also, you really start to play like a kid in the water and this is so wonderful. The yoga helps to become more attuned to your body, and to be more in touch with yourself. This is also very healing. And then we have healthy food, of course. We are really lucky in that we have such amazing people who attend the retreats, so every retreat becomes a unique experience and also thanks to every single person very special. Everybody shares a bit of who they are and thereby enriches the whole experience.
What’s distinguishes them from other Retreats?
We are the only surf & yoga retreat that is based on this very unique background of true yoga and spiritual practice in combination with long-term surf experience. Both Donovan and I, who created the teaching concept, are certified yoga and surf instructors. This level of training and experience you cannot find in any other retreat worldwide. I also think, that the level of meditation and retreat experience of Donovan is very unique. There are many places on the market, which call themselves retreat, but they do actually not know, what a retreat actually is.
Plus, our retreats are very personal. We only host small groups and we try to make a personal connection with everybody. Many of our participants turn into friends for us. I think this is also very special for people attending a retreat: they really feel at ease, at home. Everybody can be how they are and who they are and feel welcomed and appreciated.
Yes, that was exactly how it felt when I was there. The breakfast you prepared was amazing and sitting there with you and talking about life was great. What does Apura stands for?
Apura comes from the Spanish/Portuguese “apurar” which means to purify. It stands for stripping life and also the yoga practice of all unnecessary stuff and returning to the very essential: a healthy body, a good heart, and a clear mind.
Your are both basically living from the hosting and organization of Retreats travelling the world which sounds like the perfect job but also means you don’t really have a fixed place, a home to come back to. Besides the complete freedom this also implies a constant “fight” of getting enough people to come to the Retreats which might become stressful. How do you cope with this?
We do not fight so much, we pray more. But yes, there is a high level of insecurity involved with a job like ours. For every entrepreneur or self-employed person, really.
Not having a fixed home can be very draining. We have our base in Portugal and Germany. Donovan grew up traveling anyway, so for him it is not such a problem. For me, it has a lot to do with finding space for myself to be in a good balance personally. From there, adventures are possible.
But in the end – one has to find a balance. So even if it looks like we are just traveling most of the time and spending our time doing yoga and surfing, there is actually a big part of our time, which is spent in the office with administration, communication, taxes and so on. Our job really looks much more glamorous than it really is.
In Yoga we are supposed to distance ourselves from the ego and be there for others not needing to many material things as from what I understand but of course we grew up in a materialistic word and we always have to find a balance. From what I experienced at your retreat you found a great way doing so creating a space for people interested in the same activities and a peaceful, friendly and happy environment. Thank you both for doing this and sharing this with all your guests.
Thank you for being a part!
Foto Credit: Guido Schroeder