What a Turtle Can Teach You

I just returned from 2 glorious retreat weeks on the Galapagos Islands. I am basking in the memories and the pure joy of being surrounded by nature and beauty and learning about how the wildlife there evolves and thrives. It was so nourishing to be in a place that is so intentional about protecting the earth and her creatures. Each day we explored the islands, either on land or at sea, and each afternoon we shared Yoga practices that helped us truly be present with all of the experiences of the weeks.

I always learn a lot on retreats. Typically, is about what is important to me, what inspires me, what pushes my buttons, and other inner landscape “a-ha’s”. This time there was all that and more, because this time I had a multitude of teachers in animal form. We saw sea lions, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, flamingos, pelicans, lobsters, schools of fish, white-tip reef sharks, land, marine iguanas, penguins, and more. I loved them all, and for me, I felt most drawn to the giant tortoises that roamed the land. We visited a tortoise preserve, and there were several that hung out on the property where we stayed, so I feel like I really got to know them. 

And through the week, I learned quite a bit from them, and I’d like to share a few tidbits:

  • Slow down. Of course, this is the obvious one, but hear me out. I watched these huge animals cover a lot of ground, taking it nice and easy. To me it seemed like they really thought about where they wanted to go, and then put one foot (paw?) in front of the other until they got there. They also slept and rested a lot. And they live a looooong time. Just sayin’.
  • Protect your personal space. We always kept a respectful distance from the tortoises, but sometimes, when walking on the trails around our property, I would surprise a turtle (and they would surprise me) because I didn’t realize they were there. They would be a bit camouflaged by the surrounding greenery. If I approached too quickly, I’d hear a hissing sound that was a bit like the sound of ujjayi breathing, and I’d look over to see a turtle retreating into its shell. It let me know that it wasn’t happy with my intrusion, and it took a moment to itself. Then, it would soon peek its head back out and continue to ignore me. I admire that approach to outside stressors that make a sudden appearance. I probably won’t do the hissing, or at least I won’t do it audibly.
  • Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out. Everything has it’s opposite. So, while the tortoises could quickly retreat into their shells when they wanted to, they could also stretch out of them too. One of “our” turtles was named Banana Split, because she loved the bananas that grew on the property. Now, a tortoise can’t reach up to the heights of most banana trees to just grab a bunch, but there was a bar where our human hosts would hang some bunches of bananas. Banana Split would stretch her neck way out of her shell to grab a bunch and start eating. She ate right through the skin, and often had banana mush around her mouth, which was really adorable. So, when you see what you want and what will nourish you, don’t be afraid to stretch and reach for it.

There is more, of course, but I just want to give you a taste of what I learned by observing nature during my time in Galapagos. It was magical and calming to explore life at a tortoise’s pace. I also learned that tortoises love Yoga. Whenever I would set up the Yoga space, a tortoise would wander over to the pond by the Yoga room and, usually keeping eye contact, approach, sometimes slowing entering the pond, and sometimes moving all around it. They would also make appearances during classes. My favorite was when I was taking the class into a balance posture, with my back to the window. I suggested that the class find a Drishti, something to rest their gaze upon and they all cracked up—I turned to see that our tortoise friend had just wandered into view—what a wonderful focal point and possibly the best Drishti ever!

If it feels in the flow of your practice, please join me for a class or on a retreat!

Be Well. ~Lisa

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