I expect calm when going to a yoga retreat in a nature preserve. Sun salutations performed on a sandpit as the sun rises. Snorkeling over an untouched reef. Baring one’s soul in wine-fueled communal confessional therapy “dharma talk” sessions.
What is generally unexpected is skinny dipping, and tanning a pasty bum while tiny crabs gently caress your private (now public) parts.
That’s the situation I found myself in last weekend on Danjugan island, a tiny island located off the southwest coast of Negros Occidental.
If the Batangas volcanic landmass was created through God’s breath, Danjugan is more of a hiccup. It’s crammed with cinematic lagoons—so many, that eventually they stop being named and are simply enumerated. I recommend kayaking to “Lagoon 3” if looking for a spiritual getaway or a new Instagram picture.
While the island manager was eager to tease us with stories of hidden barracudas and pythons, he was also quick to admit that no one had ever suffered from an animal bite. The accommodations were rustic, but with thick mattresses and long days of yoga interspersed with beer breaks and local feast, no one complained about sleeping under a mosquito net.
But the grand skinny dipping finale of this weekend was met with mixed feelings: apprehension, disbelief, and electric excitement. There were a lot of nervous jokes and giggling, the type that middle school children reserve for discussing something forbidden. While we had been unified in nearly every activity, skinny dipping is about as personal as it gets—and although I was the first to strip off when given the opportunity, I appreciated that no one was hassled about their decision either way.
As Paulo “Yogi Bear” Leonido, our fearless and well-bearded leader explained, the final decision came down to each individual.
“Universally, we are born naked. And the moment society comes in our lives, we become more protective and overly conscious about ourselves and what’s happening. Getting a chance to be in our birthday suits reminds us to let go of all our inhibitions. There’s a sense of equality and liberation to our ‘self.’”
So there we were, just a few kilometers from society, but a world away from its pressures. A tribe of a dozen new friends pulling off bikini tops and board shorts. While a few swam around the bend to work on their tan lines, the rest of us lounged in the surf. Our relaxed idle chatter was soon interrupted as a boat full of tourists puttered dangerously close to us. Everyone sank into the water, attempting to protect our modesty from this group of intruders. While we suspected we had gone undetected, the tanning group cackled from the other side of the sandpit. Regardless if the boat had noticed the swimmers’ posteriors, the tanning set had shamelessly given them quite an eyeful.
It’s probably for the best that we left the island shortly after. Another few days of the jungle’s elixir and we’d have gone primitive, hanging from the branches like monkeys or practicing unblinking open-eyed meditation in the spirit of the tarsier. For now, my friends have returned to the city, fully clothed and inhibited. But in our minds, we all want to return, to the island where our hearts and bodies ran free.
Paulo Leonido currently offers a variety of classes at Beyond Yoga branches across Manila. If you’re interested in attending Divine Love 3.0, Paulo’s next retreat to Danjugan Island, contact him at [email protected]