Above It All


Lucky are those who have the opportunity to climb up the mountain side, sit solitary on the top, surveying the world in deep and peaceful silence.

And for the rest of us with no mountains to climb, no sacred spaces that facilitates easy meditation?

We must scale the challenges of every day life, the shortage of time and the peaks and valleys of our own ego to rise above it all in order to sit at the summit of our highest potential, where the noise and endless whirling activity of the world below quiets at the distance…

Photo: Sunset. Someone sits in meditation on one of the hills overlooking the beach here in Naweiba, Sinai.

Feeling Present



Today’s meditation: being present–whatever that entails.

Feeling whatever needs to be felt: the sun on my face, the fresh cool air, joy at being on vacation (my first break in the schedule since arriving in Cairo), even exhaustion–today, having the luxury to feel tired at midday, I took myself to bed to take what might be too long to be considered a nap.

Makes me think about how modern day to day living doesn’t often give us the opportunity to feel the body. We aren’t allowed to feel tired, at least not in the middle of the day.

And we self medicate with coffee , candy bars, and other energizing substances.

We numb ourselves from feeling tired and consequently steal from ourselves the opportunity to rest. And it’s not just us, the world we live in supports and, often times, enforces this craziness.

Just thinking how I don’t always allow myself to feel tired and how being on vacation gives me the license to, not just feel it, but address it in a healthy positive way.

So today: cultivating feeling feelings.

Photo: Feeling the joys of morning. Sinai Sunrise over the mountains of Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea. Naweiba, Egypt.

Opening Circle


Opening Circle

Looking at this photo, taken on the roof deck of Fekra Cultural Center in Aswan, makes me smile: oh, how over the course of the retreat, this empty circle filled! With people, with yoga practice, with peace, with camaraderie, with yoga! What an opening it created for each individual and for building community! When we gather with intention and explore yoga while-heartedly, things open…

The connections (to practice, to nature, to ourselves and with each other) made those days continues. On Facebook, the jokes, photo postings and well wishes keep on coming, but also in a more subtle level, there’s this sense of nourishment and calm in the body, heart and spirit.

And while time for retreat has passed and real life with all it’s complexities draws us further from our experience in Aswan, I remind myself that a circle has no beginning and it certainly has no end.

Photo: The start of the first Ashtanga in Aswan Retreat on December 19. Our circle awaiting filling.

Goodbye Hello


Last morning here at Fekra. After today’s sunrise meditation there will be one final class then breakfast and one last class for staff, who I am happy to say are really loving the stretch in new directions.

Coming to the end of the time here, leading two retreats, connecting with a total of 26 retreat participants, getting to know the local and international community that make up Fekra, discovering the treasures of Aswan, drinking from the Nile and savoring the flavor of Upper Egypt, I am feeling not just a little sad at having to take my leave of this magical place. But time like the Nile keeps on flowing…

As I sit here waiting for the sun to rise, I remember the cycles, day and night, then a new day again–that embedded into the goodbye is the promise of a new hello.

Photo: My shadow in the desert walk between the old tombs and The ruins of San Simeon.

Mauna Mornings



When water is still, calm, unperturbed, it is easier for us to see out own reflection.

It is so different when the wind blows or there is a strong or even weak current. Sometimes, though, we ourselves cause disturbance. We throw rocks, causing tides and ripples, the mirror blurs. No need to throw rocks into the river, it is hard enough to get a clear picture in nature.

Photo: Men and bird, both fishing the Nile–the view yesterday morning from Fekra Cultural Center in Aswan. We are observing Mauna, a practice of mindful silence, during the mornings of this second retreat. There is something very special about the stillness here in the morning, the quiet supports the morning sadhana/practice.

Giving & Receiving


IMG_7743It’s Christmas Day here in Aswan. And Christmas, we like to say, is a time of giving. which consequently means receiving too.
Often, I’ve experienced this exchange as something between two parties. One gives, the other receives. Or visa versa.

And then there are those moments when the lines blur and the act of giving is experienced as an act of receiving as well; to give is to receive.

Photo: Christmas Eve and the staff here at Fekra Cultural Center enthusiastically consent to a yoga class when I offer. Today, they were eager to go again. Tomorrow, will teach them the Sun Salutation sequence so that they can practice without me. Very excited, it’s the cherry on top of an amazing second retreat already.

Yoga Present


P1220769Yoga Present

It’s the 24 of December. Christmas Eve in Aswan, Egypt. This afternoon, we are starting a second retreat here at Fekra Cultural Center in El Shalail, Aswan–for someone who grew up Catholic, it may seem strange to be working at this time of year, but really I can’t imagine a more perfect way of celebrating the holiday.

It’s a very different Christmas. There are no nativity scenes here, no tinsel, certainly no holly. There are no presents wrapped under a tree, at least not the kind one would expect; regardless, this is a time of giving.

There are different ways that we define “present.”

Present. An adjective. To exist in the moment. The etymology of this comes from the Latin, pre = before, esse = to be.

Present. A noun. A gift, an offering. There’s the notion of bringing something into someone’s presence.

Present. A verb. The act of showing, introducing, giving.

I can’t help but think that this might be my most authentic Christmas yet. Here we are about to start a yoga retreat, practicing tools that bring us into the present moment. All of us, reveling in the act of sharing, giving ourselves and each other sacred time and space.

This retreat is but a humble offering, it’s not wrapped in any fancy paper, there aren’t any fairy lights or surprise visits by Santa, but it’s real and it’s loving. And I feel so blessed to have another nine yoga explorers join us here in this very special place, honoring us with their whole-hearted presence.

Photo: Tree pose with Christmas Tree in the Old Cataract Hotel in downtown Aswan. A group of us went to enjoy a little Christmas cheer with coffee and cake!

Practicing at Dawn



December 20, 2013.

It’s dark. The air is still a night time cool. The horizon’s color is just starting to brighten with the rising sun. And the moon, the moon still hovers over the Nile River.

In terms of practicality, of winter weather, it seems an odd time to get on the mat. But here in Aswan, with the air so fresh, with students still in bed before the first full day of the retreat, it’s an ideal time to wake, stretch and welcome the rising sun.

Key words today: gratitude and potential as I prepare for my first solo retreat: Ashtanga in Aswan.

Natural Reflection



After two months in monster city like Cairo, Aswan is a breath of fresh air–literally as well as figuratively.

This morning, waking up to my hut dappled in sunlight then practicing on the terrace of the main building in Fekra Cultural Center, to my left was the rising sun and to my right was the blue Nile River (I couldn’t decide which I wanted to salute towards more, so it was a draw!), I remembered how important it is too be in the elements, to be in nature.

I felt how my practice in this setting is very different. I took my time. My breaths were long. I wasn’t in any hurry. I also felt my body differently. I noticed the build up of urban/work tension in a way I hadn’t previously.

Nature allows us to tune into the nature within, it reflects back at us how close or how far we are from that nature. It is a keen mirror, allowing us to reflect deeply on ourselves.

Feeling blessed to be able to share this very special place with 17 retreat participants. We start today’s program at 4pm with an opening circle. The second Ashtanga in Aswan Retreat will be on 24-27 December. There are still places. Message me kaz.castillo@gmail.com to join. 

Photo: Island reflection on the Nile. This is the view of a place often referred to as the back of a dragon across Fekra’s grounds.

Thank You, Cairo



Last Sunday, I taught my final classes in Cairo. And while my time in Egypt has not yet drawn to a close–In a few hours I will be taking a plane to Aswan in Upper Egypt. My first retreat there will start tomorrow afternoon. The second on the 24 of December (which there is still spaces for!)–the last couple of days have been about wrapping up my time here in Cairo.

It will take more than one article to express all that I’ve experienced and learned here. But for now, just a moment to express my deep gratitude.

First and foremost, thank you to Amy/Iman Elsherbiny, who invited me to come and teach in her place while she studies in India with our teacher. Who knew that one casual conversation two years ago in Mysore would give birth to this incredible life experience?! I feel honored that you would trust me with your community here. Before you left, you made sure that I would have a life, friends and family here to help navigate the Cairo craziness–and that has made an incredible difference in my time here. And even in your absence, you have been totally present in this adventure of mine, assisting me all the way from India, being my springboard, advisor, and friend.

I want to thank the amazing students that I’ve met here. It has been such a pleasure to share with you all. I am so happy to take part in your yoga evolving journey–even for such a small sliver of time. Thank you for surrendering to me, for trusting me with your bodies and your practice! I have learned more from you all than you can possibly imagine! Your love, curiosity and excitement about the practice, your perseverance in times of change inspires me.

I am grateful to all who have genuinely and lovingly welcomed me, you know who you are! You opened up your homes, offered up your friendship, almost always upon the first meeting. You warm my heart so. You have translated for me, supported me, helped me go beyond just living to teach, you have reminded me of who I am off the mat, and have taken a great role in the greater yoga practice in which I am constantly challenged by: how to live a more balanced and integrated life.

And finally, I must thank the city itself, Cairo as a whole has been so incredibly welcoming. So strangely instructive; it has been a great teacher these last couple of months. I am challenged by you, also blessed, fascinated and everyday just a little bit more in love with you. Thank you, Cairo.

So much love to you all! I won’t say goodbye, because I know we will all meet again!

Photo: My last Mysore class in Zamalek, December 15, 2013. Amy/Iman Elsherbiny will be returning from her Mysore adventure in February.