Turks and Caicos
Story by Richard Morgan | Photography by Michael George| Rhapsody, March 2017
At a yoga retreat on a private island, an exercise-averse writer finds his lotus operandi
I stood on the beach at sunset, as ordered, fretful and even fearful for my rendezvous. The sun, that glowing yolk, spilled across the shores and waves of Parrot Cay, a private island resort in Turks and Caicos, bathing white sands and coral-and-periwinkle clouds in sumptuous warmth. And there she was: a woman sitting cross-legged with her back to me, with the sun and the breeze and, hell, the whole universe swirling through her flowing brunette tresses and exotic floral clothes.
“Is that her?" asked a new friend, a six-packed blonde woman from San Francisco taking her first vacation in two years.
“I think so," I said, stroking my jaw as if to pull answers from it.
“It must be," the blonde said. “Look at her. She's so holy. Perfect. Isn't she just like you imagined?"
Even though this holy woman must've been 10 or 20 feet away from me, a voice filled my head as if coming from right next to me. “You must be Richard." Gentle and forceful, the way angels or flight attendants speak. It was cosmic.
The path to the ocean
Then, a force on my shoulder. A hand. I spun, and there she was: Elena Brower, the celebrity yogi I had come to meet, was standing beside me. The sunset woman, it turned out, was a case of mistaken identity. “Let's do this," said Brower, who has been teaching the likes of Eva Mendes and Naomi Watts since 1999. I cackled. It was the first of many times we would surprise each other that week.
We strolled along the beach. She cussed.She joked. She teased. In short, she shocked the hell out of me. But she also read the doubt in my face and smiled.
“Let me show you as we walk back," she said. “Think of five things you can hear. Your feet on the sand, the wind, the waves, my voice, but what else? Push your ears. Reach out around you. Welcome that fifth sound. That is meditation. That is yoga. Easier than you thought, isn't it?"
I hadn't known what to think. I did not come to this yoga retreat. I was sent. My editor sent me, frankly, because I didn't belong.
The author cools down after class
The most flexible and spiritual I get is when I cross my fingers. I lettered for three years on my high school track team as a statistician. In college, I took social dance as my P.E. requirement. I hadn't set foot in a gym in years. I'm even terrible at vacations—especially beach vacations, given that I don't know how to swim. On the shores of various paradises, I stare out into a cloudless Caribbean or perfect Pacific vista as if it were a Rothko of teals at a museum, full of anxiety about how long I have to look at the damn thing before moving on to the next exhibit without being scolded by the art lovers around me. Yoga, I thought, was for Himalayan splendor. Not for me, a man of I'm-a-layin' languor.
But now I had been assigned to four and a half hours of yoga a day—two and a half at 9 a.m. and another two at 5 p.m. Yoga, for all its mellow mantras, was about to kick my butt.
I deflected my anxiety with dumb jokes. Before class started, I did a bunch of weird fake yoga positions. “Winner pose!" I cheered, mimicking the Heisman Trophy. “Stud pose!" (A bodybuilder pose.) “Star pose!" (Jazz hands.)
On top of all of Brower's en masse classes—thousands of practitioners in Central Park or under the Eiffel Tower—she also offers a handful of retreats each year (to Costa Rica, Germany, California). But the week at COMO Parrot Cay is special—the only one she returns to year after year. Next November's will be her ninth. And why not? It's the kind of paradise where the horizon does the exhaling for you. Even at peak capacity, tucked within its private banana and coconut plantations, the resort never feels full. It frees you to find your own fullness. It's not for getting trashed. It's for getting treasured. After the airport novels and self-help books and guru guides, the oasis whispers your own story to you. Bring a journal.
Brower leads a yoga class on the beach
Brower's 2012 book, The Art of Attention, has chapter prefaces written by Donna Karan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Christy Turlington Burns. She is a much more flexible version of Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart. She is their higher Brower, the Brower that be, and looks like she could be Rachel Weisz's 35-year-old hippie sister (even though Brower is actually 47).
She is everything to everyone. And who was I? This lumpy, rookie interloper. This impostor in never-before-worn Uniqlo activewear. This night owl pretending to be a morning person and trudging down to my first class—in a screened-in, stand-alone riverfront yoga studio where I'd be the only man among 20 ladies who lunge.
The human brain and heart are 73 percent water. Bones are 31 percent, skin 64 percent, muscles 79 percent, and lungs 83 percent. On the whole, babies are 78 percent water, and grown men are 60 percent. But in that first yoga lesson, I was 4,000 percent water. I was a human-shaped cloud that rained nonstop onto my yoga mat. I was so sweaty that my fingers pruned. My shirt splashed when it hit the mat. At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, during which poses were held for as briefly as 30 seconds or as interminably as 10 minutes, I guzzled half a liter of water in one long swig. That “namaste" greeting yoga practitioners are always saying to each other? I'm pretty sure it means “don't forget to drink eight glasses of water a day."
“In honor of Richard, let's do a child's pose," Brower said halfway through that first class. I flopped to my knees and threw my arms forward, as if in prostrate prayer. A moment of relief! And suddenly, I was a child again.“Yoga, I thought, was for Himalayan splendor. Not for me, a man of I'm-a-layin' languor"
I was in second grade, mocked for being unable to pat my head while rubbing my stomach in a circle. In fourth grade, falling off my bike, and in fifth grade, falling off my skateboard. In seventh grade, caught saying “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3" aloud during my first slow dance at my first boy-girl mixer. In ninth grade, diagnosed with a heart condition and put on the track team as a statistician instead of a runner.
When I told my friends I was going to a yoga retreat, one said, “No one will believe you"; another said, “No one will recognize you when you return." It's weird: There's an idea that yoga
transforms you but only if you're already pretty awesome—that it turns princes into kings but not frogs into princes.
Brower's Art of Attention yoga cards, offering positive affirmations and yoga poses
And it was then, flat on my knees, that I realized that child's pose could easily be called frog's pose—and that I had remained in the pose far longer than the rest of the class. “Man down," joked Brower. I tried to mutter a pep talk to myself. If the Chicago Cubs could win the World Series, then surely I could do some yoga. But instead, under my breath, I muttered one simmering word: “Enough." I wanted to quit. I had quit swim lessons, guitar lessons, and French lessons. What was one more thing? One less thing, really.
It turns out Brower knows about quitting too. Before becoming a yogi in 1997, she was a self-described “loser stoner." Even until 2010—well into her yoga stardom—she was smoking up to half a pack of cigarettes a day. I mention it not to point fingers (Lord knows I've had my own vices) but to mention how it relates to Brower's best qualities. She's no wax-on-wax-off cryptic sensei. She wasn't the perfectly holy sunset woman. She's goofy and gentle, relatable, and candidly, unabashedly human. One night—at a group poolside dinner of jalapeño oysters, Indonesian gado gado salad, tomato sambal, fried red snapper, red lamb curry, and crab cakes with wasabi mayonnaise—she pointed at a star above us, near the moon, and claimed it was Mars because, she said, it looked red to her. Doubtful, I pulled out my phone and used an app to identify the star. It was Mars, even though it didn't look red to me. “How could you see that?" I asked. Without missing a beat, she replied: “I'm very farsighted." She rolled her eyes jokingly, a move not nearly enough yogis know how to do.
She'd stroll around during class commenting on how we were doing. Move your hand an inch to the left. Keep that heel touching the floor. Shoulders out. Chin up. Back arched. Some directions were almost purposely baffling. What does it mean to move your navel in? Or your armpits down? Or your spine forward? “I need a sassy tush from you, Richard." I broke the unspoken (unknown to me) rule: I talked back. “It's as sassy at it gets!" I said, my body trembling to keep the pose. “It's getting sassier by the minute," she joked.
One of Como Parrot Cay's rooms, which all feature four-post beds
All this changed in my second lesson. She asked us to do a full lotus position. Wondering what this was, I asked the woman next to me, a practitioner of 10 years who confessed she couldn't do it but explained that it was both ankles on both thighs.
“Like this?" I asked, trying it. The woman stifled a surprised laugh. Brower suddenly sounded uncharacteristically schoolmarm-ish. “What is going on over there?" she asked. Tangled and embarrassed, I looked at her in silence and hoped she'd move on. But she didn't. She stopped the class. “Everyone! Everyone! This is Richard's second class, and he is in full lotus!" There was a smattering of oohs and aahs and applause. “You're 37 years old," she told me. “That doesn't happen. You must've been a yogi in a previous life."
“I didn't realize it was part of yoga," I said, “to put my age on blast like that."
The whole room laughed. Comic's pose!
As I looked around at them, I saw something I hadn't seen before—or had seen but not realized: Almost nobody was doing the same thing. Some had their ankles at their knees, some deep into their hips, others had just one ankle up or were just kneeling or finding their own version.
Elena Brower finds her center
For seemingly the first time at the retreat, despite breathing being so integral to yoga, I exhaled. I let it out. All the stress, all the pressure, all the wondering how I'm doing. Gone in a puff of hot, stale air.
My third eye opened. My lotus operandi.
“Will you do this when you go home?" people asked me all that week. “Probably not," I said, “but I have awakened something that I can only call my body's conscience."
I had seen that the obstacle course is also scenic. I had learned I couldn't get an A+ in yoga, that it wasn't even exercise, that it wasn't about building muscle but shedding ego. Here was my fairy-tale
ending: Yoga kisses frogs not in the hopes of them becoming princes but because frogs are amazing and deserving of love.
For me, at some bourgie point, vacations became a matter of acquisition over meditation, of getting more than being more, of bucket-list check marks as status objects. A vacation was something I could win.
Now I knew: It doesn't matter.
In my life, only three things have mattered. First, in my teens in North Carolina, I realized I was gay. Then, in my 20s in New York, I realized I was a writer. Lastly—finally—in my 30s in Turks and Caicos,I realized I was this one simmering word: enough.
On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).
A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew we were uniquely positioned to utilize our widebody aircraft and our network to keep commodities moving, so we quickly mobilized various departments throughout the airline to launch a cargo-only network of flights that would keep commodities moving," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Thanks to those efforts, United Cargo has delivered millions of items to countries all around the world. We would not have been successful without the steadfast support of our employees, industry partners and our customers."
Since last March, United Cargo has transported almost 850 million pounds of freight on cargo-only and passenger flights. The airline will continue to monitor market trends adjust its cargo-only flight schedules to help ensure we are meeting our customer's evolving shipping needs.
Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:
1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more
Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.
Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.
2. Check out the Travel-Ready Center
Our Travel-Ready Center makes it easy to get a personalized overview of everything you need to do in preparation for your flight. Just enter your confirmation number or MileagePlus® number and you'll find detailed information on all the documents, tests and more that you'll need for your trip.
3. Read and sign the Ready-to-Fly checklist
Before completing check-in, all United travelers will need to read our Ready-to-Fly checklist and confirm that they understand and agree to our policies. These include:
Acknowledging that you haven't had any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
Agreeing that you will not fly if you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 21 days
Confirming that you will follow all policies regarding face masks, social distancing and other health and safety measures we've adopted
4. Arrive early; avoid the stress
Airports can be busy, especially during peak travel periods like spring break season. The TSA advises arriving at the airport two hours before your flight for domestic travel and three hours for international travel in anticipation of long security lines. This can help ease the stress when navigating busy check-in areas, security lines and crowded boarding gates.
5. Get familiar with CleanPlus
United CleanPlus℠ is our commitment to delivering industry-leading cleanliness as we put health and safety at the forefront of your experience. We've teamed up with Clorox to redefine our cleaning and disinfection procedures and Cleveland Clinic to advise us on enhancing our cleaning and disinfection protocols, like:
Disinfecting high-touch areas on board and in the terminal
Using electrostatic spraying, Ultraviolet C lighting wands and more advanced measures to clean aircraft cabins before boarding
Redesigning our mobile app to allow for touchless check-in and contactless payment, along with enhanced travel assistance features
Implementing high-efficiency (HEPA) filters on our aircraft that completely recirculate cabin air every 2-3 minutes and remove 99.97% of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria
Studies show COVID-19 exposure risk is minimal when air filtration systems and masks are in use, so you can rest assured that the steps we've taken to keep you safe truly make a difference.
6. Wear your mask
Federal law requires all travelers to wear a face mask in the airport, including customer service counters, airport lounges, gates and baggage claim, and on board during their entire flight. Make sure you review the requirements for face masks, including what an acceptable face mask looks like.
7. Get ready for a safer boarding process
To make boarding even safer, we now have travelers board their aircraft from back to front. At the gate, just listen for your row number to be called – we'll ask a few rows at a time to board, starting with the last row of the plane. This helps everyone maintain a safe distance from each other during boarding without slowing things down. As you step onto the plane, flight attendants will hand each passenger a sanitizing towelette, which you can use to wipe down your seat to ensure it's extra clean.
8. Pack smart
Before packing your bags, check to see what exactly you can carry on and what you should plan to check. You can also copy your confirmation number into our Baggage Calculator tool to learn about the bag allowance included with your reservation, as well as the cost of checking any additional bags.
9. Check your flight status, important notices and weather
Check the United app regularly for the latest updates on weather conditions, flight status, gate numbers and seat assignments. You can also visit our Important Notices page to find essential information and updates about travel waivers, international travel, TSA and security, airports and United Club locations.
10. Relax and enjoy your flight
Once you're on board, it's time to sit back and enjoy your flight. Our flight attendants will be happy to help you with anything else you need.
This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.
"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.
We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Take your next video call from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude with United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Newly added to our collection is a background encouraging our employees and customers to vote. Our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. No matter which party you support, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and vote.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started.
To use on Zoom:
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
To use on Microsoft Teams:
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
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- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
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- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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