Finding Zen in Less Than 27 Hours on Nantucket

Attendees at The Nantucket Yoga Festival create a “human lotus” during Saturday’s beach meditation class on the surfside of the island.
Attendees at The Nantucket Yoga Festival create a “human lotus” during Saturday’s beach meditation class on the surfside of the island.
Rachel Fabiszak Photography

I would consider myself a student of yoga. But my practice could certainly use some help, as in, more practice. When I came across The Nantucket Yoga Festival, I thought: Finally! The perfect opportunity to get me back on track with yoga. That yoga bug would certainly bite me again during a weekend of immersion.

The benefit of a yoga festival like this is that there’s more of an opportunity to jump in and try things. The classes are more in the style of a workshop, so there’s more time to learn how to do a shoulder stand versus having the random minute or so at the end of class before shavasana to try and squeeze one in.

The trouble is, with the travel time, the cost to get to Nantucket, and day passes for the yoga festival costing $150 per day, it’s not a bad idea to do an abbreviated version. For this weekend trip, staying in Nantucket for two nights instead of one would also carry with it a heavier price tag. We were trying to avoid other side of yogi bliss, also known as credit card debt, so we settled on one night.

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The trouble with traveling anywhere on Cape Cod for a weekend is the travel time. Whether it’s stuck in traffic for hours, or even taking the train to the ferry, it’s at least a 4-hour journey in the summer. We took the Cape Cod Flyer to avoid traffic. (We being myself and my friend Tracy, who was surprisingly easy to convince at the last minute to take this trip with me) The train is certainly a more relaxing ride than driving with the rest of New England on Friday evening, Saturday morning, or Sunday evening, which is exactly when the Cape Cod Flyer runs between Hyannis and Boston.

On Saturday, the 8 a.m. train from Boston arrived in Hyannis after two hours and 15 minutes, or just in time for us to hop on the short shuttle bus to the dock. The 11 a.m. Steamship Authority High Speed Ferry was just pulling up. Soon enough, we were sitting knee-to-knee with friendly strangers on a pretty packed ferry, and in exactly one hour, we arrived in Nantucket.

Neither of us had ever been to Nantucket, and we soon realized half of the yoga festival events for the day would be over by the time we could check in, change, and get there. So we lunched, checked into The Carlisle Inn (our picturesque bed and breakfast), and walked to Jetties Beach. After an early morning and day of traveling, spending time in the surf and napping on the sand was its own special kind of shavasana. We arrived back to the inn in time for a wine and cheese happy hour and made a later dinner reservation at The Dunes restaurant nearby. The whole day was in easy, walkable distance.

On Sunday, we woke up at 5 a.m. with the sunrise. The plan for the day? Cram in as much yoga as possible until our ferry disembarked at 3:30 p.m. for Hyannis.

The Carlisle Inn, Nantucket
Chelsea Rice / Boston.com

The Carlisle Inn was approximately a half-hour walk from The Westmoor Club where (we thought) the morning meditation class was taking place, so we had the opportunity to walk by the gorgeously picturesque homes along the Cliff Road, until I realized we were lost.

We arrived at The Westmoor Club, the site of the opening ceremonies and other events for the festival, and I thought we had arrived an appropriate 20 minutes early to get registered and check in. But there was not a soul in site. My mind was buzzing with anxiety about this story and my plan to take as many classes as possible, How else would I achieve the immersion I was hoping for? I rushed around the empty building, calling all the numbers I had. But then a car rolls up. Fortunately, these ladies were also headed to the beach meditation class, and they offered us a ride down to Bartlett’s Farm on the surfside of the island.

Although my “zen” morning started out with being a lost and anxious ball of nerves, I like to think we were meant to be in the wrong place, at the right time. The morning filled me up with gratitude at the kindness of strangers. And I feel like we at least accomplished some cardio during our brisk walk. I guess I ultimately learned the lesson of yoga. The universe literally answered my calls for help. It was amazing. If our guardian yogis hadn’t shown up, we would’ve ended up walking at least another hour to arrive at Bartlett’s Farm. Which, I guess would’ve been a meditative exercise in itself.

We pulled up to a giant white tent alongside a beautiful farm, a pasture with two huge steers, and fields upon fields. A smiling group of barefoot yogis awaited us at a dirt road. We left our sandals in the car and our instructor, Larisa Forman, who actually teaches in Boston, asked everyone to shut off their devices and leave them pocketed or leave them behind, “so we are without wanting.” She noted that the walk may be beautiful, but it’s for us to observe. We were to resist the temptation to pull out our phones and take a picture. From this point on, she asked that we remain in silence.

Larisa Forman leads a group in a walking meditation.
Rachel Fabiszak Photography

The nine of us fell in line behind her and began to walk the dirt road towards the beach. At our methodical pace, it was possible to avoid some of the larger rocks on the path, but without shoes, and feeling everything about the ground underneath, walking barefoot certainly achieved its purpose. You had to be completely present in the walk. Or end up stubbing your toe.

It was easy to be distracted. The early morning sun was striking the fields around us, begging for my attention. I scuffed the ball of my foot a few times as a result of looking up for too long. I was amazed I was there. Amazed I had made it to Nantucket. Amazed that we managed to get to the class. Amazed I woke up at 5 a.m.

After walking for approximately 20 minutes, we reached the beach and started to slowly climb up and over the sand dunes, arriving on the surfside of the island. We were alone on the beach, a rare moment I learned when I returned later that afternoon and found a sea of people with no more than five feet between beach towels.

But here we were now, in a line, looking into the ocean in silence. Those thoughts that had come up during our individual walks seemed to escape into the ocean ahead of us, rolling out with the receding tide.

We gathered into a circle, holding hands. The instructor broke the silence and guided us to recognize the person we loved the most in the world. We were to send the beauty of this day to them. Then we thought about the person that causes us the most grief and frustration in the world, and Larisa instructed us to also send them the beauty of this day. We formed a human lotus, stretching backwards and then coming closer in together. We returned to the ocean to leave whatever feelings had come up during the meditation, and walked back, again in silence.

Rebecca Pacheco teaches a class at the Nantucket Yoga Festival.
Rachel Fabiszak Photography

Later that morning, I attended a vinyasa-style class with Rebecca Pacheco titled, “Do Your Om Thing.” Pachecho is an instructor at Equinox in Boston, the fitness sponsor for the festival. After the first hour of the class that focused on the physical body, she guided us outside and as a group we examined the mental and spiritual parts of our practice. We acknowledged to one another what causes us joy and frustration in our lives and practiced exercises in gratitude and breath.

Tracy took the neighboring class with Tao Porchon-Lynch, who marched with Ghandi as a child and at 95 years old continues to practice and teach yoga after multiple hip replacements. “There is nothing I cannot do,” Porchon-Lynch said as she guided her students to believe the same mantra.

It’s really hard not to get swept up in the kind spirit of a festival like this. Everyone was accommodating and friendly. Like your most compassionate friend, it absolutely restores and recharges. Even though our getaway was less than 27 hours.