Fennel and sage: the wonderful smell of yoga at Whale Bay Fort
Clare Dominguez was leading tours in the Guatemalan jungle in 2020 when the pandemic hit.
She took stock of her options, and moved forward with a plan she’d previously been too terrified to execute.
“I know Covid has caused a lot of pain and hardship and there have been a lot of negative effects all over the world. There’s been a lot of disruption in systems of how people lived as a result of that,” she said.
“But on a personal level I have counted my blessings in terms of Covid facilitating my transition into yoga teaching owing to the fact that my previous job as a tour leader, that industry completely collapsed. From March 2020 I was no longer able to do my job that I had been doing for so much time. Immediately I said, ‘This is the chance.’”
That decision ultimately led to the Ashtanga yoga classes she now offers at Whale Bay Fort under the umbrella of Ethos Bermuda, the company the Australian started with her Bermudian husband Mo Hamza last year. On Saturday, the public is invited to join them for “the first of its kind” at the Southampton fort: drinks by Ryan Gibbons, a three-course Vietnamese dinner and live entertainment provided by Bermuda Salsa, DJ Korie Minors and selected members of the Kings Band.
“It’s really the first opportunity for us to connect people to the site of Whale Bay Fort which is one of many beautiful historic sites in Bermuda that don’t receive that much attention,” she said.
“The aim is to have that connection be created between people – Bermudians and international visitors – and to the historical sites here.”
Ms Dominguez fell in love with yoga several years ago. Her full-time job with an insurance company was “high-stressed”; yoga provided “a profound sense of peace”.
“I was, at a certain point, a client manager for theft claims for the home so my clients were stressed,” she said. “I was working with people who had had a very traumatic experience with someone breaking into their home and I was also a team manager in a call centre in sales and service for the same company.”
Her Saturday morning yoga classes were her sanctuary.
“I can’t remember which style of yoga it was but I just knew that it was good for my soul as well as good for my body to attend this class at the gym,” she said.
“The environment of the gym sometimes is different to a yoga studio and in this particular gym it was very busy – there were a lot of people lifting weights outside, fluorescent lights in the roof, no nice smelling oils … that was kind of the atmosphere. Nevertheless I had an experience where I began to hear the waves of the ocean and it was just a profound sense of peace. I was just lying there not moving, eyes closed just breathing naturally and it was just a real deep sense of peace and contentment and relaxation. That experience has stayed with me since that moment.”
She left Australia and travelled for a decade before she found her way to Guatemala where, for five years, she worked as a tour guide and lived out of her backpack.
Desperate for a place to call her own she decided to make Antigua, a Unesco World Heritage site in Guatemala, a permanent base.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, surrounded by three volcanoes and has a wonderful climate with a lot of coffee plantations all around,” she said.
Of real benefit was Shakti Shala, a studio that taught Ashtanga yoga and “empowered” her to practice in a meaningful way, wherever she went.
“All of a sudden I had the ability through this practice to bring that sense of peace within wherever I was on any day in any moment. That’s why I refer to it as an empowerment because I truly feel that’s the effect it’s had on my movement through life,” Ms Dominguez said.
“The size of a yoga mat is about 2ft by 6ft and so really, all you need is a space that big. The portability of yoga was so suitable. I would rearrange hotel rooms; I would take my mat with me if I had to do an early morning tour with a group and then, while they were doing the tour with a local guide, I would be off in the corner of a car park to an archaeological site in Mexico doing my practice. It was just the perfect complement to the lifestyle I had.”
In 2019 she became certified as an instructor through a Guatemalan school, the Doron Yoga & Zen Center.
“I had a deep yearning to be able to deepen my practice and to learn more regarding the philosophy and diversity of yogic practices that exist,” she said.
“There’s actually eight aspects of yoga practices which are described in the yogic text. The physical practices are only one of those elements and that’s what tends to get a lot of light shone on it in modern popular culture. But there are also other aspects – meditation, withdrawal of the senses, there are sets of ethical and personal guidelines….”
For people who follow all those aspects, yoga becomes a way of life, she added.
“It’s not just people going and doing some poses and getting their Instagram photo. When you consider a comprehensive yoga practice it does embody all of your movements and activities throughout every day. So my teacher training was an absolutely wonderful experience. I’m so grateful for Doron and for the entire team at that place.”
She started teaching “a few classes here and there for students and some friends” and then Covid hit.
“I had been getting a little bit tired of the demands of tour leading. It does monopolise your life. It’s a very blessed life, in terms of seeing new places and meeting new people all the time, [in terms of] constant exploration, but it does take its toll as well.
“Things like having a home, having constant friends that you see regularly face to face, having a family, all of these things are very difficult when you are in the life of a tour leader. So it had started to become less satisfying for me to be in that job. Doing the teacher training was part exploration for me to see if I would be attracted to moving into yoga teaching as a profession. I kept moving closer and closer to that and in March 2020 I decided now is the time.”
She started with free classes on Facebook, and then fate intervened.
“A meeting with a friend at a coffee shop led to the owner of the coffee shop offering for me to teach classes in the back of the coffee shop. I managed to get through 2020 with a regular schedule of around six group classes per week.”
At the end of the year she moved to Bermuda “to spend time with a person who is now my husband, who had become my very, very close friend and to explore a deeper relationship”.
They married in April and she began teaching at Whale Bay Fort last month.
“I’m giving classes two times a week up at the fort for sunset yoga,” Ms Dominguez said. “This is a continuation of me in my voyage of discovery and self-realisation and sharing that with those who choose to show up for a class.
“People have been wonderful and really happy. The first class was completely rained out – I showed up but none of the students did, which was completely understandable. There are actually some cartridge storage rooms in the fort that are enclosed spaces that stay dry during the rain so there is an opportunity to practise when it’s raining up there, which is wonderful.”
Ms Dominguez continued: “It’s beautiful there at sunset. We have an unobstructed view to the sun falling behind the horizon, there’s beautiful green grass, there’s wild sage which has just a beautiful aroma [as does] the fennel around the place. It’s just a lovely place to share the practice form and it now means people don’t have to drive as far as town for yoga.”
Ethos Bermuda’s Buena Vista Social Distancing Club takes place at Whale Bay Fort on Saturday starting at 7.30pm. For tickets or more information: https://bit.ly/3rk20Wl. Clare Dominguez holds sunset yoga classes at the fort on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm. Sign up here: https://bit.ly/2UaFdzP