Women to Watch: Ingrid Yang

This article was originally published on STRONG. Read the original version here.


Age: 41     Hometown: San Diego, CA     
Gig: Physician, Yoga Therapist & Meditation Teacher     Follow her: @ingridyangyogamd

For physician and author Ingrid, achieving optimal health for herself and her patients is not simply a matter of practicing “this” or “that.” Instead, she firmly believes that a broad approach to fitness is key to living your best life. She says, “I like to mix things up in my fitness routine. I practice yoga almost daily, but I also cycle, run, surf, hike, and swim in the ocean regularly.” Ingrid says she’s motivated by helping others understand why it’s beneficial to incorporate a variety of modalities into their fitness plans. “It’s important to keep your body challenged, your mind engaged, and prevent injury.”

Ingrid believes that exercise should also include meditative aspects such as breathing techniques, posture control, and meditation.

Ingrid knows first-hand how critical a mindful movement practice can be, especially when you’re not feeling 100%. “I recently fractured my ankle and it took months of rehab to get back to even walking,” she says. Throughout her rehab, Ingrid continued with yoga because it helped her regain balance and stamina, and with her book, Adaptive Yoga,Ingrid is helping individuals with disabilities learn to improve their wellness, too. “I practice yoga therapy in the hospital setting with my patients. Even if you are in the hospital bed, you can still practice plenty of yoga,” she says.


3 Can’t-Miss (and COVID-Safe) Yoga Destinations in Portugal

This article was originally posted in Yoga Journal. Read the article here.

With over 86 percent of Portuguese citizens vaccinated, Portugal is one of the safest and easiest places to travel in Europe during the ongoing pandemic. Here’s where to go.

Ah, the grand European vacation. There is nothing more romantic than packing your bags and humming “La Vie en Rose” while you decide how to best pack your travel yoga mat. With more than 86 percent of Portuguese citizens vaccinated against COVID-19, Portugal has proven to be one of the safest and easiest places to travel in Europe during the ongoing pandemic. So for those of you looking to finally break your international travel hiatus from the last 18 months, a yoga vacation in Portugal may be just what you need.

Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in regional culture and history, enjoy stunning and serene countryside, or lay out on vast sparkling beaches, Portugal has what you seek. The truth is, there are plenty of hotels and resorts to choose from in this European country that welcomes 28 million travelers per year. However, for those of you looking to quench your thirst for travel with a yoga-inspired respite, we’ve selected three destinations that are perfect for your next yoga holiday. Here, we take you on a journey through this magnificent country nestled between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean to the best yoga destinations Portugal has to offer.

Casa Fuzetta: Family-owned luxury in the Algarve

Courtesy of Casa Fuzetta

The Algarve (pronounced “al-gaarv”) is the Southernmost region of Portugal. This province is home to shimmering beaches, world-renowned surf breaks, and some of the best seafood in the world. In the years prior to the pandemic, tourism boomed here, and portions of the pristine 150-mile coastline became home to many touristy seaside resorts and construction-spatted traffic. But thankfully, there are still small, less-developed fishing villages and secluded beaches in the region, and this is where you can find our first Portuguese yoga destination.

Casa Fuzetta is an exquisitely renovated historic home located in the quiet fisherman’s village of Olhão (prounounced “ol-yowng”) in the heart of Portugal’s Algarve that is perfectly suited for hosting small-group yoga retreats. Originally a classical residence, it was lovingly restored over three years, with restoration completed in 2016. Local craftsmen and artisans were gathered to restore and preserve the property’s architectural heritage and imbue it with contemporary design and comfort, including a truly spectacular rooftop pool (pictured above).

At Casa Fuzetta, yoga spaces abound; from the rooftop deck, to stunning library space, to the opulent entry hall, you can find many lovely settings for group asana practice. A magnificent stained-glass meditation space is the perfect getaway for rest and quiet time, or opt for a live yoga class in the limestone courtyard. Yoga mats and props are available for each guest, as well as smart technology water bottles to ensure you stay hydrated during your practice.

The best part of Casa Fuzetta is that it is family-owned and personally managed by the owner, Tara Donovan. Her eye for design is noted in the elegant furnishings that adorn the house, some of which were passed down by her great-grandparents. Every element was chosen with functionality, comfort, and beauty in mind. Donovan understands the importance of connection both to others and within yourself, and Casa Fuzetta was built for just that. Whether you want to sit by the fireplace with your journal and morning tea, or practice restorative yoga on the yoga deck in the afternoons, the atmosphere of Casa Fuzetta will warmly embrace you. It truly is the perfect place to host an intimate yoga getaway in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Quinta da Comporta: Where the locals vacation

Courtesy of Quinta Da Comporta

Comporta was recently named the “Hamptons of Portugal” by Fodor’s Travel. But the label is somewhat misleading, because this lovely Portuguese town cannot be compared to any other place in the world. In Comporta, rural Portugal still survives in tradition-steeped fisheries and rice fields that span from the town all the way to its pristine beaches. While this seaside town is an easy getaway from Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon, located just 75 miles south, it seems worlds away in its disposition.

Here, among the miles of golden seaside sand dunes, you will find Quinta da Comporta, a vacationers’ paradise perfectly suited for awe-inspiring yoga getaways. Whether you want to plan a yoga retreat or a personal getaway, this wellness resort is a haven for peace and tranquility. Its outdoor yoga shala overlooks the serene rice fields, or you can practice aqua yoga in their indoor or outdoor pools, or roll out a mat in their state-of-the-art indoor gym. If you seek the non-touristy experience and want to vacation where the Portuguese themselves get away, Quinta da Comporta is where you will find it. The property is designed to remain faithful to the region’s provincial style: brightly whitewashed walls with vibrant blue accents, and a quiet respect for the land where fisherman and rice farmers have lived in symbiotic harmony for centuries.

The village of Comporta is the highest volume rice producer in all of Europe, so after morning asana practice, be sure to take a bike ride through the nearby rice fields. Then head back to the spa for a treatment that uses Quinta da Comporta’s own skincare product line, Oryza Lab (latin for “rice”), all made from rice directly farmed in the region. After your treatment, you may want to take a relaxing dip in the resort’s stunning heated pool before having dinner at their farm-to-table restaurant, which harvests fruits and vegetables from its own on-property garden. Protected by strict environmental laws, day-to-day life in Comporta follows the same easy rhythm as it did hundreds of years ago, to help you reconnect to the simpler things in life while you breath in the fresh sea air during pranayama practice.

Six Senses Douro Valley: Come for the yoga, stay for the transformation

Courtesy Six Senses Douro Valley

As the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, Douro Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. Its magnificent landscape is characterized by remarkably engineered terraces covered in vines with wine-making history that dates back over 2000 years. Beauty and relaxation are a way of life in Douro Valley, and if you are looking for a personal yoga retreat, this is it. 

The majestic River Douro supplies the region with the irrigation it needs to grow its precious wine and port-making grapes. In this magical region, you will find Six Senses Douro Valley, set in a beautifully renovated 19th-century manor house. This destination focuses its offerings on luxury, sustainability, wellness, and in particular, yoga. There are no shortage of yoga and meditation classes on the daily activities schedule. Or, you may choose from three-, five-, seven-, or 10-day personalized yoga packages, with programs such as Discover Yoga, Yoga Detox, and Yogic Sleep.

For karma yogis, Six Senses is committed to giving back to the Douro Valley community by supporting at-risk youth and animals, as well as protecting the land in and around the resort. Additionally, your retreat may also include experiences steeped in Portuguese tradition and earth-centered sustainability. The Douro Valley continues to rely heavily on its agricultural industry, and farming families often pickle and ferment their harvest to ensure their own food supply throughout the year. Six Senses keeps these traditions alive by offering courses in organic gardening, pickling, and fermenting so you can learn the Portuguese traditions of food preservation.

Outdoorsy yogis can experience forest bathing or take a tree climbing class, as the property is graced with 10 acres of beautifully preserved forest. Or boost your mental health with a bike ride through the vineyards before taking a kayak out on the tranquil Douro River. Be sure to schedule time in the Six Senses Spa, where your massage begins with a sound bath before you slip into blissful relaxation. The perfect way to alchemize the energy of the Douro Valley and reconnect to your senses.   

A trip to magnificent Portugal offers something for every yogi; whether as a small-group retreat at family-owned Casa Fuzetta, a large group escape at Quinta da Comporta, or a personal, yoga-inspired getaway at Six Senses Duoro Valley. Yoga is about connection and these three destinations offer the perfect antidote for the isolation and disconnection felt by so many over the past 18 months. 


How meditation helps me cope with COVID-19

Now, more than ever, I have called upon my meditation practice to help me through each day. Every morning, whether I’m headed to the hospital or self-isolating at home, I find my way to my meditation pillow for 30 minutes. This is a very stressful time for a physician. There is no question that I love my job, and I thrive in stressful environments. However, these times are unprecedented. No doctor has trained for this. But my mindfulness practice has guided me through the stressful hospital days and has helped me navigate the challenges with dignity, grace, and compassion.

I remember when I first started meditating; I was living in NYC, 9/11 had just occurred and I felt stressed about everything. I could hardly sit still for even 5 minutes. But regardless of how hard it was (and it was hard!), I would practice every day. Even for just 5 minutes. Eventually, I started to notice the benefits — I was no longer ruled by my concerns about the future or dwelling in the past — I felt more present in my daily life, and consequently, more free.

My meditation practice really took flight during med school. I was filled with so many feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. How could I ever have the knowledge and healing instinct that seemed to come so easily to my mentors? But when I committed to the practice, I found it inside me — that sense of knowing… the confidence and self-love that it took to believe I could be all the things I set out to be. It motivated me to study harder and work longer hours. It took years of practice, and some days are harder than others. But it’s in those moments, I know I must go back to my practice. In moments of doubt and fear, I sit– to stay grounded and centered. In times of discomfort I call upon meditation for comfort and guidance — and it has never failed me. In these times of the

COVID-19 pandemic, I practice meditation daily. And without it, I would be a very different person. Who knows, I may have let the stress get to me. But because of the support of meditation, I know myself better, and I can summon the courage needed to take on these difficulties ahead, and step up to the plate the way my patients need me. You can too.

Silent Retreat-ing

I’ve just come out of a weekend-long silent meditation retreat, and I yearn now for more silence. There is something about silence that is relieving. You don’t have to worry if you are likeable, or if what you said to the person next to you was the right/wrong thing. There is no awkward silence because silence is the norm. It is amazing and agonizing all at once. The journey is bone-shaking and uncomfortable. At times you feel elated, other times, you yearn to be stimulated and distracted. It’s a constant battle of confronting every feeling, thought and emotion you have with dynamic awareness.


Time can go slow when you are meditating. This retreat was held at a mission centered around a beautiful old cathedral in the hills of Southern California’s city of Oceanside. The bells of the church would tell our time, ringing every 15 minutes; one for ¼ past the hour, two for half hour, and three for 45 past, and 4 times plus the number of hours to tell us the time on the hour. Sometimes, when the bell would ring, I would be surprised and disappointed that time had passed so slowly. Other times, I would hear the church bells and wish I had more time because I was just then settling into a sense of stillness. And then it was gone. We would sit, then walk, sit again, then walk again. The day was broken up by silent meals where I would try to break the habit of shoveling food in my mouth to move on to my next task, and mindfully taste every bite. Then we would sit and walk again. Occasionally, our teacher, Matthew Brensilver, would share wisdom through dharma talks. And they resonated. Sleep was speckled with intense dreams and deep, catatonic rest. All of it in an attempt to surrender.


At times, we retreat to seek refuge in the suffering that is inherent in every life, even among the most fortunate. There is courage in the willingness to look within and evolve. It is just about mustering the courage. Sit-walk-sit-walk-sit-walk. Isn’t that what we are doing in our daily lives? But in the case of retreat, maybe living in that life just a little more mindfully.


Paying attention

In our busy, modern lives, we have to rely on our innate automated system more and more each day. From our instincts when we get behind the wheel of a car, to our muscle memory when we unlock our phones, the efficiency of our autonomic nervous system is integral to our daily survival. On average, our hearts beat 70 times per minute. In that same 60-second period, we blink between 10 and 15 times, swallow once, and take up to 20 breaths. Our hearts beat. Our lungs breathe. Our bodies keep us alive.


And most of us barely notice. We just take it all for granted. So much of the world operates without us ever thinking about it. We just expect it to work out in our favor… and most of the time it does. We worry about the future and think about the past. But we hardly ever focus on the present; about what is right in front of us. And in doing this, we so often miss what is right in front of us. We take what’s good and easy and working for granted. Until it’s no longer good and easy and working for us… until we sprain our ankle and can no longer walk, until we get a cold and can no longer breathe, until we have a stroke and can no longer use our dominant hand. It’s normal. It’s part of being human.


But we can do better. I know we can. We can do better for us and for those around us. Because there are tiny, beautiful gifts we are given every day. The breath. The heart beat. The grace.  It is up to us to appreciate them to the fullest while we can. In this one precious life, what can you notice to bring you more present; whether the breath, the heart, the perspective? Where can you be more present and more aware of the miracle of all the systems it takes to keep you alive? This life. This, that which we, just by the sheer act of paying attention, can be more present and connected to. This life.

This is water

There is a story of these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” They nod politely, and the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks “What the hell is water?”

These two fish, so innocent and unknowing merely show ya that the obvious, most important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see, and as a result, we miss simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of us and inside us. This very esoteric idea of being present is constantly bombarding us, but what it means really is learning how to think and learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. So today, I encourage you to make the choice to be here and present in the exact space you are in right now.  Knowing that the choice is yours.  And whatever it is that you are feeling whether it is with fear or inadequacy or joy and elation; it is your job to be present with it.  Be here now.

Meditation and Cancer Therapy

The outward benefits of yoga seem almost too obvious when we begin to practice: strength, focus, peace of mind, balance… if you’ve practiced, you’ve felt it too. As we begin to peel away the layers, we may also discover other unexpected and invaluable benefits such as the way in which we relate to ourselves. The term that my meditation teacher uses is “making friends with yourself”; it is the process of letting go of that recurrent voice inside that tells you that you have to be something different than you are, when in fact, you are already all that you need to be. It is about accessing your true self, and it is the ease that you build in a yoga practice that molds the key.


In this manner, yoga heals. I regularly teach Yoga for Cancer Recovery workshops and my students cannot sing enough praises about how yoga has healed their body, mind, and souls. For a cancer survivor, nothing feels better than to proactively participate in promoting her own good health. What is most exciting to me is that my recovery classes actually encourage the students to do less, and I incorporate this concept by starting each class with meditation. The whole practice, meditation combined with yoga, is about waking up. In our modern lives, we are programmed to think that we will be happier if we do more and accomplish more. I am personally guilty of the same mindset, and it seems radical to break this paradigm. Not that I am denouncing productivity – it is important to realize and pursue our goals. A meditation practice may actually help us achieve our goals by understanding that there is nothing we can do that will make us healthier or happier than something we’ll find is already inside us. This concept, which seems so enigmatic and unattainable at first, is actually something that we can wake up to while in our practice and learn to meet in each moment as it arises. There is nothing mystical or religious about it. In fact, it is the most pragmatic principle that exists. Our practice simply asks us to be ourselves. When we accept and make friends with our true selves, our goals become within reach because we truly understand our potential. The hard work of uncovering that true self is up to you.


So now that you are convinced a meditation practice can be part of your yoga practice, how do you begin? Start by committing yourself to 5 minutes a day for a week. Then build up to 10 minutes the following week, 15 minutes the following, and finally 20 minutes in your fourth week. Be patient with yourself. No one is able to run a marathon without training, and your brain is the most difficult part of your body to train. Start by sitting up straight. Some people like to have an icon to focus upon, their eyes closed, or their eyes slightly open. I am for all of the above – choose the method that works for you. Find a comfortable seat in a chair, on a block, or cushion, or the good old floor will do just fine. The reason we sit up straight is that we believe that there is something dignified about our practice, that it serves us as much as we submit to it too. While practicing, own it and commit to it. Fight the urge to get off your cushion or mat to check your phone or jot down that item on your to do list that you miraculously remembered while “clearing your mind”. This practice teaches us that there is no thought so brilliant that you must hold onto it. In this manner, you begin to forgive, let go, and create ease in both your body and mind.   Remember, start in baby steps, but really engage in it. Consider it your mind’s commitment to train for the Iron Man-Brain. You’ll find the training will pay off as you begin to meet each moment as it arises, let go in challenging situations, and find the best in yourself.