Nature, Travel, Yoga Retreats

Muy Bien — My Top Ten (Costa Rica) continued …

(Here’s the first part of the Top Ten list in the previous post).

6.  Pipa Fria

Pipa-fria-0328iWho needs Whole Foods, when you can pick up fresh coconut water at the numerous roadside fruit stands?  Pull over immediately (smiling and pura vida-ing) and don’t be alarmed by the machete the fruit guy is holding. Watch, as within seconds, he hacks open an unripened, green coconut and transforms it into a goblet of

coconut water
Here’s how you might be used to drinking coconut water …
pipa fria
Here’s your upgrade to a whole new world of coconut

heavenly sweet water, complete with a straw he’ll pop through the top. It’s the perfect, refreshing pick-me-up; loaded with vitamins and electrolytes, and the treat continues once you’ve drunk the agua de pipa, as you use the “lid” of your coconut to scoop out the soft flesh and eat that, too. Watch the creator of coconut nirvana nifty work:

7.  Toucans

So adorable that they deserve their very own mention, even though they kind of fall under #1 Nature. These comical birds arrived in the treetops in a flashy display of color and noise, looking like they’d just rented their feathers for Halloween outfits.

toucan in flight

toucans-costa-rica

8.  Howler Monkeys

The alarm clocks of the jungle, a sound that had me smilingly coming out of sleep and ready to greet each new day. The howlers also added their grunting and calling to our outdoor yoga classes, and we’d hear them in the trees around us in the evenings, providing the perfect backdrop for a story about Hanuman.

howler monkey

9.  Fireflies

Yoga spaceYes, I know they have fireflies in other countries, but the Costa Rican fireflies were bigger than any I’ve ever seen, and seemed to have adopted the pura vida culture too, as they floated into our yoga space during Savasana; big, bright, glowing orbs of light, dipping in the air around our yoginis, adding fairy-like magic to the already idyllic surroundings.

 

10.  Yogayoga-retreat-costa-rica-0449gi

A magnificent setting like Lake Arenal in Costa Rica will heighten your experience on the yoga mat and jumpstart your prana; whether you’re rocking a joyful backbend, or you’re deep in contemplation. Eckhart Tolle describes being in nature as “a compelling portal to presence”, and it’s true. Practicing yoga in a paradise like Costa Rica will create memories you can come back to, once you’re back home and living your Other Vida.

So, there you have it. As if you ever needed any encouragement to head to “The Happiest Planet on Earth” (according to the Happy Planet Index), these ten reasons to go to Costa Rica are a mere  introduction to the beauty that awaits you in this peaceful soul of Central America. Enjoy!

Travel, Yoga Retreats

10 Reasons To Go On A Yoga Retreat (on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala)

1.   Your Destination Is Dramatically Beautiful

Lake-Atitlan-Yoga-RetreatSet in the highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlán is celebrated as “the most beautiful lake in the world” — as famously described by German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. It’s the deepest lake in Central America, a crater lake (caldera) formed by the very volcanoes that surround it today. The three giants rising up over the lake provide a majestic backdrop for the ever-changing colors of the day. Idyllic, unparalleled, magnificent views surround you, justifying the use of all superlatives in trying to describe its beauty.

When you pull yourself away from staring agog at the volcanic vista, you’ll notice you’re immersed in nature. The gorgeous gardens of our eco-resort are filled with exotic birds, butterflies and tropical flowers, with the added temptation of exploring the verdant green hills and traditional Mayan villages in the area.

2.   Unplug And Relax 

Yes! A reward for working hard and a much-needed break from daily stresses, a yoga retreat at Lake Atitlán allows you to invest in your wellness and top up your energy levels.

Lake-Atitlan-hikeA yoga retreat also has a smorgasbord of “additional activities”. Plenty on offer, depending on what your definition of relax is. Do you want a yoga retreat which is active and energizing, calming and contemplative, or a little of both? Notice what you naturally choose and consider doing something a little different, perhaps unplugging more than you typically would — or, at the opposite end of the frantic/lazy spectrum, perhaps getting off your bum and enjoying the natural beauty of a hike or kayak excursion. You get to decide what level of RELAX you need.

Lake-Atitlan-sunriseRelax also means UNPLUG. Less technology, more nature. Repeat that mantra. Less technology, more nature. Give yourself a technology detox, as you connect with magnificent sunrises, sunsets, star-filled night skies. And if you can’t go cold turkey on unplugging completely, at least minimize your connection with the outside world, so that it doesn’t drag you back into the busy-ness from which you’ve just traveled many miles to escape!

Disconnect from all those little white umbilical cords attached to phones, iPods, tablets, laptops, and anything else that remotely resembles something that knows how to ROFL and LMK. Yes, fellow yoga retreaters, ICW. It. Can. Wait.

3.   More Yoga!

A yoga retreat is the ideal opportunity to do more yoga than you typically would, with an already-crammed schedule at home. We offer yoga twice a day on our retreat; typically a vigorous morning practice and a quieter, more relaxing practice in the evening, with meditation.

Yoga-Retreat-Guatemala-AtitlanDon’t be intimidated by “YIKES! 3+ hours of yoga a day?” — you’ll be encouraged to abandon any grim determination more suitable to a gym workout, as you deepen the poses without aggression, but with a sense of curiosity. You’ll see progress in your yoga and open up to new experiences on your mat … which you can pack up in your suitcase and continue exploring at home.

4.   More Time To Meditate 

Meditation-yoga-retreatThe combination of having guided and/or group meditation as part of your yoga retreat program, and the simple fact of being in a place with reduced distractions, will allow you to truly explore meditation.  This could be an extension of your existing regular meditation practice, or the catalyst for establishing one.

Outside of a group setting, take a few minutes (hey! take an HOUR — why not!) in the morning and evening to be completely still and contemplative. Take this mindfulness with you on an energetic hike, or even a lively trip to the chaotic markets of Chichicastenango, and you can turn activity into a moving meditation.  Talk less. See more. Think less. Experience more.

5.   Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Life-begins-at-the-end-of-your-comfort-zoneGoing somewhere new – new country, new language, new food — all of these elements stretch us beyond the stretching of our muscles in physical yoga. Unfamiliar experiences open the door to yoga of the mind, yoga of emotion, yoga of psychology.

When we’re no longer behaving like automatons, or stuck in the rut of routine, this is an ideal time for self discovery, making space for personal growth. By stepping forward and doing unfamiliar, sometimes scary, things, we create the path towards discovery and new-found confidence.

In this new and liberating frame of mind, you might surprise yourself and find you’ve signed up for zip lining in the morning. Try new things. You’ll head home with a new perspective on life, whatever your personal yoga adventure.

6.   Healthy Eating

Scrumptious-veggiesMost yoga retreat focus on nutritious eating and the destinations we choose on Lake Atitlán, are no exception. The food is healthy, tasty, often vegetarian (with optional meat choices), and includes some local touches. You’ll enjoy delicious soups, guacamole, tamales, omelette, fresh local cheese, quesadillas and more.

At the end of your retreat, you can make a commitment to continued healthy eating and incorporate some of these elements into your diet.

7.   Coffee

Guatemala-CoffeeOkay, I know I just wrote about kickstarting a new eating routine and healthy diet and now here I am, advocating a good dose of diterpines, caffeine and kahweol.

But my grandfather used to say, “moderation in everything”, and I’m following his lead on this one. Plus … “The majority of recent research suggests that moderate coffee consumption is benign or mildly beneficial in healthy adults.” There we go. If Wikipedia said it, it must be true.

So, get used to saying the phrase, “Café con leche caliente, por favor” and prepare yourself for Coffee Nirvana, as you get to savor the world-famous, fragrant coffee of Guatemala.

8.   Cacao

How can you not love a country where chocolate is sacred? Arguably the first chocoholics, the Mayans saw cacao as the food of the gods (me, too!) and held annual festivals to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.

Guatemala-chocolate-ixcacaoCacao was the drink of choice for the Maya elites and it was used in royal and religious ceremonies. It’s even cherished enough to be written about in the sacred Mayan book, the Popol Vuh.

And here’s a fun discovery – it looks like the Maya invented the first chocolate bar snack! – “So that they could eat cacao at all times, the Mayans also created an on-the-go form by packing it tightly with cornmeal into small round slabs. Warriors carried these snacks, which their enemies envied and stole.”

I bypassed ancient Maya warriors and indulged in little snacks of cacao decadence of the modern type; rich and flavorful, heavenly bites of handmade chocolate bliss.

9.   The People of Guatemala 

The local people are welcoming, friendly, and proud of their country. You’ll see some beautiful Guatemalan faces against the vibrant colors and designs of traditional dress, especially in this region, which is renowned for the Maya people who still practice sacred and ancient traditions.
Guatemala-faces
Regional dress is worn daily, not saved for special occasions, especially in the smaller villages. Cheerful and intricate weavings; women with bold designs on skirts and headdresses, men in jaunty cowboy hats and embroidered pants. In Guatemala City, you’ll see some traditional dress juxtaposed against the mostly modern and westernized sneakers and jeans, but the villages appear to be holding on to their traditions, which is a delight to see.

Guatemala-facesIf you’re so delighted and tempted to capture some of this on camera, don’t assume you can just click away at the people you see in the villages and markets. They will cover their faces or turn away in annoyance — and wouldn’t you, if the roles were reversed? Sometimes it’s appropriate to ask permission to take photographs in exchange for a few quetzales. Assess each situation, be friendly, and graciously move on if the answer is no.

10.   New Friendships

A yoga retreat in magnificent surroundings is likely to attract people with similar intentions and attitudes to life as yours. Your group may have a diversity of backgrounds, but you all have at least two things in common: you chose to go on a yoga retreat and you picked Guatemala. You’ll meet new and interesting people and have the chance to turn them into lifelong friends.

We’ve designed our next retreat on Lake Atitlán on October 21-25 with all the above benefits in mind, so that you can return home, restored and refreshed, and motivated to take that sense of peace back with you and into your daily life.

Join us at the eco-chic Villa Sumaya!

Click here for more info and to register

Inspirational

Make Your Home An Ashram

Desperate for a weekend break, a getaway, an escape from it all? Here’s how to go on a yoga retreat while you’re at home. When we asked Yogi Sivadas how to package up the peace of our yoga school and take it with us, one of his suggestions was, “Make your home an ashram.” Excellent idea! Create peace in your home and make it the sort of sanctuary that whispers words like blissful and escape – just like those tempting ads that pop up on your screen and have you salivating. Start by blocking out two to three days on your calendar, as if you were unavailable. Tell your friends and family you’ll be incommunicado.

Then, follow the guidelines below – and I know I’m at risk of falling into the category of a click-baiting yoga blogger who shouts out, “Five Tips On How to Go on a Yoga Retreat at Home!”, but c’est la vie, here they are:

Peaceful garden buddha1.  Make Your Home An Ashram. Whether you live in a tiny apartment or a luxurious mansion, you can transform your home into a peaceful refuge. Without doing a massive clear out (now’s not the time), tidy your home as if guests you love were imminent and you’d like the place to look welcoming. Hide the clutter and make a promise to do the decluttering thing later. Think of the places that make you feel most tranquil and replicate some of that, in your own home. Music, chimes, candles, flowers, incense, if that’s your thing.  Ornaments, photos, snuggly blankets – choose to be surrounded by objects of beauty and comfort, which doesn’t necessarily mean spending money.

Salad2.  Eat Well. Plan your meals ahead of time; choosing simple, fresh, organic-where-possible, preferably-vegetarian (easily digested) ingredients and menus. Go for flavor and not complexity. My yoga friend, Karen, throws together scrumptious meals quicker than you can say Namaste and it’s always about simple, fresh flavors, usually involving a handful of herbs and/or an interesting twist, like edamame beans scattered on top of a salad. If you’re no domestic goddess in the cooking department, then stock up on ready-made, healthy options – including frozen, if the food is good quality. Also eat at times that make it easier on your digestive system (here’s why), i.e. breakfast between 9am-10am, lunch 1-2pm, dinner no later than 7pm.

snore 3.  Sleep Well. Set a schedule for sleeping, and your body will thank you for it. The recommendation for a healthy sleeping pattern which has worked for me, is to be asleep by latest 10pm and wake up by 6am. If the thought of pre-birdsong-alarm-call freaks you out on your three-day home retreat, then go to bed even earlier and you’ll find it’s easier to get up and join the dawn chorus. If you need extra sleep during the day, take a little nap/s to recharge the batteries.

4.  Treats. This is a yoga retreat, remember? So scatter little pamperations (no such word, but there should be) and decadent spoil-me-please activities during your break; like an at-home massage, a DIY home facial, spending a solid two hours reading that book that’s been calling you – anything that makes you feel indulged, relaxed and fabulous. Daisies

5.  Unplug. Less technology, more nature. Repeat the mantra. Less Tech, More Trees. Sit under one, hug one, gaze at one from your apartment window, or do whatever connects you with nature – sunsets, sunrises, stargazing, butterflies, beach walks, flowers. Immerse in nature in your own back yard or local park and breathe it in, drink in the colors, enjoy the sounds. “Unplug” means disconnect from all those little white umbilical cords attached to phones, iPods, tablets, PCs, television, radio and anything else that remotely resembles something that knows how to ROFL and LMK. Yes, folks, ICW. It. Can. Wait.

The physical yoga is the obvious part of a yoga retreat, so we’ll take that as a given, assuming you’re going to slot in an hour or so of easy and gentle yoga stretches and calming breathing (perhaps one kick-butt vinyasa to begin with, if that helps you burn off some stress). See if you can use this break to be good to yourself, indulging in nourishing things, which may include a gentler yoga practice than you’re used to. Guatemala Yoga Retreat When your home is an ashram, every day of the year can be an escape from the daily grind, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Your home can become the kind of place that invites you to be reflective, to relax, to meditate.

Living in a peaceful environment makes it easy to schedule these little mini-retreats regularly and they’ll keep you going until you’re able to go on that uber-yummy yoga retreat in an exquisite location. Like the retreats I’ve been happily hosting with my yoga friend, Karen, in fabulous places like Lake Atitlán in Guatemala and Lake Arenal in Costa Rica  😉

Relax. Replenish. Rejuvenate.  =  Retreat.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books!]