The Wellness Retreat 2.0Feb 27, 2021
(Originally posted April 2016)
We just returned from our second Wellness Retreat version 2.0 and in one word, it was incredible.
To be honest, I was a little nervous leading up to it. Our initial Wellness Retreat was amazing, pretty much perfect with an overall incredible vibe. I was anxious that nothing could ever beat the first, that it was way too good and this second one would pale in comparison. In my heart, I knew I had to drop the worry and just show up open to this being an entirely new and unique retreat but my mind kept holding on to what was and apprehensive of what was coming.
I suspect it’s like having a second baby. You love your first child so much. You treasure it, adore it, think you could never love anything ever as much as you love your first baby and then when the second one comes, your heart expands to a whole new level. You love the second just as much as the first but in a totally different way.
That’s sort of what I am experiencing because this second retreat blew me away. Not just on a “wow, that was awesome” level but more like “I am profoundly changed for life” level.
So what made this retreat so powerful? Upon reflection, these are the reasons why…..
After our first retreat in Baja, Mexico, Sebastian and I set our sights on Nicaragua being our next retreat location. After several weeks of investigating, we came across El Coco Loco Resort, a retreat center in northern Nicaragua way way way off the beaten path. There were several things that made this place so enticing – built by three friends from college, the owners of El Coco Loco created the unique space used for tourism but also with the added benefit of supporting the local community. Aside from employing almost 30 members of the neighborhood, they have built a school with a solid after school program and most recently, built a water well in every family’s home in the surrounding area.
In addition, El Coco Loco is all about minimal environmental impact and maximal sustainability efforts which translates to composting toilets, no air conditioning and modest cabanas with bare bones amenities. The simplicity of the place appealed to us and we felt it would serve as a perfect place to disconnect. There was no wifi and only one shared computer as the single piece of technology available. There weren’t even paved roads leading up to the several acre property which meant no local stores, ATMS or access to groceries. Just wide open space and a whole lot of ocean.
There was also a gorgeous, open aired yoga studio with thatched roofing and a wonderful breeze that overlooked the grassy, green property as an ideal setting for our morning practices. Equipped with blocks and mats, I spent many moments inside the space teaching, dreaming, appreciating and meditating. There was also an elevated tree house that we used for massage sessions and dharma talks. It wasn’t quite large enough for a whole yoga class but it did serve as a really special meeting place for us to gather.
El Coco Loco had a central hangout area that served as our dining + living room plus art studio. It overlooked the vibrant blue in ground pool that served as our go-to place for chilling, hanging and connecting.
The eight cabanas were nicely spaced giving each one privacy and solitude. Each had a small porch, complete with a hammock and water bucket to wash feet before entering. There were least 2 beds in each one, protected by mosquito nets, lots of fans to keep cool and a partially covered outdoor bathroom. No lie, it was a small shock to arrive in such basic conditions but it was also an opportunity to appreciate how fortunate we are to be living in a place with access to modern conveniences.
One of the best highlights of El Coco Loco was the proximity to the beach. Within 2-3 minutes we had the ability to walk from the property to the huge beach that was mostly empty, save for a few horses, cows and the occasional local walking by with a surfboard in tow. The water was the ideal temperature – warm enough where you can literally run and jump into a crashing wave but cool enough to make you feel refreshed and renewed. The amazing water was also appealing because Nicaragua is known for incredible surf and we had access to gnarly waves whenever we wanted to take advantage!
The Owners + Staff
Aside from the serene location and disconnect from common luxuries, El Coco Loco was birthed, managed and cared for by phenomenal owners and an equally amazing staff. There are four owners (Ben, Ben, Earl + Jamie) along with their significant others that rotate as to who is in charge for each week. We had the privilege of working with both Ben’s and their wives who were so accommodating and open to our merging of yoga, art and adventure. It was really cool because they felt like co-creators and co-hosts that also participated in several of our classes. In addition to being kind and receptive with a great ability to work together efficiently and communicate clearly and wait ease, the El Coco owners founded Waves of Hope, a Canadian based NGO that has raised and invested over $200k into their local community since 2009.
Here we are with one of the Ben’s and his awesome surfer wife Cydney
As if the owners weren’t amazing enough, the staff at the resort was top notch. Mostly Spanish speaking, we got to practice Spanish and them English for fun and interesting conversations. They were attentive to our needs, kept the place looking clean and organized while still maintaining a authentically wild vibe. The staff also prepared, cooked and served astounding creative meals that felt nourishing and full of love. Most of all, there was mutual respect shared among everyone and a real sense of community that permeated the property and staff.
Of course my favorite part of the retreat was teaching yoga. Even though we loop in art + adventure, yoga remains the heart and center during every Wellness Retreat. Unlike the first retreat where I knew everyone’s body and practice from their frequent attendance in my class, this time around I hadn’t practiced with a majority of the students. This proved to be somewhat challenging because there was a massive range, from super beginner to advanced. I realized quickly that I had to adjust my teaching and make it accessible for everyone, regardless of level. I am confident I managed to do so and I appreciate the opportunity to practice being flexible, open to the present and adaptable rather than rigid in my approach.
Mama Linda rocking her headstand!
Similar to last retreat, we maintained some signature classes such as exploring the chakras, holding an inversion workshop and practicing blindfolded. I also incorporated a very fundamental class at the start of the week to give everyone a solid foundation to build upon as well as a class dedicated to backbends and twists and one focused on arm balances. I loved every single second teaching, witnessing each student courageously work through their challenges on the mat. I still stand in awe because I have been given the gift of teaching yoga in paradise. (Huge shoutout to my teacher and mentor for being the first to cultivate this deep passion inside of me!)
This retreat, I also had an amazing assistant, Miranda, who happened to come on the last retreat. She expressed a deep desire to grow her teaching skills and abilities and having been an assistant on several retreats prior to hosting my own, I knew how valuable this position could be for a teacher eager to learn. She soon earned the trust of the group and everyone really enjoyed her phenomenal hand-on assists and adjustments. It also brought me much ease knowing there is an extra set of hands and eyes to help any student in need of support, a prop or clarification.
We pride ourselves on the unique feature of incorporating art into all of our retreats. Sebastian really enjoyed teaching three different art projects using various mediums and techniques. We explored Art of the Asana using acrylics on canvas but this time we focused on tree pose as our theme of the week. It was fascinating to observe everyone’s unique interpretation and choice of color, style and perspective.
We also did a Zentagle class one evening. It was a perfect way to wind down after a delicious dinner and experiment with meditative, patterned drawing.
Our last art class was something new and really special. Sebastian gave out blank postcards to every student and asked them to draw something specific from their time in Nicaragua. I drew the view from the yoga studio and Sebastian, the landscape of the pool. Others depicted the volcano we boarded down, the hammock used for countless naps, the hibiscus flowers that dotted the property and the beach where we had photo shoots, football catches, acroyoga sessions and really deep, soul quenching fun.
After sketching, students used watercolors to paint their specific scene and then wrote a note to his/herself encouraging them to remember the moment, the magic of the week and the memories we all created. Upon leaving, we asked one of the staff members to stamp and mail the postcards so we are excitedly and anxiously awaiting their arrival!
What was also really cool about this retreat is that we had two artists join us. So our intention that yoga retreats are for everyone is working! These artists brought a whole new level of skill, creativity and flair to our group and we feel so thankful to be attracting all kinds of creative souls to join us on these extraordinary experiences.
The adventures we planned were definitely the highlights of the week. We started with an early morning surf lesson given by three young surf boys from the community. After a quick walk to the bay, we learned the basics of surfing while standing on the sand. The boys gave us clear techniques and instructions and it wasn’t long before we started applying them in the water. We were able to get a little push from the surfers as the waves approached making it slightly easier but no less exhausting. I got up on my board immediately and rode the gentle wave to shore but I also fell off my board a number of times, with sheer delight and a huge smile.
It was amazing to see the group come together as a unit, all cheering each other on and rejoicing in victory whenever someone caught a wave and rode it in. Some of us struggled, like my mom, who was relentless in her pursuit to get it and repeatedly tried, then tried again, and again, and again, much to the dismay of everyone. She inspired every single one of us by her strong will and determination.
Sebastian fell in love with surfing as did our scholarship student, Jamie, and they took every opportunity they had to practice riding, even if that meant a 5am wake-up call.
The most epic part of the whole trip was volcano boarding. Not many are familiar with this thrilling adventure which is why it was so enticing. After driving almost three hours to the Cerro Negro volcano, we hiked over an hour up on the rocky, uneven black surface while being surrounded by stunning views of the surrounding land. We learned that the volcano hasn’t erupted since 1999 and it was common for people to travel to Nicaragua just to experience this rare feat.
This is us!!!! Still can’t believe the magic!
We made our way to the crater and all of us stood in awe of the beauty, the deep, penetrating silence and the immense blessing life was given each of us in that moment. It was beyond words.
From there, we dressed into one piece fluorescent green jumpsuits, big, thick green tinted goggles and gloves. We were given a narrow wooden sled (scrap wood?) that has a thin lining of formica on the bottom. Our amazing guide, Dennis, explained what to do in brief instructions, walked us down a slippery edge and gave us the green light to go.
One at a time, each student boarded the flimsy sled and started booking down the 45 degree angle slope. No joke it was terrifying. I felt like I was going to flip, fall, and flail but I managed to make it down in one piece. You had to use your heels as brakes if you wanted to slow down but no too much cause you could literally be flung off. Luckily, no one got hurt but we were flying from the experience and wished for a second chance to do it again. I think if given another ride, I would have let go of the hesitation and race down even faster!
Yes, that is me!
I’ve jumped out of a plane twice, dove with great white sharks, biked and hiked mountains, boarded on snow and surf and have done a slue of other risky things but this definitely makes the top of the list for the most unique adventures I have ever attempted!
One the last day, we had a chocolate making class which was so so fun! After roasting cacao beans, we deshelled and grinded them, making a thick rich paste. From there, we had several options to chose from that we could add to our chocolate. I experimented with coconut oil, cinnamon, walnuts, cashews and salt. It was so fun to watch everyone mix and match toppings and later that evening, enjoy them for dessert!
All of the add-on’s to choose from!
The Community Service
Something that we incorporated into this Wellness Retreat and now will be adding into every retreat going forward is community service. One afternoon, we had the great honor of leading the Waves of Hope after school program with over 20 kids from the surrounding neighborhood. Many of us brought arts and crafts supplies and as the kids came running up to the property, we broke off into pairs and jumped right in.
Sebastian and his Batmen
It was amazing to see each retreat participant work with the kids in all kinds of ways. Sebastian lead a group of boys in a how-to-draw batman class in Spanish. Others made crowns and animals out of pipe cleaners while games of hopscotch were played. We danced to American pop music, drew with chalk on the ground and experimented with markers, stickers and crayons. One of our artist retreaters, Katie, brought her face painting kit and had a line of kids waiting patiently to have colorful designs decorated on their sweet faces. It was literally one of the most amazing moments of the retreat and Sebastian and I were deeply grateful that our crew was so open, engaged, friendly and involved. I felt my heart expand to a whole new level through our interaction with the community kids and realized giving back as an act of karma yoga must become a staple of every future retreat.
El Coco Loco is really special because the resort lacks wifi. At first, I honestly found this troubling and a large inconvenience but by the end of the week, I was so grateful to have a technology disconnect. And I am confident so did every member of the retreat. It was a relaxing relief to not carry phones, be chained to social media or neurotically check emails every second. There was one shared computer with a landline connection that we all took turns using to check in with family back home.
Overall, we let go of our attachments to phones, media and electronics and opted for face to face communication, hand written notes to each other and observing things with our eyes rather than behind our camera screens. We all felt a little angst coming back to urban living and falling back into our technology attachments but we did vow to hold onto the retreat magic but putting boundaries on phones and computers. It hasn’t been easy and it certainly is a practice but it feels reassuring knowing we share the common intention of disconnecting with more ease and frequency.
The Dharma Talks
Our treehouse studio!
Over the course of the week, we gathered as a group three times in the tree house for the welcoming + closing ceremony plus one dharma talk. During the opening ceremony, everyone had a chance to introduce themselves, share their intentions and reasons for coming. During the dharma talk, I used what I learned at the Lululemon Ambassador Summit and we did a journaling exercise on gratitude and appreciation. I asked them several prompts to reflect and write about including what they felt most grateful for and what they most liked about themselves. It was also an opportunity to share what they wrote as well as any emotions the retreat was bringing up. We used the closing ceremony as the final moment of the retreat and a space to recap everyone’s individual experience. There were tears, smiles, laughs and so much joy, as all of us didn’t want the trip to end yet felt so grateful to have formed friendships that will last a lifetime.
As always, we pride ourselves on gifts for all our students. We fist gave a wellness goodie bag, similar to the last time but in addition to the incense, journal, custom designed itinerary and snacks, we also added in hand/face wipes for all of our activities, an intention setting spray made from Palo Santo, a beautiful moringa face oil and a body butter cream. Lululemon was kind enough to donate yoga towels again and we also had our friend Melissa make handmade postcards for each bag. During the week, we bestowed treats as tokens of love and appreciation. We gave mala beads, yoga handouts, Osho books and truth bombs cards from Danielle LaPorte.
We even were fortunate enough to have dried fruit snacks given to us by a local Nicaraguan business called Sol Simple. Sol Simple is an extremely conscious company that ethically harvests fruits and employees single women of the local community to work for them. There are GMO-free with no added preservatives, added sugars or high fructose corn syrup. It was the perfect snack for excursion days and we were so thankful to be spreading the word about a local company that cares about its people and community.
Hands down the most special, amazing and incredible part of the retreat was the people who took a risk, ventured into the unknown and showed up so authentically and courageously. We had 16 of us in total, from different parts of the country with a range of yoga experiences, creative abilities and beautiful talents. We have 4 repeat retreaters who came with us to Mexico and returned ready for more. We ranged in age from 25 to 63, majority of whom where women but with 4 handsome, conscious males. They were really kind to help my mom anytime she needed extra support (especially hiking up the volcano) as well as being sincere and kind gentlemen to all of our wonderful ladies.
Three of our Snags (aka Spiritual New Age Gentlemen!)
Unlike the first retreat that was mostly pairs of couples and best friends, this retreat was only individuals for the exception of Sebastian and myself. By everyone showing up alone, it encouraged the students to put themselves out there more openly. We had artists, adventurers, yogis, athletes and teachers. We had a phenomenal photographer that captured all of the amazing moments, from chilling poolside to riding waves. My mom also decided to join again and fondly became known as “Mama Linda,” the mothering heart of the whole group. She wowed me on the first retreat but she BLEW ME AWAY this time around. I always knew my mom as a powerful warrior but she took it to the next level. Couldn’t be more proud!
What was also extraordinary about this group is how beautifully they got along and how quickly they fell in love with each other. They showed up after the long car ride already connected. There was open sharing about challenges, losses, past traumas and future dreams. There was no drama or cliques. When faced with problem or dilemma, instead of it affecting the group in a negative way, everyone teamed up together and shared more love and support. No one ever complained, which is amazing considering it was 97 degrees most days with 100% humidity. Rain storms, dog and sting ray bites, missing passports and losing electricity all could have affected the dynamic of the group but it only brought us closer and more appreciative of each other. I have never seen or experienced a group of people so bonded and in love within such a short period of time. It was the largest love fest ever and I’m deeply grateful that the biggest unknown of the trip became the greatest reward.
Sebastian and I started doing Wellness Retreats because we knew what could happen when a group of people go way outside their comfort zones and together practice yoga, create art, experience adventure and disconnect from the hustle of daily life. What happens is deep, profound and magical transformation. We witnessed every single person work through uncomfortability, old wounds, self-limiting beliefs and vulnerability. We watched fears be conquered, masks be dropped and dreams be realized. We observed genuine, deep, penetrating love and friendship that transcended all else. Coming together as a group, we felt each other’s pains and triumphs and loved each other more deeply in spite of our differences. By the end of the week, everyone was softer, clearer, intrinsically motivated, reenergized, more aligned and excited to take the magic of the experience back into their regular lives.
Not only that, when we first arrived, it was the last week of a lengthy dry period meaning it hadn’t rained in six months. Throughout the week, there were several showers and storms that literally transformed the land from a yellowish brown to a blazing green. So not only did we as people change, the environment around us also did as well.
Even now, since being home, the connection continues to grow. There is constant texting, emailing and reunions because of the deep desire to stay in touch, to nurture these new friendships and continue to build community. Whereas Sebastian and I are the backbone to making this happen, it is really these participants that were the soul of this group.
It is a true honor to hold space and create an environment where people feel safe to be themselves while healing, growing and evolving. It doesn’t get lost on me that I have been given the best gift in the world – the trust of these individuals and their willingness to let Sebastian and I be their leaders, teachers and friends.
We are beyond blessed to be creating these experiences and already started working on a weekend retreat upstate and another one in Belize coming soon!