Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico

This was my first time out of the country and my first yoga retreat, so it was an amazing adventure, to say the least.

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Sunday, April 10

Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico

LOCATION: Yelapa, Mexico—a small fishing village South of Puerto Vallarta—can only be reached by water taxi. Yelapa only got electricity in 2005, there are no roads; only beautiful hikes, sunny beaches, and happy happy people. Truly a magical place to hide from the world and take some well-earned time to focus on yourself.
COST: $600 for double-occupancy ($850 single)
STUDIO: a small space that opens up to the ocean (amazing breezes). Hotel Lagunita does have blankets, mats, and blocks in the space, which is convenient.
SCHEDULE: 2 hours of yoga in the AM & PM. The rest of the day was ours to play. Practice included Hatha Yoga (physical postures), Pranayama (breath control), Raja Yoga (meditation), Bhakti Yoga (chanting & japa), Jnana Yoga (meaningful readings), Yoga Nidra (quiet the mind)
INSTRUCTOR: Helen Mikuska—has been teaching in the fitness industry for over 33 years. She is a AFLCA-certified Group Exercise Specialty Leader, Aquatic Exercise Leader,Older Adult Speciality Leader, YMCA -certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor in Group Exercise, Muscle and Strength Conditioning and Aquatic Fitness (shallow, deep, aquajogger and waterworks instructor specializing in arthritis), Keiser Powerpacing Instructor and Reebok Core Training Instructor. She has completed her Stott Pilates Intensive Mat-Plus and Advanced Matwork courses and received her Diploma with Honours in Food Nutrition Management. Helen is sincere, empathic and has a genuine concern for her students' self-worth, self-value and self-respect.

WOW! First of all, this was my first time out of the country and my first yoga retreat, so it was an amazing adventure, to say the least. I traveled by myself, so you can do this too! I chose this retreat because of the location and the price. It was quite a deal. That cost above covers lodging, food (breakfast, lunch & dinner), water, and yoga practice for a full week. I also was able to find a roomie through Helen, which saved me more money.

I don't even know where to begin with all the great things that happened during this week. First of all, traveling via a yoga retreat is an amazing way to see new places. You have the discipline of doing yoga every day, a group of really great people guaranteed (c'mon, they're yogis!), and then a new location to explore with the group or out on your own if you choose. Now, I can tell you, my mother sent me an article almost weekly with the horrific stories coming out of Mexico. But Yelapa was safe, I had a direct flight into Puerto Vallarta where the hotel had a taxi waiting for me, and I never felt vulnerable at any point... I'm a 34 year old woman, who can't speak much Spanish, traveling by myself, outside of the country for the first time—not vulnerable. Be smart, but don't ruin your adventure... that's all I'm saying.

Helen is a fantastic instructor! I learned so much from her and her extraordinary, traditional teaching methods (don't let her credentials sway you any which direction... it sounds very physical therapy up in that bio of hers, but she trained in India and had (he passed) a wonderful guru to mentor her). Before we even left for Mexico, she walked me through the planning process... always quick to respond and so considerate of what I may need to know since I was separate from the rest of the group (I live in the US and everyone else lives in Canada).

Every practice included sitting meditation, singing/playing instruments, Hatha yoga, japa (with a Mala), and mantras. I never had practiced japa before or worked with a mala... I found that to be so interesting and rewarding, as Helen explained the meaning of each mantra and why you would want to repeat that specific mantra. It took some getting use to her way of instructing the physical postures (nothing bad, just different enough from my home practice that it threw me off), but I tried to stay open to the process because that's what yoga is really about, right? Training the brain to be free (and I have so many bad habits, I could use as many forms of practice as possible). Helen took the series of poses slowly, and I can't tell you how much I loved that. I'm the girl who is ALWAYS behind in class, and it's not because I don't know what I'm doing (ok, sometimes it is). I just really enjoy slowly transitioning from one pose to the next. The control of the muscles, trying to gracefully move and smoothly find your way into the proper position. Having the time to think of all the little adjustments that can be done to go deeper into your pose. Wonderful.

My fellow yogis were mind-blowing inspirations. Most of them attended yoga once or twice a week when they were home, but that didn't stop them from signing up for a retreat that required four hours of yoga out of them each day. And they made it to almost every class. I was impressed. One of our yogis has MS and finds yoga to be therapeutic for her symptoms. Her daughter came with her to help as she had trouble just walking from our palapas to the studio. But there she was, fearless, doing yoga every day... and quite beautifully, I might add.

The food was amazing. We did have to talk them through vegetarian and vegan (I was the one who didn't eat meat or dairy) options, but Hotel Lagunita was accommodating. Breakfast was possibly the best... a platter of fresh fruit, homemade yogurt (for some), homemade granola, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and then the main entree which is many options on their regular menu. I was a fan of the huevos rancheros, myself. I usually ate so much for breakfast I would skip lunch. But everyone loved the avocado stuffed with shrimp salad. And for dinner they would start us off with some form of juice (guava water, for example, that had me in the kitchen asking how they made it) and a salad. Each night they would offer two options for the main entree... a lot of these were meat & cheese based, so I usually just asked for whatever vegetables they had on the side.

Sleeping accommodations were rustic, but refreshing. Two beds, usually, to a palapa. No ceilings—open to the thatched roof. Open-air showers. No TVs, just a couple outlets. Mosquito nets over the beds. There were spiders and lizards and bugs, but I found it releasing. No computers (although they did have free wi-fi near the office if you needed to touch base with reality), no cell phone connection, no TV... after dinner we would all usually retire to bed to read. Sometimes you need to unplug from the technology that is taking up space in your brain. My heart broke, for many reasons, when we left Yelapa and I saw the first car in Puerto Vallarta or got on the plane and watched the little TV come down to play The Simpsons. Having that quiet time should happen every day, not just on a retreat... thanks to Yelapa, I try to make it happen.

Yelapa, the village itself, was charming. We'd walk from our hotel on one side of the beach to the other side that had the stairway leading up to the village. In the "downtown" area there were a couple grocery stores, a quaint church, and lots of vendors selling jewelry, knick-knacks, or sarongs. There were two options for waterfall hikes, one through the town and the other one a bit more hiking through the country. I can't wait to return, and intend to make Yelapa a yearly destination if I can afford it.

As for you... if you can visit Yelapa with Helen and her group, you will have yourself an inexpensive retreat that spoils you rotten. Love to my friends in Canada!

Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico from Anni Poppen on Vimeo.