Surrounded by thick, Costa Rican jungle, and beaches with incredible surf, there is a small village called Nosara — and while it is filled with people who’ve dedicated their life to catching that perfect wave, it has also become a haven for yogis.
Now, I’ve done the 30 day yoga challenge at my local yoga studio. I’ve tried vinyasa, and ashtanga, and bikram. I’ve sweat through every pore on my body doing hot yoga just to have it all freeze instantly when I stepped out of the studio (the joys of living in a freezing cold climate). I’ve even taken meditation and breathing classes that focus entirely on moving air in and out of your body, something I thought I already did quite effectively?
But after doing yoga in Nosara, I realized that despite having practiced for years, there was a lot about yoga that I never truly understood. Also, there was a much bigger world for those who practice yoga that I didn’t really know existed. And while discovering all this at an actual yoga resort in Nosara, Costa Rica, I also discovered more about myself and how I want to live my life.
Now before you stop reading, trust me, I realize how cliche this all sounds, but you’ll have to give me a chance to explain. Also, if I haven’t gotten this point across already, if you are a yogi/yoga enthusiast or just like yoga and think you know your stuff — Nosara is definitely a place you want to spend some time.
In Nosara there is a yoga studio in almost every hotel, on almost every street, I mean, there’s probably more yoga studios in Nosara than there are in some small, American towns. And that’s despite the fact Nosara is a village with a population of about 5-thousand. Many of the studios seem to have been opened by Canadian and American expats (Nosara’s Bodhi Tree hotel/yoga resort was opened by people from Calgary), and it’s made Nosara quite the destination for yogis. So, kind of like you have to try surfing while in Nosara, you also have to try yoga.
I started by taking a few classes at Studio Guiones. It’s a beautiful open-air space with small class sizes that allow for the individual attention needed. I was mostly taking stretching classes to try and loosen my muscles from all the surfing I was doing. And don’t get me wrong those classes were great, but given where I was, I wanted to really devote myself to my practice. I wanted to go for the big leagues of yoga in Nosara, aka Bodhi Tree.
Bodhi Tree has the most beautiful yoga studios (they call them ‘shalas’) I’ve ever seen. They’re meticulously crafted, situated in the middle of lush landscape, but they have all the luxuries you could possibly need. I’m talking top of the line tools to assist you in your practice, plus a little hut nearby with clean towels, filtered cold water, and a bathroom/changing area. Yes, this is Bodhi Tree.
But let’s start from when I first walked into this hotel/yoga retreat/yogi heaven so I can give you a little tour, because the resort is nothing short of amazing. And from what I experienced, if you are going to Nosara to do yoga, this is definitely where you want to be.
After walking along a dirt roads surrounded by mostly undeveloped land, the magnificence and luxury of Bodhi Tree is unexpected. Coming upon the hotel, a stunning tall structure with a grandiose staircase leading up to it, it almost seemed like a mirage. My stomach immediately filled with excitement and anticipation for what kind of experience I would have in this jungle oasis.
Walking up the steps of Bodhi Tree reminded me of stairs I’d taken in Hong Kong and Japan when visiting Buddhist temples.
Bodhi Tree is not near the beach, but rather it is up on a bit of a hill. Because of this, it’s yoga studios are perched on stilts, tucked into the trees, so that while you are practicing, you are completely surrounded by nature.
Now, my experience, while enlightening as to how much more mentally involved you can be in your yoga practice, was also serendipitous, but I’ll get to that.
After arriving at the studio a few minutes late I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were only three of us attending the class, plus the instructor, Koko. Now, don’t roll your eyes, but we sat in a small circle, cross-legged, facing each other and Koko told us that this class was going to be a little different than what we may have experienced in previous yoga classes. When someone tells you something like this it’s easy to be skeptical, but I could tell Koko, a very slight, Japanese woman, was intelligent, and her entire being was glowing like a beam of light, so it was clear she was doing something right.
As Koko spoke to us she exuded an enormous amount of positive energy from her eyes and wide smile. Her voice was smooth and she never missed a beat. She referenced Thich Nhat Hanh, a buddhist monk and peace activist who travels around the world teaching meditation, and what he said when he was asked about how often he meditates. Koko said the monk answered that he is ALWAYS meditating, and that she wanted to teach us how to bring meditation into our daily lives.
We paired off, I was with Koko, and in the first exercise, while she sat and listened, I spoke about exactly what was on my mind in that moment. I talked for two minutes to her about things I’ve never really spoken to anyone about. I told her the basics about how I’m a journalist and I love what I do; writing, talking to people, and capturing moments, but then I also told her that I’m trying to find a way to tell stories for myself, not just for the organization I work for. I told her about the excitement I’m feeling with new endeavours in my life and how I’m just trying to follow that excitement in the hopes that it will eventually lead me to success. While I was speaking, Koko was sitting cross-legged, close enough to me that it wouldn’t be a stretch for us to touch noses. She looked right into my eyes, smiling fully and genuinely. She took in every word, she didn’t interrupt, she just listened. It sounds so simple, but to me, it was profound. To have someone, who I just met, fully devoting their attention to me and what I had to say, without ever interjecting, well sadly, I don’t know if that’s something I’ve ever really experienced before. It made me feel a little pressured to say something interesting and important, but it was also invigorating and it forced me to dig deep.
After two minutes Koko was then to respond to me about what I had just said. But her response was not supposed to be about what she thought of what I said, or how she could relate to what I said, it was just supposed to be her interpretation about what I was saying and feeling. It’s actually not an easy thing to do, to not talk about yourself and how you relate to what the other person is saying. I find many people (myself included) also tend to think about how we could try and fix a person; how we could help. But this was not about judgement or finding solutions. It was not about forming a relationship based on shared experience. It was about her listening to what I said and then telling me what she heard, in her own words. The idea is to be actively listening and completely devoted to understanding what the other person is conveying.
We then switched roles, so Koko would talk while I listened. She spoke to me about her child, her practice, and how she’s trying to juggle moving parts in her life. She described a chaotic life, but said it was a chaos that she was grateful for. While listening, looking right into Koko’s eyes, and living in that precise moment was a challenge, it was also incredibly rewarding. I felt like a better listener, a more intelligent conversationalist, and like it would help me to become a better friend, loved one, and colleague. All from just listening.
Now here’s the serendipitous part. After we finished the exercise, Koko revealed to me that she too is a journalist. It was something she didn’t want to say during the exercise because when she was responding to me about what I’d told her, it wasn’t about her. I had already felt connected to Koko because of many of the things she said; I’d read several of Thich Nhat Hanh’s works, and I’d recently become very interested in focusing on living in the present and ‘living mindfully.’ Now, knowing she was a journalist, a person dedicated to truth, and sharing stories and important information with others, I felt even more so that I was exactly where I was meant to be in that moment in time.
The following exercises we did pushed me even further to live mindfully, which was the purpose. We practiced walking meditation; leaving the studio and walking on a portion of one of the paths. We were instructed to think about every movement; shifting weight, lifting the leg, placing the heal down, then the toes. Then we were instructed to think of phrases to keep us present. Left foot step ‘I am here,’ right foot step ‘I am home,’ and repeat. When we got back to the studio we walked in slowly, presently, and we each got a cup of water from the dispenser. We then sat and drank the water, slowly and mindfully. In the fast-pace of daily life, these are not things you typically take extra time to do, so it was both painful in it’s snail-like pace, but eye-opening in the thoughts it would provoke and the senses it would stimulate. Once again, it sounds so simple, but in this setting, in the middle of the jungle, in a yoga studio on stilts in the trees, with the sounds of the birds and bugs all around us, it was a very real experience.
We then took our mindful practice into our yoga poses; thinking about each movement and executing with purpose. It was incredibly calming. There was nothing else I needed to be doing in that moment, and there was absolutely nothing else on my mind than exactly what we were doing. It was like a true escape and successfully, it was also the exact opposite. I was not escaping at all, rather, I was experiencing everything in complete fullness. And while it was a struggle at times to keep my thoughts from drifting, that was exactly what we were practicing. This was meditation, this was yoga, and this was living mindfully.
After the class I was eager to speak to Koko to learn more about her; if she’s a journalist in Costa Rica, how she ended up here, etc. It turns out, she used to be a journalist in Japan, but she moved after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 because she was concerned for her daughter’s health. She said before they moved she was a very successful broadcaster in Tokyo with her own radio show. She said everyone knew her name and valued her opinion, but and the end of the day, the health of her family was more important to her than any of that. She said she basically just used Google to find a place to move to, and somehow came up with Nosara, Costa Rica. She now teaches yoga at Bodhi Tree and has never been happier.
Now, whether it was the setting, the small class size that allowed for such an intimate experience, the fact the class was focused on meditation, a topic I’d done a lot of reading on and was interested in integrating in my own life, OR the fact that I was paired with the instructor, who also happened to be a journalist, altogether it created an experience I will not soon forget. I really couldn’t believe the chances that I would meet this former journalist who had completely changed her life at a time when I am considering completely changing mine.