I have been listening to Dr. Steve Ilardi’s podcast on the necessary criteria for mitigating depression. In a world where “1 in 6 Americans are consuming anti-depressants,” it’s worth familiarizing ourselves with prevention techniques. Much like a flu shot, the hope is by implementing these strategies, we will avoid what is becoming more inevitable than an empty gas tank on a road trip – if we don’t fill it up, the vehicle will break down. According to his extensive research, Dr. Ilardi states that humans need the following: sunlight, regular exercise, whole and nutritious foods, human connection, breaking free of negative thought and adequate sleep. In a world where we’re setting alarms to sit in our cars for an hour’s drive under stressful, rush-hour circumstances, possibly slamming a coffee back on the way, to sit again at a desk, behind a screen, under fluorescent lighting, eating fast-food at lunch, followed by sitting in our cars with those same people we honked our horns at that very morning, rushing into the grocery store to grab something quick (who feels like cooking?) and likely settling in for more screen time, far too exhausted for a night out with friends much less an evening hike, we need to consider these techniques with great attention.
I am a person who loves cooking, socializing, exercising and certainly sleeping. I did my best to squeeze all of these things into my schedule, despite them feeling like something else on my to-do list most of the time. Exercise was so I wouldn’t feel chubby, not for the joy of movement and adventure. Cooking was again, so I wouldn’t get chubby, not because I took time to appreciate where my food was coming from and how I could tap into ideas like permaculture and growing things myself. Even with awareness and the best of intentions, I still experienced burnout, anxiety and you guessed it, depression.
I know not everyone feels they have the luxury of whisking themselves away to a foreign country to practice yoga, eat organic vegan food and throw caution to the wind for a week. There are endless reasons (dare I say excuses?) that keep us from taking care of ourselves in this way. If you were/are living anything like I was, you might ask if you can afford not to…
My adventure to Anamaya Resort in Montezuma, Costa Rica began last Fall when my mentor, and Goddess-Mermaid-friend, Bonnie extended the invitation to a group of yogis in the St. Margaret’s Bay area to join her for a week of rejuvenation, exploration and to our pleasant surprise, self-love transformation. Most (ok all) of the women who said yes to this opportunity were older than I was and at the time; strangers to me. I was hoping one of my “younger” friends would join me but would quickly find myself grateful that this didn’t happen.
I didn’t take much time to research or read reviews of Anamaya. This was a conscious decision in some regard, but back to that “busy-as-fuck” schedule of mine, was more about not having time to poke around online any more than I already was. I knew I was going on a yoga retreat (I like yoga!) in Costa Rica (I like warm places in February!) with primarily vegan food (I could eat a cheeseburger everyday but liked the idea of being cooked for, more) and the rest was a mystery. My husband, who was working on some writing, opted to come to Montezuma with me and would create a retreat of his own, elsewhere in the town.
When I first entered Anamaya, there was a young-woman just checking out. She looked like a cartoon character that had been drawn to over-exaggerate happiness. A Disney Princess, or someone hired for a Dental commercial. She was bright and shiny, full of life. And she was smiling. Really smiling. With genuine meaning and purpose. I could tell she couldn’t stop smiling if she wanted to. I said to the receptionist, “I hope I look like that by the end of the week!”
I was sharing a room with two of the 15 women from “Bonnie’s tribe” – neither of whom I knew, but if first impressions meant anything, I would have happily slept on the floor of the kitchen, much less with two vibrant beings. The “resort” was nothing like big places in many Caribbean destinations. It wasn’t a Sandals or Iberostar, for example. Rather, it was Central America, meets India, meets Bali, meets any collection of sacred energies and decors designed to elicit tranquility and insight. It was clean, breezy and elegant in a non-pretentious way. It was “just enough” to make it feel like home but also an escape. There were big, comfortable day-beds both inside and out, communal tables arranged for our decadent meals, two circular-shaped pools that were kept at a refreshing temperature and two yoga platforms that enabled even the most up-tight yogi to melt into savasana with ease. There were other amenities like a spa, outdoor showers, a gift shop, library and walkable attractions like a butterfly garden and waterfalls too. Not too much, not too little.
Though our Nova Scotia gaggle of gals made up about half of the spots at Anamaya, we were beyond fortunate that each one of our accompanying “family members” felt as though they too were meant to be there with us. People from all over the world, who complimented the experience with their stories and smiles. People who throughout the week, we would connect with and share stories of triumph and hardship alike. We first met each other at opening circle, held on the yoga deck on our first evening. A classic “this is my name, this is where I’m from” but with higher vibrations and widened-eyes. Maybe it was our travel-brains, moving at light-speed, or maybe it was the view that throughout the week I made a point to imprint in my mind. There is a special wrinkle on my brain that is dedicated to the view from the yoga deck at this space. Overlooking dozens of trees, plants, flora and fauna, the lush green was the aura around a sunset. There were bird species ranging from vultures to toucans and everything in between. A constant hum of wings and whispers, leaving our senses constantly curious. There were howler monkeys that challenged a dinosaur’s roar and a general chorus of insects and wild creatures to keep you on your toes and in the moment. But if you looked beyond all of that magic, there was even more. Rugged coastline, with a family of cliffs, holding hands in a song circle. Mountain peaks that ebbed and flowed in their presence, depending on the mood of the sun. Ocean waves crashing, then napping. It was a painting, a movie, a surreal scene that made living in the moment the only place you wanted to be. It was home for a week, among my new family, under the warmth of the sun and comfort of loving staff.
I was at this retreat for many reasons, but where it was a yoga retreat, my intentions to deepen my practice were certainly a top contender. There were two yoga classes a day: one flow class in the morning from 7:30-9am and one candlelight, yin class from 6-7pm. Each class preceded a meal (the food will have its own, deserved section shortly) and though it was optional attendance, we gladly packed the place for every class. We came from various backgrounds and abilities, from yoga instructors to “I’ve never tried yoga” and think each of us enjoyed and benefited from the work equally. How was this possible? Our yoga instructor Malissa and her assistant April (who is currently taking her Yoga Teacher Training) were the most patient, knowledgeable, fun, attentive, supportive, magical fairies a group could ask for. I’ve been practicing yoga for 15 years. This was the best instruction I’ve ever received. We challenged and helped each other. We laughed and cried together. We reconnected with yoga as a lifestyle, not just something we think we should do. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home studio and practice. But it was so rejuvenating to practice new poses, breathing techniques and to do so with this eager group of willing participants. I saw women in their 70’s get up into wheel pose, crow pose and birds of paradise pose. The look of surprise and pride in their eyes was immeasurable. Yoga taught us not only our physical abilities but how opening our minds to the possibility of being capable of something new and challenging was absolutely available to us. Pushing these boundaries was at our fingertips and we wanted to touch the unknown. Malissa reminded us to be kind to our bodies but believed we could do a little more. She had us partner up and support one and other through these transitions. We were part of it. She was part of it. It was less teacher guides students and more let’s do this together as one. All of those happy chemicals were released into our tree and mountain poses. We weren’t just holding warrior pose; we were warriors in poses. It was something special.
The evening classes were held on a different platform. Equally beautiful, slightly more intimate. Yin yoga is a slower practice where poses are held for up to 5 minutes, in effort to release the deeper tissue layers. We used bolsters, straps, blankets and all things comfy to support our bodies and wrap up our day. Each class was slightly different, but you always left feeling blessed and alive. It was like a calm lullaby, coupled with a sweet forehead kiss. Personally, I find focus and determination with an active flow class and a sense of ease and letting go with a yin practice. It’s worth exploring new styles if you’re new to yoga and feel there’s something special your body needs. It’s probably out there!
Namaste to both Malissa and April, each of whom took time on and off the mat to connect with their students and support them in all sorts of ways. Your attention to detail and individualizing your classes to our needs was appreciated so much. Anamaya is so lucky to have you!
We’re conspiring how to get you to Canada btw … ;)
Oh. My. Fantastical. Goodness.
It’s no secret I have a big appetite. I often complain to my husband that I need to lose 10 pounds, usually while slamming a bacon cheeseburger down my throat with more pleasure than receiving a 20-handed massage. I come from a lineage of women who share this love affair for food. I have memories of my grandmother eating a T-bone steak that sagged over the side of her dinner plate like an uncut pie crust. She’d clean that and then suck the bone hoping for that little bit more. I’m teasing her, but I totally do the same when unwatched.
I didn’t know what to expect of an almost exclusively vegan diet at Anamaya. I was vegetarian for a number of years and have dabbled in all sorts of ways of eating in the past but hadn’t been strict vegan in a long time.
That steak was not missed.
We were fed a glorious compilation of fresh, seasonal fruits, warm baked breads with nut butter toppings. We had rainbow salads, yuca Sheppard’s pies, avocado dressings, plantain nachos, black bean dips, coconut pies and banana ice creams. We had sugar-free granola, hot, local coffee, fresh-squeezed fruit juices and delicate cucumber and hummus rolls. The food was plentiful, colourful, healthy and fucking delicious. I ate all of it at every meal. We know the food was authentically local, as we were able to visit the local permaculture farm where everything was produced. The farm supplies ONLY Anamaya Resort and their own little restaurant. The growing methods are ones to be learned from. In North America, we practice what is called “comparative advantage” in economic terms. We clear a wack of land and grow one product. Rather than allow species to work and grow symbiotically, nourishing and pollinating each other, we produce enormous amounts of one good and sell it at market price. Financially lucrative, ecologically ridiculous. At the Anamaya farm, you find cocao cuddled up with banana, next to lemon drop, next to arugula. Visually, an orchestra of nutrient rich bio-intelligence. Seeing and tasting these foods first hand offered an even higher level of appreciation for what we were putting into our bodies. I feel that had I visited a McCain, or Dole farm I wouldn’t have felt the same.
Needless to say, if you come for the food alone, you’re in for a treat.
Part of Anamaya’s intention is to consider the body in a holistic matter: mind, body, spirit, connection. They offer several opportunities to explore these parts of ourselves and dive deeper into areas we seek healing. Their magical massage and body therapists range in treatment expertises such as shiatsu, reiki, Watsu (water massage), reflexology, cranial sacral, tarot reading and esthetic services. Our yoga instructor offered a workshop on the “koshas” which everyone raved about. There were also speciality cooking classes, surf lessons, salsa and Spanish classes and a sunset tour to a local beach. They even offered us a circus performance and proper Latin American feast on our second to last night. My god, we were spoiled.
As I had another few weeks of travel ahead of me, I had to watch my budget but did indulge in the best massage of my life. I had been harbouring pain on the right side of my body for more than 5 years. I somehow knew the Chica woman who I booked with was going to help me. The emerald twinkle in her eye gave away all of her loving secrets. She lathered my body in oil, top to bottom and we just did away with the sheets. She bent me, elbowed me, at one point she climbed on top of me and drove her knees into my kidneys. I laughed and cried and thanked her from the bottom of my heart for giving me the relief I knew I needed. It was the kind of massage you might lose your license over in Canada; the kind of massage I had been desperate for. The kind of massage that was treating well beyond my muscles…
As mentioned way back in the beginning of this post, I travelled to Anamaya with a group of women I didn’t know that well. Aside from Bonnie, I was more or less committed to sharing this vulnerable journey with a group of strangers. When all was said and done, this was easily my favourite part of the week.
As I enter a new age-phase in my life, I find myself in a bit of a grey zone. I’m not youthful, I’m not a senior, I’m not retired and I’m not a mother. I’m in a weird sort-of middle-aged era that isn’t talked about all that much. I had questions. Having lost both my mother and grandmothers in the past 5 years, I didn’t have a resource to inquire about things like menopause and marriage. What’s it like to be in your 50’s? Or 60’s? Or even 70’s?
We ranged from age 35-75, us East Coast gals. We had stories of first kisses, of loss, of divorce and true love. We shared stories of concerts we had seen and dreams fulfilled. We confided in our anxieties, expectations of women in the modern world, how it was exhausting putting ourselves first all the time. We had stories of triumph and defeat; of ambition to make the world more sustainable and beautiful; of our bodies changing and how that was ok. We talked about family, childbirth, adventure, pets, spirituality and sorrow. We slept when we wanted and ate what we wanted. We were the goddesses of our own worlds and there to support the worlds of our fellow tribeswomen. We were alone and together. We were a sisterhood of all walks of life. We were family.
At the closing ceremony, we were asked to reflect upon our week. What was our favourite part? My glorious goodness, how would one choose (hence the paragraphs of reflection shared here that is only scratching the surface). I emotionally tried to explain what these women meant to me. My mothers and sisters, they had become. My most cherished memory will be the way I was loved and embraced by this community and how they welcomed me as their own.
Anamaya, I left a better version of myself. My humble gratitude to your staff, to the yoga instructors, the chefs and my collection of new mothers. My smile was - and still is - just like that cartoon character I met on day one.