That was the word my yoga classmates and I kept repeating to one another as we entered the aptly named Sky-Mind Hall, ready to awaken our hip flexors. As amazing as our psoas muscles might be, we were more awed by the view through the walls of windows. As I looked at my extended arm in warrior II and let my gaze drift from my fingertips out to the sapphire-blue Pacific Ocean, all I could think was, “This should be illegal.”
Luckily, it wasn’t. The 30 or so of us who had gathered for a week of anatomy training at the Blue Spirit retreat center in Nosara, Costa Rica, were practically giddy, but not from endorphins, dehydration or jet lag. Even as he led us through sweaty standing poses, our instructor would turn around every now and then for a glance at the sea, looking back at us as if to say, “Can you believe this?!”
Details, Nosara, Costa Rica
Along with surfing, yoga is a popular tourist draw in the “Rich Coast” nation, especially in the Nosara area of the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s little wonder that a practice rooted in spirituality and nonviolence has found a home in a country with a long-standing reputation for tranquillity in historically volatile Central America. Costa Rica, famous for “green” ecotourism, has no standing army and recently banned hunting as a sport, and one of its former presidents, Oscar Arias Sanchez, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.
I’d meditated on whether to make the trip. It seemed like such an unyogic extravagance. I had a hard time envisioning rubber mats and spandex tights in this fairly developed developing country, which I’d visited as an exchange student in 1984. For two life-changing months before my senior year in high school, I’d lived with a family in Puntarenas, a city also on the Pacific coast. I’d kept in touch with my host family and a few neighborhood friends for a few years, but those contacts had fizzled out.
Then, through the power of the Google machine, I reconnected with a few of those acquaintances in early 2011. Apparently, Big Sister was watching, and she started to taunt me with ads on my Facebook and Gmail pages: “Study yoga in Costa Rica.” I tried to ignore the invitations to go do pretzel-pose yoga in paradise and focus on my work as a novice teacher, a path I’d chosen after leaving full-time journalism. I’d already spent so much more on my quasi-doctorate in yoga than I’ll probably ever make teaching it — I could hardly justify a jungle jaunt. But when I saw that the anatomy teacher whose books we’d studied during my 200-hour training in Washington would be leading a workshop at Blue Spirit, I was hooked.
Along with T-shirts and sunscreen, I packed nostalgia and curiosity. I tried to plan my free time while remaining open to whatever would unfold. As I recalled, the friendly Ticos — whose national slogan and all-purpose greeting is “pura vida,” or pure life — didn’t need people like me to show them how to chill out. It was the other way around. I was reminded of that lesson and learned others during a week that felt like a month, in a good way.