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Living Abroad in Costa Rica
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Yoga and Costa Rica
seem made for each other
Yoga in Costa Rica

Costa Rica and yoga seem made for each other. Maybe it’s the country’s slower pace, the heat, or the air supersaturated with oxygen given off by dense rainforests.  Whatever the reason, it seems easier to breath here, to stretch, and to quiet the chatter in your mind.

Nowadays in Costa Rica, yoga retreats and teacher training programs are cropping up everywhere you look. Which makes sense in this land so fertile that even the rural fences—stripped branches stuck in dry ground—can’t help but bloom.

The three longest-lived yoga centers in Costa Rica are: Nosara Yoga Institute, on the Pacific coast, the most serious teacher-training spot and within walking distance of good surfing beaches; Pura Vida Spa, high in the Central Valley and a short ride from the San Jose airport, the most luxurious of three, with massage and spa treatments available alongside daily yoga classes; and Samasati Nature Reserve, perched just above the Caribbean coast and the most peaceful and remote of the trio.

Below I’ll go into greater detail about each of these spots, and also describe a few other studios. This short list, of course, barely scratches the surface of the burgeoning and ever-changing yoga scene in Costa Rica.

Also try the Costa Rica Association of Yoga Teachers (ASOYOGACR) for more information, especially their ever-growing list of studios in the capitol city of San Jose and in the surrounding Central Valley.

 

Name: NOSARA YOGA INSTITUTE

Web site: http://www.nosarayoga.com/

Location: In the small beach town of Nosara, on the Pacific coast, halfway down the Nicoya Peninsula (Guanacaste Province)

Getting there:  Either fly to San José and rent a car and drive (a five or six hour drive, and a great trip but not for the faint of heart—it’s easy to get lost, and some of the roads aren’t paved) or fly in a small plane from San José to Nosara.

Type of yoga practiced: Interdisciplinary.  “Though we’ve had training in many styles, we’re not jumping on board any specific style—no one system has all the answers,” says cofounder Amba Stapleton

Summary: Nosara Institute was founded in 1994 by Americans Amba and Don Stapleton. Both have taught yoga for decades.  Amba is co-creator of Pranassage Practitioner Training (formally known as Yogassage); Don has a Ph.D. in Art Education, is the author of Self Awakening Yoga, and was director of Kripalu Institute in Massachusetts for 19 years. The Institute offers 200, 500 and 1000-hour teacher training courses. The 200-hour certification is a month-long program offered in January, July, and November. It costs $3,800, not including room and board. Other months there are shorter and more diverse programs on offer, like a 50-hour “Self-Awakening Yoga Retreat."  Throughout most of the year there are drop-in classes for tourists and locals, including a popular “Yoga for Surfers” class. Of the three major retreat centers in the country, Nosara is the one closest to the ocean, and the nearest beach is known as a good place to learn to surf.

Who comes here: Mostly people from the U.S. and Canada; lots from New York and California.

Capacity: They often have around 60 students for their month-long teacher training sessions; other times of the year there are usually fewer people.

Caveat: Because there are no accommodations or food facilities in the Institute itself, students stay in nearby hotels or rented houses and eat in restaurants.  Those looking for a retreat—where you never leave the community and where you have little contact with the outside world—probably wouldn’t choose Nosara.

From Alma Stapleton, co-founder: “We want to create creative teachers, using yoga as the avenue.  Yoga’s not the be-all end-all.  It’s a way of keeping people hooked into their creative juices, to keep them alive.”

 

 
Lunch at Pura Vida

Name: PURA VIDA SPA

Web site: http://www.puravidaspa.com/

Location:  7 k north of Alajuela (near San José and the Juan Santamaría International Airport)

Getting there:  It’s close to the international airport, and there’s an airport pickup service.  If you’re driving on your own, get very explicit directions—it’s easy to get lost.

Type of yoga practiced: Depends on the featured teacher. When there’s no featured teacher, the general program, called Mind Body Spirit (MBS) is hatha-based and geared towards the beginner. The weeklong all-inclusive yoga and excursions package costs from $1,200 to $2,800 depending on accommodation quality and time of year (May-November is cheaper).

Summary: A centrally-located yoga retreat with spectacular views of the Central Valley and beautifully landscaped grounds, Pura Vida also has high-quality massage (including watsu in a newly-built pool) and spa treatments.  With their package deals you can combine yoga with sightseeing and other activities.  Sometimes the place is taken over by a celebrity teacher or author like Baron Baptiste, Ana Forrest, or Eckhart Tolle, and you sign up with him or her rather than with Pura Vida itself (see web site for schedule). Founded by Pauline and Michael Clegg (the latter is known as Satyam Nadeen, author of From Onions to Pearls); they bought a coffee plantation in 1985 with a few buildings on the property, and opened for guests several years later.

Who comes here: When I was there it was mostly Americans, mostly women, and mostly professional and well-traveled individuals.  Ages ranged from early thirties to mid sixties.  Clientele varies according to which teacher is being featured.

Capacity: Up to 100 guests for special events but usual capacity is
around 60.

Caveats: There’s a bit of the walled compound feel to the place—razor-wired fences surround the grounds.  This is par for the course in Costa Rica, especially in the well-populated Central Valley, but it does add to the sense of the place being in but not of Costa Rica.

From Rakesh, the marketing manager: "Our commitment is to promote wellness through nature. Wellness in mind, body and spirit is our emphasis here. We offer a variety of retreats and workshops all with the intent of making us whole and raising the level of consciousness in the world. Our wellness center offers a menu of treatments ranging from highly focused modalities to indulgent spa treatments. All our therapists have the ability to be present and loving with their touch, which opens the gates to healing."

 

 
Samasati Nature Reserve

Name: SAMASATI NATURE RESERVE

Web site: http://www.samasati.com/

Location: Near Hone Creek and Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean (east) coast

Getting there: Fly to San Jose and then by light plane to Puerto Viejo, or rent a car (make sure it’s four-wheel drive to get up Samasati’s long, steep driveway) and make the 3 hour drive.  Or take the bus from San Jose to Hone Creek or Puerto Viejo and Samasati will come pick you up.

Type of yoga practiced: Interdisciplinary

Summary: The smallest and most remote of the three major Costa Rican retreats described here, Samasati definitely lives up to the ‘nature reserve” part of its name.  It’s a lush and peaceful place where you might see a troop of howler monkeys on your way to morning yoga. In 1994, Italians Massimo Monti and Sylvia and Chiara Zani, along with Argentine Billy Gonzales, pooled their resources to buy 250 acres of rainforested ridge top near the Caribbean coast town of Hone Creek.  The four founders met at an ashram in India, and they wanted to create in Costa Rica a meditative spot that blended with the natural environment and also provided work opportunities for the local community. Three years later Samasati received its first guest.  Since then it has hosted individual visitors and opened its doors to teachers who rent the place out for a week or so, bringing their own students with them.  Two-week intensive 200-RYT Training Programs are sponsored by the Marianne Wells Yoga School. Lodging, meals and classes run from $3,265 to 3,685 depending on whether you’re in the guest house or a bungalow. The pleasant and airy all-wood bungalows with an Asian-inspired sense of design and simplicity. There are also a handful of private houses on the property, which can be rented out, and the reserve is selling off pieces of its land to individuals who want to build their own homes.

Caveats: It can feel a bit isolated up on the hill here, a feeling some may welcome.  Everything here is on a smaller scale, so while, for instance, Pura Vida may have a dozen massage therapists on staff, Samasati has one, and she may not be available at the time you’d like a massage.

Who comes here: Visitors are mostly from the U.S. and Canada.

Capacity: 45 – 50, when bungalows and the rental houses are all at capacity.

From Lucy Huneault, Manager: “Because we are small and don’t want to grow bigger, we are really a family.  We give lots of attention to our clients  Whether they’re groups or individuals, we will do everything to give them what they need.  I always say to people, when I come down these stairs into the restaurant, I don’t want to have numbers on people’s heads.  I know the name of each client staying in each bungalow.  This is very important, and you can only do that if you’re small.”

 
Downward Dog, Costa Rica Style

 

Other Options

Hacienda del Sol
Location: San Juanillo, north of Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula
Web site: http://www.pachamama.com
A small retreat center (capacity is 40) that offers raw food and juice ‘cleanses’ with daily meditation and yoga. All-inclusive prices for a week start at $700 per person. Before founding Hacienda del Sol in 1995, owner Menlha headed the Relaxation Plus Clinic in Nelson, Canada, and then created the Kootenay School of Rebalancing, now based at Hacienda del Sol.

Pachamama
Location: On the Nicoya peninsula, inland from Nosara. 
Web site: http://www.pachamama.com/default.asp
Summary: A secluded “eco-village a 6-hour drive from San José”that draws people from around the world. Not a yoga retreat or studio per se, but they do offer yoga classes; they also rent out wooden casitas by the month and for shorter stays; 3 vegetarian meals per day are included in the price.

Calling itself a “living social experiment” and a “spiritual village,” Pachamama is presided over by Tyohar, who studied with Osho (aka Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) in India; later, in the Himalaya mountains, Tyohar's “awakening blossomed into oneness and a let-go of the illusion of self happened.” Different teachers at Pachamama teach different yoga styles, including vinyasa, hatha, and yoga flow. They offer many kinds of yoga programs, including 5-day detox fasts (about $600) that include daily yoga and individual acupuncture sessions.

Montezuma Yoga at Los Mangos Hotel
Location: Montezuma, southern Nicoya Peninsula
Web site: www.montezumayoga.com
Phone in Costa Rica: 506-642-0076
Summary: Hatha-vinyasa classes (and some week-long retreats) taught in a thatch-roofed, open-air pavilion on the grounds of Hotel Los Mangos.  The hotel is a few miles south of Montezuma, right across the (unpaved) street from the beach, and a short walk from one of my newest favorite restaurants—Playa de los Artistas, where you can enjoy excellent Italian food while digging your toes into the sand and looking out over the waves.

Anamaya Mind Body & Spirit Resort
Location: Montezuma
Web site: http://anamayaresort.com
Summary: Daily (except Sunday) yoga classes are mostly in the Anusara style, itself a school of Hatha yoga. The resort, perched on a hill above town, has sweeping views, healthy food, and an infinity saltwater pool. Anamaya also offers a variety of weeklong yoga retreats, like Fire Dancing and Yoga (taught by a former Cirque du Soleil Fire Dancer), Aerial Dance, and Yoga and Detox. Month-long teacher training courses include meals, lodging, excursions and the coursework that will allow you to become a certified yoga teacher. In 2011 teacher training is offered in May (for $4,495) and October (from $3,495 - $3,995). Remember that Dec – April is Costa Rica’s dry season. May can be rainy and October will almost certainly be.

 
Stefano Allegri

Oceanfront Yoga Shalu at Flor Blanca Resort
Web site: http://www.florblanca.com/
Location: Santa Teresa (near Mal País)
Summary:  This very upscale beachfront hotel has a small open-air studio where ashtanga, vinyasa, and pilates classes are taught.

Pranamar Oceanfront Villas and Yoga Retreat
Location: Santa Teresa
Web site: http://pranamarvillas.com/
The folks who started Flor Blanca (Susan Money and Greg Mullins) are now behind Pranamar, along with co-owner Stefano Allegri, an Italian-born yogi and martial arts instructor. Susan’s daughter Nancy Goodfellow teaches daily Shakti Flow yoga classes and private lessons, and coordinates their Yoga Retreats program. Besides Nancy’s morning class there is often an afternoon class—from slow flow to Afro-Caribbean dance to the free community class on Fridays. Weeklong retreats feature anurusa and vinyasa yoga, include meals, lodging, two yoga classes a day, one surf lesson a day. The all–inclusive week goes for anywhere from $1,725 to $2,725, depending on whether or not you share lodging and which villa you’re housed in.

DoceLunas Hotel and Spa
Web site: www.docelunas.com
Location: Jacó
Summary: Classes and retreats at this small yoga studio perched just above a nice hotel on the outskirts of a popular Pacific coast resort town.

Shooting Star Yoga
Web site: http://www.yogapavones.com/
Location: Pavones
Summary: Amy Khoo and Alexander Outerbridge teach classes and give retreats in a beautiful open-air pavilion with a view of the beach.  Alexander also owns a surf shop in town.

Luna Lodge
Location: The Osa Peninsula
Web site: http://www.lunalodge.com
Summary. A lovely and remote rainforest lodge and retreat center that brings a variety of teachers in to give week-long programs such as Kundalini Yoga, Parayoga, Power Yoga, and Exploring the Wilderness Within.

 

 

 

 

For more information, see Living Abroad in Costa Rica.

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