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Leprosy & Lessons in Love: Meditation In Action

With fear on my mind and love in my heart, I choose to follow people who live to benefit more then just themselves.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, in total health and abundance but I became aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a life without service to others.

Nathan & Zohar, run meditation in action projects around the world known as Sangha Seva Retreats.

They first came to Anandwan in 2004 as volunteers and have been facilitating groups of people to experience and contribute to the community every year since.

Anandwan (‘Forest of Joy or Bliss’) is a leprosy rehabilitation center in Mararashtra, India. Baba Amte, a saintly man, founded Anandwan in 1951 with the mission of providing a life for people with Leprosy that went beyond offering medical support but a way for each individual to be wholly integrated in society.

All Photography by Shilpa Shah

Leprosy is the oldest known disease and is extremely misunderstood and stigmatized all over the world but particularly in India – as being grotesque, highly contagious and even a personal curse of God or Karma.

Historically, India has had the highest population of the disease with many afflicted people being rejected and disregarded from society – left to fend on their own support, in times of dire need of the support of others.

Baba Amte fiercely started this project with 6 patients living on donated government land- without even a water source. With the power of love in his heart, within only 2 years the land completely transformed into a self-sufficient community – apart from sugar, salt, and oil.

Therefore, you can imagine the jobs that were manifested – from making on-site homemade mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, fabrics, housing and furniture, homemade specialized wheelchairs, custom-made shoes for all these differently shaped mended bodies and feet, bio-waste methane system turning cow and food waste into gas to cook with, growing food and cooking for all these many mouths – all day, every day!

The community has grown to host approximately 3,000 individuals with a range of differences in the body and mind (children, elderly, with physical and mental disabilities) that may have not had a safe place in the world without Anandwan.

Anyone can live here with the guidelines of not taking any intoxicants, non-violence, and being willing to work, if able. Baba said “give people a chance – not charity,” which from my observation seems to be clearly successful.

As a part of the meditation-in-action mission, 17 international volunteers, joined together for 3 weeks to practice meditation while consciously living and working in various workshops throughout the Anandwan community.

I choose to work in the elderly home in the mornings and alternating between the hearing and the visually impaired school in the afternoon.

Besides working with other people, I had to deal with my own suppressed internalized fear I was unknowingly hosting around touching elderly people’s bodies. It really had nothing to do with Leprosy as in retrospect I remembered that I also felt this sense of rejection at my grandma’s retirement home in Toronto. The look of fragility and potential weaknesses somehow gave me the impression of it not feeling safe to touch the bodies of these human beings. Maybe some unconscious fear of “catching” whatever they have even if it was just my own projection of their pain and suffering. As it turns out, odds are as a human being, if I’m super lucky, I will indeed catch the state of old age regardless of physical contact will people or not.

Baba was known to say that the real leprosy to fear is this leprosy of the mind.

The illusive walls between where the being behind ‘their’ skin and mine – began to fade away. I realized that my intention was to share moments of connection, not “fix” anyone or anything.

Through breaking down my own barriers of fear I shared in the most precious exchanges of love during this project.

They, like you and me and all other beings- simply want to experience happiness- feel love, less suffering, less pain. Something we can all naturally offer to each other – but as I can see it must start with the fragile being behind our own skin.

The human beings living at Anandwan showed me strength and joy through the endurance of suffering and pain. Maybe it really is the challenges that strengthen the spirit. All I know is the light and love radiating from these people felt so bright that I couldn’t even see the different abilities, shapes of bodies or sense capabilities in all their various forms.

We all have opportunities to dive into these unfamiliar environments and into the power of love that exists beyond the discernment of our mind that constantly creates distinctions between good, bad, less or more, like or dislike, into this golden thread that ties us all together – the aliveness that exists in meeting each moment with full awareness- of life, exactly as it is.

“Namaste” – the people of Anandwan say here with their hands at their heart and I couldn’t imagine a greeting that was more appropriate. I see you – as a pure divine living, breathing, feeling being – as significant a life as the one I consider “my own.”

May we all find ways of stepping outside our own fears and into the transformation power of love – for ourselves and for each other.

 

 

 

Sacha Bryce, BSc, RYT, is a Holistic Yoga Therapist based in Toronto, Canada. She has travelled the globe studying, teaching and living Integral Yoga. Her mission is to share the power of the practice to liberate herself and others from suffering.

IG: @sachabryceyoga

First Time Yoga Instructor in Nicaragua

Last spring, I signed up for Yoga Trade.

On my first day, I looked at the posts for volunteer and intern positions and I applied to three posts. I had an interview by the following weekend with a hostel in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I Skyped with the volunteer coordinator there and we really clicked. We talked about yoga, volunteer positions, beaches and monsoon seasons. The next night, I was signed up for the job. It felt like fate!

In the summer, I completed my yoga instructor training in Bali. I was nervous about starting to teach, but I knew leaping into it was probably the best way to make it happen.

In August, I boarded the plane and headed off for Nicaragua, where I had never been before. I caught a bus from Managua, where the airport is, down to Rivas, and from there caught another bus to San Juan del Sur. The town was very cute—a few blocks of stone streets lined on both sides with colorful buildings. The hostel was a one-minute walk from the beach!
I met the manager and he showed me the yoga studio on the top floor, which moonlighted as a bar at night. The hostel had really cool artistic touches, like a murals on the floors and walls, recycled bottles as chandeliers and barrels turned into tables.

I made my own schedule and posters for the five morning classes I’d teach each week. In exchange for the yoga classes, I got a room in the volunteer apartment up the road, daily breakfast (burritos or gallo pinto) and free shuttles to the surrounding beaches.

My first class was the hardest, of course. I went early to set out mats, blocks and straps. Then 10 minutes before class, a cleaner came to mop the floor! I had to pick it all up and then set it all out again. The manager’s girlfriend came for the class, which made me nervous. I realized later she just liked yoga, and wasn’t there to check on me. She told me later she never would have guessed that it was my first class ever.

Each morning, anywhere from 2 to 15 people came. The room was small so 15 was a stretch, but we made it work. It was always interesting to see the levels of the yogis who came too. A few times, I had someone for their first class ever and sometimes other yoga instructors who were traveling through came for the classes. Some yogis didn’t speak English so I had to be good at modeling the poses and alignment adjustments. It was difficult at first to try to make a plan for such a mixed group, but it’s a good skill to learn.

After a couple of weeks, another volunteer yoga instructor joined me at the hostel. We made a new schedule that included afternoon classes as well, which meant we could implement my idea for sunset yoga on the beach! Looking back, that was probably my favorite part! It was also really nice to have another instructor teaching classes that I could go to and learn from as a new instructor myself.

On the new schedule I taught two classes on Fridays and one class Tuesday through Thursday. That meant I had 3-day weekends so I made time to travel and see some other islands, beaches and cities around Nicaragua. I really enjoyed the local beach shuttles as well because there are so many gorgeous beaches near San Juan del Sur. I also had the opportunity to take Spanish lessons from another volunteer at the hostel. One night, I saw one of the hostel’s volunteer projects in action: helping the endangered sea turtles. I got to go to a far-away beach to see the babies hatching and making their way to the sea. We also saw some mother turtles laying eggs in new nests they were digging.

I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity to start teaching yoga in such a relaxed, fun way, and in a new, interesting part of the world!

 

 

 

Katia loves to travel and do yoga. She currently lives and teaches yoga in Mandalay, Myanmar. She also enjoys blogging about her experiences on katiayoga.com

Helping Others, One Handstand at a Time

It all started with a handstand. Paige Elenson was on a family trip in Africa when she connected with some fellow inversion junkies in passing. They shared tips and tricks and contact information to keep in touch. Little did they know, this chance encounter was about to turn entire lives upside down.

Paige saw first-hand the power of connection that yoga offers the world. The cross-cultural, knows no boundaries, no age, makes you laugh while upside down kind of connection that empowers and keeps people coming back for more and more and more. Inspired by this connection, Paige returned to Kenya and founded Africa Yoga Project (“AYP”) in 2007.

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What AYP does is nothing short of miraculous. The organization educates, empowers, elevates and expands employability with youth in Africa using the transformational practice of yoga. AYP creates opportunities for youth to step into their greatness and become self-sustaining leaders in their communities. Today, the organization employs more than 100 teachers, offers 300 weekly classes, and reaches 6,000 students weekly.

Wow. Just wow. What’s just as incredible is how much this organization inspires people across the world to show up and contribute to the cause. I found out about AYP at Baptiste trainings in June and October 2016. During these trainings I learned about Baron Baptiste’s own trip to Kenya and met AYP teacher training graduates Patrick, Millie and Walter. Hearing their stories and having their support during my own training really struck me. One of the main teachings in Baptiste yoga is “be up to something bigger than yourself”. Seeing others embodying and living from this idea was extremely powerful and I felt called upon to be a part of this cause, to support other teachers and give back to the practice that has given so much to me.

In between trainings I did my research on the different options to get involved, as there are quite a few! There really is something for everyone, from those looking to travel, mentor, or provide financial support. Ultimately, I decided to assist the 200hr teacher training in April 2017 in Nairobi. As a voluntary assistant, I’m also responsible for fundraising before my trip, which is totally new for me! Although it sounds a little daunting, I’m truly excited to to spread the word about AYP to my local community at studios, gyms, and through community events over the next few months. I think it’s a great way to drive awareness for AYP and connect my students with yoga on a global scale.

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Here are a few ways you too can get involved with this game changing organization:

  • Donate to the cause – Every. Little. Bit. Counts. Contributions make the community outreach efforts of AYP possible, such as scholarships, food programs, building projects, medical assistance, and employment.
  • Be an Ambassador – Have a special skill or expertise? Lead a trip of Seva Safari volunteers to Kenya to share this with the AYP community.
  • Join a Seva Safari – Great for those looking to travel to Kenya and assist an ambassador’s project you’re interested in. Check out your options, connect with the safari leader, and commit to an amazing and unique experience.
  • Assist a teacher training – Note that you must be Baptiste Level 1 and Level 2 certified to be involved on this program.
  • Mentor a yoga teacher – Connect with a newly certified teacher to help them on their teaching journey.
  • Host a fundraising event – Share AYP with your local community through donation based classes, a happy hour or anything in between.
  • Follow @africayogaproject – Stay up to date on all things AYP!
  • Share this post with your friends – You might just inspire someone to get involved too!

If you feel compelled, called, or are ready to be up to something bigger than yourself too, reach out to programs@africayogaproject.org to find out even more. Maybe I’ll even see you in Nairobi in April!

Handstands, hugs and happiness!

 

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Siobhan is a yoga teacher based in Chicago. You can follow her Africa Yoga Project fundraising here and her whole yoga loving life on Instagram. She finds joy in creative and powerful vinyasa, dark chocolate and spending time with family and friends.

Volunteering in Costa Rica…for Free (or nearly free)

Voluntourism (combining volunteering with touring while on holiday) has received some bad press lately and there are lots of legitimate reasons why. For starters, many places charge exorbitant fees to volunteer and often these “fees” have little, to no, transparency as to how it’s funding the project. Why pay to volunteer? Isn’t that essentially paying to work? Now, I do understand that a portion of that payment goes to the local community and project, but unfortunately the bulk of the money does not. Unless you spend a lot of time researching and ensuring that your money is supporting the project directly, often times only a small percentage of the money usually goes towards the actual projects meant to support it. Most of the money ends up lining the pockets of the corrupt and greedy.

I’ve been blessed with many opportunities in the past that have allowed me to volunteer while also giving money to the local community, in a very legitimate, very transparent way. Since joining the Peace Corps in 2010, I have been engaging in various volunteer endeavors. From volunteering at a yoga conference in Asia to helping out dive instructors in Malaysia, all of my volunteer opportunities helped to benefit the local community without breaking the bank. If you’re smart about the way in which you research, you too can travel longer, have better experiences, build better relationships and contribute in a positive way.

Currently I’m living in Costa Rica and have come across lots of volunteering opportunities. Some are as cost-effective as $10/day where others can be $450/week. Like stated earlier, I’m not looking to blow my travel budget AND work, so if you have the time and the skills, below are a few volunteer opportunities that won’t cost you a penny, or at the very least won’t put a big dent in your budget.

Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa, Osa Peninsula

Who: Writers, Gardeners, Photographers/Videographers
Duration: Writers 3 months / Gardeners 6 months/ all else e-mail for availability
Cost: Free

Blue Osa is located in the Southern part of Costa Rica in the Osa Peninsula. The environment of Osa is lush and beautiful, the perfect blend of ocean and jungle life. In exchange for the duties above, volunteers will be provided with a comfortable place to sleep, all meals and ample free time to enjoy the ocean just meters away from the site, the beautiful pool and the wild jungle.

The duties are writing for their blog (an experienced writer), gardening (someone with botany in their background) and photography for their website and/or taking videos for their blog or other projects. Obviously all positions require that you have some experience in whatever it is you’re applying for and because it is such a sweet deal, availability does fill up fast. This isn’t an ideal position for someone who just “decides” they want to suddenly volunteer, instead it’s for someone who has some patience and is going to take the time make a serious commitment for a few months. Once you do that, you won’t regret it.

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Proyecto San Gerardo, San Gerardo

Who: Teachers of-ESL, computer skills, vocational skills to young women, cafe volunteers, web designers and writers
Duration: 6 week commitment
Cost: $250/month for home-stay accommodation

An excellent opportunity that caters to those with lots of different skills and those who want to really be immersed in a local experience. Because the volunteer will be living with a host family, this gives the person an incredible one-of-a-kind experience and the opportunity to learn or improve their Spanish.

San Gerardo is an interesting place and volunteers flock there because of its close proximity to hiking trails and the great outdoors. It’s also close to the beach, which makes for a great weekend trip for those who are interested.

Chilamate: Rainforest Eco-Retreat, Chilamate

Who: Receptionists/Admin Assistants, Whitewater Kayak Instructor, Field work/General Labor Assistant
Duration: 6 months (they do accept shorter stays, but there is fee)
Cost: Free

Ever wanted to live in the rainforest? Now you can while also helping to benefit it. Chilamate Rainforest Eco-Retreat is a sustainable, rainforest conservation tourism project. The retreat preserves 55 acres of rainforest and runs on solar power, uses rainwater catchments, and biodegradable cleaning products.

As a volunteer you’ll be given the opportunity to help out at a local level while learning a new skill and more about the incredible, natural environment that surrounds you.

Volunteers stay in a dorm with a private bathroom and are welcome to use the well-equipped kitchen. Even though there is access to the kitchen, volunteers still get delicious meals that feature local cuisine. Volunteers are asked to help with meal preparation, but this is a great way to learn about the local food and bring a few recipes back home.

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, Monteverde

Who: Anyone interested in entomology
Duration: 2 months
Cost: Free

Do you love butterflies? OK, maybe you don’t LOVE butterflies but who wouldn’t want to give tours of a majestic, butterfly garden set in the mountainous region of Monteverde? As a volunteer you will be trained to give 1 hour tours through the gardens, usually giving 1-4 tours a day.

Yes, this might get monotonous, but think of all the knowledge you’ll acquire about butterflies, insects and arachnids. You’ll gain a lot of experience working outdoors and learning about Costa Rica’s biological diversity. Butterflies in Costa Rica are a pretty big deal, so why not learn about this magical little creature while living here?

Volunteers live in comfortable living quarters with a shared bathroom and have all meals (or food for meals) provided for. Even though the volunteer is expected to work 6 days a week, the work life is not hectic at all and is in fact pretty laid back. There will be other volunteers around so that the work load is shared and the volunteer doesn’t feel overwhelmed. So who’s ready to get mystified in Monteverde?

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Parismina Turtle Conservation, Parismina

Who: Those interested in turtles
Duration: no minimum
Cost: $27/day

Parismina beach is a popular place where Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill turtles come to shore to hatch their eggs. Because of this, it is also a common practice for poachers to come and exploit the turtles by stealing the turtles and their eggs to sell on the black market. For this reason, volunteers are needed to help save these endangered turtles from that happening. Since the start of the project over 38% of the turtles have been saved, according to their website.

Volunteers will work alongside a local turtle guide and learn about these beautiful, sea creatures. The local guide will take the volunteer out on a nightly patrol and teach them how to guard nesting turtles, identify turtle tracks, count the number of eggs, record tag numbers and assist with relocating eggs. While this is done at night, daytime tasks will be to monitor hatching, cleaning the beach of debris and safeguarding the hatchlings.

The $27 includes a home-stay with meals and laundry service. However, if you wanted to procure your own accommodation, the fee to volunteer would only be $10 a day and you would pay for your accommodation and food independently. Overall, a small price to pay to help the environment and learn a lot about a species that is unfortunately endangered.

 

So, there you have it, my top 5 choices for volunteering in Costa Rica for little or no money. Now, you might be reading the list and thinking, “yeah, this is great if you have MONTHS of vacation time, but useless for me.” I understand that many of you might be limited to only one or two weeks of travel, therefore only looking to volunteer for a couple of days or so. Obviously, this list isn’t for you then. These options are obviously more for those who looking for an extended holiday. Maybe looking to volunteer for a couple of months and then travel for one or two months additionally afterwards.

If time is limited, then there are a few more resources out there. Sites such as Yoga Trade, Workaway, and Helpx are websites that put you in control of what you want. On these websites you pay a small annual fee (no more than $30) and get to review hundreds of different volunteer opportunities. Most places provide you with accommodation and meals, if you put in (no more, sometimes less than) a 5 hour workday. Opportunities vary but are not limited to: teaching, helping out at a hostel, gardening, building, fitness instructor, nanny and so much more. What’s great about these opportunities is that the minimum commitment can be as little as 2 days, giving you the opportunity to still give back and still have a local experience.

There’s a reason why voluntourism has become so popular. The experiences you gain are so much more profound than merely visiting a city, staying in a hotel, snapping a few shots and visiting a few must-see destinations. When you volunteer you are often stationed in a local setting which enables you to fully immerse yourself in the language, learn about new cuisine and get in touch with the local culture. These are the experiences that make travel worthwhile and help you grow as a person. You’ll gain new perspectives, and bring unique insights about your holiday back with you. You’ll create bonds and make memories that will last a lifetime, which has much more longevity than that souvenir you bought at the market.

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Tara DeAugustine is an elementary school teacher, presently taking a much-needed break from teaching, and in turn dabbling in and out of different job roles. Her travels have taken her all over the world, previously living in Thailand, Taiwan and Cambodia. Currently, she’s a volunteer writer and yoga instructor at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa in Costa Rica. When she’s not busy at work, you can find her doing what she loves, which is included but not limited to: lazing about in hammocks, eating salad, watching sunsets and reading.  

Call and Response Foundation

Kirtan is a group singing and music making experience that blurs the boundaries between performers and audience. Mantra is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.​ Here we catch up with Director of the Call and Response Foundation, Jennifer Canfield. She educates us about the benefits of community kirtan and mantra and gives us more information about this inspiring and soulful foundation. 

Tell us about the vision of the Call and Response Foundation…

The Call & Response Foundation is a registered nonprofit devoted to serving and expanding the mantra music community. Our mission is to share the experience of chanting with one million people by 2020.

Our Outreach program is our fastest growing program with more than a dozen Universities on board our Sacred Sound project.  The Rutgers University event draws over 500 students and embodies our vision of a project we support but is executed and sustained by dedicated community members.​

What are some benefits of chanting and kirtan?

 

-​ ​“According to a research done at the Cleveland University, USA, the rhythmic tones involved in chanting create a melodious effect in the body called the Neuro-linguistic call2effect (NLE). When we know the meaning of the mantra we are reciting, it creates a Psycholinguistic effect (PLE) on the body. The NLE and the PLE effects are by-products of the production and spreading of curative chemicals in the brain. The research concludes that this is the real reason why chanting provokes curative effects in us.
-A study by Dr. Alan Watkins (senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London) revealed that while chanting, our heart rate and blood pressure dip to its lowest in the day. Doctors say that even listening to chants normalises adrenalin levels, brain wave pattern and lowers cholesterol levels.
-Using chants as part of our exercise regimen, helps facilitate movement and flow of the body during exercise.
-Studies prove that making chants a part of our daily yoga can help achieve greater weight loss in a shorter span of time.
-Neuro-scientist Marian Diamond from the University of California found that chanting helps block the release of stress hormones and increases immune function. It also keeps our muscles and joints flexible for a long time.
-The body’s energy and vitality are augmented by regular chanting.
call5-Chanting cures depression: An 8-week study was carried out at the Samarya Center for Integrated Movement Therapy and Ashtanga Yoga in Seattle, WA, to see the effects of chanting on general well-being and particularly respiratory functions in people suffering from mild-to-severe depression. The results showed that chanting helped participants increase control over their breath and expiratory output level. The participants claimed that chanting reduced their anxiety and improved their mood. Researchers thus concluded that if done at least once a week, chanting is an effective means of enhancing people’s moods in the immediate present, as well as over an extended period of time.”

How does your foundation embody “living” yoga?

 

​Our programs and events create opportunities for positive change; especially with marginalized and vulnerable populations.​

Do you offer volunteer opportunities?

 

Yes; we work with volunteers who help us facilitate programs in prisons and other institutions.  We also work with community members who help facilitate our community kirtan programs.​

How can people bring more kirtan to their local communities?

 

One way is for anyone interested in having more kirtan in their community is to call3schedule a free consult with our staff an​d discuss the community kirtan initiative we facilitate.  We have helped establish weekly and monthly kirtans all over the country.  Our resources include making connections with qualified instructors, a grants program for renting space and support scheduling guest presenters.

The Foundation started in 2010 with a dream.

call1Three people who felt more vibrant, calm, and connected through kirtan, the ancient sanskrit practice of call and response chanting, decided to share the practice with as many people as possible. Their research about mantra music and chanting revealed that these practices do indeed improve mental, physical and emotional health. Now, our staff works to connect sacred sound musicians with universities, prisons, psychiatric facilities, refugee communities, shelters, and more so that they can offer free conscious music to participants.

 

Enchanted Yoga Trade Experience

This article is shared by Yoga Trade community member, Jenna Devi about her Costa Rica yoga trade experience. Connect with Jenna here: http://www.jennasadventures.com/

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Enchanted Yoga Trade Experience in Paradise. Surfing it too.

I wanted to spend some time surfing and teaching yoga in the tropics but had no idea how to make it happen. It seemed like an impossible dream until I found Yoga Trade. On jenna4their website I found Encanta la Vida, an eco lodge in Costa Rica. In exchange for teaching yoga and working the front desk a few hours a week I would get a room, food and 50% earnings of the classes I taught.

I remember I had a five minute Skype interview with the Lodge’s Manager, Kate. She asked “Can you get here in two months?” and I said “Yes” before I could get in my head and make up reasons why I couldn’t. It happened so fast, I couldn’t believe it!

Two months later I boarded a plane and headed down to Costa Rica for my Yoga residency. I did as much research as I could but because it was so off the beaten path, there was not much of an internet presence so I really had no idea what I was getting into. And I truly could not have been more lucky. I literally walked into paradise.

I taught yoga on the second story of an enormous open air deck canopied by jungle and a view of Pan Dulce surf break. It wasn’t uncommon to see monkeys swing by as I walkedjenna2 down a gorgeous jungle path to get to the yoga deck, scarlet macaws were always hanging out during class, every so often I would hear a happy holler from a surfer who had just dropped in on a wave… speaking of surfing – WOW. I almost don’t want to write about it to give it away! Pan Dulce gets huge and has the slowest and most forgiving waves in the area allowing you a ton of trial and error practice without getting pounded. Be prepared to lose count on how many turns you do on a single ride and stretch out your calf muscles to prevent them from fatiguing – seriously! Backwash, another break in this area is one of my favorite right point breaks I have ever surfed. It’s faster and steeper than Pan Dulce making it more of an intermediate wave. It’s the most beautiful beach, the surf gets big and in my opinion the crowds that surfed there had the best vibe. Matapalo, the break the sits at the very end of the road, is gorgeous but challenging. Beware of the rocks during low tide. If hit you could easily say goodbye to your board – or your face. This break is dominated by locals but if you know how to play your etiquette cards right and you want to see some groms rip it better than the best surfer you know – go there.

The Encanta la Vida Lodge was such a magical place. Even though I was ‘working’ for them, I felt like a guest. Brian, the owner, is hilarious and tells some of the best stories during dinner, you meet people from all over the world and you are living on eye candy jenna5property in the middle of the jungle. And the food! I really didn’t know what to expect but I went there thinking I was going to lose a ton of weight because of all the surfing and yoga I’d be doing. Wrong! The food was so delicious and plentiful I actually gained weight and a ton of muscle.  I felt so lucky to be drinking water out of wine glasses and feasting on 3 course dinners. Chef Fabian is amazing. Every night was different and everything made from scratching, including desert.

Living in another country is the best way to experience personal growth and life learning, especially when traveling alone. Your life is put into perspective and you discover what’s really important to you. You’ll have the best and worst days and you’ll learn why which helps you get a better understand of who you are underneath it all. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do a Yoga Trade to take it. I learned another language, found my yoga practice and teaching, met amazing people from all over the world, met one of my now best friends, some of my questions about life were answered replaced by more intriguing ones… I can go on and on.

It really was because of Yoga Trade that allowed me this life changing experience. My life has been forever changed!

jenna7Jenna is a performing artist, writer, and athlete. She has a degree in Music Performance and has been seen on numerous stage and film productions. She loves to travel, surf and meet people from all over the world. Jenna is Yoga Alliance and Thai Yoga Massage Certified and enjoys teaching Yoga to her community – wherever that is… depends on where her travels take her! Be Curious. Live, Learn, Inspire.
IG: JennasAdventures

Bhakti Fest Seva

Every spring and fall a gathering full of Love gathers in the California desert. These heart inspired unions are called Bhakti Fest. The Bhakti Festival brings well know yoga teachers suchphoto (51) as Shiva Rea, Kia Miller, and Mark Whitwell, kirtan musicians such as Jai Uttal and Donna De Lory, and interesting people from around the world together for a few days to celebrate life.

The celebration is held at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, a place with magical energy, big skies, and naturally beautiful views. Bhakti Fest also comes together once a year in the Midwest.

The word “bhakti” means devotion, or pure love. So bhakti yoga can be defined as the practice of connecting with the divine, and to continue to reestablish that relationship and connection through acts of love and devotion.

The spring festival is usually a bit more intimate and is known as Shakti Fest. “Shakti” is photo (49)the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe. Shakti is the concept of the divine feminine creative power.

Bhakti Fest offers incredible “seva” programs at their events. Seva can be translated as selfless service, or work performed without any thought of reward. Seva is believed to help one’s personal growth and contribute to improving community. The “seva” at Bhakti Fest can also be defined as “work exchange”. One can volunteer in various departments of the festival to work in exchange for free admission to the festival.

Volunteering at these kinds of events can be a life changing experience. You can get a whole new perspective from working behind the scenes at these events, create life long friends,photo (54) and build meaningful relationships. Engaging in work exchange can also give you a deeper appreciation and a feeling of an equal flow of energy exchange.

Getting involved with work exchange at festivals is also a wonderful way to dive into the world of “yoga trade“. If you are new to participating in these types of exchanges, weekend events are a great way to start.

For more information about Bhakti Fest and to reach out to become part of the work exchange team, connect here:

http://bhaktifest.com/work-exchange/

The secrets of the universe are in you, as you. Stop searching, START LIVING!

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BIG THANKS to the Shakti Fest 2015 Green Room Seva Crew and everyone that makes these kinds of events possible!!!

yogafarmloveErica Hartnick grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, and enjoys all things wild and free. She teaches nature inspired yoga and leads mindful adventures in California and Costa Rica. She gets excited about; LEARNING, intense weather, glassy ocean peaks, pillows of fresh powder snow, crystal clear water, positive people, cultural travel, thriving vegetable gardens, fresh mint chip ice cream, nature’s glory, LIVING YOGA, and connecting with others. She is passionate about the collaboration with friends that led to the creation of Yoga Trade, and is devoted to connecting the yoga community with infinite opportunities!

http://yogatrade.com/

A Yoga Trade Success Story

I was ready to leave my life of a stressed yoga instructor in Miami. Miami is a really fun city but does not fit my taste for narrow alleys, cute cafes, farmer’s markets and nature proximity.

I was done being woken up in the middle of the night by trucks. I was done sitting in traffic praying I’d make it in time to teach my class. I was done parking through valets, B0A5269done with anonymous elevators and 30 story buildings. Most importantly, it was becoming apparent that I was trying to teach people the one thing I needed the most: how to de-stress and stay positive.

I was done.

I wanted to simplify, to shed, to revert back.

I wanted nature, deserted beaches, a simple life, wholesome foods. I did not want to carry or own more than my Hawaiians, a few pairs of shorts and bikinis.

Nor did I want to move somewhere and build a life for myself, find a home and buy a car. That would mean settling again and I wanted freedom. I wanted to go to a place that already provided the grounds for me to unplug, grow and live simply. I also wanted to challenge myself and see how I would do in an isolated, jungle-like environment.

One day I was searching on Yoga Trade, and then found Blue Osa, in Costa Rica.

I had a really good sense of what Blue Osa looked like because I had conducted plenty of research from the website and had read the Trip Advisor reviews.

I knew the beach was a few meters away from the property, which was a must for me. I also knew the property was groomed and well maintained but it preserved a rustic and genuine feel. I knew Blue Osa had a well established calendar of events which made me feel confident they were a legitimate business.

I have to admit my favorite part of the property is actually the front lawn with the big tree in the center. I grew up in a tiny apartment and I always felt really trapped and longed for grass. Since I’ve been living on my own I have always sought places that felt more like home with a big lawn. When taken out of its tropical context, the Blue Osa lawn could fit really well in front of an old Victorian house.

My favorite thing about Blue Osa is the open mindedness that pervades it. Everyone from the staff to the guests and volunteers is very accepting and at ease.

I come from a ridiculously small town in rural Italy, where I was always judged for everything I did, what I wore, said or didn’t say, and who I hung out with. At Blue Osa no one reacts weirdly to any type of human behavior. People here just don’t get worked up over unnecessary stuff. If anything is odd, they just laugh it off. There’s a disarming acceptance of all aspects of human nature that is so refreshing. It overrides any language or cultural barrier. Because let’s face it, real life isn’t about what you wear or what you look like, it’s about being human, with all your flaws and unique traits. The atmosphere in Blue Osa is also very joyful.

I often got reprehended in middle school for laughing too much. Here, there is no such thing as laughing too much! At Blue Osa I feel liberated and can embrace my laugh.

In my yoga professional volunteer position I got to teach yoga and learn about the social media and marketing aspects of running the business. I learned a lot through the completion of various projects and I was constantly feeling inspired by a bigger vision and team work with the other volunteers. I was basically learning the same if not more than if I were taking a few semesters of “marketing” or “social media” at college. With hands on experience, which is a huge plus.

The yoga aspect was also fundamental. I have met some incredible yoga retreat leaders who go to Blue Osa. Teaching week long private retreats allowed me to meet some truly cool people and watch their transformation while learning about the more intimate details of their lives.

Growth at Blue Osa happens constantly and freedom to express yourself is granted at any moment. Expressing oneself doesn’t just mean turning the volume up, but also being granted the opportunity to turn inward without being questioned.

I highly recommend Blue Osa for a vacation, a yoga retreat, or for volunteer opportunities.

Valentina_Headshot_LR-6My name is Valentina Rose and ever since I left Italy I have lived in NY, FL, and Costa Rica. I now reside in Marin County, CA. I am a yoga instructor and I host yoga retreats in Costa Rica. Some of my likes are: unicorns, 11:11 and music festivals.

http://valentinarose1111.com/

Travel “Eco”

Eco-travel is an excellent way to travel with a purpose. We should all think about ways to make our travel sustainable, mindfully connected with local culture, and present. Here we catch up with Los Cardones Eco Lodge co-owner, Anne-Laure Sitton. In 2001, Anne and her husband followed their dreams of adventure and searched for locations between Mexico and Costa Rica. They found it in Nicaragua and Los Cardones was born. Not only do they offer amazing surf/yoga/eco holidays, they give back to the local community in many ways, and offer visitors enriching experiences to get involved. Next time you travel…..Travel “ECO”!

loscardones4

 

What does “Eco Resort” mean to you?

The vision for our eco lodge is to offer a place where one can feel in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the environment.

What projects are you involved with to help your local community?

We run a library in the local village, we host a weekly art workshop with the local kids, we organize health workshops with the women of theloscardones3 community. We save endangered sea turtles from extinction, we raise awareness here and abroad, we hire locally, and buy locally.

Do you offer work exchange/volunteer opportunities?

We offer a yoga teacher and customer service work exchange opportunity. It is a monthly commitment to share a loving yoga practice with our guests.

What kind of yoga do you offer at Los Cardones?

We offer ashtanga and vinyasa flow yoga, with a focus on our unity with Mother Nature.
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Learn more about Los Cardones here:

http://www.loscardones.com/

Benefits of Creating Volunteer Opportunities

There are infinite benefits of creating volunteer opportunities within your organization or business. It can help your organization grow, will bring zest and new insights to your business, and creates a “positive feedback loop” of giving and receiving. Here Yogi Aaron (Founder of Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa) shares his wisdom and experience on creating a successful volunteer program.

“If you want an unhappy volunteer, give them the job of cleaning toilets.”
volunteer4I quickly came to know how true this statement really was. Even a paid employee never really wants to clean up after messy guests. At the conception of Blue Osa, we always had the dream to include volunteers – to invite them to be a part of our daily life. But very quickly we realized three things:

1.We did not need or want volunteers to be cleaning toilets, rooms, washing dishes, or even raking leaves. We had competent employees who could do it better.

2.We did not want to manage volunteers.

3.We did not want to give away essential jobs to volunteers.

Being an Eco-Friendly yoga retreat, part of our mission was to support the health of the local economy and ‘eco-system’.  Most gringo local employers hire their employees seasonally. The local people work for six months and then are off for six months. This has detrimental effects on the economy. Blue Osa made the decision that if we were going to hire employees, it was for the whole year. 

 

Thus, the volunteer program was shelved. Until one day, after four years of being opened, I reached a state of burn out. I was burnt out from all of my responsibilities. I was burnt out from carrying the weight of Blue Osa. As my business partner Adam was still in NYC running his own business, I was left shouldering the burden of Blue Osa on my own. I was responsible for everything, including the marketing.

And the marketing was not volunteer1only getting left behind, I felt that all my creativity was completely used up. I literally cried out to the universe to please send me someone to help me.
 
And then I took action. I set out to place a notice on our Blue Osa Facebook Page and my personal page: Marketing person needed at Blue Osa – If any of you know of a person who has marketing skills – SEO, Adwords, phone skills, a people person, creative, not afraid of taking on projects and would like to live at Blue Osa for a few weeks or months and volunteer, can you have them contact us!

Within hours I had more responses than I knew what to do with. But the key was in finding the right person. And then it happened. Lynan Saperstein from the Big Factor contacted me.

When asked why she wanted to come and volunteer, she replied….“I am in a place in my life where I want to take a pause to reflect. And I want to give back.” In speaking with Lynan in our original interview and planning, we both decided that having a few extra writers and copy writers at Blue Osa would be a great idea. Somehow, we managed to attract a team of five amazing people who came and spent the entire month of March with us. In that time, we did many things. The biggest gain for us was the creation of an entirely new website for Blue Osa.

5 Tips on Having Successful Volunteers:

1. Never make them a part of your critical operations, i.e. your business will not fall apart if they have to pick up and leave all of a sudden. Hire people for that. (A lot of businesses stupidly have volunteers to run critical operations and then are really disappointed when the volunteer doesn’t fulfill their expectations. It is bad business to have volunteers fill these kinds of roles.) Your volunteers should be helping with the projects that you can never get to, or that you dream about having done. For example, Adam (Blue Osa Founder) and I would love to create signature music playlists for each day of the week. But we don’t have time and we have been putting this off for seven years. So we placed an ad on Yoga Trade and found the person we were looking for within two days.

2. Get really clear.  Here are the things you MUST be clear about and upfront with them. If you follow these simple things, your life will be easier when they arrive and EVERYONE will be happier. And you will most likely get what you are asking for.

volunteer3– Is there any compensation? Stipends? Are you clear with them about how much spending money they might need to bring?

– Why are you asking for volunteers. Is it because you support a bigger cause? Or are you trying to save money. Either answer is fine, just be up front, honest and clear.

– Where are they going to sleep? Are they sharing a room? Are they sharing a bathroom?

– What is the food situation?

– Are they allowed to have relationships with your guests / clients / employees? What is your policy?

– Do they have access to your kitchen? If not, what arrangements will you make?

– What hours will they work?A big part of our volunteer program is writing copy. In having so many writers here, I initially gave them assignments and then waited for them to complete them. This did not work. People inherently procrastinate and do not work well without structure. It is better to have set hours in a designated location where everyone can see them and know when they are working for you.- Is there any nightlife nearby? What is there to do or not do where you are located.

– Do they need to provide for any of their own equipment: computers, cameras, or gardening supplies? Or will you provide these things for them?

– Will they be picked up at the airport / train station / bus station? Do you include transportation?

3. Set the tasks and then give your volunteers the space to make it happen. In other words, don’t micromanage them. Each volunteer will bring their unique brilliance to the table. They want to share it with you. They want to give it to you. Let them!
volunteer5
4. Take care of your volunteers. Your volunteers need to be taken care of. If they don’t feel taken care of and nurtured, they will not be happy and not produce. On the flip side of that, if they are not living up to their end of the bargain, don’t be afraid of asking them to leave. There was one volunteer we had stay for three months. After the first two weeks, we knew it was going to be rocky. The biggest regret we have today was in not letting this individual go, thus creating issues in our community.

5. Ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid of asking for it. Just ask for it with clarity and honesty. My first mistake in starting the volunteer program was in not being clear.Overall, we have had a lot of success and the most amazing people who have come and graced Blue Osa with their presence (Lynan being at the top of the list). But there were a few who did not need to cross our threshold. I do not blame them, I blame myself for not being clear enough in asking for what I wanted, and in setting clear expectations for them. Being clear and asking for what you want and need will attract the right volunteers to you.

Creating opportunities for volunteerism in your establishment is an excellent way to engender community. We have been so blessed over the past two years to be surrounded by so many amazing people, most of them coming to us from Yoga Trade–each of these people unique and so willing to share their gifts, willing to step up to the challenge of helping us achieve the mission of Blue Osa.

Aaron
Yogi Aaron brings passion and a spirit of adventure to his teaching. Thus inspired, he guides students to secret, far-flung locales, which not only empowers them to realize their own limitless potential but also makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002 he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide. He currently serves as the Yoga Director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica. 

 

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