There was an immediate feeling of familiarity the moment I walked into Yandara Yoga Institute. It was that sense of community, simplicity and openness which has touched me so deeply at retreat centres in the past – an instant gratification in knowing I was exactly where I needed to be. Entering this little yoga sanctuary in Baja, Mexico was coming home.
Several other fresh faces and I were greeted the first evening at Yandara Yoga Institute with chanting and dancing led by the Jaya Band, two beautiful couples who seem to carry lifetimes of experience. One of the members, Bolo made a memorable introduction that set the tone for the rest of the retreat when he casually stated “Just pretend like you’ve known me your whole life.” What a relief; permission to bypass the small talk and judgments and allow yourself to be 100% open to the magic that unfolds when we are truly present with one another moment to moment. Yes, I was home.
The accommodation at Yandara is completely off the grid, promoting its ethos of mindfulness and deep connection with nature. We stayed in tents just a short walking distance from the ocean, the communal dining area and the yoga shalas where we gathered multiple times per day. The raw, natural beauty of the area was a spiritual experience in itself. On a good day, we would be met by whales during long walks along the beach or spot stingrays skipping across the horizon. I will never forget the day when we opened our eyes after a meditation on the beach to find a large sea turtle laying her eggs right beside us. I could only imagine it was the calm, peaceful energy of 15 people breathing in stillness that invited her in, despite the protective nature of any mother about to give birth. The profound state of presence, wonderment and awe that resulted from witnessing such an event is a perfect representation of what it means to experience yoga beyond the mat.
For many modern day yogis, myself included, eliminating the morning coffee ritual can be an added challenge to a full day of yoga practice, meditation and intense study. But with any challenge, it was well worth the payoff to approach each day with a detoxified body and clear mind. The selection of herbal teas, variety of delicious, healthy meals and plethora of fruits to snack on were more than enough to satisfy a sweet tooth and power you through the day, caffeine-free. Ah yes, and once a week came “Baja Beans Sundays”, where we had a morning in town to enjoy an outdoor market with live music, local handicrafts, and those well-deserved indulgences at the café and bakery.
To put it simply, Yandara is a place for exploration and understanding how yoga can fit into your life. Regardless of what certain teachers or traditions will try to proclaim, there is no one-size-fits-all for yoga. How could there be? For the infinite number of people on this planet, there are an infinite number of practices, which will continue to change and evolve as we do. I’ve spent time in the past obsessing over the perfect alignment and sequencing, allowing perfectionist tendencies to rule and consequently limit the potential of my practice. However, there have also been times when a strict daily routine has enabled me to find health and balance in my physical body and the rest of my life as a result. One of my favourite words of wisdom in all of my yoga trainings, workshops and retreats has simply been to “try it on.” This motto has led me to periods of silence, fasting, intense breath work, ecstatic dance, rigorous physical practice, vision quests, chanting and everything between. Sure, there were experiences that didn’t quite fit right, but I’ve been fortunate to find communities of equally open-minded yogis that can share the ecstasy of a beautiful experience and can also identify approaches that don’t serve them without labelling it as the wrong way. Yandara is one of those places. Before you make judgments or worse, limit yourself by preconceived notions, simply try it on. As Sri Ramakrishna stated so beautifully, “all rivers flow to the ocean. Flow and let others flow too.”