By Ami Albernaz

Just a couple of years ago, the prospect of spending a vacation doing yoga would have seemed unthinkable. Not because I’d never done yoga — I did it once a week, sometimes twice, though never consistently. Yet a yoga retreat or similar trip seemed designed for a different caliber of yoga-doer — those who’d perfected their headstands and arm balances, those whose backs and arms were chiseled from years of Vinyasa flows, those who came to class decked out in their Lululemon finest. Those things seemed very far off for me.

It still did when I got on the plane to Costa Rica this past April. But my ideas of a yoga getaway had softened. A friend, another casual yogi, had been to Montezuma recently for the Yoga & Wellness package, and assured me that I would fit in just fine. Completely coincidentally, I had discovered Dagmar’s videos online and loved her accessible, unpretentious style of teaching. Though I wasn’t one to look for signs from the universe, it seemed that Montezuma might be the right place to deepen my practice.

I arrived at Hotel Los Mangos on a Sunday afternoon, worn out from the 12-hour journey from Boston. A Montezuma Yoga postcard lay at the foot of my bed, with a note from Silvia on the back. She welcomed me and said that she hoped that I could make that evening’s candlelight practice. That simple gesture had a big impact — it reaffirmed that I’d come to the right place, and it let me know that my presence was appreciated. The warm welcome set the tone for the week.

Here are a few key things I learned through my yoga trip:

1. You can come just as you are. 

Yes, it helps to know the terminology (vinyasa, downward dog, etc.) so that you’re not constantly watching the instructor. But you won’t be expected to put your foot behind your head, and it’s okay if you stumble out of your dancer’s poses or twists.  The sequences are kept simple so that you can focus on aligning movement and breath; modifications are suggested so that you can make your practice easier or more intense.  If you want to try a headstand or an arm balance, great; if you need to hang out in child’s pose, no one will judge you. There were yoga teachers in my classes as well as complete novices. There was a shared understanding that we were there to deepen our own practice, not to focus on the people around us.

2. Your time is your own.  

Though you’ll be encouraged to go to class daily — after all, it’s a yoga vacation — whether or not you do is ultimately up to you. If you need to take a break one day and linger over breakfast, head to the beach, or just get some extra sleep, it’s your call. Like many yoga destination spots, Montezuma Yoga offers morning and evening classes most days, so you have flexibility when planning your schedule. There are plenty of other things to do as well, such as surfing or Spanish lessons (through the Yoga & Surf  and Yoga & Spanish packages), hiking the nearby waterfall, or simply sitting by the pool with a book. Your time can be as structured or unstructured as you like. 

3. It’s easy to make friends (if you want to).

I worried before my trip that I might get lonely. Though I’m generally comfortable on my own, the prospect of eating dinner alone every night or wandering the town by myself the whole week didn’t thrill me. The great thing about yoga vacations is that a lot of people come solo, and they’d rather not eat dinner alone every night, either.  I met some warm, wonderful people though the yoga package, including a therapist dedicated to helping addicts, an engineer who moonlights as a jazz musician, and a yoga teacher who lives a few towns away from me back home. I’m grateful for the connections I made in Montezuma and am still in touch with a few of the friends that I met.

4. You will deepen your practice.

Perhaps the surest sign of a successful yoga getaway is that you come back feeling inspired to practice more. I felt so grounded, so at peace, so happy doing yoga daily that I try to continue this at home, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I might do a few Vinyasa sequences to align movement and breath, or I might spend a few moments in tree pose when I need to remind myself that I’m strong and centered. I go to class more often than I did before, and have tried a couple of new teachers and styles. I still do Dagmar’s videos, too — they help bring me back to that open-air pavilion, the hummingbirds dancing and the waves crashing just outside.

I also keep the postcard with the note from Silvia on my desk at work. It reminds me to stop and take a breath when things get stressful, and to reconnect with the peace that I felt in Montezuma. It also reminds me that, when I’m apprehensive about new situations or challenges, that yes, I have a right to be there.

Ami Albernaz (pictured on the left) is a writer and editor in Boston. After a few years of practicing yoga inconsistently, she came to Montezuma Yoga in April 2016 for the yoga and Spanish package. The experience inspired her to deepen her practice, and she now tries to do at least a few minutes of yoga and meditation each day.