Sayulita Mermaid Yogis Retreat: Part I


This past November, I did something crazy.

That's how it felt at the time: crazy. Crazy to go on a yoga retreat when I wasn't that great at yoga. Crazy to spend a week in the jungle with girls I'd never met before. Crazy to spend so much money on a vacation to a place I'd already visited nine months earlier. Crazy to spend that much time away from Ryan and the dogs, crazy to sign up for so many water activities when I had only just learned to swim. Crazy.

But it wasn't crazy. Not even a little bit. In fact, it was one of the smartest, refreshing, and inspiring things I've ever done. And if I could go back to that drunken night in August at the bar with my friend Anjali, and have her encourage me to sign up all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

I first learned about the trip on a blog written by a girl named Mandy. I'd followed Mandy's blog for years and never met her or taken her yoga classes even though she lived and taught in San Diego. Last summer, I read her post about an upcoming retreat in Sayulita and it sounded amazing: one week of yoga, SUP and surf in Mexico. I thought about it and thought about it and when I finally took the plunge and reserved my spot, I couldn't believe it.

And then, all of a sudden, it was November 8th, and I was about to get on a plane for Mexico.

Day 1 - Hola Sirenas!

The morning that I left for Sayulita, I woke up nervous. Among my many neurotic fears were the following: what if something bad happens to the dogs or Ryan while I'm in Mexico, what if I forget how to swim or can't swim strong enough, what if I hurt myself during the cliff jump, what if I'm the weakest yogi there and I look like an idiot, what if they forget I don't eat seafood, what if living with a dozen girls I've never met before for a week is a disaster, what if it's a bad idea to try and get my waves tattoo done in Mexico or what if I can't squeeze it in, what if, what if, what if!?!!?


So there I was, reluctantly packing and rattling some of this off to Ryan (not all of it, Jesus... I don't want him thinking I'm a lunatic) and he kept assuring me it was all going to be fine, better yet it was going to be fun, and that I did not suddenly forget how to swim.

This did not help.

Well, it did a little bit, but not enough. For that, I recruited the bartender at my Alaska Airlines gate to pour me a few glasses of champagne at 8am and then we were doing OK. When the time finally came to board, I noticed another girl with a yoga mat and she came up and asked if I was headed to the Mermaid Yogis retreat too. Heather was smart and friendly and amped about the trip and instantly I started to feel a lot better about the week ahead of me.

Two hours later, after a boozy nap and a lot of open mouth breathing that I'm sure my seat neighbors loved, I was back in Mexico. My first thought was: I can feel the heat through the airplane window... it's probably time to take off this sweatshirt. My second thought was: I'M HERE!!!!!!

I made my way through customs, stopped to exchange my money (terrible idea, terrible rate) and then wandered outside to the arrivals gate to find my fellow mermaids. After a few awkward introductions to random girls toting yoga mats around the exit, we found everyone who was supposed to be there and hopped in a van to make our way to Sayulita. My van consisted of Heather, Rebecca, Jess, and Anna and I loved watching them watch the town, then the jungle, pass us by on our way to the resort. It made me relive my first visit all over again.

Pulling up to Hotel Villas Sayulita, we found a neon pink sign waiting for us and shouts of "They're here, they're here!" (that would be Amelia, AKA Stoked Yogi, one of our four instructors on the retreat) from inside the gate. I was thrilled to see how gorgeous the retreat was once I stepped inside and couldn't believe I would be living there for a week (more on that: here).

Amelia, Mandy, Janalyn and Shannon hugged us like we were long lost friends and Shannon announced our room assignments. Everyone started to get to know each other in a flurry of questions, taking breaks only to gape at the hotel around us and snap some Instagram-worthy pictures.

I tore into the swag bag waiting for me on my bed and found a couple of pairs of Teekis, a new bikini from Jolyn Swimwear, sunglasses from Sunski, a Stoked Yogi hat and tote, a water bottle, sunscreen, some headbands and yoga socks from Fabletics, and a beautiful mala bead bracelet from Blooming Lotus Jewelry.

Eventually we all congregated out on the patio nearby the pool and Amelia dove right into a Tarot reading for us. It was a great way to get to know the girls right away and it evoked the feeling that I used to get at slumber parties when I was a kid: excited for a night of secrets and fun and magic. Finally, for the first time all day, I felt relaxed. I knew this is where I was supposed to be.

I drew the Ten of Cups... :D

The rest of the girls (Angel, Shan, Carlyn, and my roommate, Amanda) arrived shortly after, spurring on another flurry of hellos. And then, before any of us could get too hangry, we were off into the Sayulita streets en masse on our way to dinner.

Mandy had arranged for us to enjoy family style tacos streetside at Manjares Exquisite Cuisine, which is located on Calle Jose Mariscal, otherwise known as "that street... you know, not Revolucion, but the other one." <---- Me, anytime I try to give directions in Sayulita.

We toasted with Pacificos and tequila, one of us got a tequila shower (Mandy), and then we went around introducing ourselves and sharing why we had come on the retreat. The next hour was a blur of conversation while the 13 of us tried to get to know each other.

original pc: Angel

Mandy led us on a short walk to see the town and took us down to the main playa so that we could get our first glimpse of the ocean in the moonlight. Then we started the walk back, stopping only for crystals (me and Shan) and beers (pretty much all of us) to enjoy back at Villas. A half dozen of us drank and talked until we were too tired to talk anymore and then stumbled off to bed, ready for our first real day of the retreat.

Day 2 - You Had Me at SUP

The first day of the retreat I thought I woke up early. Keyword: thought.

My usually reliable iPhone forgot to switch time zones and so really, I woke up an hour later than I was supposed to, but luckily no one seemed to notice or mind. I headed out to meet the girls on the patio in front of the last few rooms and dove into the amazing breakfast the staff had prepared for us, the highlight of which was their homemade granola.

Then... it was time for yoga.

The class on the agenda for our first day was Acroyoga with Amelia. I had absolutely no idea what this meant.

After a warmup flow that we did together in a circle around the room, Amelia had us break out into groups of three: one to base, one to fly, and one to spot. I immediately felt my stomach drop.

There was no way I could do this - I'd never done anything like it before and I'm really not that strong and I didn't want to crush or drop anyone in our first class.

But as Amelia explained, this type of yoga had nothing to do with strength and everything to do with architecture and the stacking of bones. She was confident about our abilities and that confidence was contagious. So I sucked it up and tried to keep an open mind.

Over the course of the next hour and a half, I did poses that I'd never seen before, let alone attempted... poses that I never thought I could do. Poses like The Box, The Goddess, and a Double Plank. We learned so much in such a short period of time, and it all felt more or less effortless thanks to Amelia's instruction.

By the end of class, we were exhausted. We did a cool down meditation with our legs up the wall in our new Teekis and then headed back to our rooms to shower and regroup.

That's me in the pink purple cloud Teekis! // pc: Horizon Light Photography

We had a break after class to explore town and grab lunch on our own. As we made the 10 minute walk to the plaza, I started to think about the afternoon ahead. That day was a big one for me: stand-up paddleboarding and cliff jumping 35 feet into the ocean were both on the agenda. My stomach was yet again in knots.

I distracted myself by soaking up the sights of Sayulita in the daytime and by pointing things out to the rest of the girls. It felt so good to be back and nice to be so familiar with a foreign place.

The beautiful Shan!

Mandy showed all of us the SUP shop where we'd be meeting back up for paddleboarding and then we set off in search of food. We settled on the colorful Monchis Restaurant and Bar on Marlin, facing the plaza. We even saw a few yogis from our resort doing acro in the park.

The good news? The food was delicious and my very non-Mexican grilled cheese hit the spot completely. The bad news? It took at least 45 minutes to come out. Oh, Mexico. We were starving and the hanger was almost too much for me to handle. But our waitress was a friendly American expat and she helped us pass the time with a couple of group photos.

pc: Angel

Once we finally got our food and finished eating, we headed to Mandy's friend Leyla's SUP shop, Stand Up Sayulita, and got ready to learn how to paddleboard. We met in the back at the shop's Iguana Gardens and Janalyn, our resident lifeguard, walked us through a few of the basics before having us buddy up in pairs based on experience level. Since me and one other yogi, Rebecca, had a total of zero experience, Janalyn thankfully stayed with us. 

We carried our paddleboards down to the beach in pairs to await one final lesson on the sand before heading out into the water. 

original pc: Stoked Yogi

The water was incredibly choppy and with boats coming in every few minutes, it got even worse. Rebecca and I paddled in on our knees, but eventually Shannon and Amelia tried to encourage us to stand up. One of them said something that clicked with me: "the worst that could happen is you could fall into nice, warm water." All of a sudden I realized, that was actually the worst thing that could happen. A few months ago the worst that could happen was that I could fall in and sink and drown and die, but I knew how to swim now.

Unfortunately, neither Rebecca or I could quite get up and when we tried, we finally did fall into that warm water (yeah, Team Shaka!). So while the rest of the group seemed to effortlessly paddle around and do yoga (superstars!) on their paddleboards in the windy water, Rebecca and I stayed with Janalyn and just tried to focus on standing up. 

I was excited that I was finally checking off one of my 2014 resolutions, which was to try SUP, but frustrated that I couldn't just stand. I started blaming everything: the waves, the board, my sore muscles from class that morning and all around out-of-shape-ness, not eating enough at lunch, but in the end I think I was just afraid. I had to keep repeating under my breath that the worst thing was that I could fall in, but somehow, in that moment, I couldn't totally shake 27 years of my fear of being in deep water. 

When we did finally stand up for a few minutes each, that was enough of a victory for me. We paddled in sitting down for the most part and watched Janalyn do some incredible poses on her board. 

Intense concentration and impeccable posture.

The most nervous shaka there ever was.

Yeah, Rebecca!

On the beach, we recruited some help from the guys at the SUP shop to carry our enormous boards back in and then we grabbed our stuff and made our way to the hotel. There we found the rest of the girls in the pool, goofing off and downing cervezas and I immediately joined in.

It was only after I jumped in that I realized we had never gone cliff jumping. Someone told me that it was cancelled on account of the low tide and I felt a wave of relief that allowed me to truly relax for the first time all day. Even though cliff jumping was something that I really wanted to do to prove to myself that I could do it, I guess I just wasn't truly ready. I was glad that the ocean made that decision for me.

We had some down time that evening (which I spent reading in my room) before meeting everyone in the gardens for dinner. The hotel manager, Salim, and some local chefs cooked us the freshest pizzas I'd ever had over an open fire. 

We sat under the pretty white lights that were strung through the trees and drank Pacificos and ate all the different pizzas to our hearts' content. My whole body was sore but happy. One of the dogs that lives on the grounds, Gnesh, came over and rested her head on my legs.

When dinner was finished, we headed upstairs to the rooftop where one of the instructors led us in a group massage. After, we laid around sipping beers, talking about spirit animals and staring at the stars. The air was warm and when the drowsiness got to be too much, I stumbled off in the direction of my room and passed out. Hard.

That jam-packed day was a day of firsts, of going way outside my comfort zone and dealing with my fears head on. Falling asleep that night, I couldn't help but feel a little proud, a little more confident, and a lot more at peace.

Part II: Sound Baths and Tequila