Sayulita Mermaid Yogis Retreat: Part II


For most of the country, May is a welcome reprieve from months of horrendous weather. But in San Diego, it's actually the start of our cloudy season. May Gray and June Gloom are aptly titled after the marine layer that typically descends upon us right when most people are celebrating the start of summer.

I know right? Boo hoo, we get a month or two of partly cloudy weather. Poor San Diego.

But I'm not one to shy away from complaining about the weather. It's part of the reason I moved here: I was unbearable to listen to when I lived on the east coast.

During the first week of May, I tried to suck it up, but it's legit bumming me out now. The morning that I started this post was no different: clouds, wind and rain. I wore a sweater and my winter jacket to work. Sweater weather? It just sends me tearing for photos and memories of warmer times with far lighter (and fewer) clothes.

Which is what prompted me to write the second part of my Sayulita yoga retreat recap oh... only six or seven months after it happened. Ironically enough, I left off right when things were getting not-so-sunny in Mexico. But rainy Sayulita is still blissfully tropical... and I'll take warm and rainy over cold and cloudy any day.

Also, it's awesome... in the months that have passed since I wrote the first part of this recap, I've started to see the ways that that trip has impacted so many of the girls who took it. One of them moved to California to pursue her passion of photography. Another just road tripped from Washington state to LA to see what adventures await her. One of them got into law school and my retreat roomie is expecting an addition to her sweet little family. So to think back now and realize that each of them were on the brink of these journeys when we were together just continues to put the trip in a whole new light.

Day 3 - Gong Bath Virgin 

As each of us made our way out to the patio for breakfast on our second morning in Sayulita, we could tell that something was going on. The "something" was this: a storm was headed our way making our itinerary for the day null and void. We were supposed to boat out to the Marietas, snorkel the day away and have dinner on the beach, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

While the instructors were figuring out a new plan, I dragged my super sore bod over to the breakfast bar and then collapsed into a chair at the table. I had an idea the previous night that I was going to be in a bit of pain from all our time on the water the day before, but I underestimated just how angry my body would be. Hence, my absolute relief when they pushed Mandy's 9am Vinyasa class back an hour. As soon as I finished my granola and green juice, I rushed back to my room and took total advantage of the opportunity to be horizontal on my comfy bed.

By the time we all headed up to the yoga shala, we had a new plan for the day: Mandy's class, followed by a kundalini class and gong bath (what?), a break for lunch, options for massages, then a Bhavinization/dharma journaling session with Shannon in the afternoon and finally, dinner.

Me, almost dying.. BEFORE class // pc: Angel

Post-class meditation while this cute pup chilled on my mat // pc: Horizon Light Photography

Not going to lie: class was tough on my sore, sore body. It didn't help that this was only my fourth or fifth vinyasa class (another reminder to not let your level of practice stop you from going on a yoga retreat!). I did my best and child's posed my way through the rest. And while Mandy led us through a meditation and some alternating nostril (pranayama) breathing, a bearded man in a turban set up two gongs.

My reaction to the news that we were going to have a gong bath after class was more or less: what in the shit is that? My cynical city kid crap has made me skeptical of so many amazing things, this entire retreat included. But this was the reason I was here: to shed some of that ignorance and get out of my comfort zone with my open-minded new lady friends.

When the meditation was over, the healer dude asked us to all set up our mats on one side of the room facing him and the gongs. He then led us through some more pranayama breathing for what felt like 20, maybe 30, minutes (but it could have been 5.. time got weird).

pc: Jess

Throughout the breathing part, I kept jerking awake: it was so relaxing that I was falling asleep mid-breath. Then he instructed us to get into a position that was comfortable to us while he, well... bathed us in sound from playing the gongs. He would ring a chime three times when it was time to "come back."

I've never done hypnosis or anything like it, but I imagine that this was what it's like. It wasn't long before I slipped into a nap that was taken over by what I can only describe as rapid fire semi-lucid dreams. Except they weren't dreams so much as images of actual things that had happened in my life that were of no significance and that I hadn't thought about in years. It made me a bit anxious at times but for the most part it was pleasant. Then he rang the chimes and I woke up zenned out and no longer a sound bath virgin. Looking around the room, I was surprised at how emotional it was for some of the girls in the group. I wondered if I had somehow did it wrong, but maybe being so skeptical of it had stopped me from experiencing it to the fullest.

pc: Jess

Free for lunch, a handful of us wandered out into the drizzle and puddle-jumped our way down the street until we found an open restaurant called Tropical House on Avenida Palmar. We brunched down and a few of the girls ordered their tasty smoothies. Then we walked into town to do a little shopping and get some money from the ATMs before heading back for our journaling session.

While we were out, I stopped at the Pachamama boutique (where those dreamcatchers at the top of the post are from) and found the most perfect mermaid journal that I almost splurged on before the journaling. For the record: that boutique is dangerous... you will want to buy everything.

When we got back we had some time to rest and then everyone made their way up to the yoga shala again with their journals for Shannon's Bhavinization or dharma journaling session. Your dharma, Shannon explained, is "fulfilling one's destiny and performing one's duty despite any fears, doubts, or distractions." The goal of Shannon's workshop was for us to explore what our dharma might be (and as she mentioned, you don't have to have just one) and with that knowledge write her a letter from some point in the future describing how we were living our dharma.

Shannon also gave us a dharma checklist which I love:
  1. You enjoy it.
  2. Others benefit from it.
  3. It sustains you.
  4. You feel guided and protected.
  5. You feel gratitude and growth. 
With that in mind, during our letter to her, we were going to bhavanize! Bhavana means cultivating or developing, so for Shannon a bhavanization was kind of like imagining how we were going to cultivate our dharma. It was her belief that by writing it all down, it would help us put it out to the universe and make it come true.

And you know what? It did.

I wrote my letter to Shannon from a point in time that was 6 months post-retreat. And while I won't share all of what I wrote, I said that I was writing to her from our new "beautiful, healing place in OB that is finally, thankfully home. We have our own yard where all the plants are thriving..."

That happened. Even though at the time that I wrote it, it actually seemed impossible to me. I couldn't believe that we would be able to find a free-standing cottage to rent in OB, let alone one that allowed dogs and had a front and backyard that was all fenced in. Oh and, not to mention, was in our price range. Ocean view? Not even remotely probable. But it all happened. And the rest of the letter is stuff I'm now actively working on.. more on that later...

When we finished writing, we had the option to read from our journals to each other. We spent an hour or two sharing and crying and laughing and then headed out to dinner at the very same Tropical House where we'd gone for lunch.

Between the bath and the rain and the tears, it ended up being a pretty emotional, draining day. But nonetheless an important one for me: I couldn't remember the last time I'd experienced something like that with a group of women. Undergrad dorms? High school cross country? Whenever it was, it'd been at least a decade. It was nice to be in a space where we could dream and share and cry without judgment. I fell asleep immediately that night and probably slept the hardest of any night on the trip.

Day 4 - Rain, Rain, Go Away

Despite not drinking any alcohol on Monday, I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling a bit hungover and foggy from the day before. I felt that way all through breakfast and only when I got up to the yoga shala for Janalyn's class did I start to perk up a bit.

It's really hard not to be awake and present in the yoga shala at Villas Sayulita. It's just such a bright, cozy, inviting space to practice. And Janalyn had set up the colorful mats before we got there, just adding that much more pop to the visual experience.

As she explained, our class that morning was going to focus on hips, hearts and handstands. She lead us through a nice flow that ended with us in savasana while she played the uke and sang to us. When savasana was done, it was time for a mini inversions workshop.

Having never done any type of inversion, I made a tiny effort at getting upside down and then gave up for fear of cracking my head open. But seeing all my fellow yogis get into head or handstands, I decided that this is definitely a pose I want to be able to do before I turn 30 next year!

Showing my enthusiasm for the beautiful Angel's effortless handstand // pc: Horizon Light Photography

After class, I decided I'd had enough of my sore broken body, so I signed up for an afternoon massage with Carlos, a healer that Mandy had worked with for years. Since it was still raining, we had another afternoon to improvise and Carlos generously offered up his services again.

In the meantime, I had to run into town to get lunch and cash for him. We walked (and posed) down the rainy streets in our bright yoga clothes and speculated about our food options.

pc: Jess

Short on time because of my massage appointment, I knew exactly where I wanted to go for food: I'd been craving the breaded chicken tacos from El Itacate ever since I got back to town. I took one of the girls, Carlyn, there as well and got what I couldn't finished packed up to go. Then I headed on a rainy solo walk back to the hotel while the rest of the girls played in the rain for the afternoon.

The massage table setup inside the shala, complete with a Mexican rain bucket ;)

After my wonderful massage from Carlos, I was totally blissed out and ready for our afternoon yoga class with Amelia. We were going to be doing another acroyoga workshop, but this one was going to also include some poses that more closely resembled aspects of Thai massage, poses that were meant to be healing for your partner. We went from helping our flyers into deeper backbends to poses that involved acroyoga inversions... and everyone had an amazing time.

By the time the evening rolled around, the rain had subsided and it was like being let out of a cage: we were ready to party. Jess brought out a packet of flash tats, before you know it tequila appeared and the next hour was a blur of makeup, clothes and cocktails. When we were finally ready, we headed out to a beachfront restaurant, La Terrazola, for dinner, and then down to the hookah bar on Calle Jose Mariscal that has swings for seats, and then finally to one of my favorite Sayulita bars, Le Zouave de Hafa, where we drank and danced the night away.

One of the most lovable instructors around, the incomparable Shannon :)

Is this not one of the cutest bartenders you ever did see?

The "Janalyn"!

All of the girls who were lucky enough to get massages from Carlos

Three of our beautiful retreat leaders 

Shan and Becca keeping it real on our walk back to the hotel

When it started getting late, I offered to walk a couple of the girls back home since I knew my way around town. Then I made a more or less stupid decision to walk back to Hafa by myself. It's not that Sayulita isn't completely safe, because it is... there has never been a major crime there. But note to anyone whose independent ego is as stubborn as mine: as a female traveler rule of thumb, nothing good happens when you're alone after midnight.

Luckily I was fine, and made it back to Hafa just in time to find everyone leaving. We stopped for hamburgers and after filling my belly with street food, coconut water and Advil, I went to sleep hoping that I'd taken enough hangover precautions to make it through the adventures awaiting us the following day.

Next up, Part III, which includes secret beaches and mud baths...