Ten years ago, when Cynthia LaRoche was still new to teaching yoga, a group of women asked her to lead a retreat somewhere warm. Cynthia had no clue what this yoga retreat would look like or what participants, both seasoned yogis and those new to the practice, might expect from an intensive week of yoga, but she said, yes. In 2020, she will lead her tenth retreat at the Mar de Jade Wellness & Vacation Retreat Center in Chacala, Mexico (north of Puerto Vallarta). Cynthia, and fellow instructors, Banni Bunting and Angela Goodstein, will guide participants through daily yoga sessions, meditation, breath work and crystal healing.
On the first day of the retreat, Cynthia gathers everyone in Mar de Jade’s yoga studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Some are nervous about what to expect. They’re worried the yoga will be too strenuous. Others secretly worry two hours of yoga might be boring. Most have specific goals to return home energized, healed, or even slimmer. Cynthia asks them to tune into the rhythmic crashing of waves against the rocky coast and breathe. Mar de Jade means jewel of the sea, and the staff encourage guests to unburden themselves by tossing their burdens like rocks for the ocean to carry away.
Each day of the retreat includes twice daily yoga, in addition to dedicated breath work, meditation guidance and crystals specifically chosen for healing each chakra (the seven energy centers along the spine). Afternoons are spent relaxing in oceanside hammocks, paddle boarding, walking into the nearby town of Chacala or touring the Montessori School, which the resort owners opened, before everyone gathers again for sunset yoga and dinner of locally caught fish. The resort has its own organic farm, the source of daily meals, including a breakfast favorite of freshly sliced papaya.
Wholesome meals and basking in the sun and balmy breezes of the Pacific set the stage for a deeper, more patient exploration of a yoga practice. So often, Cynthia says, people are in a hurry to change something about themselves; they want to leave the yoga mat transformed. She sees students “bumping up against” aspects of themselves, the “unruly pieces” they’d rather leave behind. The body wants to fidget, the mind sail away. She invites her students to stay in the “uncomfortable sensations,” to inhale and exhale with the surf and observe the “useful information” of the body’s fidgeting or resistance. “If we turn toward the things we push up against,” she says, “and allow those things in, we begin to see the walls that we’ve built up around our own hearts. If you can sit within an uncomfortable moment and not run from it, there’s an opportunity to soften around the resistance… and in the softening we become more receptive, more open to receive what has always been available to us, the magnificence of our own potential.”
For those who can’t embark on a week-long retreat or even squeeze in weekly yoga classes, Cynthia offers some simple, practical tools for nurturing a mindfulness practice at home. “Before I get out of bed in the morning I always say, ‘Thank you’ or ‘Wow!’ This morning practice puts me in the equation… I get to choose, to decide, regardless of what’s going on… we forget how powerful we are,” she says, especially when we are faced with pain, sickness, heartache or disappointment. She also suggests setting an alarm and sitting quietly for one minute. Maybe it turns into two or three minutes, she says, but start with one. These simple practices shape her day and create space for reflectiveness.
A weeklong retreat in Mexico may be balm for body and soul, deepening one’s yoga practice, but Cynthia says it is not necessary to travel thousands of miles to foster self-acceptance and love. She cites an interpretation of one of her favorite Buddhist teachings: you will search the world over and find no one more deserving of your love than yourself.
For more information about Cynthia’s upcoming classes, workshops and the yoga retreat taking place each November, please visit CynthiaLaRoche.com