Ewa and I had spotted this gem some time ago when we decided to host our forth annual New Year’s Eve yoga retreat called Happy New you! In the spirit of discovering new locales and broadening our horizons, we decided to explore a new part of Central America.
This retreat will offer similar tropical climate, similar fun, lighthearted and vibrant concept, but wait ’till you see the incredible place we have chosen!
We are so excited to share it with you. For this mini-scouting trip it we put together a group of six friends and ventured out for Panama City.
For the record, organizing a trip between as few as us was NOT EASY. Between logistics, flights, timing preferences, lengths of stay…it really made us appreciate the idea of going on a yoga retreat where all the logistics are already taken care of for you.
The vibes are high at Sansara. The staff is uber friendly, the owners Mike and Janel are super inspiring (with a baby on the way!) and the chefs so talented.
Some of us arrived early in Panama City and spent some time in Casco Viejo, enjoying the beautiful historic part of the city, its alleyways and the stark contrast between old and the modern parts.
Past Panama City, the drive becomes lush, beautiful and green.
The first thing that hit me when I arrived in Cambutal at Sansara was just how beautiful the property was. Sansara emanates a mediterranean feel with little thatched roofs staked with adorned walls and stylish details everywhere.
Upon arriving some of us had already decided to hop on a cruiser bike and explore the lush and serene countryside, whereas some of us barely had any time to drop off our bags before getting whisked away by Mike, the owner for a rad surf session with the locals.
Group sunrise yoga was stupendous on the elegant moroccan inspired yoga deck, and the beach in the morning creates a surreal mirror-like effect that will leave you in complete awe.
My favorite parts of the trips perhaps were the mornings. Getting together with friends in the cool morning breeze, sipping tea, chatting and laughing, airdropping photos, trying all sorts of chia-seed puddings, whole wheat waffles, poached eggs over rooted vegetables.
The other thing I loved was hanging by the pool and getting smoothies delivered and snacks while kicking it in the sun with our group.
If the surf was incredible, the surf instructor Nick is even more. Ewa could not be happier about his through, two and a half hour session where he shared literally all his passion and knowledge. Ewa is now completely hooked on surfing! For the non surfers, stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling were a great and more chill alternative.
And did I mention the rooms? And the beds????? Because Sansara is practically brand new, everything is in pristine shape. The beds are soft white clouds and the aromatherapy makes you feel like you’re in heaven upon entering the room.
All the stone work was done by Mike, the owner, as well as the wood work. Stone showers and big slabs of wood as bed frames make the look of the rooms dramatic, stylish and edgy.
Overall, we absolutely adored the vibrant, chill and healthy energy of Sansara and cannot wait to get back and share it with all of you.
The first time I took Erin’s class I thought I was going to die.
No music and long held planks combined with simple, almost spartan sequencing made me miss the virtually alignment-free, fast flowing power yoga classes in Miami Beach.
I said to myself:”Every second of this class is so excruciating, I will never come back!” But deep inside myself I knew that it was exactly what I needed. Because, unfortunate but true, sometimes the least pleasant things in life are the more rewarding ones in the end. So I went back for more.
And I give her credit for revolutionizing my practice and inspiring a much more still, focused me. I now prefer to practice without music, just listening to my breath. I flow a lot less and hold a lot more. And I question the purpose and structure of each posture instead of half-heartedly breezing my way through them.
Erin reminds me a lot of my friend Sally. Very energetic, independent, with a big infectious laugh, in love with life, and unpredictable in a fun, refreshing way. You always sort of wonder what she’s thinking only to realize she’s transparent and straight-forward. Erin strikes me as someone very disciplined and driven when it comes to yoga. And possibly as someone who unknowingly deceives a really big heart in a bit of a tough exterior. Her knowledge of yoga spans far beyond anatomy and alignment; she is so wise in all aspects of the practice, ranging from the process of learning and applying principles to all the mental and physical challenges along the way. Her classes are great if you are wiling to take your practice very seriously at times (like in downward facing dog), and not too seriously at others (when you are approaching your 4th chair pose hold in a row).
Erin gives it a 100% in everything she does, and she did the same in this interview. Enjoy!
Name: Erin Cookston
Hometown: Vacaville, CA
Profession: Yoga Teacher
Favorite Book: I’m a huge book worm, so the list is long. But two of my favorites are “Light on Life” by B.K.S Iyengar, and “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld
Favorite Movie: The Godfather
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
If I were to be anything other then myself I would want to be my dog Ellie, she’s my super sweet Chihuahua Minpin rescue pup. Like most rescues she spent the first year of her life abused and mistreated; but even with all her previous misfortune she is completely trusting and generous with her love. She is the most vulnerable, nurturing, and courageous soul I’ve ever met. And she’s a energy firecracker and a ton of fun. I’d love to have all those qualities.
What’s your favorite yoga pose and why?
I think we all go through phases with postures, finding ones we enjoy more than others at different times in our lives. Since beginning my practice, Downward Facing Dog has been my ultimate ‘go to’ posture. If I can only do one posture, Down Dog is the one. It requires so much focus and attention to subtlety that it instantly brings me into the present moment, and it balances out and refreshes my whole body.
If you could gain any one quality, what would it be?
I’m a pretty patient person with others, but I’d like to develop more patience with myself. When I’m working on something that inspires and intrigues me I sometimes fall into the “I want it to happen now” or ” I’m ready now” mindset, and that can easily turn into an self-degrading struggle.
Also, I’m not sure if it qualifies as a quality, but I’d love to be more musically inclined. I’d love to learn to play the piano.
What is your favorite spot in Marin County?
To be honest, I really love bumming around San Rafael. But my favorite spot in Marin is definitely Tennessee Valley, it has become my reset button. Running and hiking there a few times a week is my salvation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve been given A LOT of really stellar advice throughout my life. The piece that’s coming to be now is something a friend said to me a few weeks ago, ” If you always do the same thing, you’ll always get the same thing.” -Basically, it’s encouragement to try new things and to be open to your own spontaneity; have the courage to be different, instead of always keeping things ‘predictable’ and comfy. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but if you want to change something about yourself or your life you have to be willing to step outside of that zone and try doing things a different way.
Tell me about one of your greatest accomplishments
This is a difficult one. Well, one of my greatest accomplishments at this juncture in my life is living alone, and being on my own. Up until a year ago I never had lived on my own; I’d always lived with family, friends, or partners. And not only had a never lived alone before, but my own fear persuaded me into believing I couldn’t live alone. I was convinced I would be scared, lonely, and poor. Needless to say, I really intimidated myself about it. That said, I’ve currently been living on my own for about a year and it’s been really empowering. Overcoming that fear of being alone has helped me develop so much more clarity and confidence in my life.
What has yoga taught you about life?
That my greatest gift is my Attention. My practice continues to show me that when I direct my attention with care and specificity everything is possible. Yoga has taught me that I can create the life I want to live.
What is the most challenging experience you’ve had in your yoga journey?
Becoming a teacher. It’s not always easy being the new kid on the block. Teaching is a HUGE part of my practice.
Tell me about your personal practice. How often do you practice, for how long, where?
I’m up at 5:30am to teach most mornings, so my preferred practice time is in the evening once my work day is over and the sun has gone down. I’ve been a home practitioner pretty exclusively for quite a while, so the duration and intensity depends on how I’m feeling that day; sometimes I practice for 2 hours, sometimes I practice for 20 minutes. As far as postures go, Inversions are a huge part of my daily asana practice, as well as more passive Yin Yoga postures. I’m a huge prop enthusiast; I love exploring new ways to use props and I regularly use blocks, blankets, bolsters, a chair, straps and acupressure balls.
I pretty much spend all my nonworking daylight time outside either hiking, running, or hanging out at ocean. So naturally, I love taking my asana practice into nature. Nothing beats a mid hike yoga practice at the top of a mountain.
Your teaching style could be considered very alignment based. Has it always been that way? How has your teaching style evolved over time?
I’ve been a student of Yoga for around 10 years and teaching for about 3.5 years, and both my practice and my teaching has changed considerably over the years. I’ve always been pretty alignment based, but my specificity and clarity with respect to alignment has definitely increased over the years. When I first started teaching I was very ‘by the books’ for lack of a better word, as a brand new teacher I was way to nervous to teach intricate postures/transitions or to be creative in sequencing. Now a days, more of my creativity comes out while I’m teaching, and I definitely have lower inhibitions. I love exploring new, and sometimes abstract, ways to articulate mental and physical alignment cues.
I first met Ewa in 2013 at Green Monkey yoga studio in Miami Beach where we both taught. Although it took a while to warm up to each other, I eventually fell in love with her classes and then one day, in the spur of the moment we decided to teach a yoga retreat together in Costa Rica. It was a true act of faith; we barely knew each other but instinctually connected and ended up leading a very successful retreat of sixteen people at Blue Osa. We called it the Blue Dream Yoga Retreat.
Ewa and I are hosting two retreats in 2015. The one coming up from June 20-27 is the Blue Wave Yoga Retreat which will offer yoga and an opportunity to surf. For New Year’s eve we will host the second edition of the Blue Dream Yoga Retreat at Blue Osa (December 27 to January 3, 2016.)
Here is a brief interview with Ewa so you can get to know her better too.
Where did your yoga journey begin?
I took my first yoga class in New York in 2006. I had just moved there from Sweden and rented a loft in a factory building in Dumbo, Brooklyn. My new-found friend wanted to start teaching yoga and asked if she could come and teach me and my friends in my loft. I said yes having no idea it would change my life. Although it took me about three years to go ‘all in’. I was practicing once a week for a long time until one day I had a sort of awakening. Something clicked in my head and I decided to make yoga my life.
What is the most challenging experience you’ve had in your yoga journey?
In October last year I was bitten by a chikungunya infected mosquito on Jamaica, and infected with a virus that makes all your joints ache like crazy. It took me back to the time when yoga was so incredibly difficult, even the basic poses became impossible, and although it was a challenge and really upsetting at times I now feel grateful for that humbling experience.
What has yoga taught you about life?
To not believe everything I think.
What is the most exciting place you’ve ever traveled to? Why?
The rainforest in Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula is my current favorite. When I leave the forest keeps calling me back every night, for days or even weeks, in my dreams.
What is the biggest takeaway of teaching your first yoga retreat in Costa Rica last year?
It is so rewarding to get to spend that much time with your students. Normally I have one or maximum two hours and then I don’t see them again for days or weeks. During that retreat, and the following retreat I hosted on Jamaica in the fall, I really had the opportunity to watch the participants grow.
What was the most challenging part of it?
To leave the group and go home.
Describe one of your favorite moments on a yoga retreat.
The rain pouring while we are practicing on the yoga deck, the feeling of absolute freedom.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering going on their first yoga retreat?