When the sun rises in the Mayan Riviera, it rises surprisingly quickly, climbing into the sky as though late for something. The cool blue darkness rapidly brightens, cut apart by streaks of pink and orange as daylight takes over. Within half an hour, the heat kicks in. It’s a different kind of hot, like standing in a bathroom when someone else is in the shower.Casa Om, the retreat center, is three stories of white adobe, tile floors, and potted flowers at the quiet end of an already quiet town. It’s sprinkled with benches, hammocks, and lounge chairs, close enough to the beach that a constant breeze keeps both heat and mosquitos at bay. It’s the kind of building that makes you want to stop and sit for a while, talking quietly and listening to the calls of the birds in the trees as the sun sets.
After a few days, your body grows accustomed to the heat. You move slower, more calmly. Muscles are looser. The heat melts stress away like a sauna.
“We can come to these retreats with a state of tension, tightness, fatigue,” muses Alexa Silvaggio, The Travel Yogi’s instructor for this retreat. “You come to a place like Casa Om, where the people are friendly, the yoga is good, the food is delicious, the beach is right there, the sun is shining, and you feel your blood pressure drop.” She pauses to take a deep breath, gesturing at our surroundings. “Everything just becomes more…easy.”
Alexa is an energetic yogi with a habit for spontaneous handstands. She smiles constantly and calls everyone “beautiful,” and she means it. She’s right, too. Between the heat, the beach, and the wind in the trees, this place wrings the stress out of you like a wet towel and leaves you to absorb Mexico instead.
Yoga is different down here. Gone is the frantic anxiety of trying to cram in a class before work or after dinner, wondering if you’ll have time to shower before your big meeting or just roll on some deodorant and hope for the best. There’s no scheduling, no cheat days, no excuses. You have nowhere else to be, so spending three hours a day on the mat just makes sense. Everyone tries new poses, new classes, and new sequences, whether it’s holding a handstand for the first time or a yin/yang class that leaves everyone dripping with sweat, tired but happy.”You are immersed,” says Courtney Engel, The Travel Yogi’s adventure retreat specialist. “When you’re doing yoga at home, you get distractions, like a dog or a child or something else, but here, you have the birds chirping in the back, you have the wind whistling in your ear, and it really is calming in a different way. Yoga truly becomes a lifestyle that you can indulge in.”
From the rooftop deck of Casa Om, you can see the sweeping, seemingly infinite green of the Yucatan Peninsula. Nothing within 200 miles is more than a few hundred feet above sea level. There are no mountains, no rivers, no valleys—just endless jungle as far as the eye can see. Thanks to the flatness and the porous limestone bedrock, unique features called cenotes formed all over this area. A cenote is a sinkhole of sorts caused by underground rivers carving away at the surface limestone—a deep blue hole in the ground full of fresh water, surrounded by jungle, and warmed by the sun.
These cenotes have provided the Maya with fresh water for millennia, and it’s there that we went on one of our three planned excursions. We jumped off cliffs, snorkeled in the crystal water, and ate fresh mango in palm-frond cabanas nearby. “The excursions have been so phenomenal,” says Carolyn Garner, a retreater from New York, “really a way to…enjoy other parts of Mexico that I wouldn’t have done.”The excursions were Jen Hoddevik’s idea, and she’s rightfully proud of them. Jen is the founder of The Travel Yogi, and she wants The Travel Yogi’s retreats to offer a little more than just sand and sun. “If you want to go lay on a beach somewhere for a week, that’s great,” she explains, “but we’re all coming together to a beautiful new country, so our focus is more towards adventure and how can we incorporate the best of that country into what we are doing for a week, while still having amazing yoga twice a day.”
The best part of this retreat isn’t the cenotes or the sea turtles or the 15th-century Tulum ruins, though. Looking around the table at one of our group meals, with everyone talking and laughing over fresh food and fruit juice, you’d think this was a family—not a group of a dozen strangers thrown together a thousand miles from home. “You arrive and you don’t know anybody,” says Gordon Overbye, a pilates teacher from Seattle. “And after about three days it’s like you’ve known each other for your whole life. And that’s pretty rare.” This is Gordon’s fifth retreat with The Travel Yogi, and he’s already got two more planned.
The retreaters have only been in the Mayan Riviera for a week, but already work and daily routines seem like a distant memory. Alexa has noticed the same thing. “Sometimes you don’t even recognize people when they leave,” she says, smiling. “[The Travel Yogi’s retreats] are exactly what the name says. They are a chance to get away from the humdrum, from the traditional yoga experience…it’s an opportunity for you to create whatever experience you want.”At the end of the week, people trickle out after breakfast, taking the hotel shuttles to Cancun before jetting back to all corners of the country, back to work and family and their normal lives. But the feeling is not one of sadness or the wistful hindsight that so often bookends vacations like this. Hugs are exchanged along with email addresses and phone numbers. Plans are made to reunite in the future, at a new city or on another Travel Yogi retreat.
Finally, the last few retreaters leave, filing through the door and saying a final farewell to the beach, the hotel, the sun, the birds, the trees. Until next time.