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yoga

If you want to be happy and healthy and have great relationships, there are many different things you can improve in your daily habits to achieve that. There are obvious ways to take care of ourselves like exercise and diet, but there’s one simple exercise that boosts all of these things simultaneously and that most of us simply don’t know. What’s that? Being thankful. We are grateful for all of the amazing people that have participated in our yoga retreats and training. Gratitude is a gift that we share every day and the following 12 tips are a great way approach your daily life and practice on and off the mat:

Benefits of Gratitude

HAPPINESS

surf yoga - gratitude
Toronto Photographer

1 – Increases your happiness. Counting your blessings leads to heightened well-being, especially positive mood.

2 – Brings you happiness that Lasts. In fact, an attitude of gratitude can not only help you increase positive emotion, but also sustain it long term.

3 – Protects you from stress and negativity. Gratitude is associated with decreased anxiety and depression and increased social support.

4 – Reduces your materialism. One reason gratitude boosts our well-being is that it reduces materialism which is a good thing because materialism is linked to less happiness.

RELATIONSHIPS

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5 – Makes you more socially intelligent.

6 – Leads to better relationships. Gratitude strengthens your relationships and helps you create and maintain good relationships and feel more connected.

HEALTH

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7 – It even improves sleep quality and duration – in part because you have more grateful/happy thoughts before you go to sleep. Count blessings, not sheep!

8 – Strengthens your willpower to make better decisions. Gratitude makes you stronger and helps you achieve your goals and make smarter long term decisions.

9 – Benefits you at all ages from adolescence to adulthood.

IMPACT

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10 – Makes you a better person. It makes us better, more altruistic, moral, and ethical people. We become more helpful and kind to others.

11 – Makes others better people too: those we thank are more likely to become more ethical people too.

12 – Makes the world a better place. When you express your gratitude to someone, that person will go on to be kinder to others.

Don’t feel grateful? Don’t worry. Gratitude is accessible to anyone. Whether we’re sick or well, old or young, employed or unemployed – if our heart is beating, air is flowing in our lungs, and we have had a meal today, we have something for which we can be grateful. “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude” (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh).

Practicing Gratitude

It’s good practice to take the time to be grateful every single day, but what better holiday than Thanksgiving to jump-start your efforts to be more grateful? Here are some simple ways to strengthen your thanking muscle throughout the rest of November and beyond:

1 – A powerful way scientists have found can increase your well-being is by simply making daily gratitude lists. Write down five things you feel grateful for every day. This simple act can significantly increase your happiness.

2 – Another way you can boost your gratitude is by spending a few minutes out of your day devoted to gratitude.

3 – Gratitude meditation: Another way you can boost your gratitude is by spending a few minutes out of your day devoted to gratitude. Here’s a gratitude meditation put together by Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D, the original author of this article, that you can download and try for yourself today.

Original article is from Psychology Today.

Cross a Visit to Nicaragua off Your Bucket List – join us for the Bucket List of Bliss Retreat with Cher Aslor on March 19th.

And don’t forget to share this blog with someone you are grateful to have in your life!

It is a few minutes past 5 a.m., the beginning of my daily yoga practice. My right leg is lunging forward, the right foot pointing to the front. My left leg is placed straight and solid behind me. I breathe in and raise my arms, stretching them slowly out toward both sides. I look over my right hand, all of its fingers stretching themselves in one line away from my right shoulder. This is Virabhadrasana, or the Warrior II yoga pose. I feel good.

Bounding into the Yoga Pose

A relationship is like a yoga posture. Getting into a relationship, everything is rosy bliss. The stars glitter in one another’s eyes. You feel like the glorious hero of an action movie who has just saved the world from a great enemy. Sunlight is like the beloved’s warm embrace and rain is liquid happiness. There is a story to Virabhadra’s yoga pose. As told in the Mahabharata, the great Hindu spiritual epic, Lord Shiva’s beloved, Shakti, happened to be the daughter of his enemy, Daksha. Shakti’s father openly refused the marriage. Shakti was so grieved of her father’s disapproval that she took her own life. The warrior Virabhadra was born out of a lock of Shiva’s hair he had dashed to the ground while avenging his wife’s death.

Use Yoga to Soften Communication in a Relationship

In that flash of energy, Lord Shiva must have been practicing yoga. A yoga breath technique couples can use to help maintain a happy relationship is called the “Hmmm!” breath. This breath technique can instantly calm the mind and a relationship when the tension mounts. To practice “Hmmm!” breath: begin by taking refuge in a quiet corner. Simply cover the nose and mouth with a handkerchief and, say “Hmmm!” loudly with the mouth closed. Repeat as necessary.

Yoga Allows Love to Happen

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In yoga as in love, the trick is allowing the process to happen. This is the “yes” mind. “Yes” is the balance needed to create a haven of communication, a space to rest in the relationship. “Yes” to each other means, “yes” to giving each other space, and “yes” to just being together in silence. It means saying “yes” to each other’s mistakes, unforeseen expectations and weaknesses. This spiritual wisdom can bring the strength not to fall out of the yoga pose.

Elevate your relationship to new heights in our Couples Only AcroYoga Retreat with Anthony Alcalde

Staying Centered in the Yoga Pose

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living, says, “Love is not an emotion. It is your very nature.” Through practicing yoga, pranayamas (yogic breathing exercises) and Sudarshan Kriya , a stress-relieving breathing technique of The Art of Living, this truth has become more obvious to me. With each day of yoga practice, I realize a smile and that warm fuzzy bliss I feel after a restful meditation is the real me. This sense of calm, of quiet observance, is the same as a successfully balanced yoga pose.

A Little Wobbling is Natural

Sometimes in the Warrior II yoga pose, I feel a pinch in my back, the result of long hours spent working on a computer. Waves of uneasiness radiate from the crunched muscle tissues in my back, and I close my eyes. Breathe, I tell myself, allowing myself to practice yoga, to be a witness to this uncomfortable feeling. The muscles are caught unsure of what to do, confused by this new situation. Suddenly, things stop feeling natural, something is not quite right. I begin to lose balance. Taking deep breaths, I agree to be a witness to the discomfort, and with some wobbling and wiggling in the pose, I come back to balance.

Witnessing the process of a relationship, of a yoga pose, needs faith and strength. Sometimes I must make extra space between my shoulders. That means slightly adjusting one here and maybe lowering the other there. Watching my breath. There is discomfort, but these are my shoulders, and they are not going anywhere.

Yoga & Doubt

Whether it is a yoga pose, or a relationship, doubts may come up when something unexpected or disappointing happens. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says even doubt can be positive. “You know, if someone tells you that they love you, you say, ‘Really?’ Isn’t it so?,” says Sri Sri. “But you take it for granted when someone expresses their hatred towards you. If someone asks you, ‘Are you happy?’ you say, ‘Well, I am not sure.’ We doubt in love. You never doubt your depression, but you always doubt your happiness. So a doubt is always about something that is positive.”

The Yoga of Love

In a relationship, Sri Sri says, “There are two secrets: one for men, one for women. Women should always pump the ego of a man. When he is tired, when he finds blame everywhere, the only place he turns to is his wife to find solace. She should support him 100 percent and not put him down.” For men, Sri Sri advocates, “Men should never step on the emotions of a woman. Never say bad things about her family, her childhood, her past, or her hobbies. If she wants to go for a meditation, anything religious, never say no, because these are very dear to her. You just be stable, smile.”

A Space of Love

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A smile shows on the surface of the “yes” mind. A couple can take the time to nourish their smiles both together and individually. Practicing yoga together, and being engaged in volunteer service are two ways to stay spiritually connected. And that generosity in service, giving of oneself in love will flow back into the relationship. It is a law of the universe.

Allowing for time off to be alone individually is as important as the relationship. “For love to blossom, there needs to be longing…and longing needs a little space,” says Sri Sri. “Though it is a little painful, longing is inevitable. If you don’t allow longing, then love does not grow. So, give them some space…and take some space yourself.”

Like the balance of the five elements in nature, in the Warrior II yoga asana, I balance between the five points of my body: my head, two arms and two legs. In this yoga pose, sometimes I find myself paying more attention to adjusting my hands. At other times, I want to deepen the connection of my feet to the ground. Nourishing a support group of friends and family nourishes a relationship. Spending quality time with friends, spending time alone with nature, or just being in quiet solitude can deepen the relationship with one’s Self.

Honoring Time

As time passes in a relationship, a couple witnesses that expectations and attitudes change. The relationship can become better with more yoga and meditation practice. We can learn how to communicate better in the relationship, to be more patient and forgiving. Again and again, the cycle rotates from rosy and glorious bliss to momentary shakiness. There may be confusion when little earthquakes shake. Commitment is what holds the yoga pose together, when you decide not to fall. Spirituality is what gives the strength to see it through.

And even Lord Shiva was a witness to this cycle. His beloved Shakti eventually did return to him, reincarnated as Parvati in her next life, though the same soul.

Written by Marilyn Galan for Art of Living.

Want to attend a yoga retreat on your own and build new relationships? Check out our Ignite Your Light Retreat with Laura Beth Power and Teresa Butler.

San Juan Live says it best: “With miles of diverse coastline, abundant wildlife, rugged hills, warm weather, and vibrant local communities, the San Juan del Sur region has the power to exhilarate, soothe, and inspire.”

You’ll never run out of adventures or activities in San Juan Del Sur, but here are the top seven you need to try when you’re here:

1. Treetop Ziplining

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For the adventure junkie who wants beautiful views of the SJDS jungles.

2. Horseback tours

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Ride along the incredible beaches and through the countryside of Nicaragua, seeing plenty of local wildlife as you go.

3. Surfing

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Surfers are spoiled for choice in SJDS, whether you prefer to go out in the early morning, midday, or evening.

4. Get a massage

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Sometimes a simple massage can be the greatest luxury, and SJDS has top-of-the-line masseurs.

5. See some wildlife

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If you happen to miss the howler monkeys on your horseback ride, be sure to take a walk by the jungle and see them lounging around or swinging from the trees.

6. Eat!

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Enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – all fresh, locally sourced, and of course, nutritious.

7. Yoga

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We’re not even biased – the San Juan Del Sur region has world class yoga studios, in some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. Enjoy sunrise and sunset yoga on the beach, yoga in a studio in the treetops, or even yoga on your surfboard in the water (if you’re a master of balance!).

Read more about our yoga retreats, locations, and adventure offerings and start planning your trip to Nicaragua today!

Sleep deprivation and stress can be a vicious cycle. We often have trouble falling sleep because we’re worried and anxious, and in turn, the fact that we didn’t get enough sleep makes us stressed the next day. According to a recent Huffington Post survey, sleep deprivation is a major source of stress among U.S. adults.

That’s where yoga comes in. By lowering stress levels, calming the mind and relieving tension in the body, the soothing practice can be an effective natural sleep remedy. Certain resting and inversion poses can be particularly helpful for combatting restlessness and insomnia, especially when practiced in the evening or in bed before hitting the hay.

“We live in such a fast-paced environment and our senses are always being stimulated, and that affects our nervous system,” says Vyda Bielkus, a yoga teacher and trainer and founder of Health Yoga Life. “The yogic technique of focusing on your breath can be helpful — the exhalation stimulates the nervous system to release … [and] the poses also help us relieve tension from the physical body.”

Bielkus notes that many of her students report that taking a class in the eveningshelps them sleep better. But if you can’t make it to the studio after work, try these 10 relaxing poses at home to help you get a good night’s rest.

  1. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

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To perform this pose, stand with the feet about six inches apart and fold the torso to the ground, reaching toward the ground or bending the arms and grabbing opposite hand to opposite elbow. In addition to helping to relieve headaches and insomnia, the pose can also be helpful for lowering stress levels, according to Yoga Journal

“Sway a little side to side and breathe,” says Bielkus. “Bend the knees as much as needed to ease any strain. Tension in the legs and hips will start to release.”

2. Child’s Pose (Balasana)

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The quintessential resting pose in many yoga classes, child’s pose helps to calm the mind and relieve tension in the body. Fold the torso over the legs with the arms extended or by the sides, and rest the forehead on the ground. To include your arms in the stretch, place your palms together over your head.

“Take long deep breaths,” Bielkus suggests. “Massage the forehead left to right easing tension at the brow point.”

3. Plow Pose (Halasana)

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Yoga Journal recommends staying in the plow pose for one to five minutes to fall asleep easier. Lie down on your back, lifting your legs over your head and then to the ground behind you, with your hands either on your back for support or on the floor. 

“By turning the flow of blood around, you bring new vitality into the body,” says Bielkus.

4. Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

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This simple pose, performed against a wall, is excellent for evening relaxation and stress relief. Bielkus recommends staying in the pose for as long as five minutes, with the eyes closed and using a soothing eye pillow if desired. 

“When we flip the legs up, the blood can rush back down to the heart,” says Bielkus. “It has a soothing quality.”

5. Corpse Pose (Savasana)

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Get your body into sleep mode with a simple corpse pose, focusing the attention on the body and breath, and letting go of the day’s worries. 

“By focusing the mind and bringing awareness in, you take the mind off of what is causing stress or restlessness,” says Bielkus.

6. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

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This reclining twisted pose can easily be performed in bed before you fall asleep. Lie down on your back and bring the right knee into your chest and then across your left side. Extend the right arm out and gaze to the right, taking several deep breaths and then repeating on the other side. You can also try bringing both legs up and then over to each side, as pictured above. 

“Gentle twists relieve tension throughout the whole spine and also aid in digestion and help us rinse out some tension from the day,” Bielkus says.

7. Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

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Like the supine twist, the seated spinal twist (also known as the half lord of the fishes pose) can create a sense of relaxation in the body while gently stretching the spine. The stretch can be practiced with both legs bent or with one outstretched.

8. Reclining Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)

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A variation of the basic butterfly pose, pictured above, the reclining butterfly can help the body get into rest mode. Lie down on your back — on your bed or on a mat — and bring the feet together, splaying out the knees in a diamond. If your hips are tight and the pose feels too intense, Bielkus suggests putting a folded blanket or cushion under each of the knees. 

“Bring one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly,” Bielkus says. “Breathe deeply observing the breath move in and out of the body.”

9. Left Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana)

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To try this relaxing breathing exercise, or pranayama, you can either sit up crossed-legged or lie down on your right side. Cover the right nostril with your thumb and extend the fingers out. Then take five to 10 deep breathes out of your left nostril. 

“If I can’t sleep … As soon as I’ve done three left nostril breaths, I’m out,” says Bielkus. “It’s really, really effective.”

Original article from Huffington Post.

Do you always start your day with coffee? Try starting with our favorite morning yoga poses at one of our all-inclusive retreats instead.

Modern society requires us to rush – when the alarm goes off in the morning, we jump out of bed and hit the day running. Usually this necessitates caffeine, sometimes in unhealthy amounts; however, trying a more relaxed method of waking up and starting the day could improve concentration, mental clarity, mood, and overall quality of life. Try these five yoga poses instead of your normal coffee routine to start your day with a more positive outlook:

To begin, slowly inhale and exhale for a minute or two. Then breathe and relax in the yoga poses—don’t rush yourself, and remember this will take less than 10 minutes of your time. Hold each stretch for two full breaths.

 

  • Cat-Cow Pose

 

Come onto your hands and knees, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Begin to move your spine in a rhythmic motion: With every inhalation, arch your back and lift your sitting bones and chest into Cow; with every exhalation, round your back and tuck your chin and pelvis into Cat.

 

  • Table Top, variation

 

From all fours, lift your belly in toward your spine. Extend your right leg and left arm. Bend your right leg and take hold of your foot with your left hand. Kick your foot into your hand as you begin to twist and open your chest into a backbend. Try gazing up. This pose creates heat, challenges your balance, and gently warms up your spine. Repeat on the other side.

 

  • Knee-to-Nose Pose

 

From Downward-Facing Dog Pose, lift your right leg up high behind you, then round your spine as you draw knee to chest. Keep your pelvis low and round your upper spine toward the sky. Touch your right thigh to your chest and knee to your nose. Keep pressing the floor with your hands. Return to Downward Dog and then repeat with the left leg.

 

  • Flip Your Dog

 

From Downward Dog, lift your right leg and arm and pivot on your left foot. Spin your torso and hips open to the ceiling, and lower your right foot down to the inside of your left foot. Reach your right arm toward the wall behind you. Keep your feet parallel to each other, pressing firmly into the floor. Return to Downward Dog and do Flip Dog on the other side.

 

  • Side Plank Pose – Vasisthasana

 

Un-flip your Dog and roll your heels to the right. Shift your weight into your right hand and the outer edge of your right foot. Stack your left foot on top of your right. Fire up your thigh muscles; press your feet and hand down as you lift your hips. Extend your left arm to the ceiling. (If this is too intense, you can lower your bottom knee to the floor.) Return to Downward Dog and repeat on the left.

Yoga poses – Yoga Journal.

You and your significant other can start your days relaxing in paradise in our Couples Only AcroYoga Retreat with Anthony Alcalde – January 22-28, 2017 or April 2-8, 2017. Learn more now!

Body image anxiety — whether it’s a fixation on a facial flaw, an obsession with calorie-counting and exercise, or general negative feelings about your appearance — can be all-consuming, and they can take a serious toll on your well-being and self-esteem. When it comes to dealing with body insecurities and negative self-talk, sometimes the best thing can be to get out of your own head. Yoga, which is now being offered in some schools as a stress-relieving practice, can also be an effective way for young women to develop a positive self-image.

“Yoga allows us to start to slow down the self-critic, and start to observe that this voices in our heads isn’t necessarily the reality,” Vyda Bielkus, co-founder of Health Yoga Life studio in Boston, tells the Huffington Post. “To slow down and get into the body and say ‘OK, when these thoughts are coming up, there’s something actually behind the thoughts that we’re observing’ — that connects us more to our true self versus the dialogue that may be running us.”

Beginning a yoga program during your high school years can help you to start listening to the wisdom of your own inner voice, and to realize that your voice matters, Bielkus says. Whether it’s peer pressure from your girlfriends or pressure you put on yourself, yoga can help you to find comfort and resilience by looking within and finding your own path.

It’s never too late to being a yoga program. Learn more about our yoga retreats here.

Here are five ways that a regular yoga practice can help heal body image issues and promote positive self-esteem.

  1. Let go of your need to be perfect.

“Practices yoga helps people of all ages to create that space from all the media images that we’re constantly bombarded with, and the negative self-talk that can come up from that,” says Bielkus.

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So much of eating and body issues have to do with the need to control, whereas yoga is about cultivating the ability to let go, Bielkus adds. Silencing the mind and focusing on the breath and the body can help you put a stop to the dangerous habit of perfectionism and to simply appreciate all the good things your body does for you.

“Women have so many expectations of themselves,” Bielkus says. “We’re constantly bombarded with unreal expectations that everything should be perfect — I should look perfect and I should be accomplishing it all with ease. I think yoga allows us to take a break from all of the chaos… and start to say, ‘I have a need to be good to myself and slow down, and as I’m able to show up for myself, I’m more able to show up for others.’”

  1. Get active without an emphasis on competition or losing weight.

Some new practitioners may initially be attracted to yoga as a way to achieve the type of body they want, but they’ll quickly realize that there’s a lot more to the practice than getting into shape — and in fact, this isn’t the main objective at all. For those who are recovering from an eating disorder or struggling with body image issues, yoga can be a great way to stay active without focusing on competition or calorie-burning.

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“I often say in my own classes, ‘Why we start yoga is not why we stay,’” says Bielkus. “Yoga… helps us connect to an inner spark that we can honor. That’s really what keeps people coming back to their mats — more inner awareness, more stillness, more peace in their life. Then that supports healthier choices off the mat.”

  1. Find a healthy, body-positive community.

Having body-negative friends can take an even greater toll on your body image and self-esteem than the media, according to a 2012 study that linked peer competition to poor self-image. Attending local yoga classes are a great way to have fun with like-minded friends and to build new friendships that don’t involve competing over physical appearance.

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“Yoga allows teens to plug into a community of people who might be a healthier alternative to what’s available to them,” says Bielkus. “It’s also less competitive than an athletic sport, because at yoga we de-emphasize competition and we’re talking about self-acceptance.”

  1. Recognize (and change) negative beliefs and behavior.

If you’ve been struggling with body image, it’s possible that you’ve internalized negative body beliefs that you’re not even aware of, like an assumption that your weight keeps you from being attractive to the opposite sex, or an idea that you should never to eat more than your friends do. But yoga allows us to pause and silence the mind for long enough to observe our beliefs and habits — and to change the ones that are no longer helping us.

“It allows us to notice what beliefs drive our behavior,” says Bielkus. “We make these beliefs at a very young age — we sort of decide on our worthiness, if we’re lovable, how we’re perceived by others — usually in childhood, and then those beliefs drive us to action. Often as we go into adulthood, we’re still carrying those beliefs, and they really don’t serve us anymore.”

  1. Relieve stress than can lead to poor body image and eating disorders.

Stress and body images issues are often a vicious cycle: When we’re stressed out, we may become more self-critical about our weight and eating habits, and in turn, a preoccupation with food, exercise and physical appearance brings more stress into our lives. According to a recent University of Michigan survey, 20 percent of college women say that thoughts and fears about eating and weight dominate their lives.

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Not only can yoga help promote self-acceptance, but it’s also been proven to relieve stressCalm-inducing resting poses can be particularly helpful for easing a mind that’s busy with negative thoughts, and Bielkus recommends gentle heart-opening backbend poses (like camel, bridge or wheel) for cultivating a positive relationship between the mind and body.

Article: Huffington Post

Want to improve self-acceptance and strengthen your relationship at the same time? Check out our Couples Only Acro-Yoga Retreat and learn AcroYoga in paradise with Anthony Alcalde from January 22-28, 2017 or April 2-8, 2017.

Looking for the perfect blend of eco-adventure, yoga, and bliss for you and your significant other?    

Come join us January 22-28, 2017 or April 2-8, 2017 with Anthony Alcalde.

This all-inclusive retreat couples experience:

  • 6 nights at our resort partners’ beautiful locations minutes from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
  • All Inclusive, delicious, body-nourishing meals
  • Daily AcroYoga and related yoga practice with Anthony
  • Couples Massage
  • Eco-Adventures: Beach Excursion, Sailing, and more..

According to AcroYoga International, “AcroYoga elevates the connection between you and others through movement, connection, and play. Acro in Greek means high, or elevated. Yoga in Sanskrit commonly translates to notions of union, or joining. The experience of taking flight with AcroYoga instantly dissolves fears and invites practitioners to tap into new and infinite possibilities of communication, trust, and union.”

Through a blend of solar acrobatic practices, lunar therapeutic practices, and yogic practices, couples can cultivate trust, listening, and awareness – strengthening relationships and bringing partners closer together physically and spiritually.

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Now, couples can learn and practice AcroYoga and harmonize their relationships in paradise – Zen Yoga Nicaragua is excited to announce a couples only AcroYoga retreat with Anthony Alcalde. Anthony’s unique practice blends the spiritual wisdom of yoga, the loving kindness of Thai massage, and the dynamic power of Acrobatics. In the vein of giving and receiving, the relationship between partners will grow and bloom as much as it is being watered and nourished. Explore AcroYoga and the wisdom of yoga, the strength of acrobatics, and the loving kindness of Thai massage.

Learn more and sign up for our couples only AcroYoga retreat today!

Studies suggest that practicing yoga modulates the stress response.

Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly popular in recent decades. One national survey estimated, for example, that about 7.5% of U.S. adults had tried yoga at least once, and that nearly 4% practiced yoga in the previous year.

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Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas; controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas; and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Many of the studies evaluating yoga’s therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly designed. However, a 2004 analysis found that, in recent decades, an increasing number have been randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous standard for proving efficacy.

Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.

Taming the stress response

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.

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A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary results from a study of varied participants’ responses to pain. They note that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.

Improved mood and functioning

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques.

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

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One uncontrolled, descriptive 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class. Patients who chose to participate in additional classes experienced similar short-term positive effects.

Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

Benefits of controlled breathing

A type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga shows promise in providing relief for depression. The program, called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY), involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating.

One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in 45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and 67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission.

Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60 alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control. After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped 75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group. Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the SKY group, but not in the control group. The authors suggest that SKY might be a beneficial treatment for depression in the early stages of recovery from alcoholism.

Potential help for PTSD

Since evidence suggests that yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal, researchers are exploring whether or not yoga can be a helpful practice for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course included breathing techniques (see above), yoga asanas, education about stress reduction, and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an 80-point scale.

Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate). These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.

About 20% of war veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, according to one estimate. Experts treating this population suggest that yoga can be a useful addition to the treatment program.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are offering a yogic method of deep relaxation to veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Kristie Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, says the military hopes that yoga-based treatments will be more acceptable to the soldiers and less stigmatizing than traditional psychotherapy. The center now uses yoga and yogic relaxation in post-deployment PTSD awareness courses, and plans to conduct a controlled trial of their effectiveness in the future.

Cautions and encouragement

Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option.

But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are  not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

Article: Harvard Medical School

You can become a yoga instructor by completing a 200 hour yoga teacher training with a certified instructor. Check out our Moksha Modo YTT or LEVITYoga YTT for more information!

You can also submerse yourself in paradise, practicing yoga and meditating away from the stressors of daily life in a Nicaragua yoga retreat.

If you’ve only ever done yoga at Western style indoor studios in the United States, then you’re missing out. Practicing yoga in a completely controlled environment with just the right balance of sensory stimulus is relaxing, inspiring and comfortable.

Unfortunately, the outside world is loud and messy. Deadlines have no regard for feelings. Noise pollution attacks our quiet time. And people don’t always make space for latecomers.

Here are 4 ways that doing yoga in Nicaragua will help you achieve mindfulness (and improve your life practice):

1. Uncertainty is where the magic happens.
In third world countries, cultural barriers can create confusion and the instruction style may not be what you are used to. It’s best to leave your expectations at home. Notice what happens to your thoughts and emotions in the moment of awareness.  Learn to experience the uncertain flow without judgment, irritation or disappointment. Surprises await beyond the borders of your comfort zone.

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2. Observe the causes of discomfort.
The core principle to mindfulness is being present and staying completely focused on the here and now. Take an inventory of your heart and breathe in gratitude. Notice which muscles are tight from traveling and give them grace. Become conscious of unfamiliar foreign sounds in the different environment and shift your focus to deciphering their sources instead of getting distracted by them. Awareness of your feelings, body and environment is the key to recognizing that they don’t have to dictate your current state of being.

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3. Feel and embrace the natural elements.
When you cross borders into third world countries, it’s common for yoga classes to take place outdoors. The freedom to set up shop in the wilderness is the biggest attraction to most yoga retreat and teacher training centers abroad. Outdoor yoga exposes natural elements that classroom walls protect from. Wind, sun and rain are gifts from Mother Nature. It’s easy to appreciate them in doses, but in extremes they can be humbling. Learn to cultivate awareness and gratitude for all elements of nature, even when it makes the practice more challenging.

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4. Prioritize practice over industry.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the industry of yoga. The quality of gear has improved drastically in the past fifteen years. From sweat resistant towels and name brand pants, to specialized rubber blocks and lavender scented eye pillows, we’re inundated daily with wonderful accessories that we don’t need to achieve success on the mat. There is something raw and beautiful about practicing yoga in a country untouched by industry consumerism. What you don’t have, you can’t buy in most third world countries. Everyone has access to mindfulness.

 

Guest post article written by Brooke Rundle, a California born surfer and yogi, Nicaragua ex-pat and co-creator of San Juan Live – a lifestyle and travel website on San Juan del Sur. She also co-authored the ultimate travel guidebook on San Juan del Sur. Vist her website here at http://sanjuandelsur.org/ or download her travel guidebook – http://www.amazon.com/Insider-Guide-San-Juan-Nicaragua-ebook/dp/B00NTY9FWS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444797918&sr=1-1&keywords=san+juan+del+sur

It’s something so many of us suffer with on a daily basis. Whether it is just small bouts of minor anxiety and depression, or severe, debilitating panic attacks, thousands everyday are enduring unneccesary stress. With these days come shaky and sweaty hands, racing thoughts, shallow breathing, and a sense of helplessness. It’s becoming a widely recognized problem for so many around the world today. Anxiety is a peace-thief. Researchers have searched for years trying to uncover the best ways to combat this growing condition. For those who opt to fight anxiety a more natural way, there has been one specific warrior they’ve found to be incessantly victorious time and time again– YOGA.

How exactly does a consistent yoga practice fight anxiety?

1.  BREATHING

The simple act of mindful breathing can help reduce anxiety. When you focus on the breath, your mind has a chance to rest and let go of negative thoughts. Yogic breath is also good for the body. Deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood supply, which helps remove toxins from the body. It also increases lung capacity and helps improve digestion. Anxiety steals our breath sometimes, so it’s so very important to set aside time to focus on giving it back to our body.

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2.  SWEATING

It’s amazing what a few stretches on a mat can do for your physical body and strength. Holding poses that feel comfortable for longer periods, create strain and resistance, causing quite a healthy workout. Sweating is another way our bodies rid themselves of toxins and burn pent-up energy. Many of us lack the daily exercise that we need to get natural endorphins flowing. This can lead to even more anxiety. Even thirty minutes of focused breath and stretching will increase heart rate, sweat, and the release of our daily dose of serotonin.

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3.  STRETCHING

The practice of asanas (or yoga poses) is good for both mind and body. Physically, asanas help release the tension that anxiety creates, allowing the body to feel recharged and healthier. When the body feels better, so does the mind. The challenges you face on the mat reduce anxiety by taking your mind off your worries and fears. You find yourself focusing on your strength, your body’s flexibility and limitations, and physical endurance, and giving your mind a much-needed break from reality. Taking your mind off of things that you can’t control and placing them onto things that you can control, eliminate the hold that anxiety has over your mind.

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4.  MEDITATION

Meditation is challenging, but not impossible. The ability to clear one’s mind of all thoughts is a skill that takes time. It is a path, not a goal. Meditation starts by simply taking the time to focus on your breath. It gives your mind a chance to slow down and teaches your body to relax.  In addition, with a regular meditation practice, you will begin to notice patterns in your thinking. The things that trigger anxiety, panic, and fear will become apparent to you. Once this happens, you can learn to change the patterns by recognizing your triggers. Learning to focus your mind on positive, thoughts full of gratitude, helps hold the effects of anxiety at bay.

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5.  NAPPING

Don’t we all do yoga for the savasanas–naps at the end?  After a concentrated time of focus, stretching, sweating, and meditation, the act of lying flat of our backs, no matter what life may have in store for us afterward, is exactly what the mind needs every single day. If meditation is the focusing of the mind, then savasana is the clearing of it. Whether it takes on the form of being completely in tune to all 5 senses and enjoying the smell of lavender in the air and the sweet sounds of the breezes on your patio, the pose of surrender and REST is exactly what each one of us need before or after a busy day. We all struggle to slow down. We move from one task to the next, and then onto a myriad of daily distractions, never allowing our minds to fully rest. Savasanas remind us that there is always time to  s l o w d o w n.  And it is extremely necessary.

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It’s time to step onto your mat… the practice will take care of itself. Through the simple steps of conscious breathing, regular asana practice, and meditation, anxiety is a thing that can be controlled, reduced, and ultimately overcome one breath, one pose, one day at a time. Take hold of your practice. Take hold of your life!

Namaste.