Standing on the patio of my private Mexican hacienda gazing out at the loud sea and swirling black and white sand, my previous day’s journey seems as it if was a lifetime ago. It’s as if I’ve just purchased my own private Mexico. It’s hard to imagine that merely 12 hours ago I arrived at this enchanted villa after 18 hours of exhausting and frustrating travel.
The previous morning when I arrived at the Denver airport I quickly became aware that this was obviously spring break and everyone was going to Mexico. So, when flights began to be canceled (due to unheard of Colorado fog), I was one in a line of hundreds of angry passengers wishing to escape to the sun in the dead of the winter without an airplane. After a detour to Salt Lake City, I finally found myself on the last flight to Puerto Vallarta, hoping that the Via Yoga retreat I had signed up for would not only channel my inner Gumby, but soothe my tired mind and muscles.
Via Yoga. It’s via laughing, via Mexico, via surfing; it’s learning to love your life via friendships.
Via Yoga has been hosting yoga and surf vacations in the quaint fishing village of Sayulita, Mexico, for the past three years. Founded by Kelly Kemp, the business yogini of the company and Michelle King, the teaching yogini of Via Yoga, the programs are designed to lead participants through a week’s worth of relaxing and invigorating yoga practices, while opening their eyes and minds to the world. Says Kemp, “Via Yoga. It’s via laughing, via Mexico, via surfing; it’s learning to love your life via friendships.” And true to her word, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
I chose to accompany Kemp and King on their latest retreat addition to the Via Yoga portfolio, Las Alamandas, Isabel Goldsmith’s secret celeb getaway hidden two hours south of Puerto Vallarta. Goldsmith created Las Alamandas for discriminating guests who wanted authentic Mexico, the one that isn’t littered with sunburnt tourists and cheap tequila. Las Alamandas prides itself on its seclusion, hosting a maximum of thirty guests at a time to enjoy the private beach and fresh sea air.
Upon arrival, you’ll be shown to your private villa decorated in bright hues of pink, yellow, and orange. My hacienda (also known as the Presidential Suite) was housed in the Casa del Sol villa, which is also home to two other suites. The stunning adobe structure was awash in a sea of gold, yellow, and pink, only to be accented by equally breathtaking magenta and orange bougainvillea’s, flowering cactus, aloe, and delicate yellow hibiscus flowers that were also used to decorate my bed. While the rooms are modest, most have sweeping views of the sea and some, including my suite, offer private pathways to the secluded swirling beach below.
After resisting my hammock, I head to the La Palapa Beach Club where the open-air yoga classes are being held. King tells us that she plans on teaching yoga in the mornings and Pilates in the evenings to introduce each of us to both disciplines. I tried to contain my slight dismay, having hoped for two yoga practices each day. Our first yoga class consists of a vinyasa practice, highlighted by some core strengthening and a wonderful meditation. Although our class is a thorough mix of beginners and advanced practitioners, King manages to keep everyone interested without boredom or frustration. In our blissful savasana, while lying on the Beach Club floor, she massages my head and neck, releasing any lingering stress from my previous day’s travel. Lying there, I slowly opened my eyes to look up to the thatch-roof ceiling. There above me were dozens of woven lanterns, resembling bee-hives artfully suspended from the palapa ceiling.
In between classes, guests can participate in more adventurous activities like horseback riding or mountain biking, or spend the days as I did, lying by the sixty-foot freshwater pool or in the warm sand. I just couldn’t talk myself into putting on anything other than a swimsuit on my second day in Mexico!
That evening we joined King for the first of four Pilates sessions. King explained that she started doing Pilates because years of yoga practice left her feeling too flexible and unsupported. Since King’s interest lies in both yoga and Pilates, her Pilates classes still have some yoga elements intertwined with traditional exercises; heat, yet softness; belly burn, but also Buddha belly.
Communal dinners and solo or small-group lunches and breakfasts featuring fresh fruits and vegetables and fish are included with your Via Yoga week. Yet, unlike other tour vacations I’ve been on, I felt that there really was a strong sense of camaraderie among the women. We generally ate and socialized together, especially after sampling some of the house specialty margaritas!
Each day we arose to the sounds of the crashing waves, snuck in a few cups of coffee to King’s dismay, slipped into our friendly yoga shoes and headed to our yoga mats. Afternoons were spent reading, walking, horseback riding, and planning future adventures. And of course, enjoying Las Alamandas’s exquisite spa treatments. In the comfort of my hacienda’s patio, after letting go of any last modesty I might have had, I enjoyed a chocolate scrub and massage. The therapist scrubbed every inch of my body with this rich chocolate concoction, and while it did smell heavenly, it wasn’t as overpowering as other food-related treatments I’ve experienced that left me yearning for a Hershey’s bar! Finally, my masseuse’s strong arms kneaded every inch of tension out of my body, utilizing Thai rocking techniques and Swedish massage strokes.
Kemp and King are obviously not amateurs when it comes to yoga vacation planning. Every detail is taken care of, and even such odd requests as salsa dancing lessons can be obliged. Keeping their cool while trying to entertain the needs of a dozen guests isn’t an easy task, but the Via Yoga duo manage to stick to their mission in every sense: living life, loving life via yoga.
Booking a solo reservation with a yoga touring company can be nerve-racking. The fear of traveling alone combined with dining solo and being alone in general, can take the serenity out of an otherwise serene vacation. Yet, with a tour, especially a tour of like-minded women (planned by experts), I was able to find a perfect balance between the security of a group and the seclusion many of us seek. It’s the ideal equilibrium between we and me. And while I spent the week tightening and stretching, lengthening and strengthening, I didn’t become the Gumby that I had aspired for. But who really wants to become Gumby on their first visit?