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My Journey Leading an Inspiring Yoga & Surf Retreat at Playa Maderas

August 24, 2016

Hosting my first retreat with YOGASCAPES for my first time in Nicaragua, I didn’t really know what to expect.

What I did know was that I trusted my YOGASCAPES guides and the Maderas Village staff.

Over a year ago, I met YOGASCACPES owner Ben Crosky at The Springs yoga studio where I manage and teach in Los Angeles. He proposed that I host a yoga and surf retreat in Nicaragua, and while that country was never on my radar of places to go or to teach, and I’m definitely not a surfer, I emphatically responded, “Of course!”

I had the luck of meeting Dickie, co-owner of Maderas Village, a few months ago at The Springs. He happened to come in as a guest of his good friend Gregg, who is a consultant for The Springs. Small world! We sat at lunch talking all things Maderas and the basics of Nicaragua. Dickie’s cool and cheerful demeanor calmed me of any worries or doubts I had about this developing country. He made it clear that where we were going, we would feel safe and enjoy clean food and water, no diseases or epidemics or major crime. I asked him about the cold showers on site; he said that’s all you’ll want in the hot and humid weather! I asked how accessible the surf break was. He said it was epic, big outside, small on the inside, no reef! That’s pretty much all I needed to hear.

I flew in to the Managua Airport on Saturday evening, and it was easy to find my driver. A man held a big sign that read, “Maderas Village, Gloria Baraquio.” I followed him to his truck, hopped in, and we spent much of the 2-hour drive practicando mi espanol. It felt so good to let go of the stresses of Los Angeles and inhale the thick air and moonlit sky of Nicaragua. I immediately felt like I was on retreat. Upon arrival to Maderas Village, I was lovingly greeted by the managers of the space, as well as Dickie! We both were surprised and pleased to reconnect, as he is not always in residence there. We also noticed that the song that was playing was “Gloria” by Van Morrison. I thought they had played it on purpose, but it was actually a coincidence. I took it as a sign!

Guests started to arrive in small groups over the next 24 hours, each of them so lovely and unique, some strangers, some friends from LA! I couldn’t wait for our first yoga practice together. As we all met at sunset in the yoga space, nestled in the jungle, resting on stilts, covered in thatch, the tone was already set. We were here to relax, to take deep breaths, and to learn and grow together. We introduced ourselves and laughed a lot during our icebreaker. Then we sat in silence, asking ourselves what brought us to Nicaragua and what we wanted to get out of our time here. Then we practiced.

A few of our guests arrived a day later, so we decided to wait to have our opening circle so that everyone could be there. When we all gathered on day two, we sat in a dimly lit communal room in one of the casas, with a candle burning at the center of our circle. Each person was able to speak a little bit about themselves and what they hoped to receive from this retreat. After hearing everyone’s short but intimate, sincere shares, I reminded everyone that during our week together, to hold space for each other’s greatness, to see every person in their highest. Instead of focusing on our own or other’s shortcomings, why not see each other for our strengths and basic goodness? I said that it’s amazing what can happen when we lift each other up and feel supported by one another.

I had also asked why people decided to come on this retreat, of all retreats one could select from. Some of their answers included: Yogascapes looked legit. Maderas Village looked amazing. I seemed like a real teacher. All of these were yet to be determined!

Between the time of that opening circle and our final hours together, our group of 20 people shared in unforgettable experiences, creating memories that could last a lifetime. Every day we sweated together, not only from rigorous yoga, but from existing in 98 degree humidity! We ate practically every meal together (we had the sweetest servers). And we surfed together on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches! Every single one of us was humbled and pummeled by the ocean’s force, which was a great opportunity for us to cheer each other on and laugh at many unfortunate attempts to catch waves and stand up. Taking that playful, courageous spirit to class, we were able to help each other get into our first headstand or first handstand, forearm balance, and other advanced arm balances. There was a breakthrough in almost every class, enough to encourage and inspire everyone for the next day.

We went to Taco Tuesday together at the Hulakai Hotel and danced the night away in the pool. We went on the most breathtaking and fun catamaran ride of all time — with all you can eat ceviche and all you can drink Tona. That might have been the one day where we got the most and best photos, and the most and best smiles. We danced our asses off in town the next night in San Juan Del Sur where we tried different restaurants and supported local shops.

And on our final night, we got to experience Pizza Night at the kitchen of the late Sergio, the beloved pizzanista of Maderas Town. In honor of him, the locals have kept his Pizza Night tradition, where there’s all you can eat pizza and all you can drink rum. Probably some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life. It might have been the company, the location under the stars, and the sentiment of our last night together that made everything taste so good.

Our closing circle was on the beach at sunset, and every person was able to share a breakthrough and a gratitude that they had experienced from the week. Some had come to realize what career path they would choose for the rest of their life. Others decided where their next move would be. Others felt calm and confident about the next scary step in their life. Some felt for the first time in years that they could heal from a broken heart. Hearing these shares made me feel a great humility and complete gratitude.

While I have hosted and attended several retreats, immersions, and extensive teacher trainings around the world, I am always in awe and amazement at how much one can transform when given the time and space to go within. Our retreat group only shared only six days together, and yet we cultivated strong practices for asana, meditation, communication, friendship, and contentment that will influence us for the rest of our life. These are gifts that a yoga retreat in a beautiful place with sincere people can offer. One can come away with a deeper sense of self, clarity of purpose, an ability to slow down, a community of support, and tools for daily practice.

Upon leaving and returning back to the City of Angels, all I can feel is gratitude for the life I have chosen, the teachings and the tools that have been passed down to me, and the community in which I get to study and share these practices with.

I thank YOGASCAPES, Maderas Village, all of my teachers, and all of my students for making these profound and priceless experiences possible. To Pepe, John, Jeremy, Heldine, Kathy, Caroline, Jill G, Jill M, Katie D, Katie M, Lizzie, Barbara, Patty, Sam, Tiffany, Alyson, Rosie, Galen, and Maddie: I am forever grateful for your friendship and for choosing to spend this special week with me. Hope to see you somewhere else in the world!

Sound like a dream? Join us on our Yoga Retreat in Nicaragua at Maderas Village with Rachelle Tratt this January 10–16, 2017. Learn more and book today!

Gloria Baraquio, E-RYT 200, is a yogini from Hawaii who began her practice in 2003 when she began suffering from anxiety attacks. After experiencing her ujjayi breath for the first time in a yoga class, she finally understood the importance of breathing and how it could calm, center, and ground her life. She began teaching in 2006 and embarked on a journey through vinyasa, ashtanga, Iyengar, hatha, bhakti, kundalini, somatics, ecstatic dance, Nia, Rolfing, acupuncture, physical theater, and natural foods, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the body, mind, voice, movement, and nutrition. As a teacher and Yoga Director of The Springs in Downtown LA, Gloria’s desire is to help others cultivate an intimate relationship with themselves and their surroundings so that they can live more fully, with love, peace, gratitude, and well-being.

Gloria’s background is in education, performing arts, film production, and community building. While working as a TV host, writer, and actor in Hawaii, she taught K-12 students in public charter schools (Language Arts, Math, Digital Media, and Yoga). Living both on and off the grid of the Big Island for 7 years was her greatest training in spiritual practice, yoga, natural healing, and community building. She is certified to teach vinyasa and aerial yoga, and she is a Lead Teacher Trainer for Shivakali Yoga.