The yoga practice on retreats is defined by a combination of the location, style, and most importantly — the guide herself.
Luckily Jessica Bellofatto, a Jivamukti and expertly-trained yoga teacher as well as SUP yoga instructor will be leading our upcoming retreat to Greece, ensuring that yoga is a vital aspect of this retreat.
We spoke to Jessica about yoga, SUP, nature and her love of the birthing process. Learn more about her below.
We are so excited that you are leading our Greece Yoga Retreat! Can you tell us a little bit about what makes this retreat special?
I am beyond excited to be leading this retreat to Greece. I have been leading retreats for over 15 years but tend to go to the same location year after year, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico. Greece has been on my bucket list for many years, so when YOGASCAPES presented me with this opportunity I jumped at it.
I think what makes this retreat special is that, as with many of my retreats, students will be treated to amazing yoga classes from a teacher who has been studying and teaching yoga for 22 years, along with the opportunity to spend lots of time on the water learning how to paddleboard and practicing SUP yoga. I am also a certified SUP instructor, lifeguard, surfer, and water woman!
What are you looking forward to the most?
I am most looking forward to exploring the Greek culture, and eating the cuisine — organic olive oil, organic locally-sourced veggies and fish plucked straight out of the sea… yum!
What makes the Ithaca/ Itha108 an ideal place for a yoga retreat?
Just one look at their website tells us why. Itha108 has left no stone unturned with their amazing attention to detail. From the organic mattresses to the gorgeous accommodations, to the yoga studio, to the food, and let’s not forget the view. What a magical looking place to spend a week dropping deep inside, practicing yoga, meditating, resting and restoring on every level.
Obviously, a major part of every retreat that we have is the yoga. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into yoga? What made you interested in becoming a teacher as well?
I have been practicing yoga since the age of 18 when I was a college student at NYU majoring in dance. One of my mentors was incorporating yoga into our modern dance classes and I was intrigued. She sent me over to the original Jivamukti Yoga Studio on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street in the East Village and I walked into those purple, incense-filled rooms with pictures on the walls of everyone from Krishnamacharya to the Beatles and immediately knew I had stumbled upon something that would alter my life’s path. I got my first 500-HR teaching certification right out of college and have been teaching full time ever since.
Can you tell us a bit about your yoga classes and the style that you teach?
The style that I teach is deeply rooted in my Jivamukti roots, which is a vinyasa-based practice but heavily accented with emphasis on alignment. I have spent years studying bothVinyasa (Jivamukti) as well as Ashtanga Yoga, as well as Iyengar, Anusara, and Ashaya Yoga so I combine the precision and intelligence of the alignment-based systems with the flow, breath, and seamless sequencing of the breath-based system.
What do you hope your students gain through your classes on retreat and on retreat in general?
I hope that my students walk away feeling amazing in their bodies, spacious in their minds, and light in their hearts. I want them to feel as if they have accessed something through movement that has allowed them to connect to the deepest part of themselves, that which is bliss or happiness itself. Too often we lose sight of what matters in this life, when really it is so beyond simple that we have all come from love and return to love.
What makes the SUP practice unique? What advice would you give for someone trying it for the first time and what do you hope your students gain through that practice?
SUP takes us out of our usual element of practicing yoga on land and usually indoors, and takes us outside, into nature and onto an unstable surface. I always tell first-timers to approach it with a sense of humor, and to remember, it’s just water and falling in is fun!
I hope that through the SUP practice, students gain a greater understanding of alignment and the strength of their bodies — learning how to engage muscles and hug the midline is key to a sup yoga practice and is not optional if you want to stay on the board, so it really teaches us a lot about proper alignment. In addition, I hope that students gain a deeper appreciation for nature, and especially for mother ocean. I would rather be in or on the water than anywhere else. The sense of peace that I feel is profound, and I hope to turn people onto this if they aren’t already!
Tell us a bit about your teachers. Who and what inspires you?
My very first teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life of Jivamukti Yoga Studio inspired me and continue to inspire me in their deep and lasting dedication to yoga and living yoga. They turned me onto the practice as a lifestyle in a way that I dont think any other teacher of this era could have. My other teachers — Genevieve Kapuler, Richard Freeman, Todd Norian and Lara Brunn at the Iyengar Institute years ago — uncovered for me the amazing intricacies and subtleties of the physical practice, allowong me to realize how vast and endless a simple downward facing dog can be and all of the ways in which is works on so many layers and levels of the body, mind, and heart.
Besides yoga, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about birth. I am a mother of three kids, two who were born at home (in birth tubs, of course). I have also been a doula (labor support person) for the last 10 years. I am a huge advocate of empowering women through the birth process, whether at home or in a hospital, medicated or non-medicated, I believe in giving birth back to the mother.
I am also passionate about food — specifically eating completely organic, local and non-GMO. This means we rarely eat out. My boyfriend is a chef and we have about 18 chickens for our eggs, and he grows much of our food as well. He also ferments, makes kombucha, bakes bread, you name it, he does it. I was also “healthy” and interested in food from when I was a chubby teenager and turned to fitness and food to lose weight and feel better, but being with him for the last seven years has really opened my eyes to the crap that most of us unknowingly put in our bodies, on our skin through bath and beauty products, and in our home environment with chemical cleaning supplies. It’s so unnecessary and so disconnected from the natural world.
We try to encourage self-care and love on all of our retreats. What’s one essential element to your self-care routine?Meditation. No matter how busy my days are, I make sure to make time to sit for seven to 10 minute every single day.
What’s one quote that inspires you?
My all time Mary Oliver quote is: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Living every single day for the mat, Sara is a yoga teacher, a published yoga writer and storyteller, an innovative yoga marketer, a YOGANONYMOUS editor, and a dedicated yoga student.
Sara strives to live from the connection of her head and her heart and encourages her students and clients to do the same by motivating them to step into their full powerful purpose through the transformational magic of yoga.
When not on the mat, you can find this earth sign hiking up a mountain in the beautiful Boulder, Colo., where she’s based or shredding down a ski hill.