What I Learned In The Costa Rica Jungle

My favorite thing to do is laugh and make others laugh. I think there is so much joy and freedom in laughter, and I could not stop laughing at the SISTERHOOD retreat in Costa Rica.


SISTERHOOD retreat at The Sanctuary at Two Rivers in Costa Rica. We are wearing our favorite yoga pants: Miami Fit Wear (www.miamifitwear.com), created by fellow sister, Raquel Ponce (front)

Fifteen women ranging in age from 19 to 47 arrived at The Sanctuary at Two Rivers in Cabuya, Costa Rica, for a weeklong adventure of self discovery, transformation and fun. We stayed in eco-chic tree houses enclosed with screens where we went to sleep and woke up to real-life jungle sounds of monkeys, insects and birds—no sound machines or alarm clocks needed! The howler monkeys (who sound like shrieking deep-voiced aliens) and the sun let us know when it was time to wake up.


We showered outside surrounded by lush jungle plants and trees. To even get a cab into town, we had to hike down an obstacle course-like path filled with large rocks and rivers (sometimes in the dark using only my cell phone flashlight to guide my way.) The hike took about 30 minutes. I was soaking wet every time. Bug bites and bee stings were a common and expected occurrence.

We packed into old, beat up papi cars (a car driven by a Costa Rican man, whom I called papis), to get into town or go to the beach. I was so completely outside of my comfort zone (literally sweating 24/7 with no air conditioning in 90 degree jungle heat), but I found myself unable to stop laughing the entire trip. Literally, everything was hilarious. (We weren’t even allowed to flush our toilet paper because of weak plumbing.)

The Costa Rican jungle was stunningly majestic, but it was also extremely uncomfortable for me. It was hot. I was wet and sweaty at all times. There were no air-conditioned rooms to retreat to. I looked and felt like a wet dog. I didn’t feel remotely pretty. I wanted these incredible new women I was meeting to think I was beautiful, and that I looked like I do in my modeling portfolio.

Any makeup I tried to wear wouldn’t last five minutes, I would sweat it off. My usually perfectly styled, thick, wavy hair was tied up in a frizzy knot, trying to stay cool and out of the way.

I kept waiting for someone to care that I looked like a hot mess, but nobody did. I quickly learned it is okay to not look cute, seriously, nobody cares. It was like being eight-years-old again: the most important thing was to have fun, play, laugh, dance, climb mountains, get dirty, messy, swim, snorkel and go with the flow.

The freedom of it all made me laugh, thinking about how seriously we take our day-to-day lives, when what we should really be doing is surrendering to what is, trust we are on the right path (even in the dark), remember we are always supported, expect miracles and sit back, relax and allow true transformation to occur.

Stress has no place in the jungle. It gets laughed at. My absurd, self-limiting beliefs and stories I have created over the years that no longer serve me are comical. I let them all go with a deep breath and a deep, hearty laugh.

The heat makes me uncomfortable, but also present—I must stop and pay attention to the fact that even my knees are sweating, and it is okay. Self awareness is sexy. Joy is girl-next-door hot. Not needing to be anything but myself—sweaty face, bad hair day and all—is success. It is healthy to let go. It is safe for me to be myself. I am supported.


The ultimate nourishment: homemade, fresh, organic, vegetarian meals prepared for us three times a day.

This epic adventure wasn’t about going to Costa Rica, it was about journeying inside, reconnecting with and embracing my fearless 8-year-old self, sharing my truth and coming home.

I wrote the following in my journal. This is my wish for everyone. You don’t have to travel abroad, you just have to be willing to open up and let go:

Fifteen sisters went off into the jungle and had the time of their lives. Opened up. Showed up big. Let it go. Let it fly. Surrendered to something so much greater than themselves. Relaxed. Released. Loved more. Lived easier. Created harder. Smiled. Felt free. Felt supported. Felt alive. Breathed easier. Got on with what’s really important, what really matters: They loved themselves. Effortlessly. Easily. And so it is. All is well.


Santa Teresa Beach sunset

For more information on SISTERHOOD, you can email the creator, Emily Nolan: emily@mykindoflife.com.

How To Have A Happy Body

Modeling Fall fashion trends for Macy's Union Square store in San Francisco, California.

Modeling Fall fashion trends for Macy’s Union Square store in San Francisco.

In our pursuit of happiness, our bodies are often left out of the equation. We are sleep deprived and exhausted, eating mindlessly at times and suppressing our feelings with food, drugs, alcohol and smoking. Our days off from work are filled with endless chores and do-to lists. Quite simply put: We are checked out and becoming increasingly numb to the world around us. We push our bodies to the limit with extreme diets and exercise routines or ignore them altogether. At least this has been the case with me.

After experiencing migraines that left me incapacitated in the emergency room, ulcer-like stomach pains, exhaustion and fatigue, I decided to commit to some radical self-love, and give my body a much-needed break from all the stress and mistreatment. I started viewing my body as a beautiful vehicle that allowed me to do just about everything I asked of it, instead of something I constantly criticized and took for granted.

Just like choosing to think positively and have happy thoughts, we can choose to have happy bodies as well—after all the two need to work together for us to function at our best.

Here are some ways to have a happy body:

Body awareness.

There is no such thing as a perfect body. Even supermodels I’ve met and worked with complained about their bodies, and are constantly trying to improve them, rather than appreciate the near-perfection they already have. Or they have these gorgeous figures, and fill them with nothing but coffee and cigarettes. So even if they look beautiful, they aren’t loving their bodies and feeling healthy.

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your body’s image, that you stop paying attention to it. I see many women at the gym with bodies that society would say are “better” than mine because they are much thinner than me, but they can’t do one pushup, and are too weak to lift weights. This isn’t about comparison, this is about having a body that feels great, and doesn’t just look great.

The body and mind are designed to work together, and this mutual support is what creates happiness. You cannot have a single thought, sensation or feeling without the body. All of our experiences have a physical component. When your mind chooses to ignore the signals your body is emitting like, slow down, or don’t take that pill or have that third drink, stress, sickness or even death may occur. When choosing a certain behavior, ask your body, “How do you feel about this?” If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress, look out. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, proceed.

Body awareness is powerful—it lets your body know what your mind is thinking, and vice versa. Not paying attention to your body is like neglecting your newborn child. If you constantly ignore cries for help and attention, how you can expect to feel safe, happy, cared for or supported in a meaningful way?

Body Wellness.

Treat your body with care before getting sick. In my teens and 20s, I thought I was invincible. I would spend hours in the sun without wearing any sunscreen. I wore my tan like a badge of honor for years. Before I turned 30, I was diagnosed with skin cancer, and had a quarter-sized tumor cut out of my forehead. Several years after being cancer-free, I still have frequent headaches from the nerve damage caused during surgery (the cancer had grown deeply towards my lymph nodes and brain.)

Prevention is key. Mind and body need to function as one and be at peace with one another by listening and responding appropriately. My body would tell me to get out of the sun through sun burn and even sun poisoning, but I didn’t listen. I wanted to sunbathe all day, and I wanted my fair skin to be a dark bronze. I would do anything to turn back time, listen to my body, and not have had to endure all the pain of my mistakes.

Body Acceptance.

Our bodies carry out messages from the mind. Your body doesn’t need to be thin, fit and beautiful to make you happy. A good body is more than just superficial appearance and conforming to society’s absurd standards of beauty. A good body is in alignment with your mind, supports you in wholeness and allows you to live your life to the fullest. The key to a great body is to first listen to it.

 View my article on elephantjournal.com

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