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.

One Easy Tip To Lose Weight And Reduce Stress

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.
Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

I love to eat, and usually do so in a noisy, crowded New York City restaurant, or at home in front of the television. I’m also a recovering emotional eater known to put away five or more slices of pizza in one sitting, especially when triggered by an unsettling event or memory.

I’ve noticed I’m not alone. As we become busier and busier in a society bombarded with electronic devices and social media updates, it’s no wonder many of us feel increasingly distracted. We rush through our meals so we can get back to work, our favorite TV show or Instagram.

I had never heard of “mindful” eating until just recently while on a week-long spiritual retreat at Kripalu in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health implements a silent breakfast every morning where guests are requested to stay quiet while eating. (That’s right, no chatting with your friend or neighbor.)

At first I thought, how am I going to do that? I’m extremely outgoing, love getting to know people, and sharing a meal is a perfect time to socialize. What I found, however, is that practicing the art of silent breakfast is not only doable, but enjoyable!

Here are some of the benefits I have experienced from Mindful Eating:

Weight Loss: When I practice mindful eating, I consume about a third of what I normally eat. I enjoy my food more, and notice instantly when I am full and stop eating, rather than being distracted and stuffing myself. I find it is much easier to control the amount of food I am eating, and I feel more satisfied. Recent studies show that people who eat mindlessly (or highly distracted) tend to overeat, and consume more calories than they realize.

Peace of mind: I find myself at ease and stress-free while eating in silence. It gives me the opportunity to deeply relax into my dining space and engage all my senses with each bite. The intention of eating in silence is to center you for a day of calm and peace—a day where you can be more clear, focused, creative and joyful.

Healthy digestion: I also noticed something very profound: my stomach doesn’t hurt after eating, which is quite rare for me. I was taught that healthy digestion happens when meals are taken while relaxed, in a calm environment, either alone or with good company.

Proper nourishment: Savor the moment. We are so conditioned to talk, swipe, text and email on our phones while eating, (I know I am), but truly nourishing yourself is more than just what you eat. Nourishment is about sustenance—not just what you feed your body, but also how you fuel your soul. Nurture yourself during meals by being fully present, and truly enjoying your food—the textures, aromas and unique flavors.

Here are several simple ways you can practice Mindful Eating:

  1. Relax the body and mind with a few deep breaths before eating.
  2. Send gratitude to everyone who prepared your food.
  3. Admire your food, notice all the shapes and colors.
  4. Breathe in all the wonderful aromas of the meal.
  5. Chew thoroughly, delighting in the depths of the flavors.
  6. Relax for a few minutes before moving to the next event.

Mindful eating is a daily commitment, and may take some practice. The keys are awareness, non-judgement and understanding what you’re feeding. Are you physically hungry for food or something else like love or comfort? When you aren’t distracted, it’s much easier to differentiate between the two, and when you are aware, you can make healthier choices. Try it out for yourself, and let me know how it goes! Cheers!

Article originally published on elephantjournal.com

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