I am posed in Downward Dog on a paddleboard atop the cerulean blue Sea of Cortez. Or, I was. Right now, I’m swimming with a throng of particularly colorific fish, whose threatening nibbles prompt me to heave myself out of the water and back on the board with heretofore unknown deftness.
I’d like to say that SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) yoga is easier than it looks. But, it isn’t. That’s because this exercise combines two distinct disciplines: the spiritual-cum-pretzel-like ancient regimen of yoga and the au courant rage of standing on an over-sized surfboard afloat a body of water. It’s essentially meditative fitness. And, when the wave ripples beneath me, I struggle for balance—even when crouched in the resting mode called Child’s Pose. At Costa Baja Resort, a thousand miles from Tijuana, in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, I don’t care if I topple off the board and fall into the ocean’s depths. After all, who wouldn’t want to swim in what Jacques Cousteau once dubbed “the aquarium of the world?”
Still, I try my best to balance. My instructor at this five-day retreat, Michelle Gierst, a yogini and superstar fitness buff, thinks the first fall should happen fast. “It’s a metaphor for life,” she says. “The sooner you fall in, the sooner you get back up on the board for downward dog.” She leads yoga retreats at Costa Baja, a five-star wellness resort, located just ten minutes from the still authentic Mexican pueblo of La Paz. Ensconced amid desert terrain, dotted with coco palms, with views of the purple-tinged Sierra Madre Mountains, this resort by the sea is easily accessible from Los Cabos—yet it feels a world apart. With a Gary Player-designed golf course, pools galore, and opulently appointed rooms, it might seem more a place for repose. Yet, many trek here, as I do, to exchange their yoga mat for a board and their gymnasium room for the ocean’s fluidity. This form of yoga increases focus, tweaks technique, and empowers its participants. Deep meditation can result simply from the sounds of the sea. As a change from your regular routine, SUP Yoga is simply a respite that keeps the habit interesting. An added bonus? Do your asanas along Mexico’s Pacific Coast during whale watching season (January through April), and you may discover some migrating whales and a coterie of friendly dolphins masquerading as classmates. Five-day, four-night sessions include daily yoga and meditation classes, a spa treatment, and all meals including alcohol. $1042 and up. Costabaja.com
Other Mexican Havens For Inner Balance:
Unplug at Haramara Retreat, named a 10 best yoga getaway in the world by Yoga Journal. Spread over 16 acres that edge the Pacific Ocean in Sayulita–the Riviera Nayarit’s hippie chic surfing town north of Puerto Vallarta–Haramara has thatched-roof palapas complete with hammocks, open-air yoga studios with 360-degree views of the jungle and ocean waters, vegetarian-based gourmet meals and a rotating array of famous yoga instructors. With no electricity in the rooms or restaurant, turning off the external noise becomes second nature here. Customized private sessions, group classes, and locally derived food set the tenor for a successful mind-body experience. $1159 and up for two people when you book the 3-night Sampler Package, which includes two yoga classes, two daily meals, a 60-minute massage each, and $60 voucher to be used on site.haramararetreat.com
Rancho La Puerta
Yoga pioneer Indra Devi is considered by many to be the godmother of western yoga. Having lived in India and studied under the nation’s most influential yoga master, Krishnamacharya, she broke both east/west and male/female barriers by becoming a master herself in the mid-20th century. She brought her skills to Shanghai and Hollywood, and finally to Tecate in Mexico, where in 1953, she opened her own yoga estate —just across the border from San Diego. Today, her legacy can be experienced at the renowned Rancho La Puerta, located near Devi’s original yoga hideaway. At the Ranch—as it’s called by its guests–, Devi developed a strong yoga program in 1955, which the resort still honors. With 3,000-acres at the foot of Baja’s mystical mountains, salubrious Rancho La Puerta restores and revitalizes its guests with healthy cuisine and more than 80 activities, from hiking to cooking to kickboxing. But, yoga fans can take advantage of varied yoga classes and Devi-infused retreats year round, many of them embracing a theme, such as Spirit Week: Yoga and Everyday Mindfulness in February and Prime of Life Yoga in March $1,393 and up, includes meals and all fitness classes. Rancholapuerta.com
Resort at Pedregal
Perhaps Los Cabos’ most swank address, this resort took a hit during last year’s unbridled Hurricane Odile. But, the storied Resort at Pedregal reopened better than ever and artfully re-imagined. Be among the first to experience the 24-acre site and its beach front villas. A new culinary component called the Champagne Terrace specializes in bubbles and canapes, but don’t let it lure you away from your yoga practice. Sign up for the Yoga Getaway and be under the tutelage of the curative Luna Y Mar Spa. With three private yoga classes, including an evening outdoor yoga/meditation, a spa treatment, and a luxurious beachside room, and butler-style service, regeneration is bound to happen. $525 and up per night. theresortatpedregal.com
Becca Hensley spent her summers in Mexico’s colonial city, Puebla, with her ex-pat grandfather. A widely published freelance writer, based in Austin, she has been practicing yoga since age 17, when she met a yoga master from Rishikesh, India.