Even before opening the doors to the Bodhi Shambala Yoga Center in July of 2013, Pilar Salazar knew that she wanted to offer an option to her fellow community members in Bahia Ballena who were interested in learning more about the practice yoga but who perhaps didn’t have the disposable income to do so or even know where to begin. Pilar never forgets how her personal yoga journey fundamentally changed her life for the better, and she wants to ensure that others have the same opportunities she has been granted in her life. Thus began the Yoga for the Community Program.
A space for yoga in Bahia Ballena
Yoga is still fairly “under the radar” in Costa Rica (especially for those who live in rural areas of the country such as ours). Many yoga teachers around here come from abroad and unfortunately are unable to teach yoga classes in Spanish; even just a few years ago, there were few to no class options offered to the non-English-speaking constituency of the community. Pilar’s arrival to Bahia Ballena and the subsequent inception of the Bodhi Shambala Yoga Center has provided a wonderful way for her to introduce this ancient, profound, and often life-changing practice to a group people who perhaps had only heard about it in passing or had simply observed curiously without an opportunity to try or learn more about it.
How the program works
Yoga for the Community is a program whereby community members have the opportunity to participate in a weekly yoga class. Like in all of Pilar’s classes, the goals include helping practitioners quiet the mind and be more present, creating awareness through physical movement, and of course, improving flexibility. During each class, she works one-on-one with her students, and over the course of time and as they become ready, she encourages them to push themselves in the safe and comfortable environment of the Bodhi Shambala Yoga Center.
Recognizing the value of community is essential for this program. Meaning, while Pilar doesn’t ask for monetary payment for these classes, she does ask that her students “pay it forward”. The Yoga for the Community program is lead by Pilar as a donation of her personal time, with the caveat being that her students donate the equivalent amount of time to their community. The possibilities are quite inspiring: 75 minutes of Pilar’s time teaching a class of six people translates to 7.5 hours of work per a week for the community and up to 390 hours of work per year. Several of the current Yoga for the Community attendees donate their time during Bodhi Surf School’s bimonthly Service and Surf Saturdays, an event designed for our community’s young people that combines marine conservation/education/exposition, community involvement, and physical exercise in a fun way.
Reflections after one year
The Yoga for the Community program has been going on for a full year now, and Pilar has seen a handful of students who have shown great interest in and commitment to their yoga practice. Some are already very athletic individuals (surfers and avid “fútbol” players) and others who were much less active, but all committed attendees have noticed their own personal improvement and the numerous benefits of a yoga practice.
Pilar has guided her students through postures ranging from beginner to even advanced, and has seamlessly interwoven some yogic philosophy into her teaching: ahimsa, do no harm; santosa, practice acceptance; and tapas, practice and all is coming.
Testimonials from attendees
A few months ago, our then-intern Sole interviewed some of the program participants about their experience with Yoga for the Community, and here is some of what they had to say:
When you do yoga, you become a more relaxed, healthier, and happier person. And when you have more peace with yourself, you can give more to the world and to other people.
— Aria, 6 weeks of yoga with Pilar
It’s great that young people come, and they are creating [a] conscience and mentality [regarding the environment]. (Es bueno que venga la gente joven y ya están creando esta conciencia y mentalidad).
— Alejandra, 2 months of yoga with Pilar
My understanding [of yoga] changed a lot, because before I thought it was only stretching, but now I see that there is breathing, muscular [strength], and coordination. (Mis pensamientos cambiaron mucho, porque antes pensaba que solamente fue estirar, pero ahora veo que hay respiración, mucho muscular, coordinación).
— Gilberto, 1.5 months of yoga and Pilar
[Pilar] gives us a lot of freedom [in terms of] options [of yoga poses]. If you can’t do [a pose], it’s ok. (Ella nos da mucha libertad, nos da opciones y si uno no puede hacer algo, pues, está bien).
— Steven, 1 year of yoga with Pilar
I think the idea [of Yoga 4 Community] is wonderful. It’s like when you throw a rock into the water, and everything reflects. (Me parece super buena la idea, es como cuando se tira una piedra al lago y todo se refleja).
— Alexia, 7 months of yoga with Pilar
[Yoga] helps me with surfing. (Me ayuda mucho con surf).
— Paz, 6 months of yoga with Pilar
Reconnection with nature
All of Pilar’s classes highlight a reconnection with nature. Having lived in the city for so many years, when she moved to Bahia Ballena in 2008, Pilar felt the blessing of being close to nature, and how it immediately benefited her yoga practice. Since then, she has been incorporating the wisdom of being present and in tune with nature into her own practice and her teaching. For some of the attendees who have lived here their whole lives, this may be a very new and enlightening perspective.
Yoga for the Community promotes an even further connection, as many of the attendees choose to give back through the Service and Surf Saturdays. A positive cycle has indeed begun.
Part of our larger Ocean Guardian Journey
We have decided to give a name to all of our corporate social and environmental responsibility practices here at Bodhi Surf School: the Ocean Guardian Journey. Being so close to the ocean in proximity and so ocean-centered in practice, we have realized that all we do inevitably affects the ocean. The aims of the Yoga for the Community program are no different: we are using our position as a tourism business to help foster a mentality of conscientious global stewardship (both within our own community and without), and yoga is just another way that this can be made possible through personal awareness-building and teaching of the ahimsas.
With this initiative, you can clearly see the trifecta of goals that has emerged:
- Giving community residents the opportunity to find or deepen their yoga practice, helping them achieve their physical goals (flexibility, strength, stamina, and breath) and mental/spiritual goals (concentration, acceptance, and peace)
- Helping promote service work within their own community, the principle of personal service and giving back, and the economy of trade
- Highlighting the simplicity (and necessity) of nature, appreciation of one’s surroundings, and importance of being present
Photos c/o Melissa Rejeb Photography