Costa Rica is a unique Blue Zone: one of just a few places in the world where people live longer, healthier, and happier lives almost across the board. People from all over the world flock there to soak up both sun and whatever it is that makes the area thrive. Some people however, never leave. Ashley Ludman traveled regularly to Costa Rica before she sold her yoga studio, her house, and her car and moved to the Blue Zone since 2011.
She has since joined a diverse community of people that she describes as “seekers who want a different way of living.” Ashley says they “have all kinds of people here…people who come for a year or so with their families to attend the local Montessori school, surfers, Yogis, foodies, artists… People are from many different countries, not just the US.” She currently resides in Nosara, a small region on the Pacific coast, which is home to two landmarks of the burgeoning Costa Rican Yoga community: The Nosara Yoga Institute and The Harmony Hotel.
The Nosara Yoga Institute was founded by Don and Amba Stapleton, two ex-pats who relocated from the Kripalu ashram in New England. In its early days, the Institute was supported by the late Robin Williams and his former wife Marsha. It has since grown into an internationally known education and training center. When Ashley first studied there in 2000, she took a two week training course alongside eight other yogis. Classes nowadays boast 40-60 budding yoga teachers per course. A great deal of the teachers who come down to study then decide to make the move and don’t leave! Because of that growth, Costa Rica has seen a rise in the number of both yoga studios and types of yoga available. You can even stay at Body Tree Yoga Resort or Costa Rica Yoga Spa, both combination hotel and retreat centers. “I’m still meeting people every day who are teachers here in the community!” Ashley exclaims, “Our community is pretty substantial.”
The Harmony Hotel, where Ashley currently teaches, started out as a tiny, surf hotel. It was bought by the Johnson & Johnson company, who’ve helped turn the hotel and its surrounding land into an eco-friendly and sustainable oasis that values the integration of local people and culture. Currently in the works is an expansion that hopes to turn the Harmony into a world class healing center that will specialize in new and creative treatments and attract huge retreats and top tiered teachers from all over the world. “It’s an exciting thing,” says Ashley, “We’re creating a high end center that’s also accessible to the public. We’re creating an environment that teaches people to have a deeper relationship with their yoga practice, which is much different than the New York way of going and banging out your class and then going about your day.”
When asked about building a community in her classes at the Harmony, which is first and foremost a hotel, she said: “It is hard always managing that. It’s a steady community, but it’s always transient. I start to build a group in class, but then they’re gone 3 days later. Still, I’ll have 5 or 6 people in a breathwork class and I know that [even though they won’t be there for long] it’s an opportunity to offer a subtler practice than in a general yoga practice; something they won’t have elsewhere.”
Being an ex-pat also has a unique challenge – the law of the land states that a non-citizen must leave the country every 90 days, thus creating a community of perpetual tourists. Ashley takes the 90 day rule as an exciting opportunity to always be traveling. “I’m always excited to leave Costa Rica and then I’m always excited to return. Every day is a different story! It is never dull, and always unexpected.” Just last month, Ashley spent 2 weeks in New York, offering her specialized breathwork classes and bodywork sessions – a fusion of Thai massage and energy work. Sometimes she’ll cross the border into Nicaragua and spend a few nights, other times she’ll head to Los Angeles and reconnect with friends and students there.
Costa Rica provides a truly special experience for anyone who travels there. For Ashley, she makes sure to “always allocate time for the unexpected, because that is where we connect with people…whether it is at the juice bar at Harmony, or on the beach at sunset. There is always unexpected moments of conversation and connection that is supported by this idea of Pura Vida…slowing down and understanding the gift of being present.”
Like she said, it’s a different way of life.