Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Yoga retreats as a path to inspiration, creativity and relief

You don’t need to have experienced a yoga retreat first-hand to know that it will be a “cherished time” to finally relax, treat yourself and be surrounded by goodness.

These days, we live hectic lives in which technology has clearly surpassed us. If going on a yoga retreat has ever crossed your mind then you may have felt the urge to press the pause button and cut yourself off from all “digital” connections. A yoga retreat offers a unique chance to disconnect, let go and gain a new and balanced perspective. However, the sad fact is that with so many yoga retreats on offer, it is not easy to find something that stands out from the pack. That said, if you are lucky enough to find one with the right crew of organizers and participants, this could be an excellent opportunity to meet inspirational people that you wouldn't otherwise cross paths with in your regular life.

We rarely get to know the stories behind the organizers of these retreats. Yes, we might read about their multiple certifications and achievements, but we don’t really know about their life experiences which, in most cases, are fascinating. Those who dedicate their time to create these kind of experiences do it for pure pleasure and are fully engaged in what they do. This is not like working in a bank, and when reaching a certain point, you ask yourself: How did I get here?

This is an interview with Nathalie de Haaij, a professional in the communications industry, who, at one point in her successful career decided to give a “Zen” lifestyle a try, and went to train as an Ashtanga yoga teacher. Here, she tell us how she ended up following her heart, which led her to organize retreats in Bali, and how, on this journey, she met other women with amazing stories just like hers.

Nathalie, please tell us about your major breakthrough by becoming a yoga teacher and masseuse while already being a successful project manager
Yoga is my personal journey of self-discovery and I encourage a similar process for my students. Most people have a tendency to start their yoga journey by focusing on the physical benefits because they want to get fit and flexible. Often our egos get in the way and we get competitive with the people around us and even with ourselves. I teach my students, especially those just beginning yoga, the principle of ‘Ahimsa’, which transmits the idea of ‘non-violence’ - being kind to ourselves, and especially to our bodies, when practicing yoga.  It is about listening to the subtle changes within us, this means not only our bodies, but also our breath and mind. If it doesn’t feel right, then it is time to stop and take a break. For me, this is the beauty of yoga and why I love teaching it: the ability for us to dig deep and find out what feels right for us at that specific moment in time. We will all have good days, when everything flows, and then some not so good days, when our “monkey mind’ takes over and we cannot concentrate. With regular practice, we begin to learn how to quieten our busy minds. People often forget that yoga is preparation for getting into the state of meditation. 

So, after my yoga training in India, I traveled to Bali, which had always been top of my list of places to visit. The first time I went to Bali, I treated myself to a Balinese spa. I was so impressed by the whole experience; I decided to train as a qualified masseuse. I was honored and blessed to be taught by some of the top masseuses on the island. They showed me the sacred art of traditional Balinese massage and handed down their expert knowledge of well being. Learning the different bodywork techniques was an incredible experience. I spent hours every day practicing and perfecting the different hand strokes under the watchful eye of my strict teachers. For the Balinese people, wellness is an integral part of their daily lives that has been part of their culture for 100’s of years. They taught me the importance of using natural products, such as coconut or almond oil, often scented with essential oils like invigorating lemongrass or sweet-smelling jasmine, depending on your mood.  They also taught me the importance of taking a great amount of care to create the most relaxing environment for the massage so that people can fully immerse themselves into the experience. For me, Balinese massage is a beautiful sensory ritual and I often describe it as a dance, where the recipients can completely surrender and let go of their stress.  

As a yoga teacher and masseuse, the ability to channel negative energy and blockages within peoples’ bodies is a healing gift, and one, which I’m both grateful and happy to share. 

You’ve lived in Bali for extended periods of time on several occasions. What is it about Bali that keeps bringing your back there and making you want to stay?
When I landed in Bali, I immediately understood why they called it the “Island of the Gods”:  the combination of the rich Balinese culture, its tropical green environment and the breathtaking surf breaks just blew my mind.

It is full of traditions and customs that form part of island’s Hindu heritage. Three times a day, every day, you will witness offerings of some kind being placed outside peoples’ homes and temples. There are countless ceremonies for different types of Gods so it is quite normal to have up to three or four ceremonies a month. Many of these ceremonies are a feast for the senses, beautiful colorful costumes and headdresses alongside synchronized traditional dances and music. 

I also fell in love with the geography of the island; its location near the equator accounts for its tropical warm climate and its stunning landscape of lush rice terraces, palm tree jungles, volcanoes and waterfalls, and not forgetting its incredible coastlines. For me, it is a true slice of paradise.

I have now visited and lived in Bali a number of times and each time I discover something new about the island, its people and its energy. The Balinese are warm, gentle and welcoming folk and over the years I’ve been going there I’ve made a handful of close friends that now I call my Bali family. You can feel the energy on the island, especially during the full moon. It is hard to describe but you sense there is a feeling of calm and a very close affinity with nature. It now has become my spiritual home.  These are all the wonderful reasons why I thought Bali would be the perfect location for our new retreat.

What would you like your participants to achieve when they come to your retreat? What’s the goal for the people?
We all know that retreats are a great way to escape our busy lives, but personally I wanted to create a retreat that offered more than just a place to disconnect. I wanted to make it highly personalized and inspiring, focusing on a small group of people. We want to really get to know each of our guests and understand what their aspirations are, not only for the retreat but also in life in general. With this knowledge, we want to offer a more tailored service that makes them feel empowered.

As organizers we each have our specialized professional skills that we will share, whether this is surfing, yoga, wellness or photography, but we have also traveled and experienced a great deal in our lives. We want the "Bali Surf, Yoga & Wellness" retreat to be an open and relaxed space where we can connect as a group - both the guests and the organizers -, share our stories and learn from one another. Ultimately, our aim is for our guests to leave the retreat with a new lease of life.

What makes this type of retreat different from other regular holiday packages on offer?
In my personal experience, there is a real difference between going on a retreat and booking a regular package holiday.  On a retreat you are more likely to meet like-minded people with common goals. There is more of a sense of a shared purpose and because of this, I believe you tend to create closer bonds with the people you meet at retreats. Whilst on a normal holiday, there is tendency for people to keep themselves to themselves and do their own thing and generally disengage.

However retreats have a reputation for being more expensive, and while this is often the case, I think the end benefits makes the investment very much worthwhile.  The main benefits are having a clear focus and purpose for your time away, forming closer friendships and a partaking in a more customized experience.
Nowadays, there are so many different retreats to choose from all over the world. On the whole, each one is offering pretty much the same kind of program.  With this in mind, we wanted to offer something that was both different and memorable.  This retreat will be a unique experience because as I mentioned before it is tailored for a small group of people (max of 8 people). It is for both beginner & intermediate surfers looking to improve their skills. With the information we gather from our guests we will combine daily surfing guiding sessions (with video coaching) and give them the tools to excel and take their surfing to the next.  Similarly, with the yoga and mediation classes we will have a good understanding of what level they are at and what they hope to achieve during the retreat, again focusing on the areas they want to improve. We will also offer wellness treatments and will educate our guests about the positive benefits of these treatments. Also, with the healthy food that will be available, we aim to cater to our guest’s specific dietary requirements and intolerances. The retreat will be held at the luxurious and tranquil Ombak Villas Bali accommodation, situated 5-minutes ride from beautiful Balangan beach on the Bukit peninsula. As part of their stay, guests will be able to explore the island, but two highlights of their trip will be a visit to the famous Uluwatu temple for a magical evening of Balinese dance & music, and the opportunity to explore the spiritual market town of Ubud. To ensure all these memorable moments are captured, our professional surf & travel photographer will be on hand. She will also provide a workshop on handy photography tips during our stay.
So the real difference is, unlike most Bali packaged holiday, this is a highly-personalized retreat catered to a small intimate group of guests, hosted by a passionate international professional team, a team that is keen to get everyone to connect, share and inspire.

You’re collaborating with other women in this retreat, what can you tell us about them and how these collaborations are important for the event?
I have found that on my travels doing yoga and massage I have met and connected with some incredible, like-minded women. As we often share similar ambitions; we swap stories these and brainstorm about collaborating together. This is how this retreat came about. And it is an exciting collaboration of four inspiring women.  All of us have a passion for adventure and the ocean and together we wanted to share what we love and encourage other women to do the same. As a collective we believe that … “Life is for living to our full potential. Through travel we not only discover the world but our true selves. It allows us to find what we are passionate about and inspire people that we meet on the way”

 I feel blessed to work with these three women:

Concha Rossler (co- founder of Seasoul Shelter) originates from Germany, her love of surfing and the ocean is reflected in the fact that she spends most of the day in the water catching waves. For almost a decade now, she has been teaching surfers of different levels. She has a number of certificates in “Outdoor Adventure Management”, “Outdoor Education” and also has a Bachelor degree (Hons) in “Sports Coaching and Performance”.
Killa Schuetze (co-founder of Seasoul Shelter), has Peruvian roots and is a passionate sea soul, traveller and photographer. After finishing a design degree and working in the industry for a few years, she started to let go and focused on her personal journey to live a more balanced life. Surfing truly changed her perception of the world, she has now been living in Portugal for over 10 years, working with Algarve Surf school, where she was one of the first female surf teachers.

Ale Romo (Founder of From Where I’d Rather Be) comes from Mexico and is a Photographer, Blogger, Surfer, Ocean lover and an avid Adventurer. After working many years in PR, managing international projects for Surfrider Foundation Europe; she realized that her place was behind the camera documenting the good life, surfers and the joys of the ocean.

I think this collaboration will be of great benefit to our guests. Together we bring our own unique professional skills, expertise, personalities and life experiences, but share a common goal of connecting and inspiring the people we meet at our retreats. It is this shared passion that makes this retreat truly unique.

More about the Bali Surf, Yoga & Wellness retreat here
For inquiries and more info write to:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Swiss surfer girl that followed her heart...

Back in October, I was invited by my friend Alena Ehrenbold, to go to Hossegor to shoot & film with the Swiss Television for a program called Virus Voyage. As you probably guessed, this program  is about traveling, showcasing Swiss people around the globe.
Alena was fortunate to be called for an emission about people that live their passion, in this case the passion of surf.

The emission has just released, and just wanted to share it with you! Hope you guys understand German, if not, is anyway very fun to watch. You can see me at minute 17:18 if you're curious :)

Following too, some pics I did for that project.

Happy beginning of winter! Soon I'll be in Bali, taking pictures from where you'd rather be...
stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Movember: 30 hairy faces to change the face of men's health

Did I tell you how much I love the month of November?
I love November because of it's perfect light for pictures, the uncrowded spots and the first potent swells of the season combined with the last days of warmth before the winter comes for real.

But honestly, among all these reasons, I love November because I can get to see as many hairy faces as I want. I have a little fetish for mustaches and beards, and I just love to photograph all those mustached man I see on my way.

But, what is Movember? Why all this fuss about mustaches at this time of the year?
Well, Movember is an annual event involving the growing of moustaches and beards during the month of November to raise awareness of various cancers, such as prostate cancer. The Movember Foundation runs the Movember charity event, housed at The goal of Movember is to "change the face of men's health".

By encouraging men (whom the charity refers to as "Mo Bros") to get involved, Movember aims to increase early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatments, and ultimately reduce the number of preventable deaths. Besides annual check-ups, the Movember Foundation encourages men to be aware of family history of cancer and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

With this said, I gathered 30 portraits of men (mostly surfers) from all around the world photographed in my adventures to remind my male readers to not just let it grow, but to actually take an active part of the movement.

Let it grow boys, and don't forget to donate at!!

Alain, Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Danny, Australian surfer in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

My friend Fran and his famous Zipps log in Sitges, outside Barcelona

A very good looking Costarican near Puerto Viejo

Carlos fan of extreme sports. Fuerteventura, Spain

Wil in an expo in San Sebastian, Spain

Juan in his fab t-shirt in Sitges, Barcelona

Carlos. Hossegor, France

Servio, Akela surf co-founder in Cocoa beach, Miami

Luca. TFR Hossegor house, Hossegor, France

Me & Vincent. Photo taken by Kayla Rocca, edited by me. Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Lorenzo in one beautiful full moon night in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Luca & Andrea. Capbreton, France

Mikel. San Sebastian, Spain

The "Grandppa Surfboards" boys being boys soaking up the sun in San Sebastian, Spain

Phillip and his unmissable hat in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Andrew, rasta surfer. Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Michael, most known by Jesus or black Jesus after a surf in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

The sweet Sam. Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Tom's warming up in a typical morning in Playa Colorado, Nicaragua

David, normally poses in all pics. This is a moment of pure ease, one night out in Istambul, Turkey

Andi is a host of a program called Virus Voyage in Switzerland. Here at 7.00 am in Hossegor, France

Andrew from Cali, caught him sipping coffee near Les Estagnots in Hossegor, France

David Gant, actor and protagonist of Sea Legend short film, here caught at the premiere in San Sebastian, Spain

Andi, great light, mustache, and overall perfect for this pic. Hossegor, France

Pascal, Swiss entrepreneur. Hossegor, France

Unknown surfer. Zarautz, Spain

Monsieur Le Chipiron caught in Zarautz, Spain at the noserider comp

Surfer (don't know his name) at a Reef party in Hossegor, France

Andi being a perfect english man at Zurriola beach in San Sebastian