My Personal Santa Monica Yoga Retreat

I couldn’t make it to the Lamu Yoga Festival my friend runs every year on an East African island. The closer events at the Hamptons or on Nantucket were not fitting into my schedule or budget, either. Undeterred, I decided to create my own when I found myself in between trips and alone in Santa Monica for a few days in July. It was such a great success that I feel compelled to share my experiences.

Santa Monica provided the perfect beach setting and community for a special, custom made health and wellness experience.

After a hectic month and only 4 hours of sleep, I boarded a flight from Boston to LA feeling exhausted and physically in need of TLC. I ordered a bottle of water and began my retreat. I took out my cushion, socks and eye mask. I also applied some lavender oil on my scarf and under my nose. It always keeps me calm and helps me forget the claustrophobic conditions of the airplane. I hoped my aromatherapy might help others to relax too, since some of the air is recycled during the flight.

This is the time most people would ingest a sleep aid or start drinking. That doesn’t work for me except on 12 hour or longer international flights. Not wanting to be drowsy at the other end and wake with a sore neck or disturb people with my snoring, I opted for something healthier that would have me walking off at the other end refreshed. I put on my noise reduction headphones and was treated to a long body scan meditation with binaural beats. My favorite meditation app did its usual job of relaxing me inside and out. The rest of the way was sleeping and drifting to classical music subliminal apps. Why not work on the subconscious mind, too? I can read or sleep with these tracks playing in the background. Pretty cool.

Santa Monica is an easy drive from the airport by any standard. I arrived at my Airbnb Margarita St. private garden apartment starving and helped myself to the welcoming fruit basket my host Marilyn left for me. It was close enough to the ocean to enjoy fresh ozone air flowing through the windows, making air conditioning unnecessary. No humidity or enormous mosquitos and the cool evening temperatures make it perfect for anyone who wants a break from complaining about the weather (cough, cough, Bostonians). Left the remote control on the table because I wanted a silent retreat with my books. I finally had time to start reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

Day 1: Lunch at Le Pain Quotidien on San Vincente Blvd. for something light and nutritious. Every place in LA seems to serve organic food, and this Belgium-based café is no different. I loved the Avocado Toast with citrus-cumin salt and organic chia seeds.

I followed this with a nature walk along Palisades Park at the end of my street, where I could take snap shots of the Olympic Rose, listen to bongo drums and watch Californians in their version of an office working on their Macs in picnic chairs. My cankles from the air pressure on the flight subsided while I strolled barefoot to do some grounding and mindful walking under the line of palm trees. As Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh advises: “ Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Grounding, also called Earthing, is reconnecting to the Earth’s energy by simply walking barefoot. This direct contact with the Earth’s electrical energy is beneficial on subtle levels since our bodies are electrical in nature. It is said that kissing the earth with our feet can actually harmonize basic biological rhythms.

Santa Monicans need to get organized as far as Monday nights go. There were way too many great options for a spiritual tourist such as myself to choose from. The picks on that night included a group meditation with Steve Ross at Unplug Meditation studio on Wiltshire Blvd. while at the other end of that same street at the same time was a lecture at the Saban Theatre with another favorite author, Marianne Williamson! Whoa! I also wanted to go to the community Kirtan at Bhakti Yoga Shala on Arizona St. again, at the same time. What to do? Well, they are all amazing so good luck and maybe you can extend your stay a few weeks. I wonder if the crime rate in LA is lower on Monday nights due to the ripple effect of all those good vibes at one time. Since I can watch Marianne’s webcasts, I ended up going to Unplug and came out floating on air.

Day 2: Time to stretch out and get my yoga on, and there is no better place than Maha Yoga on San Vincente Blvd. The Tuesday 11am class is always booked, so I made sure to reserve my spot online a few weeks ahead since the author of my favorite yoga lifestyle book, “Happy Yoga,” was teaching, and his class is legendary. I found out for myself what the all the fuss was about. Yes, there was the usual crowd of beautiful people you would expect at a yoga class in Hollywood, but everyone was super friendly and very happy to be there. Halfway through the class, with my personal puddle of sweat growing by the second, I felt that this is what it would be like to play Twister with a bunch of Marines. Steve was yelling through cupped hands, “Left knee to right elbow!” like a cheerful army sergeant because he was trying to be heard over Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Stones reverberating off the walls. It was awesome! When “Start Me Up” played I think I heard cheering. I have never sweated and smiled at the same time as I did that day.

Every retreat offers healthy food, so I ate at the Real Food Daily, a macrobiotic institution in LA. It was hard to choose between the Supreme Burrito and the Kung Pao bowl. I ordered my usual custom green juice even though I could have had a glass of wine or a mimosa, which I didn’t expect from such a purist vegan restaurant. Once again, California is all about choices, the more the better.

Day 3: Brunch at Urth Caffe, famous for being the first organic coffee company in the U.S. It really was the best mocha in a mug I have ever had. Everyone else seemed to be ordering the matcha green tea. I prefer the matcha green tea tiramisu.

A long walk on the beach followed by a long swim in a sparkling, warm ocean is the best part of any seaside retreat. Well, it is for me because the salt water just has the magical effect of balancing my mind and body. It is the most healing treatment we can do to rejuvenate our cells according to balneotherapy and thalassotherapy practitioners. In Santa Monica, the mineral salt water that is supposed to be almost equal to our own physical composition is free all day, and so is the heliotherapy, otherwise known as “lying in the sun.” Best spa day for the money!

Day 4: I arrived in Santa Monica a sagging sapling with dry leaves, but now I’m like a strong-stemmed sunflower full of energy, which is a good thing since I booked another fun yoga class at Maha Yoga on San Vincente. I tried to hide, still sore from Tuesday, at the back of the class today, but no use as Steve travels every corner of that studio with his infamous iPod in hand, ready to check on everyone. The loud music revives me for one more down dog.

Made it to another Unplug group meditation that night led by visiting HSN “Rasa Living” founder Donna D’Cruz from New York. Her lilting, soft Aussie accent and letting go philosophy elevated my spirit and cleared my mind.

Day 5: Great brunch at Marmalade Café on Montana Avenue. Loved the spinach and goat cheese frittata. Could have had a Bacon Bloody Mary with it, but that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for a healthy week, so stuck to an iced green tea. At any yoga retreat, you can choose to be alone or to be sociable. Santa Monica turned out to be perfect for that, too. Friendly faces and communal tables are the trend in this sublimely peaceful suburb of LA. I was alone but had a fun conversation at the communal table here, bouncing child-rearing philosophies back and forth with a local father sitting opposite. We shared a laugh and agreed that the best way to survive teenagers is to have very low expectations.

The only exercise I could handle today was a gentle yoga class called Sound Healing Yoga at Bhakti Yoga Shala on Arizona St. Teacher Amita Stark led us in a relaxing class that combined mantras with movement. The classes are the cost of a donation and excellent. They keep their schedule online and up to date. It is definitely worth checking out.

Dragged myself to the beach for more salt-water therapy and mindful walking while watching the Pacific sunset. Awesome.

Other ideas to build your personal retreat: massages, hair salons, facials, an indulgent dinner at Shutters on the Beach and shopping at the Third Street Promenade. The Vedanta Temple has chanting for beginners on Saturdays and the best spiritual bookstore.

Santa Monica has everything anyone needs to feed the mind, body and soul. This Bostonian couldn’t recommend it more.

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