Making Magic On a Mat: This Is What Happened When I Spent 4 Days In The Brazilian Rainforest
If you’ve assumed all yoga retreats are one in the same, an experience with Terra Brasilis Retreats will certainly stretch your mind.
Catching aqua green glimpses of the South Atlantic Ocean as we drove through the winding roads of Brazil’s breathtaking Costa Verde, I sensed something significant lay ahead.
‘Have you been here before?’ Elaine asked in a thick Portuguese accent from the passenger seat, her eyes shifting between me and the Google Translate page on her iPhone.
‘No… muy linda,’ I attempted to reply, as her husband - our driver - Paulo steered us away from the iconic coastline into the dense and equally scenic Atlantic Rainforest. I’d never met either of these people before and we were entirely dependent on the technical genius of 4G to communicate. Yet as we headed into what was for me very much the unknown, I felt completely at ease.
Our destination was the Bananal Ecolodge in Ubatuba, for a four-day yoga retreat with Terra Brasilis Retreats.
When you hear the words ‘yoga retreat’ a few things may spring to mind. A slender instructor, able-bodied participants, an idyllic location and general air of tranquillity tend to be key ingredients of the activewear-friendly equation. Whether the bendy practice is your bag or the thought of downward dog has you cowering in a corner, holing up in the beach or mountains for a few days and being good to your body is certainly not without appeal.
And appeal it has – to the masses. Yoga retreats have grown immensely in popularity in recent years, luring thousands of limber (and not so limber) zen-seekers in the world’s most scenic corners. An arguably saturated market, one might assume the holistic getaways can be generalised with ‘seen one, seen them all’, but that one would not have experienced a Terra Brasilis’ retreat.
It was by no mistake that I came across Terra Brasilis Retreats. After a transient three years and too much time spent in airports as a travel writer, I was searching for some solo downtime to conclude a stint in South America. I’m not sure whether it was the unique combination of yoga, surf and healing or a curiosity about what a ‘rainforest immersion’ entailed that lured me more, but one read of the brief description confirmed I needed some serious namaste.
Founded by Brazilian-born California resident Raquel Nakid Lacroix, each Terra Brasilis Retreats experience is tailored to the natural offerings of whichever region it is based in. Past retreats have seen yogis bend and stretch in the Amazon, in Brazil’s dense jungles and picture-perfect beaches. I was fortunate enough to find myself in a pristine and preserved region off the beaten tourist track in between Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, at the Bananal Ecolodge.
While never one to turn down an adventure, I admittedly held some reservations about this particular escapade. Embarking on a six-hour bus ride from the city into the lesser-known region as a solo ‘gringa’ is not without its risks. Thankfully, Raquel and the Terra Brasilis Retreats team were willing to bend over backwards to ease any nerves I was plagued by.
The immediate and enveloping generosity and kindness of Elaine and Paulo was echoed by everyone involved with my Terra Brasilis experience. As soon as our car pulled into the encapsulating Bananal Ecolodge, I was overwhelmed with a sense of calm.
And it’s certainly no wonder as to why. Nestled amongst 20 hectares of native Atlantic rainforest in the Ubatumirim hinterland, the Bananal Ecolodge is the definition of environmentally-friendly serenity. Elevated torch-lit timber pathways connect the cosy rooms to the yoga space, dining room and pool area. The latter features a sauna and jacuzzi, built over natural spring water.
Founded and run by Brazilian couple Alexandre and Luciana, the Bananal Ecolodge is fuelled by the area’s abundant natural resources. The ever-changing menu is prepared daily by vegetarian connoisseurs on site and features flora and fauna cultivated on the property. The region is abundant with walking trails, fresh waterfalls and the white-sand beaches a mere 2km away.
In other words, it was the perfect location for the Terra Brasilis Retreats, with its unique offering of healing, yoga and surf. Having been on yoga retreats before, I thought I knew what to expect with Terra Brasilis but I was soon to learn it was a drastic underestimation.
After putting my bag in the gorgeous room, I joined the eclectic group in the pool: including Mozambique-born Zé Miguel, our yoga instructor, and Chey, our Indian Shaman. The term ‘healing’ was somewhat enigmatic to me but as soon as I met Chey, it was immediately clear.
Originally hailing from the Amazon, Chey is tall, broad and has a bellowing laugh that can be heard from miles away. His presence was so powerful it would almost be intimidating, if he wasn’t so warm, generous and kind. I quickly learned I would need to be open-minded and let go of any inhibitions to get the most out of this experience.
What transpired over the coming days is best described as transcending. Being a small group, we were able to stray from the itinerary and flow, based on what Chey sensed were the best needs of the group. Each day started with an early morning yoga practice, which Zé adapted pending our level of fatigue. We experimented with both self-guided and instructor-led classes.
A large part of the reason Terra Brasilis Retreats is so different than other retreats is its element of full immersion. While a very important element, yoga was not the sole focus of the retreat. Instead it was a lot about energy and spirituality, and giving back to the beautiful land around us.
Outside of our time on the mat, we hiked through the forest to reach hidden natural lakes and waterfalls, learned to surf on the area’s preserved beaches, and visited the region’s indigenous sites.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the experience, however, was the ayuahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture, with the ability to alter states of consciousness. The liquid concoction is based on the root of an ancient tree. The function of the plant is synonymous with the mission of Terra Brasilis Retreats: ‘To help honour and heal the connection to your own roots’. It was through this ceremony the real healing took place.
According to Raquel, who grew up surfing in the local area and founded Terra Brasilis Retreats when she moved to America, the company is born of her passion for helping others. She explained: “When I moved to the USA, I searched for a spiritual outlet but realised developed countries’ habitats (unlike Brazil) have somewhat difficulty connecting....
“The forest is needless to say the ‘lungs’ of the planet, so my guests will not only have an opportunity to connect with themselves, but with the majestic bounty of Brazil’s undefined natural habitat.”
Over a month later, I’m still processing what I confronted and learned in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest but to say I’m grateful for it would be an understatement. To Raquel, Chey, Alexandre, Luciana and Zé, I thank you for helping me find magic on that mat.
Terra Brasilis Retreats sets out to provide eco soulful and healing retreats, combining surf, yoga, nature immersion programs, live nutrition and therapeutic work to release traumatic life events.
For more information or to join the next retreat, head to https://www.terrabrasilisretreats.com/