Recently we had the fortune to experience a stay at one of Puerto Rico’s premier wellness retreats, Casa Alternavida. The name roughly translates to house of the alternative life because they believe you can balance life, work, and everything about yourself in healthier, alternative ways. Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel Anna Karenina begins- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same is true for balanced, happy lives, and there’s no escaping it because everything is connected if you believe in a holistic philosophy.
Believe it or not, the way you brush your teeth is connected to your deepest hopes, fears, and desires. This realization is terrifying and liberating at the same time because you don’t have to jump into the depths of your soul to explore what’s keeping you from reaching your goals. You could map your psyche with a deep exploration of your oral hygiene, although that’s both hard and tedious. Instead, Casa Alternavida creates spaces and moments for discovery with healthy living and reconnecting to nature in a fun and beautiful setting.
Join us as we take you through a day at Casa Alternavida to see how they help facilitate quieting the clutter in your mind, create opportunities for enlightenment, and offer insights to help unravel those unconscious commitments and personal stories holding you back.
Set Your Waking Intentions
You’ll first notice how many intentions surround you from the moment you wake and open your eyes at Casa Alternavida. Some of them are yours that you set for your journey prior to arriving. Some are the sounds of the gardens that surround the property. Others, like the artwork on the walls, are there to help guide you on your journey. Each of the seven named sleeping rooms has a beautiful, matching mural created by a local artist. Ours was the Bashful Butterfly, which symbolized transformation and growth.
It’s not just the guest rooms; everywhere in the house, you’ll find magical, high-vibration spaces and thoughtful touches. All of the furnishings have been repurposed and resurrected. Your morning coffee is served fresh and strong, without the masks and intrusions of diary and unprocessed sugar. A beautiful peace here fosters purposeful intentions to help you become that bashful butterfly.
Start Your Day With Mindful Movement
Mornings at Casa Alternavida start with a mindful movement/yoga class, usually on the rooftop patio. The instructor Sitara is an intuitive instructor with formal training in Kripalu or caring techniques. She blends modalities between yoga, breathwork, meditation, energy psychology, and more with effortless precision to connect guests with their natural state of love, joy, and peace.
Even if you don’t believe you need to align your chakras or cleanse your aura, morning movement has undeniable benefits. A 2012 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found morning exercise is associated with more activity throughout the day. Also, you know you can’t stay up too late the night before or arrive groggy to Sitara’s class. You’re present in the moment the first thing in the morning, and that state persists throughout the day. If your chi happens to flow better or having a trained expert address your spoken and unspoken needs happens to help you in any way, that’s all the better.
Eat a Healthy Breakfast
You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but more than just eating, it’s eating well. Every meal at Casa Alternavida is dairy-free and gluten-free without processed sugars. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t delicious and perhaps even educational. Yancy’s, the owner’s homemade gluten-free waffles were seriously the best I’ve ever tasted, but have you ever heard of reading chia bowls?
We started with a dish of freshly prepared chia and a table full of delicious fresh fruits, nuts, and seeds. Then we ‘decorated’ our chia however we wanted. The reading came before we ate. Jenn’s symmetric bowl with no two toppings touching showed her meticulous nature. My bowl, loaded with a lot of everything, showed how I loved excess. The readings around the table were surprisingly accurate and showed how much you could learn about yourself by observing even the smallest actions
Take a Morning Rainforest Excursion
Casa Alternavida is located in eastern Puerto Rico, about halfway between the El Yunque Rainforest and the beach and just off Highway 3 in a little town called Rio Grande. Right off the highway seems like a dubious spot for a retreat focused on reconnecting you to nature and rejuvenation, but the universe works in mysterious ways.
Yancy’s intention was to build in the jungle, but a strange series of coincidences led him to the current location of Casa Alternavida. The building and grounds needed a lot of work, but the restoration project was greener than any new construction he could have conducted in the forest. With the current location, guests can access the beach and the forest on the same day, and it’s easier to reach the retreat from the airport than Old San Juan.
Nature excursions are crucial because they clear the clutter in our minds while exposing lessons clearly and concisely. During one of these hikes, we encountered a mud puddle that Yancy metaphorically transformed into the mud we encountered in our life and asked us how we approached it. Do you walk around? Trudge through? Refuse to go on? I felt particularly clever when I held back and let other people find the right path before entering the mud, which is a tactic that works amazingly well in life too. We also practiced silence and observed the layers of sound we could hear in the jungles. For me, silence was more difficult than trudging through the mud.
Cleanse Your Mud
Climbing waterfalls, splashing in rivers, and trudging through mud opens your mind but leaves you messy. Yancy gave us just enough time before lunch to freshen up. But even in this routine task, you’ll find magical touches.
Our shower came equipped with a rain head that made us feel like we were still under a waterfall in El Yunque. Instead of single-use, commercial toiletries, Yancy provided full bottles of organic and sustainable paraffin-free hair and body products. These touches showed us that we can get the dirt off without losing our connection to nature
Fuel Up With a Hearty Lunch
Lunch at Casa Alternavida was a culinary tour de force by Chef Ivonne that proves you don’t need to go hungry to eat healthy. In many ways, catering for Casa Alternavida transformed her life as well. She came from the dark side of cooking, that is to say, baking and pastries. She rose to Yancy’s challenge to make traditional Puerto Rican food healthy, natural, and gluten-free. The last one was particularly challenging for a pastry chef, but her work speaks for itself.
We loved Chef Ivonne’s cooking, and lunch was the biggest meal of the day. Since we’ve established from my chia bowls that I am a fan of more good stuff, it stands to reason that lunch was my favorite meal. Not only does a large, healthy lunch fuel your brain and body, but the meal was also our first real opportunity to reflect and assimilate the morning’s activity as a group, which are essential steps in the learning cycle.
Relax With Afternoon Free Time
After lunch, we had free time for personal reflection while Yancy offered one-on-one coaching upon request. Yancy’s coaching style was fascinating, and it all started with highly tuned perception and empathy. Remember how everything is connected with holistic principles? Imagine the wealth of data an empath could collect observing you in situations designed to take you out of your comfort zone.
Luckily, Yancy is also incredibly sympathetic. He doesn’t preach positions or recite rhetoric. Instead, he asks insightful questions and offers observations that help you evaluate how well your beliefs serve you and how well you’re servicing your beliefs. All that he requests is that you’re honest with yourself. The conclusions you draw and actions that you take are up to you.
Enjoy Your Afternoon Beach Excursions
Because Casa Alternavida is located halfway between the mountains and the beach, we had a beach excursion every afternoon. Our target destination was the Reserva Natural Río Espíritu Santo where the Espíritu Santo River emptied into the ocean.
The estuary has to be one of the most beautiful places on the island. You can swim in the ocean or river, walk on the beach, or just enjoy the views. Also, not surprisingly, Yancy constructed a series of lessons based on what the beach and ocean can teach you. We never experienced any of these personally, but it’s not hard to imagine shifting sand, views stretching to the horizon, and another world under the waves that you only get glimpses of from the surface
Savor a Light Dinner
Dinners are different from lunches and unique in their own way. Lunch has to provide energy for the day. Dinner needs to be light enough that they don’t interfere with sleep. Chef Ivonne creates masterpieces within these constraints by engaging your mastication with different textures. One of our favorites was a medley of Puerto Rican root vegetables. Instead of chopping everything into cubes and boiling it down like English mashed potatoes, Chef Ivonne added the ingredients throughout the process. Some bites were buttery soft, while others offered more resistance to chewing. You focused on other elements of the meal instead of the quantity of the food you were consuming.
Dinner also comes with dessert, another area where Chef Ivonne excels. We could see her formal pastry chef training shining through, even with healthy ingredients and no added sugar. Her versions of gluten-free chocolate tortes and dairy-free cheesecake were better than their naughty cousins. In another life, she could have run a healthy dessert shop in Southern California
Go Deep With an Evening Specialty Lesson
Casa Alternavida offers some unique added services, including a rooftop cacao ceremony at sunset and an evening fire ceremony. We partook in the fire ceremony, where we explored fire as an element inside us and a tool for letting go of what we no longer needed.
The ceremony is simple but profound. Yancy introduced us to the fire cycle, which is more than just burning. You must build a fire with appropriate material, tend to its need for oxygen and fuel, and finally harness it towards some end. Failure to do any of these steps will either prevent the fire from starting or make it flash and burn out quickly before it serves its purpose. The ceremony was more than theoretical lessons. We mapped out on paper notes what fueled us, what we wanted the fire to cleanse, and where we hoped it could take us.
Then we built a physical fire with our notes for fuel and cleansing, plus some fire supplies Yancy provided. If you’ve never made a fire, it’s more complicated than you think. However, that struggle is part of the process because it’s even harder to harness the power of your inner fire.
Wrapping up a Day at Casa Alternavida
We shuffled off to bed after the fire ceremony. You’d think that with all the activity and a light dinner, we’d drift into a deep and restful sleep. I’m sure that’s some people’s experience, but not ours. Yancy worked with us before we arrived to discover our intentions and goals. We chose to do a couples retreat focused on the challenging issues of running a business together, finding work-life balance, and how much is enough for retirement. Yancy can be flexible in his approach offering everything from personal deep dives, like we did, to corporate team building and even reconnecting with your inner child.
The lessons and discoveries of the day kept dancing through our minds, looking for a permanent place in our consciousness. We had a lot to process and a lot to unpack. It turns out that we needed a retreat at Casa Alternavida more than we anticipated. Finally, we negotiated a peace with our swirling thoughts, if for no other reason than we knew that Sitara would be expecting us for morning yoga tomorrow. We also knew that we had a more traditional ‘vacation’ trip to the El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo coming up next, so we could focus on the work at hand.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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