Nicaragua is becoming an attractive destination for yoga practitioners who are traveling to the country for vacation, yoga retreats, or permanent relocation. Before you go, it might be helpful to know something of the history of yoga in this beautiful Central American country.
Yoga was introduced to Nicaraguans in 1970, when Swami Guru Devanand Saraswati Ji Maharaj, a long-bearded Indian mystic and yogi, arrived in the capital city of Managua with a mission: achieve world peace by helping individuals achieve a state of internal peace. Since yoga is a system for living that is designed to cultivate internal peace, focus, harmony and integration within the individual, the Swami reasoned that if yoga could be spread to all corners of the planet, peace would inevitably follow. Not bad logic.
The Swami’s style of yoga focuses on mantra meditation: repeating specific Sanskrit phrases while in a state of complete mental focus. No yogi would argue that the same technique will work for all people, but this one worked very well for José Luís Pallaviccini Norori, who then adopted the name Sri Ramesh and became Nicaragua’s first yoga master. Sri Guru’s organization, Sociedad Internacional de Realización Divina (SIRD), bought the land where Ananda, a yoga center and vegetarian restaurant in Managua, is now located. Sri Ramesh set a goal: to offer Nicaraguans a vision of a healthier way of life. They started selling fresh juices (without refined sugar) and, later, vegetarian meals out of a broken down bus – a humble and heartfelt endeavor, in true Nica style.
In a country with a long tradition of Catholicism and Christianity, yoga was originally thought to be a religion among Nicaraguans. This mistaken belief slowed the growth of yoga, and is still an obstacle. Richard Moncada, a yoga teacher at Ananda, agrees that the Nicas “think yoga is in conflict with Catholicism and Christianity,” but counters that “Yoga is a lifestyle that involves a spiritual discipline and allows the individual to achieve a state of union between her mind, body and soul. Yoga means union.”
In the last two decades, neighboring Costa Rica has led the way as a yoga destination in Central America. Yoga in Nicaragua did not gain a foothold until several years after the expansion and promotion by the government of foreign and national investment in the mid 1990’s. Beginning about a decade ago, the growth of tourism and the influx of expatriates have stimulated an increase in the number of yoga studios, while ecotourism and personal growth vacations have popularized yoga retreats. Today there are yoga studios in all of the major cities and coastal resorts, and yoga retreat centers are being added on a regular basis.