Saturday, April 6, 2013

March Yoga Madness Leaves us Full and Laughing

The monkeys are quiet this week after spying on us (we wonder what they think of all those people in downward dog pose, the Kirtan chanting and southern drawl at the dinner table) throughout the month of March where we hosted one yoga retreat after another. Thank you Nora Byrne from Minnesota, Suzy Weyenberg from upper Wisconsin and our returning (for the third year in a row) instructor Erin Smith from Winchester Kentucky. Erin, you always bring such colorful, wonderful characters with you. This year we learned all about horse racing and training, the Kentucky Derby and how you self-reliant, down-home folks like to laugh and have fun! Massage Oil flowed with everyone enjoying  wellness services and not ONE complaint at this year's yoga retreat. We are so grateful for the Kentuckians' generosity. Our staff lives on a pretty meager salary, and your "propinas" (tips) meant the world to them. One employee has been waiting years to put in a cement floor over the dirt that now serves as her home's platform....thanks to all of you filling our place and the staff's pockets, she can now afford that floor. Things we take for granted in the good ol' U.S.A. are not so easily accomplished in developing countries. It's rewarding to be able to make a difference.

Speaking of helping, please remember that we assist the townspeople here through our AmaTierra Foundation . We helped 14 students attend school this year, outfitting them with uniform, shoes, backpack and notebook. Education is free and pretty good here in Costa Rica (this country has the most educated work force of all of Latin America) BUT some families cannot afford the uniforms, so they keep their children at home, which is tragic. With the school year beginning each year in February, we have spent our allotment and need to build up funds for next year. To donate to the Foundation, please call us (toll free from the U.S.) at 1-866-659-3805 or write to us at and we'll call YOU if you're in a different country. It's a great way to make a very direct difference in the lives of children and the community at large. The kids thank you!

The spring season has been a good one for AmaTierra, and it is not over! We're recharging our batteries to welcome Shata Ben-Avari from Florida, with her group of 12 yogis arriving April 13th. Of course we still have room for the single traveler who just wants to escape the rat race for a time. Sunny mornings and cloudy afternoons with a short shower is what you can expect in April and May. Lower seasonal rates for nightly stays or wellness/yoga packages begin in May also. See the web site for more.

Exhilaration at the Waterfall!
Our Customized Detox program is gaining popularity. Guests report increased energy and a wonderful feeling of well-being from eating our fresh organic produce right from the greenhouse, fresh squeezed juices and medicinal herbs made from plants that grow on AmaTierra's property. See more at
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Partners in Nora Byrne's group

Jill Ruttenberg, reg. herbalist AHG
 Owner, Wellness Director at AmaTierra

Monday, September 26, 2011

Healing the Emotional Self & Somatic (Body) Memory--It's all in the Belly!

Much of what we call healing can be accomplished by understanding a problem, using the right therapies, and changing our attitude, our thoughts, our habits and our lifestyles. But the emotional Self often dominates our whole energy field and healing this aspect can be the most difficult. How do we handle anger, grief, loneliness, anxiety, and fear? And how do these emotions really affect our health?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ system has a corresponding emotion. Liver disorders, for example, may be accompanied by anger and one could go as far as saying excess or unexpressed anger can cause liver problems. It doesn't really matter which comes first, and when we address the physical aspect through liver cleansing, eating fewer fatty foods or subduing rising liver fire with herbs or acupuncture, for example, a person generally becomes less angry. And contrarily, if we find ways to release the anger, the physical symptoms of liver imbalance may actually subside.

What I have been shown over and over again in my practice as an herbalist and massage therapist is that there truly is no separation between the emotional and physical bodies.
Our modern culture puts tremendous demands on us and gives us few tools to deal with the onslaught of stimulus to which our little bodies must react.We take it all in and don't know how to let it out!
As one of my teachers of the abdominal massage modality CHI NEI TSANG, Gilles Marin, explained:
Everything we encounter gives us an emotional charge, and some charges are easier to digest than others. The tougher ones stay in the belly and get held there until we make the time to unravel them.
It is no wonder that over 80% of North Americans take some sort of digestive medicine on a regular basis. We're all carrying a belly full of tangled, unexpressed emotional charges.

The Abdominal Chi Mover has become the most popular treatment here at AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Costa Rica. People come here to destress, to confront and change old patterns, and to get FREE of these pent up emotions. In our busy lives we need time to process and digest our feelings.
Here is one small exercise you can do to move the energy and the somatic memories that may be stuck in your belly.
1) Lay down on your back with your knees propped up
2) Put both hands on your belly and breathe deeply, feeling your breath rise and fall
3) Ask yourself: What am I feeling right now? Stay in your body, in your belly, and feel the answer. Try to stay out of your thinking mode, just be with your breath. Perhaps nothing comes up. That is ok too.
4) If you do feel an uncomfortable emotion rising in your belly (or anywhere else) try to go with the feeling of it. Treat it as just energy; don't judge it, fear it or repress it. You also don't need to trace it back to any kind of history or storyline. Just be with the emotion and breathe it out, let yourself cry, make sound or pound your fists, kick your feet if you like.
5) End with soothing thoughts and your hands once again on the belly. Perhaps a mantra such as "I am safe, all is well" will now help you regain your balance. Let yourself feel the freedom now that you have made space in your belly for true healing to happen. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh....

For further information about our emotions, the belly etc. I recommend a simple book by my main teacher of this work, Allison Post. The book is titled Unwinding the Belly, and you can find it on line at
Watch for Allison's new book to be released in electronic form soon!

Look for our Next blog: Exercises & Herbs for Resolving Anger & Frustration

Jill Ruttenberg is a registered AHG herbalist and the owner/wellness director at AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Turrubares, Costa Rica. To learn more about AmaTierra please visit

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Healing Spiral Part 2: Observations from an herbalist

We were talking in the last blog about how healing happens in a spiral rather than any kind of linear progression, and we left off with the question of what are the true healing influence? What really heals human beings?

Within each of us is the Power to heal ouselves, Whole books have been written on this subject (Andrew Weil, MD, Spontaneous Healing & Lewis Mehl Medrona Coyote Healing are 2 good ones), written from both a Spiritual and Medical perspective. But it seems if we are to truly heal a wound, a chronic illness, a deep emotional hurt, we must be willing to go IN there, and to ask the hard questions. One thing I ask myself, when I get injured or sick is, "Did I need a break?
Was I pushing too hard, doing too much and my body rebelled?" Another question might be, "How is this pain or illness or clinging to the past serving me?" Finding honest answers, and being willing to face those answers without judging oneself harshly can be tricky. Everyone experiences times in life when things just feel too hard to handle, and if we can focus on how sick we feel or how sad we are, we might decide to ignore the very things/people/solutions that might help us feel better. Could it be we are wanting to avoid responsibility for our lives? I know for myself this is a natural response when things feel too hard to handle.

If you find yourself in this state of mind, try to really SEE it and don't criticize yourself for falling into this attitude, but instead just KNOW: This is where I'm at right now. And trust that when you are ready (either you are tired of feeling bad or you've stayed long enough in that space) you will eventually get to asking yourself "How do I WANT to feel?" And you'll notice a little shift happening, pulling you back into the center of the Healing Spiral once again. Chances are you will also begin to attract tools to enhance your own body's ability to heal itself. Someone will recommend a certain herb, you'll decide to visit your acupuncturist, a friend will call and lift your Spirits or you'll suddenly decide to go outside and be in nature.

Did you know that being in nature, noticing a beautiful tree, butterfly or flower can instantly raise feel-good hormones? So can receiving a hug (don't be afraid to ASK for one! It will serve the other person well too!) I believe we humans not only have the power to heal ourselves, but we have a natural urge (call it survival?) to want to feel better. When you are in distress, ask yourself: What tiny shift can I make that will make me feel just a little bit better? Simple things may come to mind: a warm bath, a phone call to a friend, picking a flower, 20 minutes of meditation, reading a poem...Your inner wisdom will answer you, and you will be led by that ever-present healing force.

Next blog: Healing the Emotional Self & Somatic (Body) Memory--It's all in the Belly!
Jill Ruttenberg is a registered AHG herbalist and the owner/wellness director at AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Turrubares, Costa Rica. To learn more about AmaTierra please visit

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Healing Spiral: Observations on the Healing Process

During these last 20 some years as an herbalist and massage therapist I have noticed patterns that seem universal no matter what a person is healing from. Many people come to a wellness center such as AmaTierra to regain their energy and to heal from any number of things: a broken relationship, grief over loss, long-term stress and fatigue, chemotherapy, chronic health issues. And the one common misnomer I see is that people believe and expect that the healing process is a linear one…one that progresses from point A to point B and eventually to Z as though one is climbing a staircase.

“I should be over this by now!” many say, especially regarding emotional pain. And if the problem is physical (although I also now believe there can be no actual separation between the mental/emotional/physical body) people will say “The doctors say the procedure was a success, that I should have this (limp, pain, whatever).

The truth, as I see it, is that healing happens as a spiral, ultimately an upward one, and sometimes with dips. Imagine a spiral beginning at the bottom where the problem first manifested, and as the body/mind begins to understand, respond and use its innate healing power, together with helpful influences such as herbs, supplements, therapy, bodywork to put itself right, we progress more and more toward the Center, toward wholeness and good health. However, being a spiral, we generally return to the place of the original hurt (a song may bring back the grief, steep stairs re-injure the knee), but as the body has gained more wisdom, the pain is less acute. We recognize the return to woundedness and say “Ah, yes, you are part of me, but I have progressed. I feel different, more whole, more healed.

Why is it important to notice that healing happens in a spiral? One, to let ourselves off the hook and stop pulling on the leash, wrenching ourselves into rightness when we are not yet ready (“I should be over this…”). And if we accept that in order for true healing to occur the body must remind itself of the original injury then I believe we can become more conscious of our humanity, and more accepting of where we might be in the present moment.

Is there anything we can do to speed up the healing process? Actually, I think there are many things we can do, and I will save that for the next blog….

Jill Ruttenberg is a registered AHG herbalist and the
owner/wellness director at AmaTierra
Retreat & Wellness Center in Turrubares, Costa Rica.
To learn more about AmaTierra please visit

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yoga Expo Costa Rica 2011

This year, Costa Rica's annual Yoga Expo was a great success! Bringing together the Central Valley's yoga studios, retreat centers from the Pacific coasts, yoga-inspired clothing designers, alternative medicine professionals, delicious vegetarian and ethnic foods, jewelry designers and local artisans, the old Customs House in downtown San Jose hosted this wonderful yoga event in its unique brick and stained glass structure. 50+ vendor booths lined the inside of the building, coming together at the center stage, where we watched yoga clothing fashion shows, a belly dancing showcase, partner acro-yoga and a beautiful kirtan performance by Marianela of Yoga Lamat in Curridabat and drummer Carlos "Tapado" of Malpais and Editus fame. It was great to see Tapado in this intimate setting, and we were happy to reminisce about his private performance with Manuel Obregon at AmaTierra 2 years prior.

On Saturday, Krishna Das performed an incredible Kirtan show, and the turnout was amazing! The weekend featured yoga classes, spiritual workshops and guided meditations. Jill, Bob and Tara all attended the Yoga Expo on Sunday, sharing brochures with fellow yogis, tasting strange and delicious culinary concoctions, like sweet-potato ice cream (they also had beet and avocado!), molasses bliss balls, homemade pesto and Indian curry empanadas, trying on fun, flow-ey yoga clothes, and feeling a part of the Costa Rican yoga scene. After five years here in the yoga biz, it's been such a learning experience to get to know the local yoga culture, meet its pioneers and join in as part of the community. AmaTierra is a member of AsoYoga, Costa Rica's yoga association, and it was fun to mingle with the other members who had booths at the Expo, and who welcomed us with open arms. When we attend events like the Yoga Expo each year, we are reminded of what a special country we live in. The vibrancy of Costa Rican culture continues to impress us in all of its nuanced ways, and we are so proud to be a part of it for over five years now.

For more photos and video of the Kirtan and acro-yoga performances, visit our facebook page!!/amatierra

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Mayor of Turubarres - Hope for the Future!

A few weeks ago we attended the inauguration of the new mayor of Turubarres county: Alcalde Ingeniero Bolivar Monge Granados of the center-right political party Partido de Liberacion Nacional (PLN). The ceremony took place in the church of San Pablo, and all of the newly elected members of the Municipal government attended, presenting a number of inspiring speeches to the townspeople. Most notable of the speakers The President of the Municipality, Victor Mora, is a long-time friend of AmaTierra, and many of you may know him as the famous tour guide of Carara National Park. Over the past year that he has been President of the Municipality, we have worked with him to begin strengthening environmental action in Turubarres. Under his guidance, the municipality now collects trash around town with a truck once every 2 weeks, and we continue to pursue dialogue with them on how to incorporate a recycling program into the municipal waste management system. This has been a battle that the AmaTierra Foundation continues to fight, and we are hopeful that the new mayor will help support our efforts in establishing a sustainable long-term solution to waste management and recycling in Turubarres.

Last week, the new mayor (Bolivar Monge Granados), the President of the Municipality (Victor Mora), the First Vice Mayor, and the Second Vice Mayor (many of you know him as Beto, one of the drivers for AmaTierra) all joined us for dinner on the balcony, where we were able to discuss ideas for the recycling project. They were all on board to support a group of local women who aim to take on recycling as a private business with municipal support, creating a recycling center just outside of San Pablo, and committing to sorting the recycled trash from the central park. While this project moves forward, the AmaTierra Foundation has offered to support the women's salaries for the first three months while they get things up and running. From there, the recycling program will be up and running, with the municipality taking on the role as benefactor until the recycling itself can generate a sustainable income.

We are grateful for the reinvigorated support of the municipality, and look forward to helping this group of motivated women make recycling a realistic and sustainable project for Turubarres county and its residents.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Marietta Pucillo's Yoga Retreat at AmaTierra

Harley-riding Marietta Pucillo and her Milwaukee-based yoga students came to AmaTierra for an action- and adventure-packed 5-night yoga retreat, February 5-10, 2011. We were so amazed by their go-get 'em attitude, with daily double sessions of strenuous yoga taught by Marietta and Paige, plus excursions to the Adventure Park and Playa Jaco for the zip line canopy tour and kick-butt surf lessons. They were loving the food each night at dinner, and with good reason - this group had a jam-packed itinerary of yoga and Costa Rican adventure at its best, sure to work up a serious appetite!

Tara took one of Marietta's evening classes and came back saying "that was the gnarliest class I've ever taken!" Marietta's famous arm balances, martial arts-inspired vinyasas and extra-challenging binds were incredible, bringing the essence of "pretzel" back into the yoga experience. On Super Bowl Sunday, the football-loving yogis payed a visit to San Pablo's Coco Bongo bar to watch and celebrate the Green Bay victory, and from what we heard, it was a great party. Thanks for all of your energy, guys. We can't wait to have you back next time!