The first annual India Fest was a raving success last week at the Wyndham Herradura Hotel, but where else is Indian culture visible in Costa Rica?

1. Yoga

When Swami Vivekananda left India in 1893, he was well aware of yoga’s potential in the Americas: “In America is the place, the people, the opportunity for everything new.” Later yogis made the trip both to and from India and the Western world, anxious to share their wisdom with any who would listen.

Yoga began to blossom in Costa Rica around the early 1970s, and little by little has grown to one of the biggest national attractions for tourists and locals alike. In fact, nearly 3,000 practitioners gathered last April at the VII National Festival of Yoga in San Jose.

DoYouYoga’s Aaron Star is convinced that Costa Rica is the place to do yoga. In the article, “3 Reasons Costa Rica is Perfect for Yoga Teacher Training,” he draws upon three yogic principles — Ahimsa, Santosha and Pranayama — to make his case.

  • Ahimsa or “nonviolence” because Costa Rica abolished their army nearly 70 years ago.
  • Santosha or “contentment” because the country’s pura vida lifestyle has earned it several years on the top of the Happy Planet Index.
  • Pranayama or “breath practice” because of the nation’s air quality and dedication to clean energy.

What’s more is that yoga has continued to evolve here in Costa Rica. Last week’s India Fest included class on Yoga Danza, a fluid form of yoga that incorporates contemporary dance developed by Ave Shanti Academy’s Andrea Vargas Escalante.

2. Dance

Vargas is also responsible for introducing Costa Rica to Classical Indian Dance. As a professional dancer in Odissi, Kathak, Bollywood as well as Contemporary styles, Vargas’s passion led her to develop the Ave Shanti Academy of Dance. Students and teachers of this academy were made into beloved stars during India Fest with expositions occurring all throughout the day.

3. Ayurvedic Medicine

India Fest’s keynote speaker, Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar came on stage with his wife, Dr. Manisha Kshirsagar, and offered a fascinating comparison between India’s Ayurveda and Costa Rica’s Indigenous Shamanism. Both traditions look at a person holistically as an entity of mind, body and spirit. Any healing for the sake of an ailment in one sphere must also attend to the others in order to be successful.

Literally, Ayurveda means the “science of life” and encompasses a wide range of wellness techniques for promoting natural health. A special emphasis is given to preventative care as Ayurveda empowers everyone to take responsibility for their own well being —  a start contrast to Western medicine which treats symptoms as they come, often with pills and artificial chemicals.

[quote_center]Dr. Andrea Borbon, a licensed M.D. in Costa Rica and student of Ayurveda, calls the ancient practice the “medicine of the future.” [/quote_center]

One needs only to walk a couple blocks down a Costa Rican street to see the plentiful macrobioticas indicating a strong interest in alternative healthcare. History repeats itself, and perhaps this time for the better.

4. Food

The importance of Indian Food being present in Costa Rica goes further than being able to grab some naan for dinner at the restaurant on the corner. Several green markets such as the famous Feria Verde in San Jose have picked up producers of Indian foods.

Perhaps the most popular of these foods is a butter-like substance called ghee (seen on bread in the background of the image above). Like traditional butter, ghee is derived from cow’s milk but has gone through an additional clarification process which naturally removes milk solids and lactose. What remains is a vitamin- and antioxidant-rich alternative known by some as “Ayurvedic gold.” Moreover, it has a higher smoke point and stronger flavor than butter so less can be used.

Thankfully, switching to ghee won’t break the bank either. The Costa Rican company Natural Farm Products offers a small jar for just ₡3,000. Considering one tablespoon of ghee is equivalent to two tablespoons of a store-bought butter or margarine when used in a recipe, the prices are nearly equivalent.

5. Aromatherapy

While aromatherapy has developed into many shapes and sizes, the naturalistic principle behind it has old roots. Ancient texts make reference to flowers, herbs and oils being used for therapeutic purposes all over the world. Such texts include those of the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and of course Indians.

The Hindu Scriptures known as the Vedas makes reference to over 700 aromatic substances including ginger, myrrh, cinnamon and sandalwood.

  • Ginger — relieves indigestion and nausea; protects antioxidants; creates a sense of equilibrium
  • Myrrh — powerful cleansing properties (especially for mouth and throat); promotes youthful complexion; supports emotional balance and well-being
  • Cinnamon — great for massage; maintains a healthy immune system; naturally repels insects; boosts the metabolism
  • Sandalwood — reduces the appearance of skin imperfections; enhances mood; gives hair a silky shine; good for relaxation

Both incense and candles have long been staples in yoga studios and homes, but studies have shown that repetitive exposure to the smoke produced by these aromatherapy methods can be bad for respiratory health. Many are now switching to essential oils as a healthier alternative, but it should be mentioned that not all essential oils found on the market are necessarily safe. Additives used to artificially increase scents or preserve the oils can be harmful when inhaled or used on skin.

For more information on aromatherapy and/or a free consultation, contact [email protected] or message via WhatsApp at 8915-5860.

6. Chanting & Mantras

In the words of Devaya Bari Sue Levin, founder of Devaya Yoga™:

[quote_center]“Mantra is power; it is the science of sacred sound.”[/quote_center]

Indian mantras are chants discovered by ancient gurus to have the special power of awakening specific energies in and around us. There are mantras for chakra activation, for world peace, for worship, for healing and much more. Chanting mantras is a part of yogic practice, but has also become a hot research topic for neuroscientists in recent years.

While some scientists have posited that certain sounds have a physio-psychological effect on the body due to memories and learned associations, neuroscience specialist and certified yoga teacher Gabriel Axel explains:

[quote_box_center]What is fascinating about mantras is that from a physics standpoint, the sounds themselves, before they are assigned meaning, will resonate in different parts of the body and mind, creating actual interactions or events.[/quote_box_center]

Indian mantras have developed into a popular musical genre among yoga enthusiasts in Costa Rica, and numerous yoga studios have begun reintroducing chanting as a regular part of their classes.

7. Mehndi Henna

Most people have come across a henna stand on the beach or at a fair, but few have stopped to learn the rich history behind these temporary tattoos. Truth be told, the art of henna (known as mehndi in Hindi) goes back over 5,000 years in India, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East. Some sources even claim there is evidence of henna tattooing as early as 9,000 years ago.

The earliest use of henna was as a cooling paste to relieve the intense heat of these regions. Ayurveda also makes use of the plant as a treatment for headaches, muscular pain, bruises, eczema and other skin conditions. Contemporary science has observed the plant’s astringent, anti-hemorrhagic, hypotensive and sedative properties as well.

Historically, henna became a decorative tool uniting in part the rich upper class with the poorer groups who could not afford jewelry. It has since become a staple in many eastern weddings and even has transformed into a way to adorn the heads of those going through chemotherapy. That same paste can be prepared as a natural hair dye as well.

How do you embrace Indian Culture here in Costa Rica? Share in the comments below.