Avani Gilbert

 Photo Credit: © Lucas Iturriza

Photo Credit: ©Lucas Iturriza

Avani and I have known each other since we were in nursery school, that's a long time. We've gone through the joy of childhood, the roller coaster of our teenage years, and the beauty of growing into women, business owners, and for Avani, motherhood.    

Nine years ago Avani moved to the small Caribbean surf town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, where she opened her yoga studio OM.  She put her heart and soul into growing OM and little by little grow it did.  From the cement floor of the Playa Cocles location to OM's new home at Cashew Hill, Avani has stayed true to her passion of providing a place for the community to come together through the practice of yoga.  

Oh, but she didn't stop there!  Avani founded Caribe Yoga Academy in 2014 and OM is now a full-fledged retreat and training center.  Offering 200hr Yoga Teacher Trainings (immersion and non-immersion), retreats, and a variety of workshops with teachers from around the world.  

Watching my best friend live out her Dharma and continue to build the yoga community in Puerto Viejo often brings me to tears - like now for example.  I am overwhelmed with joy when I look at how much she has created.  From sharing her many gifts with the community to bringing her son Rio into the world.  Avani will never stop amazing me and I am honored to have her as a friend, mentor, and sister.  

Love you Girl!!! xoxoxoxo

WF: How do you define Dharma?

Avani: Dharma for me means “sacred duty”.  What’s confusing sometimes is that our sacred duty is not always rainbows and butterflies.  Oftentimes we have to get into the nitty gritty and really be reminded of our direction through tough lessons.  I love how Stephen Cope sums up the lessons from the Bhagavad Gita on Dharma.  He asks the question “How do we discern our dharma?  How do we discover the magnificent inner blueprint?” In his writings The Great Work of Your Life the message is to find out who you are and then “do it on purpose.”  I love that. This is reflective of the constant cycle of adventure, discovery and then application.  We are perpetually students of the Self and (hopefully) learning time and time again how to listen more deeply in order to realign in new ways with our unique sacred duty.  In those moments when everything just “clicks” then we’re in it!  But, I believe, that those moments when NOTHING clicks are of equal, or perhaps even greater value in propelling us forward to our true calling.  

WF: At what point did you realize that yoga was and is your life’s work?

Avani: It’s so funny to think about this, but when I was in high school (in a time where yoga was very uncool) I developed an interest in Yoga although nobody else around me was doing it.  I honestly cannot even remember where in the world I would have heard of it!  I started with this amazing book from the 80’s : Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan .  There was this lady in a one piece head-to-toe pink leotard.  I would retreat to my room and every day I would do the scheduled routine.  By college I had moved to a daily VHS routine and eventually Shiva Rea DVDs, there weren’t even really classes in my area that were offered.  I remember hiding in my college dorm room with Hittleman’s book and clearing space for my routine and then being embarrassed if my roommate came in to see me doing yoga. I remember taking a class at the local YMCA with my girlfriends and we giggled all the way through it.  After this I transitioned to a vegetarian lifestyle and always held an interest in spiritual studies and esoteric explorations. I was always drawn to the magic of it, the idea of us all being connected was something incredible I had never been told before.  Really?  There is something Divine within ME?  And within EVERYONE!! Oh, and the way I felt in my body.  I was able to sleep at night when in high school my busy mind often led to insomnia.  I wanted to collect crystals and consult oracle cards.  I began massage school after college and started to see that not only did my yoga practice enhance my work as a massage therapist but also...yoga made ALL of my life practices...BETTER!  It was like a magic pill that nobody was talking about.  I guess it sort of just trickled into my life and now I’m paddling around gleefully in the flood of it!  Just talking about Yoga makes me giddy.  I’m still exploring ways in which this lifestyle continues to become my life’s work.  I struggle to call Yoga work, because it sort of seems that I just made a decision of how I want to live my life.  And people seem to dig it so I feel supported by that.  I definitely don’t hide Yoga from my roommates or the world around me anymore...

 Photo Credit: ©Matthew Bottrell

Photo Credit: ©Matthew Bottrell

WF: What were the challenges of opening OM?

Avani: Originally the concept behind OM was that it was to be a spa with Yoga offered as an additional perk.  Seeing that this was NOT the way it was going down was one of my first Dharmic bumps.  People just demanded more yoga.  Three times a week wasn’t enough!  I was running around like a crazy person all over the community doing 14+ classes a week within my first year of opening.  I showed up time and time again to zero students, two students, one.  I flyered the country, I made posters.  Massages weren’t coming in.  I questioned whether or not I could afford to live another year, another month without the income of bodywork.  I got sticky about my income.  I worried.  I brought in help.  I rolled with the punches.  All of these messages encouraged me to open up OM as a 7 days a week Yoga Studio.  At that time (2007) a Yoga Studio did not exist in Puerto Viejo.  I showed up rain or shine (or hurricane) to guide my classes.  Empty or full, I was there ready to teach and ready to practice.  It was discouraging being in survival mode in the low seasons, but having just four or five students in a class that connected with the practice was enough for me to feel the unbelievable high of “oh yeah, THIS is who I am and I’m doing it on purpose!”  I just kept going when on so many days it would’ve been so much easier to pack up and call it quits.  Throw into the mix that all of this was happening in my adopted (developing) country and in my second language and you might imagine the resilience challenges that were presented!  Efficiency is not Costa Rica’s strong suit...and that is ALWAYS a challenge in any business.

WF: Was there ever a point when you wanted to say “Fuck It,” and throw your hands up?  If so, how did you keep going?

Avani: Ha ha!  I love this question, great question!  And honestly, more times than I can count! Having even a brief moment of “ah ha!” always helps me to continue on.  That can be anything from a really great turnout for an event, kind feedback on a class or bodywork session, a good cup of tea with a friend.  Seeing the way that people show up is a reminder that I am being supported by Spirit.  But above all else, YOGA keeps me going.  Over and over and over, I just go back to Yoga.  Getting on the mat is like wiping the fog off the mirror so I can see back into my Self again.

 Photo Credit: © Lucas Iturriza

Photo Credit: ©Lucas Iturriza

WF: Why move to and start your business in Costa Rica? 

Avani: Costa Rica is “pura vida”.  You hear this all day everyday here.  The direct translation means:  pure life.  It is used here to say hello, goodbye, what’s up, thank you or I agree.  There’s hardly a moment when it’s not appropriate to use.  I feel like this is such a statement on the lifestyle here.  It’s pure.  We get outside.  We eat real food that we grow.  We pause to watch the sunsets.  Our children get dirty.  We breathe fresh air and live in peaceful relationship with the diverse nature around us.  I’m grateful everyday for the gifts and the challenges that Costa Rica continuously offers me. It’s a pura vida!


WF: What have you learned over the years as a business owner that has helped in your personal life?

Avani: Boundaries!  And the importance of saying a firm and clear “NO”.  The concept of pleasing everyone is an impossible goal.  And furthermore in business, EVERYONE has an idea of how you could do things better, expand, build, improve in some way. Very few people have constructive laid out plans or want to hand over the funds needed so you can follow through with their brilliant idea (that costs thousands of dollars!).  Everyone is an expert.  I used to find myself feeling like I wasn’t doing enough.  I mean, so many people had all of these brilliant ideas and I didn’t have the money for that investment or the time for that commitment or the desire for that project.  My plan was in place, I always have my goals and my visions.  Other people often see something different because they are viewing it through the lens of their personal life experience and goals.  And then I worked hard to make peace with Dharma a bit more.  I remembered that my sacred duties are unique.  I also remembered that not everyone will understand what is MY path...and not everyone will agree with my choices or be invested in the projects that I create in the same way.  In order to keep charging forward I would need to slough off the energies that didn’t serve my higher goals.  I needed to stop listening to the naysayers.  I needed to stop trying to help every single person that I met and focus on the projects that speak directly to MY heart.  I’ve learned to align more deeply with my JOY and not by JOB.  And that has yet to misdirect me.  

In my personal life this concept of boundaries and saying no in a clear way has translated hugely.  I find that people appreciate it more when “no” can be said with love and clarity. What it means is that when I say YES, I mean it, it is true and real and enthusiastic. People can believe in what I say and can believe in me.  It is one of the most empowering lessons I’ve had. Now I just love “no”!  I use it all the time ;)

 Photo Credit: © Lucas Iturriza

WF: You became a mother last year, has that changed your perspective on your work? 

Avani: Incredibly!  Rio is the future.  Everyday I consider what we’re building in this new collaboration between OM and Cashew Hill.  Are these ideas and concepts and projects that will help send a message to our children, our future, of sustainability, cooperation, love, healthy living, community?  Are the people we surround ourselves with teaching him to be a human who will impact?  OM was always my baby before, and now I consider how OM can help teach Rio baby to stand within his own power, live courageously within his dharma and work for humanity.  I’m blown away everyday by the teachers that surround us and the loving people who are part of our lives through the community of OM and Cashew Hill.  His first food was spinach out of the on-site garden project.  He was doing yoga with me in the womb until 38 weeks and then at a month old we started to get on the mat together again.  He hears anywhere from 2 to 4 languages daily.  He sees all colors, cultures, genders.  He knows love.  

My work now is in dedication to his future.  Fully and enthusiastically.  His life is an adventure.  I learn from him everyday.  He is my greatest teacher!

WF: What is the most rewarding part of motherhood?

Avani: I would say the most rewarding part of motherhood is also the most challenging:  the constant drive to push through my own junk and move beyond my own (self-imposed) limitations.  Motherhood is the deepest yoga practice I’ve ever participated in.  I have to constantly re-evaluate my choices.  My schedule revolves around Rio.  Every moment of my life is a practice in patience.  As adults we’re so good at moving through the motions when we feel uninspired.  We can half-ass it with the best of ‘em!  Having a child does not allow you to be anything but full-on all the time.  Now I have to ask for help.  I have to evaluate my responses and my relationships.  I have to watch my words and my actions.  I have to balance better, I have to juggle a new set of priorities.  I have a new reason to wake up every day and be the best human I can possibly be...it’s not just for me anymore.  It’s the most selfless thing I’ve ever participated in...and it’s challenging.  Motherhood can make you feel somewhat invisible at times.  It’s constant learning, breathing and BEING PRESENT.  I’m blessed with a partner who has the patience of a Saint...I can depend on him when Momma needs to slip out to the other room and take five rounds of breath...or ten.  

WF: What mantra are you currently working with?

Avani: Ohhhh!  So many, I love mantra!  But today I’ve had in my head all day a song to Kali: Kali Durge Namo Namaha.  I love Durga, who is a true force and momma as it is.  And I absolutely adore her in her Kali form.  She is so empowered and fierce and strong...but she is also the picture of motherly love.  She is everything I want to be! She is fierce only in the name of needed change.  She cuts away the bullshit so we can rise up higher!  And she is also the protector.  And she loves to dance!  Who wouldn’t want Kali as a friend?  I want to be a Kali type momma! Fierce love.  That’s what I want to give, what I want to receive and what I want to be.  So I’m calling in Kali with my song at the moment!

WF: What are you most excited about right now?

Avani: LIFE!  Ha ha!  So many projects!  A temazcal is being built in the healing valley here at Cashew Hill.  We are moving in the direction of true sacred, ceremonial practices and schooling. Retreats and trainings are flooding in.  It is so exciting to me!  I love all things yoga, but for me the real juiciness is to be able to present it as the lifestyle that it is; full commitment to the Self, a holistic way of living and recognizing all layers. I want to share yoga + clarity breathwork + energy practices + ceremony + health from the inside out.  This is what is happening.  It’s happening through so many avenues that it is hard to choose just one.  But I guess sprinkled on top of all of this is that I am in awe that Rio gets to be raised surrounded by these guides and practices.  So ecstatic and so grateful!   

 Photo Credit: Hannah McGee

Photo Credit: Hannah McGee

For additional information on retreats, workshops, and classes visit: OM at Cashew Hill. 

Upcoming Trainings with Caribe Yoga Academy...

  • July 23 - August 16, 2017, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
  • November 17 - December 8, 2017, Sarasota, FL
  • March 4 - March 27, 2018, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
  • July 22 - August 15, 2018, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

To learn more or sign up visit: Caribe Yoga Academy.

Instagram: @avaniomyoga   @caribeyogaacademy   @omatcashewhill