How my first yoga retreat changed my life

How my first yoga retreat changed my life

Hi. I’m Elena, and I’m the founder of Shakti Yoga Retreats.

I wrote this post because I wanted to share my personal story on how my first yoga retreat changed my life. It is such an important part of my spiritual path, and one of the reasons why I’m so grateful to now be a teacher facilitating retreats myself.

Now, if you had asked 27 year old me embarking on my very first yoga retreat and my very first trip outside of my country if I’d ever become a yoga teacher (let alone teach yoga retreats across the globe!) I would have probably thought that was very far fetched.

It was 2014. At this point I was working full time as a Massage Therapist and running my massage business that at this time was 5 years old. Between seeing clients and managing the growing team I didn’t take a lot of time for myself, but around this time the hard work was starting to finally pay off and I was able to reward myself a vacation. And it was long overdue. At the end of 2012 I ended a 7 1/2 year relationship and instead of pausing to process things I delved deeper into work like many people in the West do. I was about 40 pounds (20 kilos) heavier than I am now. I found it really challenging to take care of myself while also taking care of my clients and my business. I didn’t realize how unhappy and unconscious I had been while in that relationship for so long, which contributed to me making poor health choices. When the relationship began to crumble it was as if the spiritual path was always there waiting for me (and, of course it was!). I found myself drawn to a yoga studio near my house. The first time I took a yoga class was at an Ashtanga studio when I was 18. I was under the impression for years that it was just a physical practice like any other exercise program. I did it on and off over the years, but it wasn’t until I stepped foot into Karma Yoga Studio in Denver that I began to develop the understanding of what yoga really is and what it has to offer. I began going to classes every day, and found teachers that I really loved. My body began to feel stronger, healthier, and the pounds began to shed. I cried in many of their classes, releasing emotions stored in my body for who knows how long.

When my two favorite teachers announced a yoga and art retreat in Costa Rica, I knew in my heart I had to go. I love the arts; painting, writing, acting, music. It was being led by 2 amazing women; Katrina Gustafon who owns the studio, and Una Bella who is an incredible teacher and painter. We would not only be led through daily yoga classes, but we’d also get to learn painting techniques from Una. It sounded perfect, so I went and got my passport photos taken directly after class.

The daily yoga was wonderful, the food was delicious, Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful, and the resort in the jungle near to the beach was amazing. But, none of these things are what stick out to me when I think back on this experience.

How my first yoga retreat changed my life:

I met some people there that are some of my closest friends to this day. I met a woman named Lea Marlene who owns an acting/yoga studio in Denver which I would end up enrolling in. Again, art and yoga combined has my heart! This was a life changing encounter for me, and one that allowed me to explore my passion for acting again which I had not given attention to for years.

Una, myself, Erika, and Lea in Costa Rica, 2014


While the new friendships were amazing, what was most life changing was that I met myself. It was during one of the days we were working on our painting project. I was in the middle of painting a yellow rose and chatting with a few people. For some reason we were talking about names. At this time, I was Nicole. I had always been Nicole. I shared that I’d actually always wanted to be Elena, my middle name. Una said, “so why don’t you be Elena?”. No, I can’t. I’m too old to change my name. How is that possible?

What I began to realize that day and what you learn when you really practice yoga (not just the asana, but the way of life that is yoga) is that we have so many limiting beliefs!

Me and my finished painting from the retreat


I looked down at the yellow rose I was painting and said “Elena Rose has a nice ring to it”. From that day forward I became Elena Rose Davis.

Along with my name, I began the journey of letting go of limiting beliefs about myself, and awakened to my infinite potential. In the 4 years since that retreat much has changed. I retired from massaging professionally, graduated a 2 year acting program at Lea’s studio, starred in a couple of Indie feature films, traveled the world exploring 8 countries, took 2 teacher trainings in India, taught yoga internationally, and I’ve also had my fair share of struggles along the way like we all do. It hasn’t always been yellow roses. But, every time I was faced with a challenge in my life I turned to the practice to cope. In fact, I took my first yoga teacher training with no intention of teaching.  To be completely honest, at that time my heart was aching and I was fed up with blaming other people and wanted to learn how to take responsibility for my own happiness! So, I enrolled myself in Sattva Yoga Academy in India with the burning desire to liberate myself. 

When I began teaching I experienced so much joy sharing the techniques with others that are so beneficial to me. By changing ourselves for the better we can spread that goodness to others, and collectively we can heal the whole planet!

2014 in Costa Rica at my first yoga retreat on the left and 2018 at my 2nd teacher training in India. I’m beautiful in both bodies, but I’m more empowered in the most recent photo. To me, the weight shed represents a shedding of layers that were covering the real me.


By taking time for myself that one week in Costa Rica many seeds were planted that would blossom in the years after the retreat. Indeed I left a changed woman and the transformations have continued. “Enlightenment is the beginning, not the end” as my Guru says. I truly feel like everything thats ever happened whether I labeled it “good” or “bad” at the time has been divinely orchestrated for my evolution. I’m devoted to unraveling conditioning from childhood and society and stepping into my authentic power, being a force of love and light in this world and remembering who all of us really are; Souls in human form. 

Love and Light,
Devi Elena Rose
Shakti Ma & Sattva Yoga Teacher

Join a Shakti Yoga Retreat with me! Click here to learn about the one I have coming up this June in Bali!

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