Beach Yoga at Dreams Tulum Highlights
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In January 2022, I treated myself to a week of resort living without my husband or children for a minimal fee as a guest beach yoga instructor at Dreams Tulum. The program is possibly one of the best kept secrets for certified yoga and fitness instructors who have the flexibility in their schedules and expendable income to pay the registration and travel expenses. Fit Bodies teaching vacations hook up exercise professionals with one week teaching stints at all-inclusive resorts in foreign locations in exchange for room, board, additional guest(s), and all the amenities provided to fully paying resort guests.
Researching & Booking
I booked my beach yoga teaching trip on the website for FitBodies, which has an arrangement with the AMR Collection–a hotel chain now owned by World of Hyatt–that hosts many of the teaching positions. Familiarizing myself with the functionalities of the Fit Bodies program, registration fees, age and other requirements, and the differences between the many dozens of resorts in the AMR collections was a daunting task that took months of research.
Ultimately, I chose Dreams Tulum, located on the Yucatan Peninsula, south of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. One adult guest, who would be sharing my hotel room with me, was included with my stay. Two children 12 younger could have come as well, but I chose to take this first teaching trip as a test run without my husband or kids. I invited my sister to join me, who had a true appreciation for Mexican culture and Mexico in general – she spoke some Spanish and had spent several months living and traveling around Mexico.
Livin’ the Dream: Teaching Beach Yoga in Tulum
After a direct flight from NYC to Cancun, I took a 90-minute taxi ride on Highway 307, the wide, flat route designed for heavy tourism traffic that ran south past the Cancun hotel strip. Upon arrival at the resort, I entered a cathedral-like, expansive lobby with massive glass doors on the far end facing the resort’s main promenade and open sky.
I was immediately awe-struck by the cleanliness and efficiency of the hotel staff – bustling busboys at the entrance, a line of concierge desks to the left, several spreads of loungy beige couches and daybeds clustered throughout the central area, and the lengthy check in desk on the right with several staff members poised and ready to serve.
This resort – large by AMR resort group standard with some 1,000 rooms but one of its older constructions – was clearly well-equipped and maintained. The check in process went smoothly. I had gotten tips from other fitness instructors via the FitBodies Facebook group to inquire about room upgrades, since guest teachers were often given the more basic and/or older “garden view” rooms. My sister and I quickly agreed to pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket for an ocean view suite.
Teaching Beach Yoga
The resort stretched in a rectangular fashion toward the ocean, with a grand main walkway lined with sculpted brush, blooming perennials, and bubbling fountains, surrounded by room blocks on the left and right sides. Once reaching the beachfront area, the pools, restaurants and entertainment plaza were situated to the left, forming the entire venue in an L shape.
The beach yoga classes took place next to the main beach seating area twice a day at 9:30 and 10:30 am, for 6 consecutive days, from Monday through Saturday. I had learned from prior teachers that the class format was completely flexible (the type of yoga and the level of the yoga flow), and the class length could vary from 30-60 minutes. I had been practicing yoga for 20 years with an additional dance background. But I had a “day job” in publishing with very little teaching experience. So I did wonder how the teaching experience would go (would anyone complain, have trouble following along, or walk out on the class?), and admit that I was slightly nervous about how this fantasy in the works for a good two years would play out in reality.
Beach Yoga: The First Day
The experience exceeded my minimal expectations beyond the possibilities. On the first day, several women in their late 20s to early 30s with European accents – British and German – showed up. I had planned to do a simplified flow class, which required some level of mobility and strength – ability to a forward fold, press hips up and back from plank to downward dog, hold asanas (positions) for a few breaths, and follow my queues (explanations) in English. But my flow did not by any means require prior experience doing yoga.
The plan went off without a hitch. The women followed my instructions and completed the class with enthusiasm. Afterward, they introduced themselves, and we chatted with ease. I received instantaneous positive feedback. They had either never done yoga before, or had taken a few classes, but didn’t necessarily know the names of the asanas, or how to memorize a flow.
The women attending, while not experienced in yoga, were fit and healthy – a baseline needed for teaching what resulted in an advanced-beginning level flow class. I was told that my beach yoga class was really fun, easy to follow, and just the right level for them to get a workout but not feel overwhelmed. The stunning scenery and brief meditation I threw in at the end during final resting pose culminated their overall positive experience.
Attendance at the 10:30 am class was much smaller – by 10:30, hotel guests had either left for day excursions or other activities. I received the same positive feedback after the later classes, but had either none, one to two students attend.
Teaching Beach Yoga for the Week
By day two, my 9:30 am class grew in size to 5-8 regulars – all single women from Europe, the U.S. and Mexico who had booked their stay for one week or more. I taught the same format – active vinyasa flow simplified by cutting out most of the downward dogs between the flows repeated on the right and left sides. I received thanks, compliments and words of gratitude throughout the week. The students and I talked easily both before and after class, asking each other questions about our personal lives back home, our professions, our experience with exercise and yoga, and travel plans.
The class location right in front of the hotel guest beach chairs lacked privacy, especially for women in workout clothes and bikinis. By the second day, we moved the beach yoga class to a secluded spot further down the beach next to a palm tree a few feet from the shore. It made for a magical setting facing the ocean with the chimes of the crashing waves as our soothing playlist.
Beach Yoga: Endings
By the end of the week, my rapport with the students was that of new friends, and I felt an unexpected pang of disappointment knowing that I would likely never see these ladies again – certainly not in the exact same setting at that exact same moment with the exact same group of people. It was a warming and fulfilling experience to share my passion for yoga with students who not only welcomed and appreciated me, but bonded with me in a meaningful way. I was truly sorry to conclude my teaching experience and say goodbye – a bittersweet ending in the best possible way.
Architecture and Landscaping
The resort grounds deserve their own special mention. The main promenade leading down to the beach evoked the grandeur of both Italian architectural greatness and orderly English landscaping, with engineered rows of pathways bordered by boxwoods and hibiscus and sprinkled with romanesque fountains.
The second, parallel, main walkway leading from the back end of the resort to the restaurant area and beach captured the beauty and festive charm of Spanish colonial influenced Mayan design. Massive date palms led to the food court, a tasteful replication of a Mayan village with hacienda-style buildings housing the restaurants, coffee shop and market. Building features included terra-cotta clay tile roofs, burnt-orange stucco walls, soft archways, and carved wooden doors.
A small rainforest was situated on the other end of this walkway, near the front entrance, lush with proud banana, leafy taro, bursting bougainvillea, and spiky agave plants. After sunset, ample lamps and ground-studded floodlights aligned the walkways, making for a gorgeous setting to stroll along the paths. My sister and I spent the evenings between dinner and the nighttime entertainment performances taking long walks surrounded by warm lights and nourishing greenery.
Unwinding & Dining
The restaurants at all of the AMR reports are plentiful, with 5-6 main dining establishments, several grills serving lunch and poolside snacks, and numerous bars offering drinks and refreshments both day and night. I will say that the quality of the food and restaurants themselves ranged from very good to excellent, even by the standards of someone used to top-quality New York City food.
Finding Vegan Food
A huge caveat must be said on behalf of vegetarians and vegans. While a number of items were marked vegan, the menus were bizarrely limited or lacking completely in beans, a staple of the Mexican diet. Learning the word frijoles (beans) and becoming comfortable saying it – for those who don’t speak Spanish – was an invaluable survival word. We asked for and were served frijoles at the Mexican restaurant and seaside lunch cafe. The Italian restaurant had white beans on the menu, and a soul-satisfying selection of pastas and vegan sauces. The Japanese restaurant was a bit of a bust for vegans, but my sister cajoled her way in Spanish to being served 6 orders of vegetable spring rolls and 2 orders of fried rice. We ordered soy milk – leche de soya–at the coffee shop a lot, a much-needed daily protein hit.
Of course, no vegan leaves home without protein bars and roasted beans–I snacked on my own vegan bites every day for lunch. On the topic of alcohol, there was no shortage of it at the bars and restaurants, nor was there a shortage of guests clearly there to enjoy their drink. My sister and I did not drink any alcohol, nor were we bothered by the happy but civil drinkers we came across.
The only aspect of my experience that was less than stellar was the quality of our room. Our “ocean view suite” was in fact a pint of a room with 2 twin beds, a dated bathroom with a sticky shower door that didn’t close properly, and a view of a lawn rather than the ocean. We were situated near the ocean within very close proximity to the restaurants and beach. We loved the convenient location. I didn’t mind being crammed into a small room with a sibling, but the cramped space would have been quite challenging if I had brought children with me.
Our room was situated literally right next to the nightime entertainment plaza, where music blasted late into each night. If I had been a full-paid guest, I would have demanded being moved to a quieter room. My ear plugs were arguably the most useful item I had backed for the week.
Entertainment, Pools & Beach
That said, the entertainment was exceptional, with performances by fire eaters, acrobats, dancers, and other talented staff. They performed late into the night daily at an exhaustive level of energy. My sister and I pontificated the degree of such demanding work, churning out death-defying stunts night after night for tourists. The fact that many of the guests were actually Mexican tourists somehow alleviated some of our concerns about the muck-raking nature of tourism, not just in Mexico but around the world.
Tourism is a much-need source of income for developing nations but can arguably create a culture of dependency by underpaid, overworked local staff. This fact did go unnoticed, but I came to appreciate my positive role in sharing my yoga practice to the guest experience.
As for the pools, the main family pool and adult-only pool were both very small. The adult pool appeared to be under construction, with sparse seating and no shade. The family pool had a pagoda with some shade, and limited space for lounge chairs. The seating areas on the beach were much more spacious, and comfortable with huts for shading, large lounge chairs, and extra large thick cotton beach towels that could be used to cover the seats.
Some guests had their hearts set on lounging poolside, most chose to chill at hang out areas on the beach with a refreshing breeze and lovely views of the ocean. The shore area at the resort was wrought with sargassum with only a small area roped off for swimming. For a stunning beach stroll, walk right past the seaside cafe along the shore for a good mile-long stretch of surprisingly undeveloped beachfront with areas of glistening, clear water.
Soon after teaching yoga at Dreams Tulum, I booked two additional yoga teaching trips. A year later, I booked a fourth trip. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of my adventures traveling around Mexico, the Caribbean and beyond teaching yoga for one-week stints. My unfettered enthusiasm for repeating them speaks volumes–for the meaningful process of teaching yoga, expanding my travel repertoire, and enriching my life experience by meeting people from all over the world.