It’s 9 a.m., and I’ve taken a shavasana pose on a bamboo mat at the bottom of a Mexican cenote. At least that’s what it feels like.
The Yoga Connection that’s about to begin is the kick-off to a five-day collaboration between new Ibiza-based experiential wellness company SUDA and Mélia Hotels. It’s taking place in the Reserve tower of the all-inclusive resort Paradisus Cancun, the building reserved for guests who crave a more luxe experience, where they can indulge with a private beach, pool, cabanas, lounge, and a dedicated restaurant—not to mention a personal butler to fill in the blanks.
Designed by architect Álvaro Sans, who brought an open-air feel and incorporated nature-influenced elements, the space most definitely feels like one of the underground rivers that are part of the Yucatan’s unique geological formations. Our mats are set up underneath huge round faceted skylights letting in the sun, while vines and other greenery trail the eight or so stories to the bottom, and water features meander under wooden walkways and through the all-day lounge and individualized check-in and check-out areas. The effect is stunningly beautiful—this is not the setting for your run-of-the-mill hotel activity. And that’s exactly the point.
While a yoga class held in, say, a hotel gym or fitness studio is functional, it lacks an organic connection with its setting, which could be part of the natural world or even a historical landmark or a place of cultural significance, SUDA CEO and co-founder Lighuen Desanto told me. These events aim to make the location an integral part of the experience, rather than merely a backdrop.
SUDA was founded in 2020 by Desanto, Flor Daneu, Nahuel Desanto, and Mariana Limeres, a group of artists, choreographers, creative directors, and movement trainers with 10 years of investigation of movement under their belts. When the pandemic put the entire world on pause, they used the time to retreat to Ibiza to create an original wellness concept.
Their core philosophy is “we move, then we exist”—a play on Descartes’ belief that “I think, therefore I am.” Lighuen explained to me that movement—to be born, to find food, to grow—is the primary action of survival and existence for all living things. But rather than just encompassing physicality, movement is also about evolving emotionally and overcoming mental blockages, stagnations and challenges. “We apply this philosophy so that our guests understand movement from an organic, necessary and functional place,” he said. “That they understand physical and mental movement as a tool for life in general.”
After Melia’s expert in luxury and lifestyle brand experience Cesar Alvarez saw SUDA’s potential for creating sophisticated, innovative mind/body offerings, the hotel group collaborated with them on events at two of their Spanish properties—Meliá Salinas in Lanzarote and Hacienda del Conde, a member of Meliá Collection in Tenerife. There, bootcamps were joined by an exclusive Signature Wellness Program. That followed with the Mind & Body Holistic Bootcamp Week – SUDA x Paradisus by Meliá, a week of immersive holistic experiences (they prefer that term to “class”) offered at Paradisus properties in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and San José del Cabo. The end goal is to incorporate SUDA into inspired wellness programming for guests at Paradisus resorts in Mexico.
“Ours is a very natural fit, there is a deep connection in our philosophy and vision,” explained Carmen Benitez, Melia Hotels marketing manager for Mexico. “SUDA invites us to ‘awaken your inner power’ and connects with our brand slogan ‘Embrace Your Nature.’” There is a double-entendre in that tagline, referring both to the resorts’ natural settings and an organic approach to being true to yourself.
I attended five experiences the week of my stay, and while each was a bit different, they all shared some similar elements. Mats were always set up in a circular formation—we were encouraged to draw energy from the rest of the group. Each session concluded with us donning wireless headphones for a seated meditation featuring ethereal music and soothing affirmation and directions from our instructor. Guests could leave the designer workout wear and sneakers at home—any comfy clothing sufficed, and we were invited to go barefoot.
The day after that faux-cenote-set yoga class taught by Daneu, we convened on a manicured lawn near the ocean at sunset for Primal Movement Training, a combination of boot camp, power and flow yoga, and guided relaxation led by Nahue. Lunges, planking, vinyasas, asanas, and lunges were followed by an instruction to close our eyes and use instinctive movement to act out like whatever animal we chose. It felt a tad self-conscious at first to stretch, repose and walk like a cat, but I gained a little more nerve after I peeked for a second and saw everyone else literally going with the flow.
The following morning it was off for Guided Meditation at Lemon Fish, the resort’s new Japanese restaurant located in the center of the main building where sushi is served at tables set in teak “cabins”. It was another gorgeous space, where Daneu sat in-the-round amid singing bowls and macrame-clad candles and during a practice of gentle yoga and mindfulness encouragingly reminded us “you are stronger than you think.” Indeed.
We convened on the beach later that day for Ecstatic Dance, during which we rubbed our palms together, then placed them in front of our hearts, faces and next to our neighbor’s palms to feel the heat and energy generated. In between downward dogs, cobra and child’s poses, we practiced learning how to fall down and get up with the least amount of effort—a bit more difficult than it sounds.
SUDA experiences are designed for those with a range of skill level and ability and beginners are welcome—even if you don’t know your Baddha Konasana from your Tadasana. But it does help to be somewhat physically fit. As I had just started a daily yoga practice a few months prior, I found them to be doable and a decent workout for my day (especially when lunging or a bit of cardio were involved.)
The name SUDA stems from the Spanish word “sudar,” meaning “to sweat”—a physical response whose purported therapeutic benefits range from detoxification, disease prevention and healthy weight maintenance to improving your mood and promoting more restful sleep. “We sweat what we no longer need, to let it go,” Lighuen told me. “So, it is something that is connected with the 360º mind and body training that our experience proposes.”
That concept of “letting go” was a mantra woven into the week. During the aforementioned Ecstatic Dance we were encouraged to “let go of whatever we don’t need,” whether it be a toxic relationship, unfulfilling job, or negative talk and self-doubt. At the time of my trip, I had been undergoing a personal transition, so I found this message to be liberating and validating.
In between our activities, I found plenty of ways to spend my days at the upscale resort–including ones that aligned with the wellness theme. Early mornings I often headed to the beach for solo sun salutations, guided meditations or walks by the surf. Because my room was located in The Reserve, my stay included several days at a comfy poolside cabana, where I journaled while sipping a breakfast smoothie (okay, it was a Pina Colada). One afternoon I escaped to Yhi Spa for an Oriental Twerk treatment, which combined the toxic-removing benefits of deep tissue massage with the full-body stretching that’s a hallmark of Thai massage. (My therapist was amazing and even did some massage on my jaw as requested to help with my stress-induced teeth grinding and clenching.)
Dining highlights included Santé, the beachfront Mediterranean restaurant that’s exclusive to guests of the Reserve, where I started the day with shakshuka and ordered beef tenderloin skewers and a perfect Greek salad for lunch. The snapper ceviche and coconut shrimp at Aqua Marina went well with a crisp glass of rosé and people watching by the main pool. And Lemon Fish served up super fresh nigiri from tuna to salmon skin, fun rolls like crab tempura and tuna with black garlic, mayo and black sesame, and skewers seared on the izakaya.
On our last afternoon we boarded a catamaran to Isla Mujeres for the final experience. Once on this quirky island, where golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation and the vibe is decidedly more laid-back than on Cancun, we spent an afternoon that combined Mayan culture with transformative wellness. On the southern tip of the island at Punta Sur we toured the ruins of the Temple Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, where Mayan girls used to be taken for a primer on their transformation to womanhood. It’s also the spot where the sun first rises in Mexico. But we were on the island for an experience that would conclude as the day ended.
On the sand at a beach club overlooking the rocky shore, we took to our mats one last time for a little bit of everything we had done all week along with some interactive group work in the middle of the circle. During that hour, we were all living out what Lighuen believes to be SUDA’s ultimate purpose: allowing ourselves to play, dance, jump, laugh, move without prejudice or self-consciousness, unblock emotions, breathe. And above all, be grateful to be alive to enjoy this practice of movement.
As we finished our practice, we were instructed to turn around to see the sun just dipping below the horizon. I recalled how the main objective for boot camp attendees was to undergo an experience of personal transformation, to find a balance between body and mind. Whether that means simply returning home to a less-stressed version of yourself, setting a goal to embark on a new career path, or ending a relationship that no longer serves you, the takeaway is the same: change is good.
Paradisus by Melia is already incorporating the SUDA experience at its Mexico properties, including yoga, guided meditation, functional training, acroyoga (at Paradisus Los Cabos) and Silk (at Paradisus Cancun). They are also considering other related additions to their immersive wellness program.