Oaxaca City Mexico - 5 Spots You Don't Want to Miss

Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City

I first fell in love with Mexico a few years back, long before I ever stepped foot in Oaxaca. It all began on the soft sand of Sayulita alongside it’s charming streets and picturesque shops. Then Tulum took things to the next level last summer, while swimming through a cave in a crystal-clear cenote, and discovering a small island with a single tree growing inside. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find myself swooning over Mexico’s unique beauty once again, but that’s exactly what happened within moments of arriving in Oaxaca City.

Although my trip here lasted only a few days (I could have easily stayed much longer,) it was packed with incredible sights and experiences. I’ve put together a list of my favorites, as well as a few of Oaxaca’s must-see spots. One thing I can say with certainty, is that this beautiful part of Mexico holds no shortage of memorable places to discover and explore.

1. Indoor & Outdoor Markets

Mercado Benito Juarez

Mercado Benito Juarez

Oaxaca has a wide variety of markets, each with it’s own unique vibe, that wonderfully represent the local culture and traditional foods. Mercado Benito Juarez (named after one of Mexico's most beloved leaders), is a popular indoor market located one block south of the city's main plaza. Inside is a maze of booths offering everything from the freshest produce to colorful clothing and beautiful handcrafted objects. The Mercado 20 de Noviembre is another notable market just two blocks further, and is best known for its vast selection of small restaurants, bakeries, and specialty food stalls. The Central de Abastos is Oaxaca’s largest market - with over 2000 stands spread over 810 acres! - and sells the widest array of goods in the entire state. It’s said that if you can’t find something in the Abastos market, you most likely won’t be able to find it in all of Oaxaca. One word of warning though - because this massive market is so crowded, it’s been known to have pickpockets. Make sure to take a few extra safety precautions before heading there (such as removing visible jewelry, putting your smartphone and wallet safely away, and not carrying anything too valuable with you).

2. Walking Tour of Oaxaca

Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City

If this is your first time in Oaxaca City, one great way to familiarize yourself with the area is with a walking tour. There are a few free options offered by local tour companies and some hotels (the guides are knowledgeable and tipping them is expected), but if you’re willing to shell out a few extra pesos, you can book a specialized tour (such as a food or history oriented one) for a more unique city experience.

3. Hierve el Agua

Also known as The Petrified Waterfalls, Hierve El Agua is a must-see for anyone visiting Oaxaca. It’s a short drive from the city, but this special spot is well worth the trip and is relatively easy to get to (there are tour buses that go daily, or you can rent a private taxi). Once there you can hike to either of the two ‘waterfalls’ (i.e. natural mineral formations resemble cascading water), or enjoy a refreshing dip in one of the pools set among the beautiful mountain views. There are changing rooms and snack stands in the area, which make staying and relaxing here easy, but take note that it can get pretty crowded throughout the day, especially on weekends.

Spring Pool at Hierve el Agua

Spring Pool at Hierve el Agua

Petrified Waterfall at Hierve El Agua

Petrified Waterfall at Hierve El Agua

4. Monte Albán

This UNESCO World Heritage is said to be the most important archaeological site in the Valley of Oaxaca.  The impressive remains found at Monte Albán include terraces, pyramids, underground passageways, and canals, and tombs. The site extends over four miles and and dates back to as early as the 1st Century. Getting there requires a short drive from Oaxaca City, but is very accessible either by one of the many local tour buses, or with a private taxi.

5. Ethnobotanical  Garden

Ethnobotanical Garden in Oaxaca City

Ethnobotanical Garden in Oaxaca City

The Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca Oaxaca City is an Ethnobotanical Garden in Oaxaca City designed by famed Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo. The public garden sits on 2.32 acres of a former sixteenth-century monastery, and has hundreds of flora all native to Oaxaca. Visits to the garden are allowed by guided tours only and require a small entrance fee. English tours are offered 3 days a week (and are two hours long), while Spanish tours run daily from Monday through Saturday (and are one hour long).

Photo Editing Apps - My Three Favorites and How I Use Them

So you finally got your boyfriend to snap a picture of you balancing in Bakasana, or maybe you had to bribe your daughter to photo-document that newfound Natarajasana… but now what? How do you take that pretty yoga pic and make it pop a little more before sharing it with your friends on Insta? Having to edit my own yoga pics for the last few years means I picked up a thing or two about doing just that. Below are a few of my favorite photo-editing apps to help bring your photos from Blah to Ahhh! in a matter of minutes.

Snapseed – This is, hands-down, the app I most often use for editing my photos.   After importing a picture, I start out by selecting the ‘Tune Image’ feature. This is where I play around with the Brightness, Contrast, Ambiance, Highlights, and Shadows to see what looks best. Because every photo is unique, the way I adjust these settings always varies from image to image. If I want a darker, more mysterious look I might use the Vignette tool, and if ‘light & airy’ is what I’m after I’ll probably increase the Highlights a little more. Another feature I like to use is the ‘Details’ tool where I can sharpen or soften a photo depending on its mood. Snapseed offers so many editing options and is quite a powerful little app, so spend some time experimenting with it to see what style and look you like best.

Snapseed: Tune Image

Snapseed: Tune Image

Snapseed

Snapseed

VSCO – There’s good reason why this app has been around for so many years and still remains popular with creatives. With VSCO’s expansive selection of filters and artsy vibe, it’s long been a go-to for myself and many others. There are a few presets I tend to favor (like ‘A6’), but I always lower the intensity (usually to about 30%). I also tweak the ‘White Balance’ & ‘Skin Tone’ settings, where I might add some warmth to an image, or perhaps take some redness out of my skin (if I’m resembling the tone of a tomato).

VSCO

VSCO

VSCO

VSCO

Afterlight - Dusty Overlays

Afterlight - Dusty Overlays

Afterlight – Admittedly I don’t use this app nearly use much as the previous two, but it can come in handy with a photo that needs a little something extra. Afterlight has a nice number of built-in filters, but the features I like best are their overlays, ‘Dusty’ and ‘Light Leaks’. Dusty, which includes more than 10 options, is perfect if you want to add scratches or grain to your photo for a vintage vibe. Light Leaks, which has over 30 adjustable overlays to choose from, is great for achieving that sought-after retro look. I never use both at the same time, and I generally lower the intensity of the overlay to about 50%, which gives the image a nice subtle-kick.

One final word of advice: the key here isn’t to mimic anyone else’s style, but to find your own. That’s the beauty of creativity - we each have a unique viewpoint to share. Experiment with your images and editing, play around with different perspectives and proportions, but ultimately find a style that best represents YOU.

PS. If any of these editing tips helped you, tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #yogawithriva so I can see the final result!

Tis the Season... for Tissues, Hot Tea, and De-Congesting Yoga Poses

Ahhh December… the sparkly lights are all up, the holidays are just around the corner, and cold season is in full swing. For most of us, coming down with the common cold is a nuisance that doesn’t really cause a major disruption to our daily routine. Even so, its symptoms can certainly take a toll on our body, leaving us feeling achy, congested, and more tired than usual. The following 5 yoga poses are the perfect mini-sequence to help open your chest, clear your sinuses, and provide some much-needed relief:

1. Supported Downward Facing Dog (using 2 blocks)

Adho Mukha Svanasana is a mild inversion that aids circulation. It opens the chest and airways, which allows the sinuses to drain. The yoga blocks used in this variation provide support to the head & neck, creating a more restorative sensation in the posture.

Supported Downward Facing Dog

Supported Downward Facing Dog

1. Come onto all fours with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees.  Place 2 blocks stacked directly under your belly, with the bottom block on its lowest height, and the top block set to its highest height.

2. Tuck your toes, shift your hips back, and straighten your legs, coming into Downward Facing Dog. The blocks should end up directly under your forehead. Lower your forehead down onto the top block and allow it to rest there.

3. Hold for five to ten breaths, then lower down to release.

2. Supported Forward Fold (using 2 blocks)

Uttanasana reduces stress and relieves tension in the spine, neck, and back. It allows for fresh direct blood-flow to the head, helps to clear out blockages, and is considered therapeutic for sinusitis. The yoga blocks used in this variation provide support to the head & neck, creating a more restorative sensation in the posture.

1. Begin standing with your hands on your hips.  Place two blocks directly in front of you, one stacked on top of the other, both at their tallest height.

Supported Forward Fold

Supported Forward Fold

2. Exhale and lengthen the front of your torso as you bend forward at the hips. Press your heels down toward the floor as you reach your sit bones upward. Spin the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Don't lock your knees.  

3.  Gently lower your forehead to rest on the top block. With each inhale lift and lengthen your torso.

4.  Hold the pose for 10 breaths.  To exit, bend your knees, place your hands on your hips, and return to standing.

3. Plow Pose

Halasana is a calming stretch that can aid in sleep, which is often affected by a cold. It can provide relief for both sinusitis and headaches.

1. Begin lying on your back, with legs extended, arms down at your side.  Palms should be flat on the ground.

Plow Pose

Plow Pose

2. Inhale and use your core muscles to lift your legs and hips up toward the ceiling.  Align your torso so that it’s perpendicular to the floor.

3.  Slowly lower your legs and feet over your head and down toward the floor.   There should be little or no weight on the lower neck.  Keep a slight bend in the knees if you feel tension in your legs or back.  If your toes don’t yet touch the floor, support your back with your hands.

4. If you can rest your toes comfortably on the floor, straighten your legs completely and move your tailbone toward the ceiling.  Interlace your fingers and press your upper arms firmly into the floor.

5.  Bring your hips over your shoulders.  Lift your tailbone and soften your throat.

6. Hold for 5-10 breaths.  To release, support your back with your hands and slowly roll down, one vertebra at a time.

4. Fish Pose

Matsyasana is referred to in a traditional yoga text as the “destroyer of all diseases.” It stimulates the thyroid gland and opens the chest & throat, which helps improve breathing & reduce congestion.

1. Begin lying on your back, with legs extended, arms down at your side.  Palms should be flat on the ground.

Fish Pose

Fish Pose

2. Inhale and press your elbows & forearms into the ground as you raise your chest, creating an arch in your upper back. Lift your shoulder blades, upper torso, and head up from the floor. Then slowly lower just your head back down onto the floor. Either the back of your head or the crown of your head will rest on the ground (depending on how lifted your back and chest are).

3. Keep pressing through your hands and forearms. There should be minimal weight pressing into your neck.

4. The knees can be bent or straight. If they are straight, make sure to keep the muscles in your thighs engaged.

5. Hold for five breaths. To release the pose, exhale as you lower your torso and head to the floor. Draw your knees into your chest for a few breaths.

5. Headstand

Sirsasana is often referred to as to as “the king of all yoga poses”. It improves circulation, strengthens the lungs, and is said to be therapeutic for sinusitis. Headstand is an intermediate/advanced inversion, so if this posture is not a part of your regular yoga practice, perform another inversion such as ‘Legs Up the Wall’ which helps soothe the mind and body.

1. Begin on your hands & knees, then lower your forearms to the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders (you can clasp each hand around the opposite elbow to ensure that your elbows are the right distance apart).

Headstand

Headstand

2. Clasp your hands, interlacing your fingers, and place the crown of your head on the floor. The back of your head should rest gently at the base of your thumbs.

3. Raise your hips & straighten your legs. Slowly walk your feet in closer to your head until your hips are over your shoulders.

4. Now bend your knees, and begin to draw one knee in toward your chest. If you feel balanced here, lift that foot up from the floor. If you feel totally balanced with the first leg lifted, raise the other leg so that both feet are off the floor. You can keep the knees bent, or extend the legs straight (this will make the balance more challenging).

5. Hold for 3-5 breaths and then slowly lower one leg at a time to release.

5 Poses to Help Beat the Fall Funk

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons - the air feels fresher, the leaves get more colorful, and pumpkin spice lattes start making their way back onto all the menus. I get excited for cozy sweaters and cute boots, and I’ve been known to celebrate Black Friday as enthusiastically as Thanksgiving (on more than one occasion). But even still, there are definite moments where I feel the ‘fall funk’. Perhaps it’s the time change and shorter days that leave me feeling a little less motivated than usual. Or maybe it’s the thought of a long winter just around the corner that makes me a tad restless. Either way, the good news is that rolling out my mat always gets me back on track. And on the days when I don’t have time for a full yoga practice, the below postures never fail to boost my mood and help me feel more grounded.

1. Boat Pose (Navasana)

Boat Pose

Boat Pose

This pose is popular for building strength in the core & hip-flexors, but did you know it also helps relieve stress? Boat Pose creates a sense of grounding by connecting our Root Chakra (the energy center located at the base of the spine) directly to the earth.

To Perform Boat Pose:

  • Begin seated with your legs extended and your hands a few inches behind your hips.

  • Bend your knees and raise your feet off the floor, so that your thighs create an angle about 45 degrees to the floor. Extend your arms straight alongside the legs, and parallel to the floor. (if not possible, keep the hands on the floor).

  • Lengthen your tailbone downward, and if possible, begin to straighten your knees (if not possible, keep the knees bent with the shins parallel to the floor).

  • Think about grounding the tailbone downward, extending the crown of your head upward, and keeping the core engaged.

  • Hold for 5-10 breaths and then slowly lower the arms and legs to release.

2. Inversions

Yoga inversions (poses where the heart is lower than the head) are unique in that they are both relaxing and energizing. And perhaps even important is that they get us to change our perspective on the world - literally & figuratively! Headstand (shown here) is just one kind of inversion, but if this posture is not a part of your practice, try one of many other inversion options, such as Downward Facing Dog or Legs Up the Wall.

To Perform Headstand:

Headstand

Headstand

  • Begin on your hands & knees, then lower your forearms to the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders (you can clasp each hand around the opposite elbow to ensure that your elbows are the right distance apart).

  • Clasp your hands, interlacing your fingers, and place the crown of your head on the floor. The back of your head should rest gently at the base of your thumbs.

  • Raise your hips & straighten your legs. Slowly walk your feet in closer to your head until your hips are over your shoulders.

  • Now bend your knees, and begin to draw one knee in toward your chest. If you feel balanced here, lift that foot up from the floor. Again, if you feel totally balanced, repeat with the other leg so that both feet are off the floor. You can keep the knees bent, or extend the legs straight (this will make the balance more challenging).

  • Hold for 3-5 breaths and then slowly lower one leg at a time to release.

3. Heart Openers

Heart-openers such as Camel Pose are instant mood-boosters, and a great way to warm up the body as the weather gets cold.  Additional bonus: they also help improve posture by reversing the many hours of leaning forward we do on a day-to-day basis.

To Perform Camel Pose:

Camel Pose

Camel Pose

  • Begin on your knees with your legs hip-width apart. Place your palms on the back of your pelvis, with your fingers pointing to the floor.

  • Lengthen your tailbone downward as you begin to lean back, with your chin slightly tucked.

  • Stay here, or if you are comfortable, you can deepen the pose by reaching back and taking hold of your heels. If you can’t quite reach your heels, you can tuck you toes to elevate your heels.

  • Lengthen the spine bring your hips forward so that your hips are directly over your knees. Keep your head in a neutral position, or let it drop back if it feels comfortable for your neck.

  • Hold for 5-8 breaths, then bring your hands to your hips and lift your torso as you press your hips downward to release.

4. Happy Baby Pose

This posture embodies its name by instantly melting stress away and awakening our inner child. It releases the low back & sacrum while providing a gentle stretch to the hips - a place where many of us hold tension.

To Perform Happy Baby Pose:

Happy Baby Pose

Happy Baby Pose

  • Begin lying on your back with your knees drawn in towards the chest.

  • Grab hold of the outside edges of your feet with your hands.  Draw your shoulders down on to your back as you flex your feet.

  • Widen the knees as you pull them in toward your armpits. Try to stack ankles above knees.

  • Lengthen your lower back down toward the ground, with the intention of touching the tip of your tailbone to the floor.

  • Stay here for 8-16 breaths and then lower the legs to release.

5. Child's Pose

Child’s Pose

Child’s Pose

This classic resting posture is a favorite for good reason. It’s incredibly calming and comforting, and provides a wonderful sense of physical, mental, and emotional release. 

To Perform Child’s Pose:

  • Begin on all fours, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees.  With an exhale slowly lower the hips down to the heels and the forehead to the floor. 

  • The knees can stay together or if more comfortable, spread them slightly apart.  The arms can be overhead with the palms on the floor, or they can be along side the body with the palms up.

  • Breathe slowly and deeply. Actively press the belly into the thighs on each inhale.

  • Stay here for 10-20 breaths.  Slowly return to a seated position to release.

4 Yoga Poses to Help Open Your Shoulders

Open Shoulders can help with Proper Alignment in Forearm Stand 

Open Shoulders can help with Proper Alignment in Forearm Stand 

So many of us carry tension in our shoulders - whether it’s from sitting at a computer for hours a day, using our smartphones, or even from the way we sleep - the shoulders are one of the most common parts of our body to hold stress.  Having stiff shoulders can affect our yoga practice too.  Many of the poses we perform are compromised when there is a limited range of motion in the shoulders (such as Forearm Stand).

Shoulder-opening poses are a great way to relieve tension and to help prevent injury in postures that require the shoulders to be more open.  Below are 4 of my go-to shoulder-opening postures:

1. Garudasana (Eagle) Arms

Garudasana Arms

Garudasana Arms

  • While in a comfortably seated position, reach your arms straight forward and parallel to the ground.
  • Spread your scapula wide as you cross your left arm over your right. 
  • Bend your elbows.  Your left elbow should be directly inside of the right one, and the backs of your hands should be facing one other.
  • Continue to twist the arms so that the palms of the hands are facing one another. Then press the palms together as much as you comfortably can.
  • Raise your elbows up, reaching the fingertips toward the sky.
  • Hold for 10 breaths, then release, and repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

2. Shoulder Stretch with Blocks

Shoulder Stretch with Blocks

Shoulder Stretch with Blocks

  • Begin sitting on your shins.  Place two blocks, on their highest height, about 6-8 inches on either side of you and slightly in front of you. 
  • Bring your hands to prayer pose behind your head, so that your fingers are pointing down toward the ground.  Slowly lean forward until both elbows are resting on the blocks.  It's ok if your hips lift up slightly.
  • Gently lower your head down as you sink your hips back slightly. Make sure to only go as far as feels comfortable for your body.
  • Hold for 10-15 breaths, then come up to release.

3. Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle

  • Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.  Your knees should be hip-width apart.
  • Slide your left arm under your right arm, with the palm facing up. Allow your left shoulder to lower all the way down to the ground . Rest your left cheek on the mat.
  • Keep your hips raised.  You can extend your right hand toward the front of the mat, or straight up toward the sky.  You can gaze upward if that feels comfortable for you as well.
  • Make sure not press weight onto your head, instead, and keep your lower back relaxed. Allow all of the tension in your shoulders, arms, & neck to malt away.
  • Hold for 5-8 breaths.  Slowly slide your left out out to exit and release. then repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

4. Gomukhasana Arms

  • While n a comfortably seated position, reach your left arm out toward the left so that its parallel to the floor.  Rotate your arm inwardly so that your thumb is pointing down.
  • Gently bend your left arm and place your hand behind your back.  Roll your left should down and back, and begin to inch your left hand upward so that its parallel to your spine. Try to get the back of your left hand between your shoulder blades.
  • Now extend your right arm reaching it up toward the sky.  Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand down for the left hand.
  • If you're unable to hook the right and left fingers, try using a strap so that you can reach.
  • Try to keep the chest lifted, as you lean back slightly.
  • Hold for 10-12 breaths, then slowly release and repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.
Gomukhasana Arms

Gomukhasana Arms

Gomukhasana Arms using a Strap

Gomukhasana Arms using a Strap