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  • Maria Vandenburg

Reconnecting with the Elements in Todos Santos

Updated: Apr 1

I have just returned from a beautiful "Women's Five Elements Retreat" organized and held by three amazing women, Marilu Shinn, Yvonne Davey, and Alyse Romano. I almost have no words for how transformative the experience was... almost 😅💖

Our backyard and yoga studio for the week 😍
Our backyard and yoga studio for the week 😍

I flew out of Seattle early morning on March 25th, 2022 direct to SJD. I arrived dressed ENTIRELY inappropriately for the desert (i.e. jeans, a sweatshirt and boots) and was greeted with love by the beautiful women who showed up from all over. There was a total of 8 of us: myself, Jackie, Thalia, Thalia (yes, two women named Thalia), Jessica, Kelli, Monique and Arielle. AND the amazing beings who facilitated the various ceremonies and practices for us: Marilu Shinn, Yvonne Davey, Alyse Romano, Luis Jade, Adriana and Yaya Cano.


I was exhausted from having woken at 1am in excitement (and the fact that I can't really sleep on planes), but I felt my spirits lift as soon as I began to connect with the women at the airport. It FINALLY began to land that I was no longer in Seattle. A short shuttle ride later and we arrived at our sanctuary for the next few days: Caly Canto Casitas



✨The place where I completed my morning journal practice ✨
✨The place where I completed my morning journal practice ✨

After saying hello to my roommate for the next few days, Jackie (who like every single woman there - I loved instantly), we all gathered for an amazing meal. The food provided was so nourishing it feels like my body is going through withdrawals. It was made with such love. Following dinner, we all gathered by the fire for our opening ceremony. It did not take place at the fire pit above - Luis James made one for us out of wood. Although I was physically tired, the fire rejuvenated me. I am Leo, I have long loved the element, but I experienced this on a deeper level directly addressing "grandfather fire." I set my intention for strength to continue to open and deepen. I also expressed a heartfelt reverence to commune more deeply with fire than I ever previously had. It was odd because I often couldn't understand Luis’s words (as he was speaking in a combination of languages) but I could FEEL them. His passion and devotion for the fire facilitated my own... and I have ALWAYS loved that particular element.


Morning Cacao Ceremonies, Offerings and Songs
Morning Cacao Ceremonies, Offerings and Songs

Each morning, we rose with the sun and "Mama Cacao." Yvonne prepared the Cacao for us and taught us ancient Mesoamerican wisdom. When I first met her, she mentioned preparing meals and Cacao was one of her acts of service. Her way of sharing and giving her love, offering her gifts. I could feel the heartfelt intention in words. It was also my direct lived experience. Yvonne traveled to the land where the Cacao was made, and blessed the medicine for us with the local priest. She offered it every single morning with so much care. I honestly couldn't have imagined a better way to experience my first introduction in the wonderful medicine that is Cacao.


Yvonne, Thalia and Jessica setting up
Yvonne, Thalia and Jessica setting up


Myself, Jackie and Monique
Myself, Jackie and Monique AND Pluma (she's blessing my leg!😂❤)

Thalia, Jessica, Thalia, Alyse and Yvonne
Thalia, Jessica, Thalia, Alyse and Yvonne

We would circle up and learn about the Mayan and Mesoamerican wisdom. We sang and made offerings. For example, we happened to be there Aq'ab'al which is about polar opposites: sunrise/sunset, masculine/feminine. I loved that on that day, I had the opportunity to greet both (without knowing of the day until after the sunrise). I was also reminded of beauty and power in the being that is Quetzalcoatl.


Sunrise with the Moon and Venus on Aq'ab'al
Sunrise with the Moon and Venus on Aq'ab'al

The first evening was dedicated to fire, and day two brought us to the element of air. After Cacao and a gentle yoga lead by Alyse (who I LOVED - she is amazing in being able to guide someone who still considers myself brand new to my yoga practice), we hung out by the pool and began to bond with one another. Eventually we made the 5 minute walk down to the beach.


Greeting the Ocean
Greeting the Ocean

What I loved about our visit with the ocean; we brought offerings. I lived in Santa Monica, CA from age 5-11 and often used to frolic in the water. I have loved the Pacific since I was a child, BUT this was my very first time offering something back. It made my heart happy to thank her for the joyous play I’d received from splashing around. It was truly beautiful. I felt the waves accept my floral offerings. It just felt so nice to give something back and honor her.


The Walk back from the Ocean
The Walk back from the Ocean

That evening we experienced a Shamanic Drum Sound Journey to reconnect us with the web of life lead by Marilu Shinn. She asked to focus on the land and to invite an animal totem into guide us. A vulture showed up for me. I was INCREDIBLY resistant at first, to the point that I initially refused and asked for another totem. So then a scorpion showed up. I got the point and thanked the scorpion and then opened to the vulture. This trip ended up on a higher level being about moving through a death of not believing in myself, not believing in my voice, not believing my story matters and needs to be told. I had to get to the point of letting that old story line I’ve unconsciously lived in for the last who knows how many years go... and the vulture and Marilu's gentle facilitation opened that up for me.


After another amazing meal prepared for us (I neglected to take ANY food photo's - which I completely regret, but the cuisine was local, organic, plant and fish based AND AMAZING) we all headed to bed. It's interesting because in Seattle (where I currently live) it's usually quite hard for me to fall asleep. In Baha, I was lucky if I made it up past 10:00pm. I shared this with Adriana the next day (one of the amazing women who hosted us and actually helped to secure the beautiful location we ended up staying in) and she smiled and said "Welcome to Baha time!" I laughed, thinking, I could get used to this. Seriously, I could. I very much LOVED my time in Todos Santos.


The view outside of the Temazcal (Sweat Lodge)
The view outside of the Temazcal (Sweat Lodge)

The next day brought our focus onto honoring the Earth Element. We arose early for Cacao and Yoga Nidra and then made our way on to the Temazcal.


Cacao Ceremony and Offerings
Cacao Ceremony and Offerings

Something pretty amazing happened at the end of the morning Cacao Ceremony. Yvonne shared a song about a young girl who went into the forest to meet her Shadow. Now if you know anything about me and my work, that is what my work CENTERS on. The idea that our Shadow's are not "bad," they are there to help us learn to love and embrace ALL of who we are. The amazing thing wasn't that, though. It was the fact that at 16 years old I started writing a song called "Deep Into the Forest" that is literally about THE EXACT SAME THING. A Little Maria who goes off into the forest to connect with more.


Group Photo POST Temazcal
Group Photo POST Temazcal


View outside of the Temazcal 2.0
View outside of the Temazcal 2.0

Now fast forward to the Temazcal. Yvonne shared that the particular Tezmacal we were at (we were not allowed to take pictures, but it was shaped like a dome and formed with intention to represent crawling into the womb of Mother Earth) was the best in the land. Luis Jade was there to lead us through the practice. We had a few different rounds. The first round we introduced ourselves to "the grandmothers." (which btw... I write about a women's circle who meet their grandmothers in The Akasha Records: Book Two... I had NO IDEA at the time that I would be directly experiencing it in Mexico!) The second where we sang, grounded in and offered gratitude, the third was where we consciously released. THIS WAS POTENT for me. I chose the direction of the north which represents death and transformation. I stood over the coals, with Luis Jade and two of the women holding space for me while I chose to "die" to the old story that I shared above (not being 'enough,' not believing that I matter, etc...). This was my very first Temazcal, and it felt like I wasn't just releasing my own stuff, when I was done yelling and screaming, I started shaking. I literally was struggling to sit back down. I tried to go into Childs pose to recalibrate, but the heat proved to be too much. I had no choice but to honor my body and ask to leave the Temazcal for a few moments to get some fresh air and drink some water. After breathing deeply and being held gently by Kelli (a wonderful women on the retreat with me) and Luis Jade, I re-entered. It made the vulture journey the day before make SO MUCH MORE SENSE. As I realized, I needed the vulture to help to transform/transmute what I was energetically releasing. I re-entered the Temazcal to witness the releases of the other women and the second amazing thing happened. I felt compelled (literally my heart would not shut up even though my mind was freaking out) to sing "Deep Into the Forest" for the very first time. We even ended up doing a call and response in the Temazcal. That moment, the moment of me feeling safe enough to share my voice for the very first time, to feel seen, heard, held and loved while moving through an incredibly vulnerable experience for me (as that is my growth edge, learning to believe in and live in shining my light) is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. Regardless of if Akasha Records: The Musical (my working title) is every completed and released... although I have a strong feeling that it will be.


Adriana and her Tierra Santa Products
Adriana and her Tierra Santa Products

The next day brought focus onto the unseen/ether element. As was becoming our routine, we started the morning with Mama Cacao/Yvonne followed by a gentle yoga practice with Alyse and an amazing breakfast. Then we went into town for some shopping (where I fell in love with the town of Todos Santos and walked away with quite a few treasures).


View from our patio
View from our patio

Our last evening was spent with Yaya Cano and her beautiful daughter. They facilitated a Sacred Rapeh Tobacco Ceremony. Another first for me. I set two intentions "to open" and felt my energetic field cleared. Rapeh was an interesting experience, I found my mind wanting to invent stories and my body consistently grounding me more into the present moment and my current experience. I also deeply loved Yaya (to be fair, I deeply loved every single second of my entire experience, but this also included Yaya and her daughter and her daughters incredible musical gift). And then with the sunset came bed... on Baja time. 😂



Pluma  - Adriana's newly found dog and our spirit guide <3
Pluma - Adriana's newly found dog and our spirit guide <3

The final morning was hard to face as there was a part of me that was VERY sad to go home. Marilu lead us through a beautiful Womb and Water Blessing Ceremony and shortly following that our shuttles appeared to usher us back home from this amazing retreat. To learn and be guided by Marilu, Yvonne, Alyse, Adriana, Luis James and Yaya is something I will always be grateful for. To have such an amazing group of women share this space with me (who I pretty much felt instantly deeply connected to) was the cherry on top. The other crazy part to me is that in many ways, this all feels like JUST the beginning. To learn more about my teachers for this particular journey I've included their links below. Who if you can't already tell I HIGHLY RECOMMEND. I will definitely be studying more deeply with Marilu in the future.... exact timing TBD at this point. I am grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to experience this amazing women's retreat.


Marilu Shinn: Kawak Energy Medicine Alyse Romaro:

Ivonne Davey

Sacred Unity Gathering



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