Thriving in the Jungle: A Health and Wellness Guide to Kalu Yala

a couple of weeks ago
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Author Noah Daly gives a presentation on JungleStrength.com– the jungle-inspired fitness website he launched during his semester at Kalu Yala.

While one of the most inspiring and eye-opening experiences of my life, Kalu Yala cannot be mistaken for anything less than an immense physical and mental challenge. Surrounded by some of the kindest, brightest, and most passionate humans you’ll ever encounter, you won’t be able to maintain the stoke unless you build a routine that keeps your body primed and ready to face the challenges of jungle life. After the semester drew to a close, I had some time to reflect on the practices that made my experience not just educational, but endlessly memorable.

PART 1: Early Risers Make the World Go Round

Kalu Yalans on an early sunrise hike

Especially in the vallé, those who are able to wake before the sun (or rise with it) are able to find one of the most coveted treasures in Kalu Yala: quiet alone time.

When I was a student in Fall 2016, with camera crews running around and big changes being made, my 6 a.m. routine was a godsend. As the first fingers of sunlight slowly climb the mountains, the birds in Kalu Yala bring the entire jungle to life. While most are still sleeping, some of us are able to take this early hour to reset ourselves.

During the first few days of my semester, I would respond to my body’s internal clock and make my run through the mud to the bathroom around 5:30-6 in the morning. On my way back, I might see one or two people quietly walking into the trees to go do yoga or scampering towards the rio to take on Suicide Hill. This was incredible for me because, prior to coming to Kalu Yala, the only other person in my life who showed this tenacity was my Mom– a lifetime distance swimmer and workaholic. I decided to take a cue from Madre and my fellow jungle humans.

Starting small, I experimented with a variety of morning rituals. Meditation, swimming, going for a long walk, and many, many different workouts. By the third week, I’d settled into what I now identify as my “Hour of Power”: 60 minutes of priming and self-liberation through movement that gave me time to re-energize and re-engage with my environment, with plenty of time before the first breakfast conch. More on this later.

PART 2: Your Hour of Power

The two critical elements of surviving jungle life are body and mind. The jungle is by no means an easy place to thrive, so we give ourselves the best opportunity for success by creating time each day to do a little maintenance in these areas.

Whether we’re working in a cubicle or under the shade of a guava tree, our bodies need different kinds of releases to stay in peak shape. We can narrow these down into three main categories: mindfulness, resistance, and release (or MRR).

During my time as a student, I realized the best way to achieve all three was by developing a systematic routine that incorporates a healthy dose of each. I’ve broken down my hour of power here for you, but if your personal Hour is more personalized, even better.

6:00 am: Mindfulness Meditation (10-15 minutes)

Meditation Gazebo at Kalu Yala

If you’re at a loss on this subject, fear not; I was too. Focus on your breathing: let each breath in through your nose, holding it for just a moment, then letting it fall back out. Think about your heart. Remember that it’s a gift–as long as it beats, YOU LIVE. Be grateful for it. Be grateful for your family, friends, and your time here. Each day is a blessing.


6:30 am: Yoga/Stretching (10-15 minutes)

Kalu Yala student Nikki enjoys the yoga garden at Kalu Yala

A Sun Salutation is an awesome way to start your day in the jungle. If you’re not sure on what to do, go check out the article that Nicki (a former intern and gifted yogi) and I wrote on the subject on junglestrength.com!

6:50 am: Swimming/ Bathing (10 minutes)

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Author Noah backflips into the rio at Kalu Yala

Instead of starting your day with a shower from our water reserves, try using the chilly waters of the Río Iguana to jumpstart your day. The cold water in the early morning wakes up the senses, helps clear sinuses, and helps improve blood flow.

7:15: Goal-Setting (10 minutes)

Although I didn’t incorporate this into every morning, it deserves honorable mention. I found that even over breakfast it’s important to set two or three achievable outcomes to focus on for the day. This way, you’re creating deliverables for yourself to produce as your engaging with the awesome people, flora and fauna around you.

Part 3: Being A DOer in an Ocean of Enthusiasm

I implore every new Yalan to develop several rituals to ensure a happy, healthy, good-vibe filled time in their new home.

Some of the easiest ways to do so are doing good deeds. A good turn daily creates a life of cheerful service, and as a member of a community, little details like waking up to someone already making coffee and filling up the water jugs can mean the world to the people around you. If you’re not sure where to begin for yourself, you can start by thinking of the people around you. In the valley, as in life, positivity and kindness tends to make its way back to you.

Here’s a few easy ways to earn the admiration and respect of everyone around you.

  1. Making Coffee: even if you yourself are not a coffee drinker, there’s a 100% guarantee that someone will need a cup of joe to get their day going. We have some amazing coffee thanks to our in house coffee roasters and coffee shop, but you never know who may need a free mug on those hot jungle mornings.
  2. Cleaning Town Square: It’s easy enough to walk by the remains of last nights festivities, but take even five minutes and help straighten up the community spaces. You’d be surprised how much people’s mental state can benefit from a little more order and neatness.
  3. Doing Dishes: If there’s one thing KY has by the ton, it’s hungry mouths. Don’t leave it up to kitchen staff or the other guys/gals to make sure we have enough plates! A ten minute “dishwashing meditation” can clear the mind and give you the best high there is–paying it forward.

You’ve taken an incredible leap to be a part of this community. Now it’s up to each of us to make an extra effort to ensure it remains clean, healthy, and inspiring for EVERYONE.

Author Noah Daly (green shirt) and the outdoor recreation team during a grueling hike to Jaguar Falls