Nikki Collum

antmandela Yoga


Exploring the Treasures of Northern Nicaragua and Advice on Moving Your Life + Business Forward with Nikki Collum

Nikki is an E-RYT certified yoga instructor, life coach, entrepreneur and doTERRA essential oil advocate currently living and working at Coco Loco eco-resort in the Chinandega/Leon vicinity of Northern Nicaragua. I joined Nikki for a guest class at the resort's oceanside yoga deck and then sat down for a conversation over lunch.

Also in this interview:

  • Practical advice for business owners and entrepreneurs
  • Starting and managing a resort and non-profit in Nicaragua
  • Must-see/do activities for your next visit to Northern Nicaragua
  • The positive impact of living a simpler life 
  • A brief (and very interesting!) essential oils primer
  • Favorite book recommendations

Journey to Nicaragua: Coco Loco Resort; Non-profit work; Entrepreneurship

AM: Hi Nikki! I would love to hear more about your Nicaragua story. What brought you here initially?

NC: This will sound funny, but I always tell people it was fate that brought me here. Nicaragua chose me and I just had to keep following the answers from the universe. I did my first teacher training in Costa Rica in 2011 in my late 20's, back when I was working three jobs in Chicago. I remember having this moment on the beach in Costa Rica where I was like—what am I doing…I could be living a really simple life and doing something I love. Not hustling around all the time and burning the candle at both ends just to pay the bills. After I left that trip, I really began putting the intention into every practice of becoming a traveling yoga teacher.

Ten months later, I received a message on Facebook from a friend of a friend who was living in Granada, Nicaragua at the time. The rather cryptic message said: “Get in touch with Warren Ogden. You won’t regret it.” Warren is the owner of PURE gym and yoga center in Granada and the person who messaged me gave me more information about a work-for-trade ad for a position at PURE. I knew nothing about Nicaragua, but a rapid-fire series of events happened, including the loss of a job in Chicago, that made it clear I needed to come down. This was my opportunity to visit Nicaragua while teaching a few classes a week in exchange for room and board. So, three weeks after I first saw the ad, I was in Nicaragua!

Shortly after arriving in country, Jaime (my now husband) visited the studio where I was working in Granada. We started talking and he mentioned they were looking for a yoga teacher at the new eco hotel he co-owned in Northern Nicaragua called Coco Loco. At the time, it was very difficult to find qualified yoga teachers in Nicaragua—which is not the case anymore—and Jaime was looking for an instructor to lead classes for a university group that was staying at the resort and doing service work in the surrounding community. I was invited back a couple weeks later and this is when I met Holly Beck, the former pro female surfer who now runs Surf with Amigas. She was living on Coco Loco property at the time as Surf with Amigas was just getting their business off the ground. And she was also looking for a yoga teacher.

Long story short: I started working for Surf with Amigas in May of 2012 and everything fell into place from there. Jamie and I began dating and eventually got married. I definitely didn’t think that Facebook message would lead to me meeting my husband, living at Coco Loco, and now (six years later), still living and working in Nicaragua!

AM: What is your current role here at Coco Loco?

NC: I have been working closely with the Amigas group for the last six years (they ran up 10-12 retreats a year at Coco Loco in previous years), and I guest instruct at Coco Loco. I also help out with the logistics for other incoming groups and with menu planning/kitchen management, bringing more health-conscious fare to the restaurant.

AM: Do you mind talking about the NGO (Waves of Hope) you are a part of?

NC: Sure! When my husband and his friends first moved to Nicaragua, they knew they wanted to open a resort, but it was also very important for them to give back to the community they would be living in. When they were in the initial planning phase, they sat down with the community leaders and asked them what they would like to see happen. This conversation ended up playing an integral role in the formation of Waves of Hope (the non-profit arm of Coco Loco) and influenced how the relationship between the community and our team has developed over the years. The partnership we have with the community is founded upon three core pillars: jobs, education, and health care infrastructure. Jobs is the #1 priority and we are very proud to say we employ 27 local workers and almost all come from this region of Manzana Uno. We have been able to partner with community leaders to build the first high school in the area, rehabilitated a number of other schools in the area, and continue to offer scholarships for high school students so they can attend college.

AM: What is Kula Yoga, your Nicaragua studio project?

NC: The idea here was to create a community space based on health, wellness, and heart. Trying to bring as many teachers and voices into the space as possible. Right now, we are offering a few different yoga classes, capoeira (Brazilian martial art), high intensity (HIIT) strength training, and also a "mini-movements" kids class. We're also offering a yoga in Spanish class on Thursday night. Although we have only been open a little more than a month, we already have five different classes on the weekly schedule. Locals can attend any class for free which has been one of the most heartwarming components of opening a public space to the community—many [Nicaraguans] are working in the tourism sector and they see yoga and different types of bodywork from an outside perspective, but very few have had the opportunity to participate themselves. I also love having another space to put my creative energy into.

AM: What first sparked your interest in entrepreneurship?

NC: That’s a good question! I don't know if it was even a conscious decision on my part at first. My husband Jaime—co-founder of Coco Loco—has inspired me so much in this area. He is incredibly entrepreneurial and he and his friends had the vision to build this place back in their early 20's when they were backpacking through Central America. If I were to come up with one word as to what first sparked my interest in entrepreneurship, I think I would have to say freedom: the freedom to create what you want to create, the flexibility of being able to establish your own hours, and the ability to do it in your dream location.

Things to see/do in Northern Nicaragua

AM: What do you love most about Nicaragua?

NC: The first thing that comes to mind when you ask that question is the Nicaraguan phrase “hay mas tiempo que vida” [there is more time than life]. Coming from the hustle and bustle scene of Chicago and Philadelphia, it was incredible for me to be able to tap into a slower pace of life and the simplicity of being. The Nicaraguans are very hard workers, but they also understand the importance of other things; if you can sit in a hammock for most of the day and enjoy the beautiful view, why would you not? Being immersed in nature and living in Nicaragua has really given me the freedom to get back to the basics in many ways. I really appreciate the warmth of the Nicaraguan culture; the locals here are some of the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve ever met.

Also, the diversity of this country in terms of the geography and the activities you can do is spectacular. From the Caribbean coast, to the mountains, to the beach, to the colonial cities. There is just so much to see and experience!

AM: Do you have any specific must see/must do recommendations for people visiting this area of Northern Nicaragua for the first time? I’m curious to hear more about what you especially enjoy in this area. Side note: This happens to be one of my favorite parts of the country.

NC: It is definitely a bit more undiscovered up here, which I love. Visitors should check out volcano Cosiguina an hour north of here on the coast. It’s a really beautiful hike and there is a hacienda up there owned by a local Nicaraguan family. You can sign up for the full 4-5 hour volcano hike, or you can go most of the way to the top in a vehicle and hike only the last hour to the top. The top of the volcano opens into a crater lake; if it is really clear, you can see the entire coastline up to Honduras and Guatemala. After the hike I recommend spending time at the Hacienda for a delicious local lunch. They also have beautiful horses if you care to go for a ride.

And don't forget to visit the colonial city of Leon when you are in this area. A very popular activity out of Leon is volcano boarding over at Cerro Negro (see below video).

Volcano boarding was at one point ranked #2 on CNN's bucket list of things to try before you die

Note: I don’t recommend volcano boarding to all that many people, unless they are specifically seeking adrenaline thrills—it was at one point ranked #2 on CNN’s bucket list of things to try before you die—I actually prefer the night hike of Volcano Telica. You start off in the late afternoon and have a snack at a lookout point right before sunset. Once the sun sets, you walk/crawl up to the crate’s edge and peer into the abyss where you can see the fiery lava churning and glowing at the bottom. In my opinion, it feels like you are gazing straight down into the center of the earth.

Oh, there is another nearby activity on my list (I haven’t had a chance to visit yet) and that is the Somoto Canyon. The rum tour in Chichigalpa is pretty cool too!

Teaching background; book recommendations; advice

AM: How would you describe your yoga background and teaching style?

NC: When I first began my yoga journey I was definitely drawn to a more of a strong Vinyasa style. I'd only been teaching at the time for 4-5 months before moving to Nicaragua, so, in many ways, I feel like Nicaragua was what helped me find my voice as a teacher. Working with surfers at Surf with Amigas helped me tap into my current instructor style. These surfers had been out in the water and sun all day and the last thing they wanted or needed was a strong, sweaty vinyasa flow-based practice—they didn’t want to be in downward dog more than 1-2 times the entire class. This led me to fall in love with Yin/Restorative yoga and now I would say that my teaching style is a bit of a mash-up between hatha, yin, and restorative.

AM: Do you have any teacher(s) or mentor(s) that has/have greatly impacted your life and work?

NC: Absolutely. Elaina Brower is my main teacher and mentor. She is based in NY and I started practicing with her on YogaGlo around 7 years ago, before I started teaching. I now also work with her in doTERRA (essential oils). She has really become a mentor for me in not only yoga, but also in business and life in general.

About a year ago, because of my relationship with Elaina, I got connected with another instructor, Paramatma Siri Sadhana out of New York. She sends voice 5-15 recordings a few times every week where she ties in world news and politics with how these current events correspond with what is happening astrologically. She often also provides journaling exercises, writing prompts, Kundalini practices, and some very interesting sound mantra therapies. She has been another major influence in my life over the past year and a half.

AM: If you were to teach a class or workshop on any topic of your choice, what would it be and why?

NC: The first thing that comes to mind would be a restorative style class using essential oils. I think the restorative practice is underutilized, and it provides such great medicine in a culture that is go-go-go and more-more-more. I believe most of our nervous systems can use a restore and reset, the opportunity to truly replenish. I have been using essential oils most of my life but really dove into learning more about them within the last year or two. And they have completely changed my life and my practice! Because of the powerful impact that oils have on the limbic system of our brain (which covers mood and emotion, and energy level), I would incorporate them into a deep restorative practice.

AM: I've also been learning more about oils in the last year since my wife recently purchased a book on essential oils (and has been using the oils more and more frequently). I'm curious to hear about what types of oils you would use in your workshop and why you would choose them. Any favorites?

NC: Hmm...I probably would integrate a few different kinds into the practice. If you think about the archetype of the plant [that is used to produce the oi], what it does in nature is very similar to how our body responds to it. Tree oils or "woodsy" oils like Cedar provide grounding, stability, and balance in the body. If you are working more with the leaves of certain plants—white fir or eucalyptus or melaleuca, for example—it is really good for the lungs and helps provide oxygen to the airways. Citruses, like bergamot, wild orange, and lemon are great for elevating the mood. Florals like lavender, geranium, and clary sage tend to be more restorative, relaxing, and harmonizing. So, I would probably incorporate all four constitutes in my workshop; a tree or wood oil to ground; a floral to relax; a leaf of a tree to help with breathing and respiratory functions; and a citrus at the end to reinvigorate and elevate.

AM: Do you have a book you have most gifted to others, or 1-3 books you would recommend?

NC: This is a really hard one for me to narrow down. Most recently the two books I have recommended are May Cause Miracles by Gabby Bernstein. Another one that I started my journey in Nicaragua with is The Artist’s Way. The central idea is that we are all artists and here to create something. The author's goal is to help everyone uncover their inner artist. She suggests doing three pages of journaling every morning and this is a practice that has become so instrumental in everything that I do. (And something difficult to keep coming back to.) Elaina Brower's new book Practice You is also a beautiful book filled with many of her different watercolor paintings and writing prompts which take you through the various stages of life—from what you would say to your six-year-old self all the way up to your one-hundred-year-old-self.

Fear of failure so often puts us in a state of inaction and I believe it is so important to take (and keep taking) those small steps each day that keep moving you forward.

AM: What is the best advice you have ever received?

NC: When I was going through the decision-making process of whether or not I was going to come down to Nicaragua, a friend of mine said to me: "If not now, when?" For some reason, this stuck with me ever since we had that conversation many years ago. One caveat I would say is that I don't know if I would agree with this advice in all situations—sometimes it really does pay to wait; in general, however, this philosophy has helped me take action in my life. Fear of failure so often puts us in a state of inaction and I believe it is so important to take (and keep taking) those small steps each day that keep moving you forward. Because if we don't do it today, then when are we going to do it?

AM: What is one of the most worthwhile investments you have ever made? This could be money, time, energy, etc.

NC: You know, I would probably have to say it was my first yoga teacher training. When I did the training, I wasn't sure if I was going to teach and had only been practicing for less than a year at that point. It really did change the entire course of my life. Teacher training is such a beautiful way to immerse yourself into the practice, and dive deep into the inquiry of self. There is so much to be gained and I would definitely encourage anyone thinking about it to go for it!

AM: Is there anything you can point to that gave you the courage to pursue your ideas early on and then take the plunge?

NC: I think it goes back to that piece of advice my friend gave of, "If not now, when?" I came down to Nicaragua at 24 years of age with $70 in my pocket and no savings on a work-for-trade position. It is kind of crazy when you stop to think of it—going to a country where I didn't speak the language. For me, I think it was ultimately about belief and passion; trusting that somehow, someway things would work out. I really wanted a change and wanted it enough to allow it to drive me outside my comfort zone and make a series of impactful changes in my life.

AM: Knowing what you know now, is there any advice you would give to someone just getting started on an entrepreneurial journey of their own?

NC: Get clear on your WHY. Your desire and what you want is very important to clarify up front. And then trust and believe that what you want is possible to achieve. Even if you initially have no idea how everything is going to come together, the core of belief that it is possible is crucial. Then, it is just as important to follow up and take those small actions every day that keep you moving forward.

AM: Do you have a project you are currently working on, or something else upcoming you are excited about?

NC: Well, having new baby has definitely been on my mind a lot and is something I am very excited (and a bit terrified) about! Recently I created a new Facebook group called Living Practice to help myself and others stay in the practice of doing the daily simple (but not necessarily easy) things. Taking the actions that help us maintain optimal levels of health and well-being—like choosing tea over coffee or deciding to journal in the morning. Something I find difficult here [living in remote Nicaragua] is that we meet these amazing people from all around the world at a very limited point in time and space, so I do find myself craving community and connection in a way that often doesn't happen being in such a transient place. I connect with so many people, but once they leave it is so easy to fall out of touch and lose that relationship. So, my idea was to create a group to stay connected with more people over the long term. A big part of the focus will be on education through essential oils and life practices that I incorporate into my daily life. Also, we want it to be a virtual community space; I'll be posting and doing live videos, etc., but we want other people to open up and share so that we can all stay connected, learning and growing together.

AM: My last question is one of my favorites. Over the past five years, what belief, behavior, or habit has most positively impacted your life and why?

NC: The phrase, "Practice and all is coming" immediately comes to mind. I think your practice can be anything whether it is yoga or meditation or writing or surfing. Creating simple yet profound practices and rituals that you resonate with help to train the subconscious, allowing you to connect to your highest self every day. When we connect with the things that light us up—through whatever choices or practices we prefer—it opens up the doorway for the things that we want in life.

AM: What is the best way for people to find out more about what you are doing and connect?

NC: My Instagram page or Living Practice Facebook page are probably the best places to get in touch with me. I'm also hoping to launch my new website within the next few months which will feature online yoga classes that we hold right here in the Coco Loco studio, so stay tuned!

AM: Thanks so much, Nikki, for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat. I loved learning more about your Nicaragua journey and look forward to sharing it soon!

NC: My pleasure, Anthony. Thank you for stopping in to visit. 🙂

AM: Best of luck with your upcoming projects and all of your future endeavors. I look forward to staying in touch!

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A brief description of Nikki’s classes and teaching style: Based only steps away from the spectacular beaches and stunning sunsets of the Northern Nicaragua coast, Nikki's classes incorporate plenty of gentle movements in flow with the freedom for participants to explore subtle movements within their own body. An abundance of more passive, long held poses in restorative postures (derived from the Hatha tradition) are fantastic complements and integral components of class. Nikki's unique instruction style is heavily influenced by her expertise in essential oils and love of astrology—soothing aromas from the various oils seamlessly integrate with the different stages of class and she often shares different astrological insights (and gives reflection questions) based on the energy of current astrological events.

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