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Photo: Alexandra Bonetti
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What does one of New York City’s most beloved boutique workouts have in common with the meditation practices of indigenous South American tribes?

As it turns out, a lot—and it’s a totally crazy coincidence. The workout in question is the dance- and trampoline-cardio hybrid practiced at Bari Studio, which has attracted a cult following since Alexandra Bonetti launched it back in 2011. After meeting with an intuitive reader, Bonetti learned that Bari’s expressive movements and self-empowerment vibes are strongly connected with those of the Andean cultures in South America. (Fascinating, right?)

As a proud South American herself, Bonetti knew she needed to learn more, so she set off on a two-week journey through Ecuador and Venezuela for a little self-discovery, adventure, and away-time to connect the dots between her own purpose with that of Bari’s. “I’d always been enamored by the concept of a tribe, and I wanted to see firsthand if there was some bigger connection,” she explains.

She spent January traveling through the South American cities, working with orphaned children in the mornings and seeking out shamans after lunch. She ended up meeting and interviewing nearly two dozen of the latter, and realized that, indeed, Bari and indigenous meditation are cosmically aligned cousins.

“They use drums instead of Beyonce—even though I think I sold them on Queen Bey as percussion—they’re not exactly doing hip rolls, and they think burpees are the devil, but they’re dancing, they’re playing, they’re moving to music, and they’re focusing in the moment to connect to themselves, their tribes, and their surroundings,” she says. “I came back the happiest and most rooted human being I’ve been in a while.” And it’s not just because she learned some sweet new moves.

Keep reading to find out what else Alexandra Bonetti discovered about life, health, and happiness on her South American escapade—in her own words.

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Photo: Alexandra Bonetti

1. Meditation doesn’t have to be all stillness and silence

Sitting and om-ing are not the only ways to connect to yourself, your soul, or the universe. Active meditation includes dancing, getting lost in the beat, playing an instrument, learning a sequence that your body memorizes and does over and over again—and these “meditations in movement” can be just as powerful. I’m not a quiet, peaceful person; I am loud, a little crazy, and love to move and dance and create constantly. I felt at home when I practiced mindfulness with these Indians in a way I hadn’t [before] when I tried to stick to traditional meditation.

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Photo: Alexandra Bonetti

2. Be a believer

One thing I was told, across different villages from Venezuela to Ecuador, was that believing is at the core of healing. I constantly heard: “If you don’t believe, I can’t help you. If you don’t believe, I can’t cure you.”

It was maybe my favorite takeaway from the trip because that power of belief is really the basis of Bari’s brand—you have to choose to believe in yourself. You have to quit thinking that you’re not coordinated enough, or strong enough, or fit enough, or skinny enough. Those are just the stories we tell ourselves and the excuses we make to stay in our comfort zones. It was incredible to hear and feel the power of belief come full circle—and watch it in action on a much bigger scale. It validated a lot of what I’ve always felt was important.

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Photo: Alexandra Bonetti

3. Do what makes you feel good

In indigenous culture, each family or mentor passes down their own shamanic technique. That’s what they learn, what they believe, and what they practice throughout their lives. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and no shaman trying to be the best; they didn’t think less of those who had dissenting approaches. It was never, “This is the way that you have to meditate, or think, or eat.”

In the health and fitness industries, there are so many ways of doing things, and it was so cool to see that different approaches work, as long as you’re open to them. There’s room for everyone.

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Photo: Alexandra Bonetti

4. Live a life of abundance, not scarcity

No matter how few material things these villages have, they are filled with abundant people. They have plenty of food that they grow themselves. They have plenty of outdoor wonders to connect with. They have large, connected families. They travel miles and miles to get to their jobs, but they laugh and dance their way there.

Life is about adding, not taking away. Forget about losing pounds, cutting calories, going out to dinner less, taking fewer risks. Start adding. Add people to your tribe who you believe in and who believe in you. Eat more nutritious food. Drink more water, sleep more, sweat more, step further outside of your comfort zone, push yourself harder, and love yourself more. Live bigger instead of shrinking your immenseness.

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Photo: Alexandra Bonetti

5. Breathe, listen to your body, and show it some love

Every single healer unanimously called me out on my anxiety—they called it “malaire.” It’s one thing to know you’re anxious, and it’s a whole other thing to be told by dozens of intuitive people that it’s an ailment that’s harming your life.

I felt so tapped into positivity during my trip, and I’ve done everything in my power—starting with believing, adding to my life, and living life loudly—to carry that calm with me into my day-to-day. It’s been easier than I anticipated, which I’m taking as a sign that something big from my journey stuck with me.

Ready for an epic jaunt of your own? Don’t leave home without these mindfulness tips, healthy snacks, or on-the-go workouts. Or if a $15,000 all-inclusive fitness retreat is more your speed, here’s a play-by-play of what to expect