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Nestled on the island of Sumba off the coast of Indonesia is a haven for the adventurer, a place to connect with yourself and life more deeply - the Nihi Sumba Resort

Travel and Leisure Magazine named Nihi Sumba the best hotel in the world in 2016 and 2017 due to it's unique integration of travel & cultural experiences, outdoor adventure, yoga & wellness, and social good.

Project Happiness is proud to be partnering with Nihi for the Race for Wellness, due to our shared vision of happiness and wellness for all! You could win an amazing getaway at Nihi Sumba. It's a big thank you to our generous supporters who fund our mental health programs through their participation in the Race. It could be you, so join the Race for Wellness to be in the running to win. Those on the Fundraising Leaderboards will be entered for a chance to win this trip.

Today we are speaking with Mary Tilson, the Yoga and Wellness Director at Nihi.
Mary is a yoga teacher, retreat leader and passionate world traveler. With a deep appreciation and understanding of both Eastern & Western approaches to yoga, Mary's goal is to make her teaching as accessible as possible. This includes physical postures, breathing techniques, mantra, meditation, yoga philosophy, smiles, laughter and love. Mary lives by the words, "Come just as you are and allow the magic to unfold!"

Tell us, how did Nihi Sumba come to be?

The original founder, Claude Graves first arrived on Sumba in 1988 in search of the perfect wave. What he discovered was much more than the famous left-hand break, which continues to attract surfers from all over the world.

The fascinating culture of Sumba and unspoiled natural beauty inspired Nihiwatu Resort (now known as Nihi Sumba) to work hand in hand with the Sumba Foundation, to not only create memorable travel experiences for guests, but improve the quality of life for local people on the island.

In 2012, American Entrepreneur Christopher Burch acquired the resort in partnership with South African Hotelier James McBride, a dream team who drove the resort to being named “Best Hotel in the World” by Travel+Leisure Magazine for two consecutive years in 2016 and 2017, among many other accolades.


  • Mary, you're the Yoga and Wellness Director at Nihi Sumba, what does wellness mean to Nihi Sumba and to you?

  • To sum it up in one word: connection.

    There is a rawness to the landscapes on Sumba - it’s an indescribable, truly sacred experience which reconnects people with nature and themselves. You might begin your day hiking up the woods to reach a bamboo yoga shala peering over the Indian Ocean, or swimming with wild horses on the beach.

    The relationships that are formed among our local Sumbanese staff and visitors from all over the world are heartfelt and long-lasting. I believe a true wellness experience must be fully integrated and multi-faceted, tapping into our basic human needs for connection with the earth, community, to be nourished with healthy, nutrient dense foods, to move our bodies and have time for personal reflection. Our highly personalized wellness experiences do a great job of catering to all of these areas.   

  • Depression and anxiety are affecting people worldwide. You encourage people to arrive at Nihi Sumba with an open heart. What changes have you seen in people during their time at Nihi?

  • It’s easy to notice people unwind over the first few days of their stay. As you know well at Project Happiness, there are proven links to the amount of time spent being active outdoors and decreased levels of anxiety and depression.

  • Given the remote location, you really get to take a break from the everyday stresses of work and for many, an escape from the high-stress city environment. It’s an opportunity to be fully present with loved ones and open to all of the unpredictable moments that leave you in awe of your surroundings.

    It might be shoulders starting to soften or in some cases, kicking shoes off and dancing barefoot under the moonlight. I see people living more and more in the present, which is where true happiness resides.

  • Nihi employs hundreds of local Sumbanese and supports the efforts of The Sumba Foundation, which is empowering communities through humanitarian aid. How important to Nihi Sumba is social good and helping others?

  • The Sumbanese people have always been at the heart of everything we do at Nihi. We showcase the incredible work done by the Sumba Foundation at our SF Movie & BBQ Night which takes place once a week at the resort and by encouraging guests to go on tour to the local clinic and school lunch programs. The generosity of Nihi’s guests over the years has had a profound impact on the island.

    Nihi also works closely with The Sumba Hospitality Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that trains Sumbanese people to work in hotels. We have cross-training and internship programs at the resort to create more opportunities for people on the island to develop their careers.

  • What about the Race for Wellness got you excited to participate and support Project Happiness?

  • Having seen the documentary Project Happiness years ago, and the insight shared across the globe about the true source of happiness, there was a clear alignment with our vision at Nihi. We love the idea of inspiring people to make healthy decisions, be service-oriented and help spread awareness of an important cause.  

  • Tell us about the Major Prize Nihi Sumba is generously giving our Race for Wellness participants the chance to win. What amazing things can people expect to experience during their stay?

  • Nihi is offering a free four-night stay for the grand prize winner and their plus one in one of our luxury villas. From the moment you arrive on Sumba, you will be greeted by our team and brought to the resort by a safari jeep with views of wildlife, Sumba’s iconic villages and stunning landscapes. Expect to immediately feel at home in the jungle with accommodation inspired by traditional Sumbanese architecture including a private pool with views of the Indian Ocean, and a mix of Asian and Western cuisine. We have created a Project Happiness itinerary for the winner with daily yoga classes on our hilltop pavilion, an excursion out with the Sumba Foundation, standup paddling and snorkeling from the Nihi boathouse, and plenty more surprises!

  • race for wellness
  • Inspired? Register for the Race for Wellness to start your fitness journey! The Race can be done from anywhere in the world and lasts September 15th to October 15th. Set your own goals and contribute to a great cause!