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A Yoga Work Trade in Hawaii

Aloha friends!  This is my review of the retreat centre I worked at and my experience of living like a local on a work trade (spoiler: it was a dream come true!).

 

Hawaii has been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember…active volcanoes, spinner dolphins and being able to see the Milky Way being some of the many reasons why.

 

When an opportunity popped up on Yoga Trade at a yoga retreat centre on the Big Island, I didn’t waste a moment. I applied to be their resident yoga instructor and within a month I was on my way.

 

 

The Kirpal Ecological and Meditation Centre (KMEC)

 

Location

 

This lovely little retreat centre is on the Big Island of Hawaii in an area called Pahoa. Since this side of the island is in the shadow of the volcano (Kilauea) it tends to be the more rainy/cloudy side, but as a result it is so lush and rugged it feels like you’re in the Jungle Book.

 

The volcano is very active, which has also put people off developing the land here. In fact, the volcano was erupting a steady flow of lava into the sea during my stay. We went to go and look at the surface flow and poke it with sticks (and do handstands on it!).

 

Another great thing about being on this side of the island is the clear night skies. Lack of building developments = no light pollution = amazing stargazing! When wandering back to my cabin at night I would look up at the stars and feel so grateful for the opportunity to be staying there.

 

Accommodation

 

There are about 10 log cabins for guests spaced out over the property. They are basic but if you’re a fan of adventure and being at one with nature then you will love them. You’ll fall asleep at night to the croaks of the coqui frogs and the sound of the ocean in the distance. It’s truly magical.

 

Food

 

The work trade volunteers at KMEC cook breakfast and dinner in the community kitchen, which guests can choose to have at an extra cost. Everything is vegan, gluten-free, organic and DELICIOUS!

 

Breakfast is fairly simple buffet with gluten-free cereals, fruit and teas/coffees. The dinners, however – another story! We had a chef staying with us who is now interning at a fancy restaurant in New York – she was so talented and everything she made was to die for. Some sample meals we had:

 

  • Vegan tacos and chilli
  • Jackfruit BBQ “pulled pork”
  • Quinoa crust pizza

 

And with a beautiful communal dining area, everything tasted ten times better.

 

Sustainability

 

The property is off-the-grid meaning everything runs off solar power, propane or a backup generator. A rainwater catchment system provides filtered water for everything – showers, taps, washing machines. During spells of dry weather this meant we ran out of water a couple of times and had to call in reinforcements to fill up the water tanks.

 

Some of my time was spent harvesting fruits from the gardens for our meals, which I really enjoyed. Any food or garden waste is made into compost that we used to fertilize the gardens.

 

Yoga and Meditation

 

Guests staying at KMEC can attend morning yoga classes in the lovely yoga hale for $10, taught by the resident yoga teacher at the time.

 

At the bottom of the gardens you’ll find a Balinese meditation pavilion, the pride and joy of Len, the owner of the property. The parts were all flown in from Bali and blessed by his Guru. There’s a mini library in there, mostly the teachings of Master Kirpal Singh, the meditation guru after whom the centre was named.

 

Life as a Work Trader

 

There are usually about 15 volunteers staying at KMEC at any one time, plus two managers who are full time employees. I was sharing a bunk bed in a teensy cabin with one other volunteer. This made me a little claustrophobic at first but actually we were rarely in our cabins apart from right before bed so I had no trouble with personal space issues. We also became BFFs so never wanted to be apart anyway!

 

We pretty much lived outdoors, which is such a wonderful experience. Our cabin had a screen as a window to keep bugs out but apart from that you feel like you’re just living at one with nature. Even in the bathroom, when you shower or sit on the loo you’re looking out into the jungle.

 

The jobs you can do as a work trader at KMEC include maintenance, gardening, managing the reception, cooking, cleaning and yoga teaching. In exchange for your accommodation and free daily yoga, volunteers are asked to work 25 hours per week and pay $150 for food. I did a mixture of yoga teaching, housekeeping, working on reception and a bit of cooking for my ohana. A typical working day (5 days a week) looked like this:

 

7:30 – 9: teach yoga

9 – 10: breakfast

10 – 1: housekeeping reception/cook lunch

1 – 2: lunch

2 – 5: yoga practice, read, beach time

6:30: dinner + relax

 

As work trades are so common here, I felt part of a big community, almost like I was living like a local. The same people would pick me up when I was hitch hiking, I’d see people I knew at Uncle Robert’s market or at Kehena beach for the Sunday drum circle. I loved this way of traveling compared to just staying in hostels and doing touristy things everyday. Not only was it MUCH cheaper, but we got to find out about sites and activities that tourists would never see, simply because we were with people who live on the island permanently and knew all the secrets.

 

“Ohana” means family.

 

I know it’s inevitable to become close with people you’re living and working with, but there is definitely something special about the people at KMEC!

 

Even though we were experiencing some of the most unique, out-of-this-world activities on a weekly basis (active lava flows, wild horses, whale watching) it’s the smaller, everyday things that will stay in my memory forever.

 

Like chasing cockroaches out of my cabin with my roomie almost on a nightly basis. Or hitchhiking 3 hours across the volcano crammed in the back of a truck with 2 other volunteers. Or singing around a campfire with the whole crew.

 

I could go on forever, but suffice to say it was one of the happiest times in my life so far.

Teaching Yoga at KMEC

 

Teaching yoga every single day at KMEC allowed me to develop my teaching skills to another level. Each class was a mix of guests and other volunteers, which gave me the experience of watching some students progress each day, but also the variety and challenge of always having new students in the class. In the afternoons I’d often help my friends work on specific asanas so I also had plenty of experience teaching in a one-to-one setting.

 

With the experience I got at KMEC (plus several other Yoga Trades I did throughout the year) I found it much easier to get teaching positions at studios when I got back home.

 

Final Thoughts

 

My time at KMEC was truly one of the happiest times of my life. Everyone who passes through remarks on just how special the energy is here, guests and staff alike. This side of the island has so many unique things to see and do and KMEC is the perfect base from which to access all of them, whilst being a unique experience in its own right.

 

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of this special community and I truly mean it when I say: Big Island, I’ll be back.

 

Mahalo for reading everyone!

 

Originally published here:

ashtangayogagirl.com/yoga-work-trade-hawaii/

 

 

 

Natalie is a traveling yoga teacher and blogger from London. Her quest to delve deeper into the Ashtanga tradition has led her all over the world, from India to Hawaii and Indonesia. She documents her adventures on her yoga blog, Ashtanga Yoga Girl.

IG : @ashtangayogagirl

How Hawaii Cracked Me Open

I’m writing this face down on a massage table while getting tattooed in Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii.

I’m leaving Sunday afternoon to head back home to Philadelphia. I’ve been on the big island for almost three and a half months, staying at an eco resort on the Puna side.

I came here in April, just two weeks after announcing to my first “big girl” job that I had decided to leave the company. Before this, my best friend Chelsea and I spent our lunch breaks eating ice cream and complaining how we were falling into the category of college graduates who were at a standstill in life. We had no real idea what we wanted to do or how to do it. We decided that we should treat ourselves—get away for a long weekend. Maybe a vacation would give us a creativity boost?

While searching for our get-a-way we noticed one hit kept popping up, Kalani Eco Resort, a retreat center based on the big island of Hawaii. Kalani offered one to three month volunteer opportunities where you’d stay and work 30 hours a week in a department and in return, live in paradise. We decided to apply.

We sent in applications and our deposits, not really thinking about it until we heard back, less than a week after requesting a phone interview. Chelsea was ecstatic; I was too, but a little hesitant.

Could I really quit my job to go live in the jungle for a month? What about money? What would my parents say? What would their friends say?

A flurry of questions floated through my head that all had me doubting my sanity, why I even decided to attempt to up and leave in the first place. I decided against going through with the phone interview, while Chelsea had gone through and been accepted to go for the month of May. She put her two weeks in at work and off to Hawaii she went.

I was jealous, but even worse, I was angry with myself for being so scared to take risks. I can remember sitting at my desk at work during a particularly tough day looking at a banana that I had packed for lunch and having tears well up in my eyes. I was crying over a banana. How I would never see where bananas grew or do anything daring because I was scared of taking risks.

The night that I made the decision that my life wasn’t going to change until I made it change. I put my two weeks at work and shortly after, received a text message from Chelsea’s mom saying, “I’m sending you to Hawaii to visit Chelsea. Not taking no for an answer. Send me your availability.”

I was flabbergasted. First of all, I should tell you that I’m terrified of flying. The first thing that came to my mind was that there’s no way can I do this; I’m too scared to cross the country, let alone go be sent alone, across the ocean for a week. Worry, worry, worry. It consumed me always.

Still, something was nagging me to just let it go (e ho mi—Google it) and embrace the unknown.

I should now mention that to top all of this off, I had broken up with a serious boyfriend of three years back in January and was having a difficult time moving on. Chelsea often reassured me the only way one can grow from any hard time is to try new things, be uncomfortable, embrace fear.

So that’s what I did.

When I landed in Hawaii something happened. A lot of people I’ve talked to, who live on the Big Island or have visited the Big Island, at some point, agree with me on this. I felt a pull. I immediately got off the plane and had felt more at home than I had ever felt in my entire 23 years. I found solstice in this place that was as foreign to me as anything. I couldn’t describe it.

I had tears in my eyes the entire hour drive from the airport to Kalani. And it was still dark out! We walked to Chelsea’s tent, a small four person. I met Majik, Chelsea’s next-tent-neighbor. He politely introduced himself. We made small talk until he said something that I’ll never forget; he excused himself to go off to bed because he had to get up to go to yoga in the morning. He quickly corrected himself though and rephrased his answer saying, “I get to go to yoga in the morning.” A simple rephrase is something that made me automatically switch my thinking from the negative to positive.

We went into our tent and fell asleep.

I woke up in the jungle. It was a chaotic layout of nature that literally brings me to tears. Chelsea has already planned out our whole day, a trip to Kole Kole beach and then Akaka Falls. I don’t think my mouth shut once that day. I was in awe of everything. People’s calmness, the stillness that exuded from them. The sense of rush and franticness was no longer apparent like it was back on the mainland. My father often joked that I drank the kool aid. My response is always, “Yeah, and then I asked for seconds.”

Hawaii had stolen my heart. I fell more deeply in love with a piece of rock than I ever had with another human being. For the first time in 23 years, my anxieties, worries and fears melted away like lava and I became at peace with life. I knew that I needed to stay longer than my scheduled five days. The island was taking care of me.

Chelsea encouraged me to speak with the volunteer office. I did just that. I scheduled an appointment to continue with my application, the office already had my deposit and paperwork, and since I was already staying at Kalani, I could interview in person.

I remember being scared: What if they didn’t accept me? It would be quite the awkward rest of the week. I sat with a gentleman who later became one of my dearest friends. I expressed to him my concerns about not getting in, there not being space, worry, worry, worry.

He asked me a simple question, “Do you want to stay?”

I replied, “I need to stay.”

He said, “Then that’s it, you’re staying.”

His confidence in me, a complete stranger to him at the time, was like receiving a hug from your mother after you skin your knee on the sidewalk. I walked into my interview with ease. I felt confident in myself. Sam (the gentleman from Scotland who interviewed me), and I spoke like we were old friends carrying on a conversation after years of not seeing one another. I remember the last thing that he said to me is that they would be honored to have me continue to stay at Kalani.

So I stayed. I stayed for three and a half months, and lived harder and did more than I ever expected I would ever do in my whole life. I lived where some people save their entire lives to vacation for a week. It’s in invaluable experience that I’m grateful for every day.

The island brings up lots of issues for people and really forces you to deal with things you’ve been trying to avoid. I had some of the hardest days of my life there and also the best. I swam with dolphins. I hiked to a waterfall. I lived next to an active volcano. I made family for a lifetime. When Majik says that he is blessed, well, and lucky—well it’s true. I am too.

So here I am on a massage table getting a tattoo on the back of my neck (sorry, Mom and Dad). It’s an opening lotus with a person meditating in the middle. I’ve blossomed here. It’s been one hell of a journey.

I’ve learned about the power of saying, “Yes!” and facing our insecurities head on.

Let me know how it goes when you do it.

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This was written by Yoga Trade member, Stephanie Juris, who is a follower of the sun.

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