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Redefining Freedom: An Empowering Change in Perspective

For a long time, there has been a calling in my heart that was not easy to hear, listen to, and answer. For many years, I have been on a journey of global travel and simultaneously an internal journey of self-discovery, personal growth, yoga, spiritual practices, and redefining freedom. This exploration of the world and myself was my entire lived experience for several years as I pursued life as a full-time nomad.

What initially sparked my interest in travel was personal growth. Whether this was a fully conscious decision or not, I knew at some level that I was not living in alignment with my most authentic self, and that I had some discovery to do. I knew from personal experience that pushing myself out of my comfort zone (and I mean FAR out) was always the fastest route to growth.

So I left the country and pushed myself into new and overwhelming experiences, jobs, places, and practices. I found a passion for yoga, and became a travelling yoga teacher, finding many amazing opportunities through Yoga Trade. I discovered permaculture, became a body worker, and found myself among communities of people who not only shared my passions, but made me feel at home in this world.

Life became an experience of absolute freedom, as I learned to trust the Universe and myself more and more, and learned to let go of plans and expectations. I often had no idea where I would be a month from now, and followed the inspirations and opportunities that presented themselves to me. The world became my oyster as I learned that I could literally do anything I wanted, and go anywhere I dreamed.

But after several years of living this way, something shifted. I no longer yearned for constant new and foreign experiences to delight my senses. I no longer sought to move my heart and my body every few months.

With the freedom of absolute choice, came an inner knowing of discernment. I began to learn about myself and my preferences, my passions, my goals and my dreams. I was no longer a lost girl who needed to experience everything to learn what life was about. I had clarity.

Suddenly, unlimited choice became burdensome rather than freeing. As I gained awareness of my authentic self and the things I was most passionate about, I wanted to create, cultivate, and build something. Moving every few months kept me in a state of constant readjustment, which was something I was well adapted to handle. I knew the practices, people, places, and experiences I needed to carve out to create a happy existence in each new place, and doing so was no longer out of my comfort zone.

Instead of making me free, constant movement was holding me back from expanding into a woman who could take all I had learned and apply it. I was being called to find stillness, to focus my energy on creating and building and honing in on my passions and purpose.

It was really difficult for me to accept this knowledge at first. I had confused my authentic identity, which I found through my inner and outer journey, with the act of travel. I had confused the concept of freedom with the act of being free of commitment to any single place or path.

Ultimately, listening to my heart has guided me to end my full time travels and commit to a particular path that feels in total alignment with my passions and purpose. The most empowering shift in perspective I have experienced throughout this transition has been shifting my relationship with the concept of freedom.

Freedom of choice provided me with the clarity to know who I am, what I love most, what my gifts and talents are, where my community is, how I want to feel, and how I want to exist and move through the world. I fully endorse anyone who is willing and courageous enough to walk into the unknowns of exploration that solo travel provides, and to truly discover themselves through the freedom of choice.

For me, now armed with the knowledge of clarity, freedom looks very different.

There is a new kind of freedom that comes from knowing yourself so deeply, and committing to the things, places, people, and paths that fully align with your soul.

Commitment and learning to stay still have opened up a whole new realm of creativity and opportunity. There is freedom that comes from knowing the difference between something that is right for me and something that is a beautiful idea for someone else. There is freedom in saying no to things that are not my passion. There is freedom in becoming so clear on what I want, that anything outside of that does not need to be experienced to know it isn’t right.

Remembering that I am free, even though I am no longer floating through life with no fixed address empowers me to embrace my experience. This transition is big and scary, and SO FAR out of my comfort zone. I still have a lot of work to do to cultivate the lifestyle, community, career, partnership, and home of my wildest dreams. Sometimes I feel daunted and overwhelmed, and my self-doubt has me asking myself “what the heck am I doing here?” and “why did I give up a life of total adventure for this?”

In these moments, I graciously remind myself that all of the lessons and growth of the road led me here. That those adventures, challenges, and new experiences taught me who I am, and what I am meant to do in this world. I am finding the discipline to dedicate myself to what I now know is right for me.

And now, freedom looks like consciously choosing and committing to walk the path that I have fully chosen. Freedom means I know myself and belong to myself so deeply, that I have the courage to do exactly what I am meant to do.

 

 

 

Hannah is a wild soul, nature lover, plant enthusiast, yogi, and community builder. She is passionate about facilitating healing through connecting humans with each other and the natural world. She is now pursuing full time studies as a Clinical Therapeutic Herbalist in Canada, and plans to begin offering re-wilding retreats for women in Costa Rica in 2020.

@rewildthesoul

Yoga Retreats: An Escape From Reality or Deeper Engagement?

The first yoga retreat I attended was intended to be a mere pit-stop on a lone trip around South East Asia. I was not-so-fresh out of university and in need of some serious TLC. My shoulders were permanently up to my ears, jaw always tightly clenched and the worries of the world sat in my stomach like lead stewing in acid. I arrived with tonsillitis, my pasty white skin contrasting sharply with the ruby red rash all over my body. In short, I was a mess.

I’d barely practised yoga before, but decided on a whim to try a retreat as a kick-start to a trip I’d imagined would be full of cocktails on beaches and partying with strangers. My focus was the location; little beach huts on a gorgeous Thai island, idyllic gardens stretching into sand and sea. On day one, I reluctantly dragged myself from the beach for the first yoga class, relatively disinterested and quietly cursing over the time I was losing to bask in the sunshine. It therefore came as a total surprise that whilst lying in Savasana at the end, I couldn’t stop tears from rolling down my cheeks. One by one at first, slowly but surely erupting into quiet sobs that came from depths I didn’t know existed.

After the class, I shyly loitered around the teacher, waiting to ask what had just happened to me. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable and had no idea where this explosion of emotion had come from. Was I somehow doing yoga wrong? Only an hour before, I’d been lounging on the beach without a care in the world…or so I thought. I was told it was normal, common even, for deep emotional trauma to be released during yoga. This certainly had never happened to me at the gym, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this class was any different.

Curious, I persisted. I observed as layers of tension melted away day by day. I watched as my body and mind somehow became stilled by my previously shallow and laboured breath. What fascinated me the most was how deep the transformation seemed to be going in such a short space of time. I arrived feeling depleted and lost, but left only days later totally full; full of joy and calm and hope and excitement and energy, sensations I hadn’t felt for a long time. The experience ended up colouring my entire trip, moulding my decisions and steering me towards more fulfilling choices than I perhaps previously had in mind. Decision number one? Book another yoga retreat.

When I arrived at the next retreat centre in Cambodia only weeks later, I connected instantly. The place gave me tingles. The community at Hariharalaya practice and teach integral yoga, living yoga both on and off the mat – a concept although new to me at the time, resonated like nothing before. I was hungry to learn, eager to go deeper into this practice that had rapidly become so important to me. I could write essay after essay on what arose for me during that week, but suffice to say that my time at Hariharalaya was significant, eye-opening and life-changing. I left there a different person, evolved in some way I wasn’t quite sure of. How was this possible in only one week?

Despite travelling hundreds of kilometres to Indonesia after I left Hariharalaya, I knew I had to go back. Within weeks, I turned around and turned up again, excited for what I thought was to be round two of a personal transformation. But this time, something quite different occurred to me. I had been so focused on the power of yoga, I hadn’t noticed the power of a retreat. Of the particular format which, over mere days can prompt radical transformation; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

It was only by going to this same place a second time that I realised this. The first time I had been lost in my own metamorphosis – which by the way, is by no means a onetime thing! This second time, I couldn’t help but observe others. I watched as people, just like me, arrived frazzled and fatigued, tight and tense. Not in all cases, of course, but for the large part, it transpired that people had come as a means of release and relaxation, escape from their daily lives. As time passed, those who had made nervous small talk on the first day slowly crept out of themselves, sharing with sincerity and support. Others became more introverted, tucking themselves away and tapping into creative outlets. Some delved deep into yoga, others delved deep into novels. But each and every person radiated a satisfaction and content which grew exponentially as each day passed. Day by day, I watched as this new family opened up, blossoming in the light of the space that was held for them.

This, to me, is the root of what a retreat does: it holds space for transformation. It guides, teaches and nurtures, coaxing innate qualities to burst forward. Yoga is the tool, the practice around which all of this comes together. For many, there is neither time nor motivation to practice yoga every day, allowing the huge benefits of doing so to be revealed only during a retreat. Although tasty food and exotic locations often provide the temptation to book, it is this space that people come for, often unknowingly. It seems these days that we don’t allow ourselves enough time and space to explore creativity and spirituality, to play, to connect with nature and ourselves. It is this which I find so inspiring about retreats; that a formula so simple can provoke such a profound response.

The word retreat comes from the Latin retrahere, meaning ‘pull back.’ People’s perceptions of a retreat are no doubt shaped by the spectrum of its synonyms, from sanctuary and seclusion to withdrawal, isolation and hiding. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a retreat as a “process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.” In many ways, this is what I was doing when I booked my first retreat. I mindlessly entered my card details as procrastination from the endless difficulties of university work, daydreaming of myself on a beach in Thailand. The sad fact is that many of us feel the need to withdraw or pull back from fast-paced, high-pressure lifestyles in order to be able to process what is going on around us.

Whilst this may be the reason that some of us choose to go on a yoga retreat, it is certainly not its purpose. Whether we realise it or not, by consciously setting time aside to step out of usual routines and their accompanying anxieties, we are prompted to journey inward. Retreats offer us an environment in which we are able to listen to ourselves without distraction, to realise, reassess and refocus. This might expose depths of ourselves which have been overlooked. Suppressed energies can surface, and as such, going on retreat is not always easy. It is not an escape from reality, but a deeper engagement with it.

In taking the time to stop, listen and reflect, new perspectives naturally arise. As Marcel Proust once wrote, “the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” This to me beautifully captures the longer-term benefits of going on retreat. Even though we must return to that from which we have withdrawn, we do so with new eyes. We go back to our roles, relationships and responsibilities with a fresh perspective. In this sense, the process of withdrawal on retreat is tactical; sometimes it is important to withdraw in order to advance.

 

 

 

Rachel Bilski is the co-founder of Shanti Niwas, a yoga collaborative currently holding yoga retreats and classes in Portugal. You can follow her musings on yoga, travel and life on the Shanti Niwas blog: www.shantiniwas.com/snblog

Flow Like Water

GO WITH THE FLOW

Yoga has taught me so many life lessons and above all it has shown me how to go with the flow. When I apply the ‘flow like water’ approach to my life, I move and breathe with ease and enjoyment. If I choose to fight against challenging moments or events, everything feels much more unmanageable. As I prepare to move to a new city and begin teaching yoga at brand new studios, going with the flow is keeping me grounded and relatively calm.

FROM MAT TO THE REAL WORLD

My favorite style of yoga to practice is power vinyasa yoga, or power flow. I am drawn to the fluidity of this practice– how each pose is connected to the next through flow and breath. It reminds me of a beautiful dance that allows its practitioners to move through negative blocks into positive, open space. The more I hit my lake-boatmat, the more I’m reminded of the benefits of pushing past stuck energy and discomfort. If I sit and wallow in complaint for too long I begin to see every event as a struggle and every action seems to require more effort than I want to afford it. If I go with the flow though, I am able to let go of what is no longer serving me and stay in the present moment.

GETTING PRESENT

Going with the flow requires us to be present to what’s happening before us. We must first be grounded in the now in order to move through it into something new. My go-to grounding technique? I look at my feet, spread out my toes and press firmly into the ground.
Doing this connects me with the current moment and rooting down into the earth keeps my mind where my body is in reality. It centers me and requires me to slow down my racing mind. Once I’m calm and present I can choose to let go of anything from the past that’s preventing me from living powerfully and happily, and I can flow like water into the next moment. My mentor, Power Yoga Canada Co-Founder Kinndli McCollum, uses the image of water running off a duck’s back to describe going with the flow and letting go. It’s a
powerful metaphor that has stuck with me.

DON’T FIGHT THE CHALLENGE

In my view, it’s not only counter-productive to sit there and complain about how things aren’t going my way, it’s dis-empowering. It removes my personal power, which allows me to act in the moment and move on from discomfort into decisive action. Instead of focusing on all that’s not going right, I’ll do my best to shift my perspective and set my Drishti or gaze on what IS working out. From that place of positivity, a new world of possibility opens up to me. I am able to see solutions to problems that were seemingly hidden before and I can move through a challenge, coming out on the other side unscathed and stronger than before.

TEST IT OUT

Next time you feel your body tensing up and your mind racing, ground yourself, breathe and consider dropping the struggle, and going with the flow. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You may find it hard to just go with it when you’re starting to take on this new way of being, but once you do there’s some incredible gifts waiting for you on the other side. If you go with the flow you may just end up finding out you yoga-hairactually enjoy something you never thought you would, you may feel more resilient than ever before for kicking crisis in the butt with grace, and you may cultivate lasting inner peace.

Namaste.

Eryl McCaffrey is a Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher from Toronto, Ontario. She’s also a Freelance Writer, who’s passionate about health and wellness. Eryl believes in the power of love to heal and advance the world. Her blog:twofeetheartbeat.wordpress.com