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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

You Are The Writer Of Your Own Life Travels through Ireland, the UK, India, Australia, and New Zealand

It has been such an incredibly beautiful journey with many lessons and blessings along the path.

 

This journey began back in Ireland after returning home for nearly 2 years, my soul was longing for something else, somewhere else and I wasn’t too sure what. I just knew I needed to go. It was almost like a ticking in my heart saying now is the time. The only thing I could do was listen to that calling and follow my heart; “It’s time to spread your wings and fly Clare.”

 

On one of our random sunny days in Ireland, I headed for Kilkenny Castle and went straight to the gardens to connect with Mother Earth, I got my laptop out and started to apply for yoga jobs on Yoga Trade around the world. Seeing which places I felt energetically drawn to at the time. Boom! Done, dusted, Sorted. I left it in the hands of the universe and waited knowing in my heart I would be leaving very soon. My family and friends thought it couldn’t be possible to move somewhere in 3 weeks without a job and somewhere to live. I trusted though…my soul knew.

 

A few days later I received a phone call from the UK. I moved there 3 weeks later! Aww Wee!

 

Scotland was so beautiful, almost like taking a step back in time, I knew I had been there before, there was a strange familiarity about the place perhaps in a past life. I was exactly where I needed to be. I spent a few weeks working, connecting with people and spending time with the elementals in parks and beaches. My heart still felt saddened though, something was missing… Yoga in some parts of the western world was becoming more money based instead of love based. Humanity is becoming addicted to technology, asana, and the outside world. We are creating insecurity and losing our self worth instead of being present with each other, finding the magic within coming from a place of love, healing, connection and safety. When we come from a place of love the abundance will flow.

 

One day I was having a conversation with a friend and I just said I don’t think this is for me, I blurted out…“MY SOUL IS BROKEN.”

 

Wow… who said that and where did it come from? (These were powerful words and I didn’t know to what extent at the time)! I surprised myself with the words that came out of my own mouth. It was a relief though and I felt this beautiful sense of peace wash over me. I felt happy and light again. That was my catalyst for CHANGE.

 

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

 

I welcomed transformation into my life. Once I acknowledged how I felt and accepted it, a whole new world started to open up. My energetic vibration lifted higher and therefore I created new energy pathways to be revealed to me.

 

I was asked to facilitate a workshop with another teacher, “Awaken Your Inner Goddess” two days later in the most amazing studio in Edinburgh. My heart jumped with joy and that little voice inside roared YES, I WOULD LOVE TO! Again I was wondered who said that. I didn’t even have time to think about it in my head, did I know enough, what would I teach? It meant I was moving into the unknown, taking it one step at a time, allowing my heart to lead the way. Change can both be little scary, very exciting and totally worth it. I was a self employed yoga teacher teaching my truth and everyone’s truth is different and I totally respect that. I connected with the most amazing and loving souls, learning and growing from each other with plenty of fun and giggles along the way, I was finding my love for yoga again.

 

I was ready to move into my new home. My heart started to do that thing again though, you know the ticking thing before I left Ireland. I went and sat near the biggest tree in the meadows that day and began meditating hoping to pick up some inner wisdom and clarity from the tree. I did get the odd intrigued look from a few people…either they wanted to join in on my peaceful looking meditation or else just thought I was totally nuts.

 

I closed my eyes and tuned in, there was something else coming, there was something more I had to learn and it wasn’t here, this was just the start of the story. I was feeling a bit panicked as I was meant to be moving into my new home and decisions needed to be made soon.

 

It was full moon that night so I went out to the park and did my full moon ritual, writing down what I wanted to let go of and burning the paper as a way of releasing it to the ethers.

 

I sat on a bench and my conversation with Mother Moon that evening went something like.. .”I really like it here but why do I have this feeling. If I’m not meant to be here, something better happen will soon and when I say soon I mean before tomorrow night because if I move into my new place, then I’m not leaving for the next 6 months.” Feeling I needed to be firm so she knew my seriousness and of course having so much love and gratitude in my heart at the same time. (I really didn’t think much could happen in one day though, come on, I was really testing the universe here.)

 

In bed that night I awoke in the middle of the night, I leaned over and picked up my phone to check the time. I had an email on the screen. “Possible New Opportunities” it read. I opened it, it was an email from INDIA asking if I would be interested in a Yoga Therapist position in an Ayurveda Hospital in Kerala. What the….! The excitement! I emailed back straight away. I must have applied for this job online before I got here…although I really don’t remember applying for it. We organised a Skype call for an interview the following evening, it just felt right in my heart. They emailed back a day later to say they would love to offer me the position if I was still interested. That inner voice popped out again, YES PLEASE! I could see this was becoming a bit of a pattern and I had no control over it, my heart and the universe were leading me and there was nothing I could do only surrender and trust.

 

They could see the bigger picture.

 

It was time to say see you later to everyone in Scotland for the time being. I’m forever grateful to my yoga family there that showed me the light again, reminding me of that beautiful, powerful and wise divine goddess energy always present within me, guiding me on my path.

 

I accepted the job, packed up my car and left the next day to head back to The Emerald Isle to apply for my visa. India here I come.

 

My conscious self was still a little in disbelief, I was offered a job to go teach yoga in the Motherland. This is a yogi’s dream come true. Wow! Did I really manifest this and was it really happening? Such Magic! The gratitude in my heart, I felt just completely at peace, loved, safe, protected and guided.

 

I often think if I didn’t honor my heart that time and continued on with my broken soul, my disheartened spirit, if I resisted change and didn’t take the chance where would I be now….? This was such a valuable lesson going forward for me to always be true to myself and speak my truth with a courageous heart.

 

I try to apply this in all areas of my life now, it’s not always easy as I am only human after all. As much as I can, I live in the heart, I express how I really feel with kind and honest words, look for the blessings in every lesson experienced here, to be my true authentic self no matter what and remembering to always have fun along the way.

 

If I’m not honoring all those things, I’m hiding the true me and well then, what’s the point? I’m living a life that doesn’t truly make me happy, I’m not accepting or loving myself and may miss out in the opportunities and possibilities that are for my Soul Purpose and healing which is leading me to our over all goal in this life, that one thing we are all looking for and need in this world…. LOVE. When we raise our vibration to love, we send out an energetic field that affects those around us that we care about, healing one heart at a time. And with that Heart energy, it has a positive Ripple Effect healing humanity. We really do have the power to change OUR world. You are the writer of your own life!

 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

 

The Butterfly Yogini

Clare Fitzgerald

Founder and Director at Solas – Heart And Soul Of Who We Are

Instagram: Butterfly_yogini

Love. Inspire. Grow. Heal. Transformation.

How Joining the Cast of ‘The Beach’, Led to Yoga in Kuwait

THE BEACH, PART 1

 

I have lived a life of excess and I mean excess! I am generous, cheerful, with an enjoyment for travel and adventure believing that ‘life is for living’ so everything I have done has been done to the extreme until there was nothing left, especially red wine!

 

I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to escape to a yoga retreat, which somehow was connected to a wine bar, yet for some reason, I could never find one.

 

Now, I have studied yoga before, I wouldn’t say I was a yogi, but it was definitely one of the excesses that I had a relationship with. A healthy one, but of course one that fell to the wayside.

 

Finding myself at 38, single, burnt out, uninspired, inactive and a body full of red wine. I decided this was a great time to live out my dream of escaping to the land of Namaste and sun salutations. I didn’t really give too much thought about it, I’m not the one to search too much, I’m impulsive and don’t have the patience to find the best deal. The only certain factor was that the destination was Bali. Why? Because I had travelled there before, loved it, knew it relatively well, was really cheap to live and it was close to Australia.

 

On occasions I had visited Bali previously, I stayed in Seminyak. So I knew straight away Seminyak was not going to give me the Serenity I needed and Kuta, well I’m Australian so Kuta for me is a no-go zone. I think I drove through Kuta once, with my doors locked and windows up. This is nothing to do with the locals, but the Australians that flock there who seem to have been released from a zoo. I can say that I’m an Aussie. We even had a TV show about Australians in Bali. It was a cross between Jersey Shore and well Jerry Springer. Both lovely shows. Google them and you will understand.

 

With Bali in mind, I sat down at my computer and googled Yoga Retreats, Bali. On the screen before me, popped up a number of locations. Since Seminyak and Kuta were out, I went with my intuition and clicked on Canggu Beach. Now I am definitely a guy who looks for “signs” and here at the top of Google search was a Singles Yoga Retreat, (yes singles, don’t rub it in!). A 30-day yoga retreat in Canggu Bali and it was on sale at Serenity Eco Yoga Retreat.

 

Now I mentioned I was into life’s signs, so this deal almost jumped through my screen and I started packing my bags while I booked my flight, without even googling where Canggu was, I was just going.

 

In under a week, I was seated on a plane trying to drink the aircraft out of red wine, before I landed in Bali on my quest to become a Yogi. I landed late, tired and quite happy with the planes bar service; all I wanted to do was sleep so I did.

 

Waking up with a little sore head, I was taken back by the scene before me. I swear I had landed on the set of The Beach, with Leonardo ordering his takeaway Soy Latte in front of me.

Scattered around this eco-friendly yoga retreat, were pretty young men and women from all over our vast globe, talking in their native tongue and lounging on outdoor couches, sitting in groups perched in a thatched hut, barefoot and drinking Alkaline water.

 

I have never felt more miscast than ever.

 

Checking in for my first class of the month, I can say the thought crossed my mind to run to the nearest hotel with a bar and hide. Instead, I faced my fears, registered, grabbed my mat and started my first initiation into the yogi tribe.

 

Now in Yoga, there is no judging, so once I let my ego stop talking my head off, I found myself loving and being happy with my decision. This turned into great happiness when I found my tribe. People over 30, who were all traveling solo, and harbouring some sort of similar heartbreak, burn out story, similar to mine.

 

I found my own cast of The Beach.

 

From that moment forward I can say, my month spent in Bali, facing my demons, (hey I’m not going to lie, I did find a bar on a few occasions) was one of my happiest months in my 38 years.

 

I did downward dogs, I balanced on my head, I meditated, and I met amazing people from all over the globe. I laughed with these new friends, cried as well. Yoga can be an emotional journey. Ate fresh food cheaply, swam in the ocean, once even tried to boogie board with a new mate from Germany and both nearly drowned. The worst $2.50 I have ever spent. I spoke to anyone and everyone, because traveling solo you are forced too. I made friends with the locals and simply I fell in love with Bali. I also managed to fall back in love with life.

 

So after feeling miscast on my first day, I can honestly say no matter who you are, where you come from and what you have achieved, none of this mattered at my Single’s Yoga Retreat.

 

As for Yoga itself, it made me feel alive again, so alive that decided to head to India, to do a Yoga Teacher Training.

 

For anyone reading this who may be thinking of traveling alone, DO IT. Anyone thinking of visiting Bali, DO IT, and for anyone thinking of Yoga. DO IT.

 

THE BEACH, PART 2

 

Where do I start?

 

Well, first I made it. I am now a certified Ashtanga-Vinyasa Flow, meditation and pranayama teacher. 200 hours of back bending, sweating, studying, crying, laughing and well yoga, yoga, yoga.

 

So I seem to be attracting my tribe with my vibe, as the saying goes as I once I found myself staying at a real life movie set, with a gorgeous cast of yogis from all around the world. We represented Australia, Poland, Germany, UK, USA, Canada, Greece, New Zealand, France, Spain, Holland, Ireland, and Norway.

 

All of us brought together to experience a month of intense learning, not only of Yoga but of our true selves. Thrown into the deep end of learning, sharing, pushing boundaries, opening up, letting go, facing fears, twisting our bodies into inhumane positions, standing on our heads, we did all this whilst still trying to wake up every morning, smile and twist and contort our bodies again without attempting to run away.

 

It’s a journey like no other that can only really be explained by experiencing it.

 

I can say I meet a bunch of international beings who will always hold a place in my soul, as going through what we went through creates a bond stronger than any distance could ever break.

 

However, one thing that can be explained is where I was.

 

Kranti Yoga on Patnem Beach in Goa, India.

 

Kranti Yoga is a yogi community, village, oasis, home away from home, sanctuary. It’s completely out of a movie. Split into two sections, Garden View and Ocean View. Both sections are surrounded by cute shacks that are found on beaches all around the world, these shacks are built around outdoor yoga studios. You can also find a tree house chill out zone, a common area where we all ate and chatted convincing each other that we could make it to the end.

It’s fully equipped with a laundry, a kitchen where the local staff produces three yummy vegetarian meals a day. The beautiful Indian staff work tirelessly day in and day out to keep all us tired yoga students happy. Now with all the different nationalities and temperaments, that is no easy task, even though we should be Zen with all the yoga.

 

The two sections of Kranti are exactly what they are named, Garden view is built in the gardens surrounding the property and Ocean view is built right on the edge of the sand to the beach.

 

There is even a Yoga studio right on the edge of the sand, so there are moments when the sun is setting over the ocean while you’re saluting the sun and getting in the zone, moments like this can’t be described only felt. Since I felt them first hand I can say that you’re missing out if you never experience a moment like this in your life.

 

Kranti Yoga is built on Patnem Beach with its rolling waves and perfect water temperature that during lunch times and after class it became our personal massage therapist.

 

The two sections of the commune are joined by a dirt path, that where on any day you can see a variety of cows, monkeys and the local stray dogs who love escorting you from one side to the other. It’s like being in the Jungle Book.

 

Kranti the creator, the Master, the Guru himself, is a smiling entity whose presence was felt before you saw him by his charming positive energy that poured out of all his pores.

 

Being the creator of this home away from home for us like-minded yogis, he created something that only script writers could dream of creating. What Kranti has created is a reality, and could not be made for TV.

 

Now Goa I know is considered the Gold Coast or Miami of India but for me, this was a perfect introduction to India. Even though the beaches are similar to my home in Australia, we definitely don’t have cows that hang out on the beach, with packs of stray but friendly dogs, ladies selling homemade jewelry and massages being offered galore.

 

Driving also is different, beeping isn’t a sign of road rage in Goa, it means I’m coming through or the past and I hope no one is coming the other way. I learned just to hold on, close my eyes and chant.

 

Cows come to the restaurant at the same time each night for their feed, walk down the street, through the shops and stop traffic as they are scared. Monkeys come and watch you study yoga, they also are game enough to go into your room and steal your food and tease the dogs.

 

Electricity also isn’t a given. It cuts out at anytime it wants and could be off for 20 secs or 20 hours, brilliant when you are trying to sleep and the humidity is 90%.

 

Look, India isn’t for the faint-hearted even though I really was only on level 1. However, I can’t wait to revisit this wonderfully spiritual, dirty, moody unpredictable destination.

 

But for me, the next stop is Kuwait!

 

YOGA IN KUWAIT

 

After receiving my 200-hour Ashtanga – Vinyasa flow certification from Kranti Yoga in India I returned to Australia. I wasted no time in joining the wonderful global yoga networking site, Yoga Trade. That same day I applied for jobs in Bali, Philippines, South America, Oman, Thailand, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Kuwait the options were endless. I had a great response from most of my applications which excited me made me optimistic for what the future had in store.

 

Especially the places that being a yoga teacher could take me. The list is global. I applied for every job possible job that was advertised, volunteering, paid, unpaid I just went for it and put my best energy out there and decided to allow the universe to point me in the right direction.

 

Amongst all the jobs I applied for was a position in Kuwait where they advertised for a teacher with 2 years’ experience. Now I had 200 hours experience, no yoga teaching experience but 15 years of dance teaching behind me. I took the leap of faith, emailed them, explained my situation and to my surprise, they contacted me back.

 

Now I was home with my parents at the time, which is a small town in Australia with only 2 sets of traffic lights and not much yoga going on. They asked me to film a video of me teaching a class, since that was not a possibility I got creative and taught a class in my lounge room to no one……. Odd experience. I sent it off, I have to be honest not much confidence in my performance, I cringed trying to watch it back.

 

However to my surprise, they came back to me, with an offer to join their studio in Kuwait City, the only catch is I had to be there in 2 weeks.

 

Kuwait was never on my bucket or to-do list, but I took this as a sign that this could possibly be a great adventure. I live by the motto, “Take the chance, you never know it may just work out.”

 

So I accepted.

 

Luckily for me being single and having packed up my life on my quest for a new path, I didn’t have too much at stake really to stop me from getting on the plane and jumping into the unknown. So I did.

 

Now I find myself in Kuwait writing this article, 2 weeks into living and teaching yoga in Kuwait and my first week as a qualified yoga teacher under my belt. Boy, I wasn’t ready for this intense heat, yes 45 degrees celsius at 9:30 pm, teaching three classes a day, 5 days a week. Thrown in the deep end but I knew I had the ability to swim. I spent the first-week taking classes at the studio which was great. I was able to engage in the vibe and feel comfortable before launching into my own classes.

 

Another shock was city living after spending the last year either in a country town or the beaches of Bali or India. Outweighing all of the shocks is the joy of teaching and the response I have had from my classes has filled my heart with gratitude and joy. To have a student come up to me after class and say that my words helped her resolve problems in her life, to students appreciating the class and the energy, makes this new journey I have started so gratifying.

 

Helping people relieve their daily stress from their corporate jobs, family lives, love lives, personal struggles and taking them somewhere special and away from their struggles while they are on the mat, is so inspiring and emotionally satisfying that I can’t see myself doing anything else for a while and this is just the beginning.

 

From the first part of this article, you will see that in less than 6 months my journey and my soul have absolutely done a 360. For one, I am in a country where you can’t drink, who would have thought, and I have found a way forward when I didn’t think there was one.

 

This is the magic of Yoga, and of course, everyone’s journey is different but I am living proof that if you commit and let yoga work it’s magic, it will come to the party and assist you in more ways than you can imagine.

 

I have a few people to thank for this, Serenity Yoga in Bali for reigniting my love of Yoga, Kranti Yoga for teaching me to be the best teacher I can be at this early stage of my journey, Yoga Trade for being the best site in the world connecting Yogis, and Alive Yoga in Kuwait for living by my motto and taking a chance because it may just work out.

 

To you all NAMASTE.

 

This journey has changed my life. I’m not saying it will change yours, but if I learned anything on this trip. Anything is possible. You just need to jump.

 

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

Kane comes all the way from Australia and has a love for Yoga, Art and Dance. Finding yoga through dance, he has practiced in Bali and Australia until finally traveling to Goa, India where he did his Yoga Teacher Training in Ashtanga Vinyasa.

IG: @kanebonkeyoga

 

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

Leprosy & Lessons in Love: Meditation In Action

With fear on my mind and love in my heart, I choose to follow people who live to benefit more then just themselves.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, in total health and abundance but I became aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a life without service to others.

Nathan & Zohar, run meditation in action projects around the world known as Sangha Seva Retreats.

They first came to Anandwan in 2004 as volunteers and have been facilitating groups of people to experience and contribute to the community every year since.

Anandwan (‘Forest of Joy or Bliss’) is a leprosy rehabilitation center in Mararashtra, India. Baba Amte, a saintly man, founded Anandwan in 1951 with the mission of providing a life for people with Leprosy that went beyond offering medical support but a way for each individual to be wholly integrated in society.

All Photography by Shilpa Shah

Leprosy is the oldest known disease and is extremely misunderstood and stigmatized all over the world but particularly in India – as being grotesque, highly contagious and even a personal curse of God or Karma.

Historically, India has had the highest population of the disease with many afflicted people being rejected and disregarded from society – left to fend on their own support, in times of dire need of the support of others.

Baba Amte fiercely started this project with 6 patients living on donated government land- without even a water source. With the power of love in his heart, within only 2 years the land completely transformed into a self-sufficient community – apart from sugar, salt, and oil.

Therefore, you can imagine the jobs that were manifested – from making on-site homemade mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, fabrics, housing and furniture, homemade specialized wheelchairs, custom-made shoes for all these differently shaped mended bodies and feet, bio-waste methane system turning cow and food waste into gas to cook with, growing food and cooking for all these many mouths – all day, every day!

The community has grown to host approximately 3,000 individuals with a range of differences in the body and mind (children, elderly, with physical and mental disabilities) that may have not had a safe place in the world without Anandwan.

Anyone can live here with the guidelines of not taking any intoxicants, non-violence, and being willing to work, if able. Baba said “give people a chance – not charity,” which from my observation seems to be clearly successful.

As a part of the meditation-in-action mission, 17 international volunteers, joined together for 3 weeks to practice meditation while consciously living and working in various workshops throughout the Anandwan community.

I choose to work in the elderly home in the mornings and alternating between the hearing and the visually impaired school in the afternoon.

Besides working with other people, I had to deal with my own suppressed internalized fear I was unknowingly hosting around touching elderly people’s bodies. It really had nothing to do with Leprosy as in retrospect I remembered that I also felt this sense of rejection at my grandma’s retirement home in Toronto. The look of fragility and potential weaknesses somehow gave me the impression of it not feeling safe to touch the bodies of these human beings. Maybe some unconscious fear of “catching” whatever they have even if it was just my own projection of their pain and suffering. As it turns out, odds are as a human being, if I’m super lucky, I will indeed catch the state of old age regardless of physical contact will people or not.

Baba was known to say that the real leprosy to fear is this leprosy of the mind.

The illusive walls between where the being behind ‘their’ skin and mine – began to fade away. I realized that my intention was to share moments of connection, not “fix” anyone or anything.

Through breaking down my own barriers of fear I shared in the most precious exchanges of love during this project.

They, like you and me and all other beings- simply want to experience happiness- feel love, less suffering, less pain. Something we can all naturally offer to each other – but as I can see it must start with the fragile being behind our own skin.

The human beings living at Anandwan showed me strength and joy through the endurance of suffering and pain. Maybe it really is the challenges that strengthen the spirit. All I know is the light and love radiating from these people felt so bright that I couldn’t even see the different abilities, shapes of bodies or sense capabilities in all their various forms.

We all have opportunities to dive into these unfamiliar environments and into the power of love that exists beyond the discernment of our mind that constantly creates distinctions between good, bad, less or more, like or dislike, into this golden thread that ties us all together – the aliveness that exists in meeting each moment with full awareness- of life, exactly as it is.

“Namaste” – the people of Anandwan say here with their hands at their heart and I couldn’t imagine a greeting that was more appropriate. I see you – as a pure divine living, breathing, feeling being – as significant a life as the one I consider “my own.”

May we all find ways of stepping outside our own fears and into the transformation power of love – for ourselves and for each other.

 

 

 

Sacha Bryce, BSc, RYT, is a Holistic Yoga Therapist based in Toronto, Canada. She has travelled the globe studying, teaching and living Integral Yoga. Her mission is to share the power of the practice to liberate herself and others from suffering.

IG: @sachabryceyoga

5 Myths About Soul-Searching Travel

After living abroad and traveling the world for almost four years now, I came to realize that the most important thing I discovered was myself. I learned more about the world, life and my true self than ever before. All because I decided to leave my comfort zone and finally follow my dreams.

By now, you’re probably thinking you know where this is going: “Oh gosh, here’s another girl who decided to quit her job, sell all her stuff, and leave everything behind, to travel the world and find herself!” Did I just read your mind?
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my story is a bit different. I had neither a well paid corporative job back home nor a two year savings. I didn’t have much stuff to sell either. And I certainly didn’t leave everything and everyone behind to travel solo.

Does this mean I didn’t embark on a true soul-searching journey? On the contrary. I don’t have to follow a script written by someone else to go on a journey of self-discovery. And you don’t have to do it either. What kind of lessons will you be learning if you’re just following other people’s path anyway?

I think there are too many misconceptions about traveling and self-discovery. And that’s why I put together this list of what I consider to be the 5 biggest myths about soul-searching travel, and what it really means to explore your true self while wandering the globe.

 

#1 You have to quit your job

You probably stumbled upon some version of this quit-my-job-sold-my-stuff-traveled-the-world story so many times already in the Internet that it seems everyone is doing it these days. You probably dream about doing the same thing yourself, don’t you? But the truth is most people who travel or move abroad don’t quit their jobs to see the world. Most people can’t afford, or just don’t want, to do that. Most importantly, you don’t need to in order to travel or find yourself.
When I moved from Portugal to Switzerland, with my boyfriend, two suitcases and a little more than 500 Euros on my bank account, the first thing I had to do was actually to find a job, so I could apply for a residence permit, and survive in one of the most expensive countries in the world. I also had to learn German and work my ass off to be allowed to stay here, pay my bills and be able to travel. So it’s perfectly possible to have a job – and a home and a family – and travel. For many of us it’s the only way to do it! You can travel and do some important soul-searching without even having to permanently move abroad or disrupt your entire life. At least until you are absolutely sure that’s what you want to do.

 

#2 You have to go alone

I’m sure you’ve also read the thousand headlines that go something like this: “How traveling solo changed my life” or “Why solo traveling is the best way to find yourself”. Again, it seems like that’s the only way to do it. But it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, solo travel is great. I’ve done it myself and I would definitely recommend you try it at least once in your lifetime, if that’s something that appeals to you. If it’s not, go with your friends, your sister, your soul-mate, your kids, or your dog. As long as you go! Nowadays I mostly travel with my boyfriend. And that doesn’t mean I don’t learn valuable lessons about myself during these trips, because I do. In a way, traveling with another person and spending most of your time together is even more challenging than traveling alone. You certainly learn more about tolerance and respect, compromising and setting boundaries than going solo.

 

#3 You have to travel long term

Another myth about soul-searching travel is that you have to be on the road for a year or two, or at least a couple of months, to really learn about yourself. I mean, that truly sounds amazing, but what happens if you, like me and many people, can’t take a gap year or a sabbatical leave? What happens if all you can manage is a two week vacation from work, and, if you’re lucky, a couple of weekends per year to get away? Well, you use that time to travel and find out new things about the world and yourself. On our first year in Switzerland, my boyfriend and I had zero vacation time. But we used almost every weekend and day off to go somewhere new. We made day trips to all major cities in Switzerland, we spent time in the mountains, and visited Germany and Italy. So much that we ended up knowing the country better than many locals. Some Swiss friends were amazed with how much we managed to see in such a short period of time. So it’s not about how long or how far you travel. It’s about what you learn on the way.

 

#4 You have to visit a spiritual destination

You hear about soul-searching travel and you immediately think about Tibet, India or Japan. You imagine yourself chanting with Buddhist monks, practicing yoga in an ashram or meditating in a Zen temple. You can’t possibly soul-search lying by the pool of a Mexico resort or wandering through the crowded streets of New York, right? Well, that’s one way to see it. The other way is that every experience teaches you something valuable about the world, yourself and others. Every place, every culture and every person has its own lessons to deliver, as long as you’re aware of that. One of my aha moments happened when I decided to take a solo trip to Athens for three days. See, I didn’t go to Bali, or Kenya, or Siberia. I went to the busy and chaotic capital of Greece, and it turned out to be a really empowering trip, that taught me that all I need to go somewhere or do something is myself. Sometimes the most valuable insights happen when and where you least expect them.

 

#5 You have to find your true calling

There was a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had been a journalist. I had been a yoga teacher. But at that point none of that seemed to be enough. I wanted more. I wanted to learn new things, I wanted to travel and see the world, I wanted to find myself, but I had no idea how. I kept reading articles about how to find my true calling, how to uncover my purpose in life, how to discover that one thing I was meant to do. And I kept getting anxious. Until one day it suddenly hit me: I don’t have to choose only one thing, I don’t have to find one calling, I can have as many callings and do as many things as I want to. I can be a writer, and a yoga teacher, and a traveler, and whatever more the future holds for me. That’s the beauty of existence. So that’s why I don’t travel to find my true calling anymore, and why you shouldn’t either. You should travel to live all sorts of experiences, try all kinds of things that appeal to you, and find everything that gives meaning to your life.

There are no rules for your own soul-searching journey. There’s no correct way to do it. Because all journeys are journeys of the self. Like every new experience in life, every trip is an opportunity to explore the world and who you are, to get out of your comfort zone and into yourself. You don’t have to go far, to go alone or to leave everything behind. You just have to go, and all the lessons will arise.

 

 

 

 

Vanda is a journalist turned yoga teacher turned travel blogger. Combining her passion for writing, traveling and self-discovery, she writes about living abroad, exploring the globe, and the soul-searching that arise from both. Connect at theyogiwanderer.com

The End of the Road

Coming face to face with your insecurities, fears and anxieties isn’t something you expect to do the minute you land in paradise.

My husband and I recently accepted jobs in a place that is so remote, it is quite literally at the end of the road. Cambutal is a small fishing village on the pacific coast of Panama. Greener than green trees, empty beaches, incredible surf, wild horses, no phone service and a whole lot of Spanish speakers make up this unique place here on earth. Within this petite village lies Sansara, a luxury ocean front yoga and surf retreat where we currently ‘work’ (I air quote this word because it certainly doesn’t feel like work).

I have dreamed about working at this sacred space since seeing an opportunity pop up on Yoga Trade a year ago. After a long time of trying to match dates we finally made it to this tropical oasis. Our home here is incredible, the job is fulfilling, the people are phenomenal and the surroundings are breathtaking. It is everything I dreamed of and more. So, why was it the first two weeks here I felt the need to RUN?

The beginning weeks were a struggle, I cried and cried some more. I was so frustrated and angry with myself. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ ‘This is paradise, how on earth can you feel this way?’ ‘You finally have everything you ever wanted!’ I felt low, and nervous and scared and confronted. But for the life of me, could not figure out why.

Until one day I finally opened up to a friend here in Cambutal. I explained how I felt and my confusion at the situation. She told me that this happens to everyone when they first arrive. I asked why? She gently explained that because this place is so isolated, you somehow feel more exposed. Without all the distractions from modern life you find your self face to face with the real you. The good, the bad and everything in between. She went on to describe how at some point everyone here has had to deal with underlying issues that they have carried around for years. That everyone has had rise up to meet their fears, worries and insecurities. They have had to really meet themselves for the first time and embrace every side of their personalities. To deal with their past, honour the present and surrender to their future.

And here I was, coming face to face with everything I had been running away from. I have always struggled with anxiety, depression and fear of the future, but this time there was nowhere to hide. There were no distractions, no TV, no internet, no shopping centres or busy, bustling streets. It was just me and my thoughts. Me and my fears. Me and everything I had worked so hard to keep below the surface.

I was comforted at the thought that others had experienced what I was going through, but also petrified at the journey ahead. What if I couldn’t accept myself? What if I couldn’t handle meeting the real me? What if I ran?

But, I didn’t. I stayed. I cried. I meditated. I listened. I cracked. I watched. I surrendered. I accepted. Then, I healed.

The end of the road has been my rebirth.

Because of this experience I am creating like never before. I am writing again and painting again. I have made some big, exciting life decisions. I am growing and learning each and everyday. I am loving deeper and living fuller.

In modern day life we have so many distractions. Anything negative we feel or experience can be dulled through distraction. Alcohol, TV, magazines, FaceBook, Drugs, shopping…the list goes on. What we do not realise is that these negative or undesirable parts of ourself need to be dealt with, they are here for a reason, they want your attention. You can never truly know yourself until you have seen the whole divine, spectrum of your soul. You need to know your dark side in order to shine brighter. You need to understand your fears to fully overcome them. You need to debunk any lies within, to unleash your truth. You need to face your past in order to create a luminous future. You need to deal with any emotional junk to make room for new, exciting and rewarding ideas.

Sometimes it is ok to step into the dark, to experience the bad, to sit with the uncomfortable, to listen to the unthinkable. This is were we grow the most. This is where we get to know ourselves on a deep, profound level. This is the place we spark our brightest light.

If you get a chance this year, disconnect. Disconnect from everything and everyone. Be alone, sit in silence, listen to the whispers of your soul and be brave enough to wholeheartedly accept yourself. Don’t be scared to feel it all.

You are not alone in this journey, you are not broken, you are being reborn.

I had to disconnect from everything to reconnect to myself.

I had to get seriously lost, in order to be found.

I had to reach the end of the road just to see how far I had actually come.

 

 

 

Vicky Simpson is a yoga teacher, travel blogger and avid explorer. She lives a minimalistic, nomadic lifestyle with her husband Micky. Vicky travels the world teaching in yoga retreats, hosting workshops and writing of her adventures along the way.

http://theyogiandthechef.com/

Traveling Afar to Realize Just How Far You’ve Come

This morning I was a bit stiff as I woke up to teach my 8am Power Yoga class in a beautiful beachfront studio overlooking turquoise waters and white sand in Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I was a little worn from teaching Vinyasa 2 with arm balances and inversions from 8pm to 9:15pm the evening before and having little time to sleep and recover. I’m traveling, working hard and pushing myself to soak up of every minute of this opportunity.

I stepped to the mat to begin teaching and began with some simple asanas to help my students warm up, but also restoring my own sore body. A few breaths and it came to me: GRATITUDE. I realized that my “bad morning” was actually quite incredible. I realized just how amazing my life really is, because right now, I’m realizing a dream and goal I set for myself.

I flashed back to a time when I worked in marketing for large corporations. I did this for 17 long years, 11 of which were spent fighting traffic to reach a downtown office building each morning. I would wake at 6:30am, scurry to wake, shower, put on make up, iron my dress clothes, scour to find panty hose that didn’t have runs in them, pack a lunch and hurry out the door without eating breakfast. I would arrive to my desk, usually a few minutes late, and log in to my computer. For the next 9 hours, I would sit within gray walls of a cubicle (later upgraded to an office), and I would work hard as I watched the small clock in the bottom right corner of my computer screen. I would challenge myself to learn and improve my skills. I would work hard to earn a paycheck and even stay late each night, with hopes each year of a pay raise. But I would not work with passion.

During my breaks in my corporate life, I would dream of traveling afar and living on an island. I would think of ways that I could bring meaning to my life. I would even read blog posts like this one, wondering how others accomplished this. At the time, I wasn’t even practicing yoga. So I would dream of ways that I could help people, possibly volunteering and using my Spanish language skills from college. This day dream was relentless, and evolved into creating goals and like I would do for large companies, I created a “strategic business plan” for my own life, complete with a budget and timeline.

Fast forward to years later. Years of life experience, years of yoga practice and years of teaching yoga and self discovery. I made countless preparations and took each step of my strategic plan, but I calmed down and listened to my heart as well. Now, I find myself exactly where I dreamed I would be. I’m making a difference in my students lives and doing it in beautiful places all over the world. How could I ever wake up unmotivated when I think about how far I have come?

Each yoga class I teach, I begin by asking my students to create an intention (a present tense affirmation) for their practice and to carry that intention with them throughout the day and throughout their week. This intention setting is the first step to making self improvements and working toward goals and dreams. As I’m currently teaching many tourists in the Dominican Republic, I’m often asked with wonder after class how I ended up here, essentially how I ended up with my dream job. It’s my hope that by my example and by my yoga instruction, that I’m making a difference in each of their lives, helping them on their own path to pursuing what makes them happy. It’s my passion to help others to find peace and wellness in their own lives, one-hour of yoga at a time.

If you are not where you want to be right now in your life, you are not stuck. You can make the right choices each day and put in the hard work to find a new outcome. It starts with a daydream and then building your own strategic plan. And that can be reinforced each day as you step to the top of your yoga mat, breathe, set an intention and journey mindfully on your path.

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Chel Rogerson (RYT 200) teaches yoga and works as a freelance writer traveling the world. She also teaches/performs hoop dance, pole dance and fire dance in the Outer Banks of North Carolina through her business, Bliss Fit.