So you’re eating a diet of immaculate nutrition and following a vigorous balanced exercise plan, practicing yoga and meditating first thing, getting 8 hours of sleep each night and ticking everything off your to do list each day.
But, you can’t remember the last time you properly laughed from your belly, or went outside just for the joy of breathing in the air and taking a walk with no music and no distractions.
It isn’t often you sit down and have a heart-to-heart walls down chat with someone, because its much easier to just skim the surface and have the same conversation each day, and anyway you have to get to yoga/ the gym/ a meeting/ your phone. You spread a smile on that face and carry on, finding comfort in the structure of your day. You go home, you go to sleep and you do it all again the next day.
You do this over and over, in pursuit of a sense of wholeness and completeness that constantly evades you, that is always just around the corner, because each day you are so busy planning forward and sticking to the plan that you forget to live, now. Your mind lives in the future, imagining what it will be like once you’re in a better place, when you have more money, when your body looks different, when somebody loves you.
You don’t even recognise that your bank account is full enough for what you need, you don’t notice the beautiful man who holds the door open for you every day, you don’t notice how good your food tastes. You don’t notice the innate wisdom of your body as it protects you and supports you.
There can always be more, better, bigger, richer, happier. But we never get there, unless we enjoy being here. Wholeness is here and now.
Life is messy. Happiness is messy. A whole and happy life is messy, unpredictable, it’s colourful and psychedelic and a lot like a children’s collage or finger painting of flushed cheeks and sandy toes, of sleepy lazy mornings and surprise evening visitors, of things not going to plan and being even better than you could have planned. Surely, the universe has something more creative in store than we could find in the depths of our imagination?
Happiness is when you snort tea out of your nose because your dearest friend makes you laugh so hard that you lose all decorum, and all control. When you get blisters on the backs of your heels from walking in hiking boots the wrong size, because you loved the walk so much you barely noticed the discomfort. When you get completely lost in a new city and instead of feeling scared, you feel intrepid and inspired. When you are so deeply immersed in something that bares your creative soul that five hours trickle by without you even feeling the time passing.
Perhaps theres a little something missing in your picture of perfect health, if it all feels a little too clean and concise, if there’s no room for spontaneity, for cake fresh from the oven, for the occasional ugly laugh.
Happiness isn’t all clean lines and airbrushed skin. Happiness is imperfection, and complete acceptance of that imperfection, right here and now. Happiness is believing that something wonderful is about to happen, and accepting that it will look and feel so different from anything you ever could have planned.
So. Its been a while. Figured it was time to get back on the blog train, whoo whoo!
What have I been doing? Actually, so much, that I kind of forgot to write about it. Sometimes it feels a struggle between experiencing the present moment, being fully IN it, and then reflecting on it enough to write about it. You know what I mean?
After a few months at home in New Zealand finding my feet and checking in with myself, practicing Thai Massage on the unsuspecting residents of Nelson and at summer festivals, I was ready to be on the move again, and returned to Thailand to run our third Whole & Happy Retreat at Faasai Resort & Spa. My time at home was a little bit of “what the f**k am I doing with my life? Should I just get a normal job with a steady income and a house and a car and a wardrobe and nice facial creams? Is it time to grow up?” Ehhh. What does that even mean? Prescribing to a well-worn life template? Plenty of time for that later. In the meantime, lets get weird!
Inevitably, after about two months at home, all I could think about was the possibility and the potential of the unknown, of where these retreats could take me if I put my all into them, invested my whole heart. I figured, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it 100% or not at all. And baby steps, but all steps in the right direction. Tash and I slowly started expanding our network, finding new eco-conscious locations to host retreats, places in alignment with our values, surrounding ourselves with the people that build us up, and constantly reminding ourselves of the little wins rather than the huge picture, because sometimes when I think about that I have to go and have a little lie down. But, good to have goals, right?
It’s one of these things where I don’t fully believe how I came to be doing this, because it’s everything I dreamed of about 4 years ago. I actually remember drawing a picture of “my dream job” and it incorporated yoga, massage, being outside, eating good food, meeting like-minded people, being challenged and inspired on a regular basis, and somehow deep down that projection of what I wanted my life to look like started to come into fruition, without ever making a conscious decision to go in that direction. I just kept going towards the things that make me happy, and I found myself here. In my happy place. Physically, I’m in Austria right now, working at MoaAlm Mountain Retreat in the Alps, doing yoga and hiking, eating wholesome food, meeting inspiring people, and emotionally I’m in my happy place, so it’s something that is constantly evolving, and it’s what we want people to discover on our retreats. What their happy place FEELS like.
This past 6 months has been a real whirlwind, with Tash and I getting clearer and clearer on our vision with Whole & Happy Retreat, what our mission is, and what is important to us as things get bigger and better. We have expanded to two more locations in Thailand and in Portugal, and we are undergoing the transformative process of rebranding and redesigning our website to allow for some pretty awesome things in the future.
What are we creating? Read on, kids.
1. Community of the heart
2. A group coming together of its own free will; an intentional community
We partner with eco-resorts around the world making positive change for the environment and the communities in which they reside. By partnering with local people and off-the-beaten-track places, our guests can feel good about spending a week devoted to themselves, because they are also devoting themselves to a greater good. When we fill our own cup, we have plenty of overflow for the people and places around us, and on a Whole & Happy Retreat that overflow is directed towards the environment and a forward thinking community. The way we spend our money is a vote – so we vote for goodness.
Our retreats are structured around our 5 integral ingredients for a Whole & Happy lifestyle, and we spend our lives testing out this recipe so that you are guaranteed a transformational experience with us. Through much (positively exhausting) research, we have discovered our “non-negotiables” for a happy, whole life, and they come together as a whole to make you happier.
Intuitively, we all know the things that make us feel good, but life gets in the way and tells us that there is no time for lying in the grass and noticing the heat of the sun on our closed eyelids. Hustle! Achieve! More! Faster! This is what structures our life when we forget to take the time to notice. What could possibly be more important than being present? After all, this moment is ultimately all we have. Why not enjoy it?
“Be peaceful, be happy, be whole”
To the present moment, to the breath, to the experience, to the process, to the challenges and to the help that comes your way. By surrendering from the fight, the hustle, the constant striving for something bigger or better, we allow the good stuff to come our way, instead of chasing it down. It’ll come, if you trust the process. We practice restorative yoga and surrender to the support of the earth, recognising that there is nowhere else we need to be, and nothing else we have to do.
“Practicing smiling is like planting the seed of a mighty redwood. The body receives the smile, and contentment grows. Before you know it, you’re smiling all the time.”
We manifest an attitude of abundance, because when we have an abundance mindset, we recognise all the beautiful things we have to be grateful for, however tiny they may be. We make a list of 50 things that make us happy – once we get started, that list starts to blow up to 100, 200+ things that we are grateful for. When you really think about it, there are so many tiny things in our day that we gloss over when we focus on the bigger picture. Lets bring it back to the small stuff – crisp white sheets, that first sip of coffee in the morning, the feel of soft carpet under your feet, when your favourite song comes on the radio, when a shaft of sunlight peeks through the curtains. We take this attitude of gratitude off our morning mat and into the day, moving through the motions with more mindfulness.
“In every walk with nature, we receive more than we seek.”
Let’s return to nature, where we came from and where we belong. By immersing ourselves in nature, we remove the disconnect between our actions and their impact on our waterways, the earth beneath our feet, the other living beings that exist alongside us.
We remove our egocentric beliefs around our existence, that the world revolves around us. We recognise the impact of our surroundings on our mood – grey skies and rain turning us inward to ourselves, curling into a cosy introspective ball, and bright sunshine feeding us energy and enthusiasm for activity. We visit waterfalls, we plant trees, we walk barefoot on the warm rocks, we practice yoga to the sunrise and meditate into the sunset. We recognise the transience and impermanence of the sky and the rain and the sunshine and the life of living things, and we become less attached to the future or the past, simply enjoying the present as it is.
My whole teaching is this: Accept yourself, celebrate yourself, love yourself”. (Osho)
Ohh, you pretty thing. Yes, you. If you feel like you are waiting for your body and your appearance to change before you can truly be happy, stop waiting now. We believe the key to self love and unconditional acceptance of yourself comes from a recognition of the strength and capability of your physical body as a vessel to who you are on the inside. Rather than focussing on the lack, shift your mindset to the abundance. Maybe your legs are short, but they are strong and they support you even if you don’t support them with your thoughts. Maybe your belly isn’t flat, but it is the home of your emotions, where you digest your food and your experiences, and it is literally the centre of your being. Recognise all the things your body does for you, without you even having to ask.
Throughout Whole & Happy Retreats, we write letters to ourselves and spend time in silence to become comfortable with our thoughts and to truly observe our inner dialogue. The way we talk to ourselves has an actual, tangible effect on our physiology and our biomechanics. Talk to your body the way that you would talk to your best friend, or your child. Focus on strength, not weakness. Kindness over critique. And you’ll be amazed at how you transform. You start to glow, to radiate positivity and kindness. Nothing is more attractive than a smile.
“No need to read your mind, when your soul speaks the same language as mine”
By opening up about our own challenges and being vulnerable about our story, we open up a safe space for the people around us to do the same, and this is the beauty of retreat. We never know why a particular group are brought together on retreat, but we know there’s a reason. We learn from each others life experiences, we open up about our path that brought us here, we feel safe to try new things in our yoga practice and in our life when we are supported by the people around us. There’s something undeniably special about a Whole & Happy Retreat, a feeling of family and inter-connectedness, a kindness and gentle compassion amongst retreaters. We feel it, and you will too.
Connection on Whole & Happy Retreat means to connect with the people around us, but it also means to connect with ourselves through morning silence, through practice on the mat, through noticing our tendencies and our habits, what makes us the happiest. It means connection with our environment, recognising our actions and their impact on our natural world. It means understanding that we are not alone, that everything and everyone is interconnected.
“The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy.”
Laughter is the best medicine, and we all know it intuitively, but sometimes life gets a little too busy and we take everything too seriously, until we realise days have passed and we haven’t laughed. To laugh is to be truly present! Nothing like a good knee-slapping giggle with friends to get you out of your head and back into the room, and this is a core ingredient for our Whole & Happy Retreats. By bringing together people from around the world with similar passions and dreams, and a healthy sense of humour, we create one big positive community. We play games and write stories, we play with partner yoga, we let out our inner child in spontaneous dance parties and we tell stories around the bonfire. When we play our barriers break down and we are most authentically ourselves, and nothing is more beautiful than that.
And that’s that. You can read more about us and our retreats below, and follow me on Instagram for slightly more regular updates….
And really start to think about it – how can you discover your happy place?
Well. I’m home in New Zealand, but not without great effort. I booked my flights home in a frantic interval between Laos internet failures, and ended up booking the wrong flight altogether, leaving me with two days less than I planned in Melbourne, a whirlwind yoga workshop and friend catchups, 4am wake up calls and a 12 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur Airport overnight. Pat on the back for Rosie! Life is nothing if not a messy adventure, right?
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, after wandering aimlessly for an hour, trying to find a spot to rest my head, I discovered just the spot for me. I slept under a staircase on my overused, dubiously stained yoga mat with a security barrier propped up to conceal me, looking like a wayward homeless person. I used my scarf to cover me, popped my eye mask on and jammed my earplugs in, one hand clasping my backpack and one hand trying not to touch the ground in fear of germs. I had to move a large pot plant to get into this wee nook but it was definitely the best seat in the house.
Wearing hiking shoes and long black tights tucked into my hiking socks to try and stay warm in the freezing cold air conditioning, I rested assured that nobody would come over and try to snuggle up next to me in my hiding spot, because I really did not look all that appealing. Adoring my body was a large thin beige jumper (the warmest thing I owned in Asia), a floral mandala sarong, a flower scrunchie and a look of confusion and exhaustion on my face. Probably even as I slept.
Finally I made it onto the plane, where I promptly realised I was travelling budget style on Air Asia – they don’t even give you a glass of water… Luckily I had smuggled some peanuts on board, and I splashed out on a bottle of water to prevent severe dehydration. Two small asian women were wedged in next to me, both of whom had some small digestive problems, sneezing and belching their way through the 8 hour flight to Melbourne, but they offered me a chewy sweet thing to eat so I felt fondly toward them. Every time my neighbour burped, she would cover her mouth with her hand and gasp as if in astonishment that her body was capable of such a thing!
Shortly after lift-off, the “Happy Birthday” song came on the loud-speaker. It wasn’t clear whose birthday it was, so everyone clapped in time for a while, then trailed off awkwardly and looked around the cabin, tucked their hands underneath them and retreated into their little airplane bubbles. It was a nice communal airplane moment.
When I arrived in Melbourne, my friends met me at the airport, and one of the first things they said to me was “we have wine and cheese!” These are true friends. I shed a tear or two. Wine and cheese are two things that I love dearly and that are not readily available or of high quality in Southeast Asia. The perks of the western world.
I have returned home with the same sense of wonder that I left with several years ago, except this time I’m curious about my own country, all the things that I always took for granted now call me home with a new appeal. I’m curious about how a different version of me can integrate back into the place that reminds of everything I’ve come from.
Ahh, home. Family gatherings, barbecues, beach walks, hill walks, swimming in the river, drinking good wine, eating local produce, visiting the Saturday markets, the smell of the earth when it starts to rain, hot days and cool nights, wearing a warm jumper, sunrises, sunsets, cooking in my own kitchen with music on, late nights in the beer garden.
This incredible Southeast Asia adventure has left me with a much desired sense of balance in my life, after a long period of swaying from side to side, pretty happy, but slightly off centre (who am I kidding, I will always be slightly off-centre….I am a Gemini, after all).
Whilst working and living in Europe I went from extreme to extreme – from partying hard in Irish pubs, staying up all night socialising, laughing my arse off, meeting some incredible, adventurous, kind people and being a social butterfly, but never quite feeling my healthiest version of me, and sometimes sacrificing my physical health and the important components of self care for the ‘craic’. I never seemed to be able to nail the balance between living freely and looking after me.
So then, at the end of each Irish season I would run off to work on a yoga retreat, a farm in the middle of nowhere, or a vegan wellness centre where there was nothing unhealthy or distracting to lead me astray from my devoted practices. I would spend several months being very healthy, practicing yoga, learning about a holistic and alternative lifestyle, how to make amazing vegetarian food, barely drinking anything, creating natural beauty products and learning how to grow medicinal plants. I would go for bush walks and do sun salutations each morning and develop a radiant glow by moving my body and avoiding all stimulants and toxins. It was an all or nothing lifestyle, one that experienced both fully but couldn’t exist side by side.
I loved both parts of my life, and spending time in one made me look forward to the other, but I started to feel that these two sides of me couldn’t be reconciled – how can I be a social butterfly who likes to drink a wine, eat cheese, and stay out all night dancing, but also live mindfully, starting each day with yoga, wondering about the world and nature, getting to know my body and how much sleep and what kind of food it needs, reading about people doing inspiring things and wanting to live a big, full life?
After completing a yoga teacher training in Spain and living a pure life for six weeks, then promptly spending one month travelling around the UK with a group of heavy- drinking dudes watching the Rugby World Cup, I’d never felt more unbalanced and confused about which was more “me”. I was making decisions and doing things that felt a little incongruous with my values, but I wasn’t too sure yet what my values were.
The discovery that life doesn’t have to be all or nothing to be real and purposeful was a lesson I was only ready to learn here in Asia. Before this I was too busy immersing myself completely in the two different sides of myself, one at a time, getting to know what I liked and what I didn’t like. I like the Irish because they are great craic, they are social humans just like me. But I didn’t like how I felt physically after the long seasons in Ireland – too much partying, not enough self care.
I loved working on retreats in Europe and immersing myself in yoga and wellbeing, educating myself on all of the tools I had at my fingertips to heal and improve myself. I met some lovely people, and I also met people who I felt had taken this lifestyle so far that they were at a point of obsession, they couldn’t forgive themselves if they slipped up, they had alienated themselves from much of the community around them because of their unforgiving and rigid attitude to health and what was “the right thing to do/ be/wear /say/eat”. I found myself taking what I wanted and what resonated with me, and leaving the rest. It’s necessary to be disciplined, but I always find that people who are too disciplined are not actually that fun… And that’s just not my cup of tea.
Can we be fun, and focused? Can we be a wee bit wild, but with a sense of purpose? Can we find the point inside of ourselves that is balanced and content, no matter the environment or the situation?
Coincidentally, post- Rugby World Cup, at my point of great confusion, was when I got an opportunity out of the blue to move to Cambodia for a yoga teaching job. The universe provides the answers, because this was without a doubt the best decision I ever made, but it was also one of the hardest. Leave the comforts of western life and take the plunge by travelling alone to a foreign third world country? Ahhhh sure. For many people, going to Southeast Asia might seem like running away from real life, but for me, it felt like running towards it. It was a move that I made with absolutely no knowledge or expectation, I only knew I had to do it, because if I didn’t, I would be stuck in a cycle of partying and purifying, without understanding of the centre in which I belonged.
Asia gave me a lot of gifts. Unconditional, open smiles, that don’t ask for anything except maybe a smile back. Generosity and kindness, a curiosity, a willingness to help. Confidence that I’m on the right track. It’s the place that taught me I don’t have to fit into a neat little box, in fact, I’m much more interesting if I just go wildly and messily in the direction of my dreams, staying open to the possibility and the potential of each situation, whether good or bad.
I learnt the art of balance in my life, because people came into my world who are just like me – they believe that life should be lived fully and not just in sections, and they believe that each little piece of life can build a big beautiful mosaic of colour and vibrancy, that each complements the next, and you can’t be quite whole if you deny yourself of one piece. You will always feel the lack, the sense of imbalance, if something is missing.
I discovered the things that are important to me and perhaps to everyone, if we dig deep;
Friends – Family – Laughter – Purpose – Love – Indulgences – Challenge – Connection and Community – Kindness – Spontaneity & Wildness – Art – Creativity – Nature
I worked in places in Asia that were immersive yoga retreats but that attracted people who were just like me. Travelling, exploring, curious, but not quite ready to commit to any one part of themselves just yet. I tried to be very open about the fact that even though I was teaching them, I was learning as well, and I really didn’t have all the answers, but I did have a sense of humour about the physical hilarities of yoga and I managed to laugh at myself when I mispronounced things in front of 30 humans, saying things like “shit your hips” instead of “shift your hips” then everyone collapsing into giggles. I’ve always felt that people who don’t take themselves seriously are the best kind of people, so I shall always try to maintain this in my life.
I would work hard all week, then on my day in between retreats I would relax by the pool, have a glass of wine, eat what my body was demanding (vegan or very not vegan), sleep many hours, go dancing, whatever I wanted. The lifestyle demanded balance between putting energy out there for others, then bringing it back to myself. If I wasn’t looking after myself, I was no good to anyone else, so self care became a huge priority. I had the realisation that self care could take a lot of different forms. Some days it meant doing yoga, meditating, eating well, and sleeping 8 hours, but other days it meant skipping evening meditation to cycle down the dusty roads at sunset with my best friend and eat coconut pancakes and laugh our faces off. Sometimes it meant standing up for myself. Sometimes it meant surrendering, backing down and retreating. It meant not attaching to any of these things as “the right way to take care of myself”, but rather detaching from the idea of right and wrong, and moving intuitively from day to day.
When you arrive home from a long time away, its very easy to fall back into habits and mindsets that you thought you had left behind. I resisted doing any yoga for my first few days at home because it just felt incongruous with my surroundings. I was resisting change. I lost my balance. I felt on edge and overwhelmed and I didn’t manage to maintain my usual sunny disposition. Maybe no-one else noticed, but I did.
It is different to be home. It’s cold, it smells like trees and river, there are different pressures on my time, I have to keep appointments and dates to meet people, its all very confusing and busy and fast. There are many varieties of cheese to choose from, there are old friends and new friends, there is family, there are boxes in the garage of shit that I forgot existed, waiting to be opened and unpacked. People have different priorities and responsibilities. I kind of feel like a sham, like the wayward traveller who has returned home but doesn’t quite slot back in, and perhaps thats because I don’t want to, deep down, because I don’t want to let go of my last few years and surrender to this. But being here doesn’t discount where I was before.
The way through this transition for me is all about staying true to the things that make me feel like myself. I can create adventures here, just like I did overseas. I can surround myself with inspiring people. I can meet people on mountain tops and talk about travel as if I’m a foreigner too, and feel a little sense of smugness when I remember that actually, I belong here.
This morning I woke up, pulled on some long leggings, socks, a thermal top, made a cup of tea and lay out my mat on our balcony, looking out over the garden and up at the hill behind our house, the centre of New Zealand, and I did a practice that was no different, no more challenging, no more profound than it has been in Asia or in Europe, but it felt so, so different. Maybe because its about 20 degrees colder here, maybe because there are many more layers separating me and my mat, maybe because after my practice I go and drink a cup of coffee with my mum, and two worlds collide.
So now I am slowly surrendering to the idea that I can be anywhere in the world, in any situation or environment, and I can be sad or happy or excited or nervous, I can be beginning a day of introversion or interaction, it doesn’t matter – I can always come back to that little calm place at my centre, untouched by people or places or feelings. And when I’m in that place, I cannot be swayed in either direction. This is where I find my balance.
Home is where the heart is, and right now my heart is, officially, home.
Head to my website or Facebook Page for details on upcoming summer yoga classes in Nelson, and Thai Massage offers.
My grandparents are some of the biggest yogis I know, and I don’t believe they’ve ever done an asana class in their lives. They run off these basic, old-fashioned principles of kindness, fairness, a brisk walk in the fresh air and good wholesome food.
Theres something very grounding and eye-opening about spending time with your elders. Something that reminds you that you don’t need too much to be happy, and you don’t have to tell everyone how happy you are in order to validate that happiness.
What fills you up when you feel empty? It may or may not be that $10.99 mystery smoothie purchase from the alternative supermarket that has opened up next to the bikram yoga studio down the street. It’ll more probably be simmering on Nanny’s stove all afternoon, laboured over with love and heady spices and and it probably won’t have high protein chia seeds in it but it will have a good blob of butter and will make you feel like you’re snuggled up in bed on a cold rainy day. What could be better for your sense of comfort and contentment in life?
I had a conversation with my Poppa about a month ago, sitting in the garden with a mid-morning cuppa, after he caught me doing a headstand in the garden after hanging out the washing.
P: “So… do you do yoga every day then? It must be very good for you!”
R: “Well. Usually I do, yes, but sometimes I do other things that I feel like are more important in that moment. Like going for a walk with my family, or swimming in the sea, or taking a nap mid afternoon then drinking a glass of wine and rolling up my trousers in the back yard to catch some rays. A different kind of yoga. Sometimes I start doing asanas then I just lie face down on my mat and call it savasana.”
P: “Yes, well, you don’t want to be a slave to anything, do you?”
Exactly, Poppa. My sentiments exactly.
Ahh yoga. Bendy, self-accepting, health-embracing, intuitive-moving, universal-loving yoga. Have you noticed a strange dichotomy between what yoga says it is, and what it actually appears to be on your Instagram feed? Teeny little white girl bends into thirds, sips on a juice made from pureed spinach (my family know I love a good spinach beverage, I ain’t no hater) , and scribes underneath “yoga is about progress, not perfection”. Nobody knows what perfection is, but if our perfection looks like her progress, then we start to second guess ourselves.
Shake it off. Stamp on it. Sit on it and squash it with your dimply bottom. This shit is what cheapens the profound impact that yoga can have on our lives.
Let’s pause for a moment and imagine our grandparents doing a headstand on a beach, sunset glowing in the background, in their high waisted modest one piece swimmers, getting each other to take photos of each other, taking hundreds of shots until they get the perfect one, then getting the photos developed and writing “#yogaholiday” underneath each in the family photo album? Nah. Nope. It was more likely to be a grainy shot of Nanna and Poppa pressing cheeks up against one another, beaming, looking happy and content and in the caption it would say “Holiday at the Caravan”. Keeping it real, since ages ago.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the physical practice of yoga, and everything it brings with it. I’m obsessed with it. It makes me feel incredible, and is the springboard into living yoga in other aspects of my life. That should be all that matters. How it makes you feel, and whether it makes you happy.
Cheerful, contented, tickled, intoxicated, jolly! Just a selection of the synonyms for “happy”.
Cheerful? Strolling down the street after a lovely morning of doing your favourite yoga poses in your back garden with no bra on and some sweet tunes jamming and nobody caring what you look like or whether you shaved your legs. A little secret with yourself. Beaming to passers-by. You’re a mystery, you, a glowing mystery.
Contented? Happy with this present moment, with what you have, without feeling the need to blast it to your social media gremlins. Like when you leave your phone at home and wander up the hill with your dog to just walk, not take aesthetically pleasing photos, just to think, and you pick up the poop and carry it swinging at your side, feeling like a wonderful, altruistic human. Shit doesn’t get you down.
Tickled? When you play a game of scrabble and you get a really good word and everyone says wow, you smarty pants, and you smile humbly and cross your hands in your lap and feel both dignified and intelligent in the company of others without asking for their kind words. Quietly pleased with yourself. A little tickle on the inside.
Intoxicated? When you’re a wee bit smashed after spontaneous wine drinking and cheese eating with your hilarious, mismatched, curious friends, new and old, who know you for you in that moment. High on life, high on the present awesomeness, not thinking about the past or the future, only how your fingers are tingly and you feel fabulous, darling, and that energy pumping through your veins comes from the beautiful people and the fun that lies ahead. Drunk in love.
Jolly? Belly laughs and ugly tears of joy and double chins and bouncing bosoms and slaps on the back and table banging and a good old knees up and red cheeks and joy, falling on your face when you try to go upside down on your mat and just owning it, laughing at yourself. There’s nothing more appealing than a person who doesn’t take it all too seriously. A certain lightness in your step.
This is yoga. When you are happy in this moment, happy enough that nobody else needs to really know quite how happy. You are powerful butt lifts, radiant cheesy smiles and a swig of ice cold sauvignon blanc on a hot summer’s day.
Nanna and Poppa probably don’t even think about this shit. They just get on with it. Ultimate yogis, with the knowledge of balance, of not comparing your lot in life with another’s, of the importance of a square meal. I’m not idealising the good old days – we all have our fair share of crap in life, but we can learn from them in how to deal with it. When you need some life lessons, leave your phone at home, put on some baggy old trousers and a dorky hat and go help Poppa in the garden picking his raspberries.
Eat every third raspberry and contemplate just how good things are when they taste exactly how they look (red), when they’re unique (with some lumps and bumps) and not trying to be anything other than what they truly are.
Beyond excited to be teaming up with one of my favourite teachers to offer a 7-day yoga and meditation retreat in paradise!
Located at the breath-taking Faasai Resort and Spa in Chanthaburi, Thailand; nestled between lush mountain greenery and the clear, blue sea. I wrote about this place in a previous blog post after having spent two weeks there soaking up the healing energy.
Come and experience the power of nature, community, laughter and yoga in rejuvenating your mind, body and spirit! Delicious farm-to-table cuisine, luxury bungalow accommodation, and a beautiful seaside village to explore. Click here for more details.
I can’t quite believe that my one month in Luang Prabang, Laos, has trickled past so quickly. In a hazy blur of yoga, sunrises, sunsets, a birthday, lush countryside, new friends, some illness and homesickness, but most of all an overwhelming feeling of contentment and gleeful disbelief that my world right now allows me to work, travel and live like this.
There’s something very special about Luang Prabang, in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. It is the kind of place that just keeps ticking along – you come, you settle in, then you leave, and it just keeps going without you, which is both sad and comforting at the same time. A month is too short a time to fully experience life there, at least in the way it needs to be experienced. The most captivating part of Luang Prabang life for me is that life feels easy. Nothing is too far away, you have culture, religion, outdoor adventure, nature, comfort and a bounty of good, cheap food on your doorstep.
I was there for a month, teaching yoga daily for Luang Prabang Yoga, overlooking the Nam Khan River, through rain and shine, sunrise and sunset, to whoever passed through. I had some regulars – people staying in town for a while, expats, or returning visitors who went elsewhere and decided this was the place to be. I was teaching most classes at Utopia, which is just as it sounds – a chilled out, everybody welcome kind of place with good food, interesting people, cosy seating overlooking the river, a volleyball net and a yoga deck.
One of my favourite evening activities was to visit one of the temples at around 6.30pm and join the monks and novices for their evening chanting and meditation. From 6.30 – 7pm they would chant Buddhist verses, then from 7 – 8pm they would meditate in silence. I would do my best, sometimes sneaking out a little earlier, because an hour and a half is a long time to sit without stretching out your legs. The feet are considered the lowest part of your body in all respects, so its very rude to stretch your legs forward and face the soles of your feet at Buddha. If you want to stretch, you have to awkwardly poke your legs to one side. One time I made the foolish mistake of wearing a wrap around skirt to meditation, and quickly realised that I couldn’t sit cross legged without baring my crotch to the Buddha, which is generally deemed inappropriate in Buddhist tradition.
At the end of the meditation sometimes the novices would turn to practice their English with any westerners in the temple. They were very inquisitive about our lives and how we can travel, and in exchange I asked questions trying to get a grasp on the day in the life of a monk or novice. It’s a lot of discipline for these tiny little boys, and one night in meditation I opened my eyes to just watch them sitting. Some of them are so small and their heads keep lolling forward, then they catch themselves and try to sit upright again, only to keep falling asleep every few minutes. It’s adorable and kind of sad and also very impressive all at the same time – as teenagers these kids have more discipline than many of us might learn in a lifetime. At their age I was running around half naked in a field, building tree houses and singing at the top of my lungs. The contrast is pretty eye opening.
The food… People say that Laos food is nothing to write home about. I found some gems in Luang Prabang that made me rethink – my particular favourite breakfast at Delilah’s consisted of a little bamboo box of sticky rice, a Lao omelette with dill and vegetables, steamed vegetables and a pot of spicy eggplant dip which was the best in town. I would go there for brunch after teaching, use the Internet, and just watch people passing by. It was a weird little place, they would often be blasting the music at 9am, even if I was the only customer, but I took my food outside and they took a shine to me because I tried out my rudimentary Laos on them every day and they thought I was hilarious.
Some places in town make awesome Laap or Laab – made with either chicken, fish or tofu/mushroom, mixed in with fresh herbs and served with greens and sometimes sticky rice, it makes a refreshing lunch or dinner. Street side stalls have grilled bananas, fresh fruit, tiny pancakes, sandwiches, and fruit shakes. I discovered an alleyway in the night market offering a buffet selection of vegetarian food, where you grab a bowl, fill it with as much as you can pack in, get them to heat it up for you, chuck an egg on top and pay a tiny 15,000kip (less than 2usd). You can also choose to wash it down with a big beer Laos, at the average price of 10,000 kip. Cheap and cheerful.
A favourite was also the Sin Daad or Laos BBQ, with baskets of vegetables, noodles, raw meat or tofu, pots of broth and dipping sauce. You grill your own meat or tofu on the hot pot which is built into the table, pour the broth into the little most and fill it with vegetables and noodles, and then scoop it out bit by bit into your bowl and try to get it in your mouth with chopsticks. An awesome social way to eat, pretty cheap, and there are places around town that offer an all-you-can-eat situation, including icecream for dessert, and you can just stay there for several hours to see how many meals you can squeeze in for your kip.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Luang Prabang for me, though. I got a nasty burn on my leg from riding on the back of my friends motorbike, which I was terrified was getting infected, especially when it started bleeding and looking quite worrying. Luckily a friend had some medical supplies and it has started to heal nicely. Apparently they call them “Laos burns”, because everyone gets a burn in the same place from bumping against the exhaust pipe on their bike.
I got a weird bite or something suspicious on the back of my other leg which became a curious texture and felt all squishy when I touched it, but I just kind of ignored it for a while (out of sight, out of mind) and it seems to have gone away. Phew.
I also had some nasty stomach issues which still haven’t quite been resolved – a sensitive stomach at the best of times can struggle in Asia, with all the hidden ingredients and language barrier when you ask for certain things to be excluded/ added to your meal. Laos has come a long way, but if you’re looking for gluten free dairy free vegan chia seed muffins, this is not the place. And maybe that’s a good thing.
In general, being sick when you’re away from home is pretty much the worst thing. Every tiny little inconvenience of living in Asia comes to the fore – you can’t find the medicine you need, you can’t drink from the tap, there’s a power cut and you lie there all feverish with no air con, nobody understands what you’re saying (to the point where you think perhaps you are delirious and rambling), the thought of noodle soup makes you turn green, and everything comforting and familiar is far away.
Nobody ever talks about the shitty hard part of living and working away from home. It’s like it’s a little bit unacceptable to admit to being unhappy while you’re living in sunshine paradise and working your dream job. It’s natural that there are ups and downs, and being sick makes you realise that your health is the single most important thing, coming before everything else. If you’re not well then you can’t enjoy everything that your surroundings offer.
And THAT, my friends, is the time to go to Chiang Mai, a vegan/ vegetarian/organic/ gluten free/paleo Mecca for anyone with awkward dietary requirements. It was very sad for me to leave Luang Prabang, where life was easy, and faces had become familiar, but the time has come, and I’m looking forward to starting a Thai Massage training in Chiang Mai and having the resources around me to get my glow back.
I’m currently up in Pai, a chilled out ‘hippie town’ north of Chiang Mai, where I plan to spend several days doing just that – chilling out, doing yoga, catching up on some work and exploring the lush surroundings. Next week I start my course, where I will learn to massage bodies.
Ahh Vietnam. A place where you can walk aimlessly in the streets, only to be stopped by a man pointing at your shoes and grimacing, as he whips your shoe off your foot, leads you to ledge on the pavement and starts gluing and re-soling your shoes as you look with a mix of curiosity and dismay.
I wanted them fixed anyway, I guess. I wasn’t expecting a declaration of love, but that’s a nice bonus.
After an early morning stroll, I sat by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi to ponder life and watch all the little old ladies doing tai chi in their matching patterned two piece outfits. I arrived in Hanoi on Labour Day weekend, when most of the locals were heading out of the city, so I decided to stay put and explore by foot,making advantage of less traffic and less humans. Sitting by the lake reading my book, I was approached by a young toothy Vietnamese man with glasses and a friendly face.
“Hello! Hahahaha! Would you mind ever so much when I could sit with you a little while and speak talk with you hahahahaha!?”
“…..that would be lovely!”
*sits down next to me and pulls out his notebook*
“SO what is your name? Where are you from??”
“I’m Rosie, I’m from New Zealand!”
“Cool cool that is in Neverland is not it! My name is Dai but everyone calls me Kevin! Hahahahha Kevin! Yes!”
We continued in this way for about 20 minutes, me finding it a relief that I could talk to him knowing he wasn’t trying to sell me things, and him overjoyed to find a native English speaker sitting idly by the lake at 8am.
Our conversation ended with him asking for a photo, adding me on Facebook and asking for one piece of life advice.
“Miss Rosie if you had give me any kind of advice in the life in a very smart and good way what would it say????”
“Oh shit Kev, I’m not the person to ask. *tells him story about a wise old fisherman and a businessman*
“Ohhhh hahahahahaa good okay very nice story veryyyyyyyy nice I write down take notes! *writing* happy…. Fisherman…. Family…”
Kevin leaves me to read my book, he wanders away with his head in his notebook, repeating his new words, looking for his next conversation. Bless his cotton socks. This is perhaps one of those places where you sometimes just have to sit still and let the entertainment come to you.
My first couple of days in Vietnam were not so lovely. A little bit emotional and exhausted after fare welling my Hariharalaya family in Cambodia, a job I loved more than any job ever, and a country that 100% worked its way into my heart. Arriving in the middle of Saigon late in the evening, affronted with taxi drivers who scammed me of a lot of money and streets where I couldn’t walk without feeling like I was going to lose a limb, the noise, the smells. I was not prepared, mentally or physically, for the sensory overload that is Ho Chi Minh City. A rapid and uncomfortable reminder that the world outside of our lovely yoga retreat would test me in every way possible, and it didn’t care if I did yoga every day or meditated or I was a nice smiley person with good intentions, the world around me did not change to match my happiness or inner contentment. All the crazy goes on around us.
*I AM AN OASIS OF CALM, I AM AN OASIS OF CALM* I repeat to myself as I trundle down the street, monster Brutus backpack on my back, crumpled map in hand, sweat pouring down my face, street vendors standing in my path and waving bananas in my face, me holding back tears at having lost 80 precious dollars to the taxi man and his currency exchange friend, and still not having been taken to the right place where I can rest my weary head.
This is why we meditate.
After the madness of Saigon, Mui Ne was a beach paradise with very little to do apart from eat, sleep, beach, repeat. I made friends with a fellow traveller on the bus and we spent the next few days together in this pattern, including a trip to the sand dunes and a few sun rise/sunsets. Every time we walked down the street the men selling things would ask:
“hello, sir…. Motor bikes?”
“No thank you!”
But overall Mui Ne was pretty quiet, with no one trying to sell us anything on the beaches. I basked in the freedom of not having to get up at 6am every day, and it slowly started to sink in that I actually wasn’t going back to Hariharalaya.
Next stop was Nha Trang, a bigger beach city, sometimes called “Happy Hour by the Sea” which sounds lovely but in reality was full of Russians. I had one full day there and it was quite enough, and I left with a desire to meet some normal non -Russian speaking humans. As I was leaving, I met an English guy who was also escaping on the same bus as me. We took over the whole back row of the night us, watched a very terrifying and violent film, stumbled out of the bus at random intervals to pee into the darkness, coming face to face with a street food stall with bald, boiled chickens dangling upside down, looking sad and sweaty and uncomfortable. Needless to say I passed on food that evening. I passed out for 6 hours, grateful for the ability to lie down properly, and miraculously slept through the assistant bus driver’s snarfling and snoring in the aisle. A true miracle, considering that I usually sleep as if I’m next to a construction site – eye mask, earplugs, scarf on my face. This is what 6 months in a noisy Cambodian village will do for you.
Hoi An – a little haven of colourful lights, incredible food, cobbled streets, pagodas, beaches and friendly people. A lot of street hagglers and people trying to sell you things but really you can’t blame them. We arrived from the night bus at 6am and couldn’t check into our hostel until 2pm, so we had some time to kill. We hired a motorbike and braved the streets, heading out to the beach, and discovered a string of luxury resorts. We strolled in as if we belonged there, slightly dishevelled after twelve hours on a night bus, but beautiful nonetheless, and nobody asked any questions as we sprawled on sun beds and swam in the infinity pools. Living the high life, on a backpacker budget – only in southeast Asia. Also,we had one of those nights where you wake up in the morning and are entirely unsure whether you dreamt the kidnapping of a street dog, running into a big group of people from your hometown in an “all you can drink” situation, making friends with the Asian Mr Bean and eating mysterious prawn(??) pancakes at 4am on a street corner.
I spent the following five days with my lovely mother, who came bearing brand new UNDERWEAR which was one of the most exciting things to happen in some time – I promptly disposed of all of my aging undergarments and now I am a new and improved woman (underneath my deceptively hobo holey outfits….). Obviously there were many, many more wonderful things about mother coming to visit me in Vietnam, but new underwear put a shine on things. We spent vast amounts of time drinking tea/gin/wine, wearing our complimentary robes, and reading our substantial novels, and we came to the conclusion that we could live quite happily as two little old ladies as long as we had all of the above plus perhaps the regular jaunt outdoors/ to fine food establishments/to be massaged. Love you mum – I’m a chip off the old block.
Mother left, I weeped in a trembly, blobby kind of way and scared off all of the neat and compact Asian humans that surrounded me in the airplane. Result! I got three seats to myself.
And I landed in Hanoi for three final Vietnamese days of hanging with old and new friends, walking the streets, eating for less than $5USD a day, drinking for 5000 VND a pop (less than 25c) and generally just enjoying the Vietnamese culture through its food, beer and coffee. If you’re not afraid to eat in a hole in the wall with steel tables, red plastic chairs and a little old man asleep in the corner, then you’ve got yourself a cheap and delicious meal. My favourite food man was so delighted to see me return a second time with a friend that he piled my plate extra high with a selection of exciting mystery meats! He smiled his proud toothy grin and gestured for me to “eat up nyam nyam!”…. And so I did. I am unsure to this day what precisely I ate, but I survived, even after 6 months of primarily vegan life.
I will say, if you’re planning to go to Vietnam, take your time. I could have stayed another two weeks and seen a whole lot more but I wanted to get to Bangkok to party with one of my favourite humans.
I’ll be back for sure – in the meantime, THAILAND ✌️