Lately I’ve been feeling the pressure to be certain about things. To make up my mind, to rest on one thing, to move forward with purpose and alignment. To settle in solid foundations and work my way up from there. To say yes with absolute surety, or no with complete clarity. And I’ve realised that the desire to be sure has taken away from my ability to listen deep down, to intuition or just a “feeling”. And right now that feeling seems to be “I just don’t know”.
In yogic philosophy, aparigraha is one of the five yamas in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.The yamas are essentially moral guidelines by which to live with regard to our relationship with ourselves, and the world around us. Aparigraha means practicing non-attachment – to a situation, to a person, to physical possessions, to a certain outcome, on and off the mat. Relinquishing control or possession over anything outside of our own awareness. Loosening our grip on the things outside of our control.
We tend to cling to things that seem solid and steady in nature – houses, partners, occupations. Things that give us structure and stability from day to day. Because we are desperately seeking something that says “for ever and always” or at least “long term stability” to us. It’s why we dive into relationships that aren’t quite right, it’s why we stay in jobs that we’ve outgrown, it’s why we go into debt to build a home. We invest into something we recognise as the structure of life in the hopes that it will, by default, make things more black and white.
It feels good to be certain, but is it the truth? Perhaps, if we can relinquish fear, then uncertainty becomes the colour in the cracks of life. We can never truly know what comes next, but we can embrace the possibilities of the unknown.
But if we try to control and pin things down, to hold the inevitable ups and downs of life at arms length, we never get close enough to feel anything deeply. If we stick to the solid structure of things rather than prising open the doors of possibility with curiosity, we stay stuck in this place of fear, of “what if”.
What if it’s taken away from me?
What if I fail?
What if this ends?
It will probably end, yes. Or at least it will change shape and structure, thousands of times, and to move with grace through each transition you learn to be wholeheartedly present for each up and down, ebb and flow. Because what is the alternative?
To hold back your god-given talents, in fear of being misunderstood?
To stay in a job that dims your light, in fear of being unable to support yourself?
To not say how you feel, in fear of being rejected?
To stay in a relationship that doesn’t serve you, in fear of being alone?
To love a little less, in fear of your heart being broken?
I know, deep down, that I have a tendency to flail around in uncertainty for a period of time, feel deeply uncomfortable in that space, and then throw myself into the first thing that comes my way that to me represents stability and certainty. Whereas if I allowed myself to be comfortable with the discomfort of uncertainty a little while longer, I might come to a conclusion from a place of love rather than fear. I might move in a direction that feels more in alignment with me.
When I embrace uncertainty, I move with more clarity.
Through listening and feeling, in quietness and stillness, I’m realising that sometimes it’s okay to say “I don’t know”. To embrace uncertainty as a way of being wholeheartedly present. To embrace the moments in which I feel confused and unsure as moments of being truly alive.
Wholehearted presence as a way of living, and a way of being.
The only thing I can truly be certain about, is that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
Things this year seem a little different, as if we are slowly but surely moving along a scale of continuity, where we’ve moved on from having absolutely no fucking idea what tickles us. We know now what we like to do, but we’re starting to wonder if we can make a living doing yoga on beaches, drinking coco bongos, talking to strangers and then writing about it all.
We feel we have a lot to prove. The pressure of impressing people weighs heavily, because at this age, success seems to be how many people we know, how many countries we have visited, a promising career path, an Instagram feed portraying exotic locations and beautiful people. We feel that we have to make our mark on this world, but there seems to be a wide gaping space between where we are now and where we think we probably should be, or where it would appear everyone else is. Other people have jobs and houses and partners, whereas all we physically have to show for the last few years is a passport full of stamps, and some bodily scars. Everything else, we carry on the inside.
We are still a strange hybrid between adult and child, where we are enticed by the security of these things, by being gainfully employed and going home to a family and a cupboard full of herbs and spices. But our inner child just wants to go home to mother for a night and sleep in a single bed and be brought cups of tea, and forget the big wide scary world of responsibility and “making an impact” that lurks outside. We haven’t yet realised that all of these things that externally represent security are just a facade, something that could crumble at any moment, and that we should just enjoy being young, and wild, and free. Untethered.
We are remarkably selfish, in the sense that 90% of our decisions are based on our own desires and intentions, and we sometimes forget that there’s a world outside of our little bubble of obsessions, of worries, of goals, of wants. We are the centre of our own universe, and surely that will never change?
Our parents are becoming more and more human to us. We are learning that they have strengths and weaknesses and it’s both a relief and a terrifying thing – the people we always believed to be invincible and completely ‘on purpose’ have also been 25 once, and experienced all these very same things, and made mistakes and fumbled through life with ups and downs and tears and triumphs. They created us and it was just a thing that they did as humans, and something we will probably do as well, and they didn’t know what they were doing and we won’t either, and that is just the way it is.
Our 25th birthday was the first time we had this terrifying and enlightening epiphany that it’s just never going to stop, we will simply continue to get older and wrinklier and our lives will constantly evolve and we cannot slow this process, all we can do is be present for it.
We are starting to feel overwhelming empathy for elderly people and small children, because we see ourselves in both. We were a child not long ago, yet old age seems increasingly inevitable as each year ticks past, and we recognise age as a gift, but it doesn’t stop it from feeling scary, like our life has taken on a momentum of its own, and we couldn’t stop it if we tried.
Ten years ago we were 15 and the things we were obsessed with then seem so far away and so insignificant from this ripe old age of 25. The thought of being 35 seems like an age away, and surely once we are there, the things we worry about now will be a distant and hilarious memory. And again, this is both a relief and a sadness.
We equally enjoy big nights in and big nights out, and we seem to ride a wave that ebbs and flows between partying hard and kissing boys to curling up in a blanket and drinking peppermint tea, retiring to bed at 10pm.
We’re still finding our groove in this world. We argue with ourselves, unsure of which voice we should be listening to. We start to feel we fit into a certain category, then we question and over analyse that choice of lifestyle, for we tend to over identify with the opinions and experiences of other people, who live very different lives. We are still gathering opinions and experiences of our own, so we tend to be more malleable to those of the people we spend the most time with. Soon we will learn to hold our own, and we will probably learn it the hard way.
We thrive off of the depth of our emotions, sometimes feeling so happy that we’re sad, and so sad that we turn to happiness, because the fleeting nature of everything reveals itself, and we are learning to feel everything in its entirety, safe in the knowledge that this too, shall pass.
Love is something we may or may not have experienced, or perhaps we have fallen in love with the idea of a person as a reflection of the kind of person we would like to become.
Perhaps we have not yet experienced heart-aching, time-halting love that takes us out of ourselves and into someone else. We are curious about how that would feel, but we are also terrified, because we know how fickle our own emotions are, let alone anyone else’s. We fear love for its evasiveness, its inevitability, and its unpredictability. We don’t know ourselves when we’re in love, and that scares us, because we barely know ourselves as it is.
We are conscious of eating healthily and keeping ourselves fit, aware that we can’t rely on youthful glow as our primary source of beauty in the long run, so we practice yoga and eat our greens 70% of the time.
We equally love to party, and thoroughly enjoy wild nights because we can relinquish all responsibility then come out the other end with a terrible hangover and a vow to improve ourselves and our lifestyle, and this is how we make progress at age 25. Go wild, then focus. Unravel, then bring it all back to centre. Shake up the snow globe, then let it re-settle in a slightly different formation at the bottom. Still all here, but constantly evolving, moving, changing shape in subtle ways.
Most significantly, at age 25, we think we’re alone in all of this. That life is happening to us most intensely, above anybody else.
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.
As soon as I arrived back in Thailand a month ago, I felt instantly happy and content. I find Laos such a beautiful place, but it doesn’t seem to agree with me long term – the two times I have taken jobs there, I have ended up getting so sick and not feeling like the happiest, sparkliest version of myself.
Several days I felt like an introverted hermit woman floating around in the swimming pool and lying on my air conditioned bed. I had a wonderful time, teaching yoga in an incredible space, teaching English to a Laos family and learning Laos in exchange, meeting volunteers, being surrounded by beauty in people and nature. Sometimes, though, I think there are places in the world that have a certain energy, and maybe that energy is misaligned with your own, in that it doesn’t build you up, it brings you down, and I’m just glad I can recognise that now. We have to find the places that support our happiness and health on all levels.
When that happens, its time for Thailand. We spent about ten days in Chiang Mai, staying in an AirBnB with a firm mattress on the floor, a balcony, a rooftop for practicing yoga and free breakfast and bicycles in the Old City – a perfect spot for us.
I think the best thing we did was ride our bicycles everywhere – this is the way to explore the Old City. We convinced ourselves that it was our task to go out and do as many social things as possible in order to meet people and spread the word about our retreat.
The atmosphere in Thailand was a little different this time, because of the death of their King. No live music in any of the bars, everyone wearing black, a little more reserved and sombre than usual. There was a worry prior to visiting that it would be seen as disrespectful for tourists to visit Thailand during this period of mourning but in fact the Thai people were very welcoming and appreciated our respect.
I am just blown away by the beautiful kindness of the Thai people – they are having fun with every interaction, their eyes glitter with mischievous laughter and their kindness and selflessness, innate to their Buddhist culture, brings a cycle of good energy exchange and onward flow of good karma. Free buses, sharing their meals with you, fixing your things that are broken, helping you when you are lost, being curious about you and your home and precisely how long it takes to fly there on an airplane, giving you free beers when its 1 AM by the river and you forgot to hit up the 7-11 before midnight so you ask where they got theirs. Every single interaction soaked in kindness and generosity. They will give you a smile, without asking for anything in return.
I am currently going through a stage in my life where I talk to anyone and everyone, because I truly believe everyone wants to make friends, and we are all just curious about one another. So my task in Chiang Mai was to talk to as many interesting people as possible. As I like to say, “if it’s not a good time, it’s a good story”.. I’m very sorry to my mother, because this story involves many stories that see me talking to strange men in strange situations. But this is a great joy in life – the unknown. What will happen when you say hello?
Natasha and I went to the park in the corner of the Old City one afternoon for some yoga and sunbathing, and we noticed some pretty interesting characters surrounding us. A man came along and set up camp behind us, spreading out his bamboo mat and sipping on his sugarcane juice, his muscular tattooed chest bare. He began to stretch and practice some yoga, so I decided to take him a card about our retreat and ask him some questions. The tables turned quickly.
“I am from France. My name is XAVIER. What is this card? You want me to come do yoga wiz you?”
“Yeah, you would love it! SO much fun!”
“You want me to show you some things that you do not already know about yoga? I know many breathings. Zey are good to practice in public places, to eradicate the ego, so zat everyone knows you do not give the shit what they thinking of you!”
“Haha….okay sure. Oh you want me to kneel with my knees out wide like that? Oh okay… cool.”
“We are practicing ze lions breath. You sucky sucky in your belly and stick out your tongue and gaze at your third eye and roar to release all the air in your body and SUCKY SUCKY BELLY raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar waggle your tongue!”
A small Thai woman having a picnic behind us gazes at me with astonishment, suppressing laughter.
“Now you lie down.”
I lie down, he takes my hand, and begins to caress it very gently, either the softest acupressure or the creepiest hand hold ever. Then he promptly drops my hand, stands up and walks to the other side of the park, and stands gazing at a tree for a short while. I sit up, dazed, and look around me, as if emerging from a dream.
“Cheers Xavier! You should… become a pranayama teacher! That was truly profound. I must go now. Bye bye….”
Xavier was right – I realised that my ego did not want me to do that, to protect my coolness, of which I have a lot. He gave me a sense of awe at people who just truly do not give a shit what people think. It must be very freeing.
Another hilarious interaction was with a complete stranger from Canada. We met on the street, we drank beers by the river (which were gifted to us by a kind group of Thai people who just wanted us to have a good night), we saw a few rats and cockroaches and exclaimed on how fat and happy they were. He was about half a year younger than me, and exuded this youthful enthusiasm that reminded me exactly of how I was at the beginning of my travels, and reminded me to find the excitement in all the little interactions. He exclaimed with disproportionate excitement for a stranger I’d just met, when I told him I was working in Southeast Asia and leading a retreat in just a few weeks time. He was like a reflection of myself and lit a little fire reminding me to enjoy each moment, after a brief period of feeling very tired of Asia in all its glory. I mostly enjoyed his self deprecating humour and ability to laugh at himself, telling me a story of himself when he was little, that he wore an eye patch and was a little chubster, a wee fat pirate, and I thought to myself that it was the most attractive story a man could ever tell me. Maybe this is what I’m into?
He told me he always pats the stray dogs even though they probably have rabies and fleas, because he believes they deserve a little love too, which made me think he is the male version of me. He turned to me at one point and said “can I kiss you”? And I just laughed in his face and he took it remarkably well. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was a handsome chap, I suppose I’m just not that kind of girl. I have left his name out of this because maybe he doesn’t want his mum knowing he went on a date with a hobo girl in a tie-dye dress on a bicycle.
I drove home with him on the back of my bicycle, he rode glamorously on the back, I tooted my bell at passers-by, then I left him on the street and conked out on my bed next to Natasha. When I woke up I felt that it was all a dream. I checked my inbox and he had written a message ending in “wishing you nothing but the best.” Gave me something, asked for nothing (much, haha).
Natasha and I visited Zoe in The Yellow (the place to party in Chiang Mai) one night and ended up hanging out with four Spanish guys. Two of them were policemen from Spain, and were probably the most genuine dudes ever. They were so nice to each other, saying to me “wherever he goes, I go.” Two huge, muscular guys with so much kindness. They ran alongside our bicycles on the way to Spicy club, waited for us at each door, offered us drinks not to get us drunk but because they wanted us to have the best time possible in their company, they cleared out the mens toilet in the club and stood by the door so that I could go to the bathroom. They carried a bag of souvenirs for their family back home with them all night, little bobble-heads and fridge magnets, which I believe says something about a person. They wanted nothing from us other than to spend time in our company and it was such a refreshing notion.
Then one night we were sat in the night market eating our nightly feast of pad thai and papaya salad, and I noticed a man sitting a couple of tables down from us by himself with a large beard and a pensive look on his face. I recognised him instantly but I couldn’t put my finger on how. We made eye contact a couple of times, Natasha went to leave and go home and I decided to stay and chat to him. I wandered up to him and said “HI! How are you? Have we met before?”. He looked mildly astonished at this bold girl approaching him wearing a floral onesie, no makeup, a slightly troll-like hairstyle, and no hidden agenda other than a genuine curiosity about what was behind his man bun and sad eyes. I told him he looked sad, and he just laughed and said, “Shit! I think I was just really involved in my dinner”. That makes sense, but also, how unfortunate to have a sad dinner face?
He had been living in Chiang Mai for almost 6 months, so I definitely had seen him before. I never forget a face. We sat at this rickety table in the night market for over four hours with no food, no drink, no phones, no music, just two people sitting opposite one another conversing authentically, which can be a hard thing to find these days. He told me he could tell as soon as I approached him that I didn’t want anything from him. I’m just a curious child. He told me he learned years ago that he was surrounding himself with people and situations who wanted something from him, who wanted to take away from him in some way – sex, drugs, alcohol, love, money. He made a complete lifestyle change, quit drinking and drugs, and started to build himself up rather than allow himself to be drained. He chose to spend time only with select people who he knew were good for him, who encouraged positivity, and who understood the importance of a healthy energy exchange in life, of karma and the consequences of actions.
So we rode his motorbike up into the mountains in the dark, which in hindsight sounds like a bloody terrifying thing to do, but my gut was telling me to just go with it. We wandered into some abandoned temples, found some people praying for the king by candlelight, we drove to his apartment and sat on his balcony and he played me some songs on his guitar, including a song he wrote himself, which he was quietly proud of, I could tell.
We snuck into his apartment sauna after hours, then realised it was turned off, so we just sat there in the dark and stared out over Chiang Mai by night. I asked him to take me home, realising suddenly I had left my bicycle in the market carpark, unlocked, and he drove me back. We said goodbye and he thanked me for coming to talk to him – he had been planning to just go home and sleep. We connected on Facebook but I knew we were saying goodbye for good. And that was quite fine.
These people, giving me everything, hilarity and wisdom, insight and protection, without even realising it, and asking for nothing in return.
This is what can happen when you talk to strangers. I guess I just love the possibility of people.
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.