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.
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.
I’m sitting on the pool patio, sipping on ice cold water, soaking up the rays through the layer of thick, humid cloud that is concealing the sun. On the other side of the river the builders are blasting Laos pop music at max volume, I can hear the hammering of tools and the occasional outburst of laughter or shouting. The sounds seem to bounce around the hills in the distance, as if we are in a little box of Laos and the hills are the walls.
I’ve found myself back in Laos, this time in Vang Vieng, known for it’s party scene, drunken tubing and half naked tourists wandering confused in the streets after consuming mushroom shakes and taking too many shots at Sakura Bar,in the quest for a free t-shirt, labelled “drink triple, see double, act single”, rules which every bogan backpacker worth their salt will follow on their quest to find themselves in Southeast Asia.
I’m here in the quiet season, and I’m seeing a different side to Vang Vieng. Emphasis is on the beauty of the scenery, the tourists are mostly Korean who cruise down the river in their tubes, occasionally falling out and unable to get back in, they hold onto their tubes and scream with laughter as they bob around, lifejackets and armbands keeping them afloat, all the while holding their phones in waterproof casing and taking selfies with one hand, gripping for dear life with the other.
I’m here for one month, teaching yoga for Yoga in Vang Vieng, based at the Silver Naga Hotel. Myself and my fellow teacher, the lovely Tye from Australia, take turns with our teaching days, me teaching both classes one day, and her the next, which means every second day is a day off! Living the dream? Ahhh yep.
It took a few days for me to settle in here, as I always do. I felt like I had stepped into a dream – after one month of quality, much needed family and recuperation time in the UK, I found myself back in sticky, sweaty southeast Asia with all its lovely sounds and smells and I had to break myself back in to the… different way of living here. My first night here I woke up in the middle of the night to thunder and lightning, very very frightening, and one of the hotel dogs scratching at the door trying to get in for a cuddle. However, I’m not living in a bamboo hut or showering in cold water every day, nor am I getting up at the crack of dawn and teaching all day. I remind myself daily of how incredibly lucky I am to be doing what I love while travelling the world, and I get to live in a beautiful hotel this time, which is the cherry on top.
I’m up at 6.30am on teaching days, prepping the room and my class, I teach from 7.30-9.00am, have breakfast in the hotel (buffet awesomeness), chill by the pool, hang out in my room, explore the town, get a massage, go for a bike ride, practice my Laos language on the hotel staff (who just laugh at me, shaking their heads like “such a fool, at least she tries), visit a local cafe, plan classes, write my journal, chat to other guests, teach again at 5pm, then go for dinner and chill for the evening. On my days off – same same, except I attend the classes instead of teaching (or sleep in, haha…).
One of my first days here I visited a cafe in the town for coffee and good internet, and got chatting to the owner, who offered me a job on the spot, “like a homestay! You come here, speak English with us and the customers, help us, eat with us, we speak Laos with you, you drink coffee??”. Obviously I said yes, we shook hands, and every day since I have wandered into Offbeat Cafe, bringing writing notebooks and coloured pens and Laos-English language books and we sit around miming things in attempt to make conversation. They laugh at my attempts at Laos language (my mouth just doesn’t make certain sounds), and they laugh at themselves when they try the English words. They call me their baby Laos, because I sound like a very special baby when I speak Laos, and they also call me “uaey” which means “big sister”, which makes me feel all happy. I call them “nongsau” which means “little sister”. There is Song and Prin, brother and sister who own the cafe, and the three young girls, Tame, Deuy and Daa. They are adorable and all wear their hair in the same high bun and their work t-shirt tied up in a fashionable way.
I’m amazed at how eager they are to learn – when I was in school I don’t think my eyes lit up the way theirs do when the teacher walks into the room. They come running up to me, saying “Jao kin kao ya baw??” which means “have you had lunch??”, and they touch my arm and say “beautiful skin” and I’m like really cos I didn’t moisturise today hahahahaha and they look at me blankly but endearingly, like “she crazy, but we will allow it because she has the knowledge we require”.
Mealtimes are interesting. Sometimes I have lunch or dinner with them, and we sit around the table and eat with our hands. The first time I joined them, they put a box of sticky rice, a bowl of vegetables and a plate of meat on the table, pointed to me and said “eat!”. So I sat down, pulled the plate towards me and started to eat, and they started laughing hysterically, “NOOOOOO hhahahahhaah that bowl for EVERYONE!”. Needless to say I felt like a greedy little farang at that moment. Just goes to show that portion sizes in the western world are outrageous, that our normal evening meal would feed a family of four in Asia.
The next time we ate together, Song pulled out a plate of pastey stuff, called “jaeow”, gestured to the sticky rice and said “you eat!”.
Rosie: “what’s this? fish paste?” (It sure tasted fishy.)
Song: “no, no, no fish. Vegetable. And….”
Prin: “Vegetable aaaand…. and…. injection!” *flaps arms wildly*
Rosie: “INJECTION??!” *look of horror*
Prin: “Ahhhh…. Insects!”
Prin: *googling furiously…..* “CRICKETS!”
Welll. I ate no more cricket paste that evening, and awoke the next morning with a dubious sensation in the pit of my stomach. My body may not be ready for Laos cuisine in its entirety, but it sure is exciting!
I’m off to swim in the infinity pool. Peace and love from Laos to you all.
La Kon! Goodbye!
p.s. six weeks until our Whole & Happy Retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand on the 4th of November. Wanna join us? There are still some spaces available. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your space, or book online at:
These days, every time I leave my house, I see an elephant. Sometimes five in a row.
As a child, I would leave my house and see a cow, sheep, or on a more exotic day, a goat, and then I would probably either ride it or milk it, which is what us country bumpkins do. Elephants were something I read about in a large novels on the school bus (yes, I was that girl), and certainly not a daily occurrence.
Fast forward to 2016, and this kiwi country bumpkin finds herself in a hippie town in Northern Thailand, living and working on a yoga & meditation retreat, fist-fighting gigantic spiders the size of her face in the darkest hour of night, and overtaking elephants on her moped. I have not yet ridden or milked said elephant, so I’ve really moved up in the world.
Pai, Thailand. A backpackers heaven, where you can rent a scooter for three dollars a day, eat incredible street food for under five dollars a day, and sleep for around the same (depending on your standards!). Strangers become friends when you a share a bowl of steaming Thai soup under the crumbling umbrella of a street-side stall. Everyone is there for the same reason – to have fun, to relax, and in general to have nothing to do, which is the joy and the downfall of a backpacker – what do you do when you have nothing to do? Drink. And there are plenty of places for that. An atmosphere of late nights, sleepy mornings, and meandering slow-paced days makes this little Northern Thai town a welcome reprieve from bustling Chiang Mai.
There’s a curious duality to Pai. There’s the backpacker crowd, who embark on a windy road from Chiang Mai, unprepared for 700-and-something hair raising, stomach-turning bends they must endure before arriving in the lush Pai countryside. They stay a few days, spend their money on drinks, street food, and scooting about, then head back to Chiang Mai to continue on their travels, another glorious pin in their world map.
Then there are the “alternative-lifestyle” nomads who come to Pai because they have heard through the organic grapevine that there is kombucha, coconut kefir and sharing session aplenty. They come with no agenda, other than to spend their days traipsing from cafe to meditation centre, writing in their journals, drawing in their colouring books, purchasing airy, colourful pants, getting tattoos, and partaking in fermentation workshops. They sit on the pavement in the midst of the night market to sell their handcrafted mandala postcards to fund their travels. They come for three days, and leave three years later, as if emerging from a bubble in time, in need of a good shower.
It’s also a pretty quirky place. As you drive into Pai, coming from Chiang Mai, you pass a handful of kitsch roadside cafes with human-sized letters boldly announcing names like “Pai in Love” and “Strawberry Pai”, which attract hordes of Chinese tourists, doubled up on mopeds, in full length plastic raincoats, seeking shelter from the daily monsoon downpours.
There is a gigantic white statue of Buddha on a hill overlooking Pai, a cavernous canyon, hidden waterfalls, a bridge left over from World War Two, and a cafe called “Land Crack” on a back road into the hills, where you can buy fruit juices from a five year old pig-tailed girl, no parent in sight. There is a sign encouraging you to “Swim in the crack! At your own risk!” I dare you.
You can walk down the street and come across a community gathering, which at the front appears to be a casual get-together and barbecue, but enter through those doors and its a discotheque complete with flashing lights, live music in soundproof walls, a curvy Thai woman singing soulful husky tunes to the backing of an 70’s style rock band, wearing waistcoats and beards and holding their guitars like screaming babies. Western women slide wildly across the dance floor, wafting bodily odours every time they lift their arms, but a tiny little Thai girl with some bodily deformities and a lovely dress steals the show with alternative dance moves that demonstrate both creativity and outrageous self-confidence.
The thing that baffles me the most about Pai, which I will almost certainly never be able to explain, is this: I was driving down the country road in the early evening, heading for civilisation, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Captain Jack Sparrow lighting up a cigarette and waiting for his coconut in a roadside bamboo shack. I had consumed no highly fermented semi-alcoholic kombucha before this encounter, and I saw it with my own two eyes. Boots, white blooming shirt, waistcoat, eyeliner, long matted hair, complete with hat and feather, sitting calmly at his table. I sat in the middle of the road, stared for a good ten seconds, then continued down the road, blinking rapidly.